Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, January 13, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:18 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, we have another special guest today, our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who will give us some brief opening comments. We’ll take some questions, and then we’ll proceed with a briefing from there. With that, I will turn it over to Jake.
MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Jen. Thanks, everybody. I’m here to provide a brief update on the situation with respect to Russia and Ukraine.
We’ve now completed an intensive week of diplomacy in multiple formats: the Strategic Stability Dialogue, the NATO-Russia Council, and the OSCE.
Russia raised its concerns, we raised our concerns, including the actions Russia has taken to undermine European security that Secretary Blinken spoke so eloquently about last week. We stuck to our core premise of reciprocity. We were firm in our principles and clear about those areas where we can make progress and those areas that are non-starters.
Allied unity and transatlantic solidarity were on full display, and they remain on full display. The discussions were frank and direct. They were useful. They gave us and our allies things to consider. They gave Russia things to consider.
We will now reflect and consult with allies and partners on how to proceed.
We’re prepared to continue with diplomacy to advance security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic. We’re equally prepared if Russia chooses a different path.
We continue to coordinate intensively with partners on severe economic measures in response to a further Russian invasion of Ukraine. We continue to work with Allies in NATO on changes in force posture and capabilities, especially on NATO’s eastern flank, if that scenario arises. And we continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the defense of their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We have been very clear with Russia on the costs and consequences of further military action or destabilization in Ukraine.
So, we’re ready either way. We’re ready to make progress at the negotiating table — serious, tangible progress on important issues of concern to us, to Europe, and to Russia in an environment of de-escalation. And we’re ready to take the necessary and proper steps to defend our allies, support our partners, and respond robustly to any naked aggression that might occur.
In our view, diplomacy is the more sensible path. The Russians will have to make their own assessment.
In terms of next steps in the diplomatic process, we’ll remain engaged with allies and partners and with the Russians, and make determinations in the coming days about what comes next.
I’m going to leave it there and be happy to take your questions.
Q Is there an agreement to hold more talks with the Russians, Jake?
MR. SULLIVAN: There are no dates set for any more talks. We have to consult with allies and partners first. We’re in communication with the Russians, and we’ll see what comes next.
Q Jake, can you address the Deputy Foreign Minister’s comments suggesting that the — that Russia could deploy forces — or wouldn’t rule out deploying forces in Latin America? Is that something that the U.S. is concerned about? Is that something that came up in those discussions?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to respond to bluster in the public commentary. That wasn’t raised in the discussions at the Strategic Stability Dialogue. If Russia were to move in that direction, we would deal with it decisively.
Q And, Jake, just another one on — the Russian proposal suggested that — to try to reach some sort of agreement on keeping exercises away from the line of contact between NATO and Russia, or limiting the deployment of missiles and other weapons. Is that — is that something that’s on the table from the U.S. perspective? Or is that not something that the U.S. could ever agree to?
MR. SULLIVAN: As Deputy Secretary Sherman said in her readout of these meetings, and as was closely coordinated with allies and partners at NATO: We are prepared to discuss reciprocal limitations on the deployment of missiles, as long as Russia is prepared to fulfill its end of the bargain and that there’s adequate verification. So, we are prepared to have a detailed negotiation on that — emphasis on “detail” — because the devil is often in the details on those things.
We also, as Deputy Secretary Sherman indicated in her readout of these discussions, have said we are prepared to discuss reciprocal parameters around the size and scope and frequency of military exercises. But reporting that has suggested we’re going to reduce the number of troops we have deployed or somehow cut back on our overall force posture in Europe — those reports are wrong.
Q I guess with no more talks scheduled with the Russians right now, as we sit here today, in your view, what is the likelihood of Russia invading?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to put any kind of likelihood on it. What I’m going to say is that the United States and our allies and partners are prepared for any contingency, any eventuality. We’re prepared to keep moving forward down the diplomatic path in good faith, and we’re prepared to respond if Russia acts. And beyond that, all we can do is get ready, and we are ready.
Q Are they making the case, though, to invade, do you believe?
MR. SULLIVAN: What do you mean by “making the case”?
Q Is Russia trying to justify an invasion, if one happens?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to put myself in the head of the Russians. As you see from their public comments, they’ve been — they’ve said many different things. Some of them contradictory. They’ve — different speakers over the course of this week have given both hopeful signs and deeply pessimistic signs. You’ll have to ask them where they stand in respect to their positioning.
From our perspective, we can just be clear about where we stand. And where we stand is ready to go down a principled path of diplomacy and ready to respond in the face of aggression.
Q The White House has often talked about this, and you’ve talked about this, and President Biden — about having this stable, predictable relationship with Russia. Given the back-and-forth over these talks and the threats, is that even still possible?
MR. SULLIVAN: We believe that diplomacy and diplomatic understandings that can be reached between the United States, our European allies and partners, and Russia can contribute to stability in Europe — that it is possible to make progress on things like missiles and exercises, as we just discussed. That ultimately we can get updates to some of the underlying issues related to transparency and deconfliction. That we can get to risk reduction and conflict management so that the overall security situation in Europe is more stable. That is certainly viable if Russia is prepared to engage in a good-faith way.
If they’re not, and they choose to further invade Ukraine, then they are going to deal with the costs and consequences that the United States and our allies and partners will impose.
Q Jake, you’re still saying “if.” Does that mean you’re still uncertain whether Russia is negotiating in good faith?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, the intelligence community has not made an assessment that the Russians have definitively decided to take a military course of action in Ukraine. So, as things stand right now, Russia has the opportunity to come to the table, as we go forward, to deal with the very real concerns that we’ve put on the table, that Secretary Blinken has laid out publicly, and to negotiate in some of these areas that we’ve just been talking about.
If Russia chooses to go a different path, we’ll respond accordingly.
But basically, we are still at a moment where we believe a path of diplomacy can operate in a way that vindicates and reflects our interests and principles. And we’re prepared to work with our allies and partners on that.
I think we’re united with the European Union, with NATO, with Ukraine, with the rest of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community on the notion that there is a diplomatic path forward here.
We are also united with our allies and partners that if Russia chooses to go a different way for whatever reason, or no reason at all — well, we’ll be ready for that.
Q Ambassador Michael Carpenter is offering a different assessment. I’m sure you heard him say that, “The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill.” So, do you agree with that or disagree?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, the Russians have put tens of thousands of troops in and around Ukraine and occupied territory relative to Ukraine. So, it is certainly the case that the threat of military invasion is high. That’s why I’ve stood at this podium repeatedly over the course of the past few months, warned about that, and laid out what would come as a result of that in respect to a response by the United States and our allies and partners.
So, there’s no illusions on the part of the United States government. There’s no illusions on the part of any of us who have been dealing with this issue about what the prospects are for potential conflict and potential military escalation by Russia.
The point that I would make today is that the United States and our European allies and partners are prepared for multiple different eventualities — an eventuality that has us at the negotiating table, working on these issues in a serious and substantive way, and the eventuality that has us responding to what Russia does in a clear, effective, forceful way that imposes significant costs on Russia for any action that it might take.
Q On those actions, looking at Europe right now, it doesn’t seem necessarily that they’re prepared to join the aggressive multinational sanctions package that the U.S. has talked about. So, if Vladimir Putin were to invade Russia tomorrow, are you confident that the sanctions that you have threatened Moscow with and that you would want to see out of Europe are lined up, ready to go?
And secondly, the Kremlin sort of picked one element of sanctions legislation that’s up on the Hill — the prospect of sanctioning Vladimir Putin personally — today, and objected to that. I’m wondering is that among the, sort of, package that you’ve signaled to them as on the table were Ukraine to be invaded by Russia?
MR. SULLIVAN: The main focus of the sanctions package that we’ve been working with Europe on have been significant financial sanctions with a “start high, stay high” mentality, not a graduated application of these sanctions; export controls that go at certain fundamental strategic industries in Russia; and other steps that we would take to ensure that Russia actually had to deal with the economic consequences of this invasion.
In terms of your question about my level of confidence in our European allies and partners, I feel very good about the level of engagement and the level of convergence between the United States and Russia, A, on the fundamental proposition that there would have to be severe economic consequences, and, B, on both the categories, types, and targets of sanctions that would have to flow.
Does that mean that the U.S. and Europe are going to have precisely the same list down to every last detail? No. Does it mean that I will be able to stand before you and say the United States and Europe have moved in unison on the application of severe economic measures? I’m confident that I will be able to do that.
Q Can I ask a question about the cybersecurity meeting that you held today? I’m wondering, in terms of the Log4j vulnerability, how many federal — or if federal systems have been affected by that vulnerability; if it was because the government hadn’t done the necessary patchwork to prevent it from happening; and if the firms that you spoke with today made any commitments in terms of, you know, financial assistance or other assistance to maintain kind of critical open source software, since this seems to be an issue that continues to bubble up.
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, the President signed an executive order last year that goes to procurement of software by the United States government and fundamentally raises the game. And we’re in the process of implementing that.
And, actually, where things stand with respect to departments and agencies of the U.S. government today, as compared to nearly one year ago today when the President took office, we are in a much more robust posture. And that’s due to the work not just of the interagency, but of specific departments and agencies that have implemented that executive order.
In terms of the session today, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the companies in terms of the commitments they made, but it was an incredibly constructive discussion about ways that the public sector and the private sector can work effectively together to ensure that public sector systems are more robust and resilient and private sector systems are more robust and resilient. I’ll leave it at that.
And we will try to develop, along with the participants in that meeting, an agreed readout so that we’re not betraying any confidences.
Q On Russia and Ukraine, Secretary Blinken said at the start of the week that he didn’t expect any major breakthroughs this week but that one positive outcome could obviously be a de-escalation of tensions.
Given the current state of play, given everything that you’ve said, what specifically does that look like from your view — Russia de-escalating — right now?
MR. SULLIVAN: It would involve them reducing the number of forces that they have deployed in aggressive postures towards Ukraine. And that would ultimately be a key part of de-escalation.
There are other steps that Russia could take in respect to de-escalation that go far beyond Ukraine as well. But in terms of the proximate challenge in and around the border of Ukraine, that would be an important step.
I would also say one other thing that I think is very important that Tony — you mentioned Secretary Blinken’s comments at the beginning of the week. He said something at the end of last week that I want to underscore, which is that our intelligence community has developed information — which has now been downgraded — that Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine.
We saw this playbook in 2014. They are preparing this playbook again. And we will have — the administration will have further details on what we see as this potential laying of a pretext to share with the press over the course of the next 24 hours.
Q On the flipside of that — and you’ve made clear that the U.S. will respond in the face of Russian aggression — but I’m trying to get a sense of what the U.S. would need to see in order to actually respond. Would it have to be tanks and troops crossing the border, or would things like moving helicopters and tactical weapons be enough for the U.S. to take steps to impose sanctions?
MR. SULLIVAN: When you say “moving helicopters and tactical weapons,” you mean onto the territory of Ukraine?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, our position is quite straightforward. If the Russian military moves across the Ukrainian frontier to seize territory, we believe that that is the further invasion of Ukraine, and it will trigger a response from the United States and the international community.
Q Thank you, Jake. I want to ask about your current policy in this crisis. But, first, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to ask something of a historical nature first. I assume — you’ll correct me if I’m wrong — that in preparation for President Biden’s first summit with President Putin, held in Geneva last June, the national security team undertook a comprehensive review of the official documentary record of all the interactions that President Trump had with President Putin.
You may recall — during the Trump presidency, we saw reporting to the effect that Mr. Trump and/or his aides took some steps to prevent the maintenance of a full record of those interactions.
Without asking you to disclose any classified information, can you assure us on two points: Number one, did your review uncover any evidence of any effort, at any point along the way in the creation and storage of those records, to tamper with that process? And number two, did your review uncover any evidence of any impropriety of any kind or severity on the part of President Trump in his interactions with President Putin?
MR. SULLIVAN: On that question, I’ve got nothing for you.
Q Okay. To current policy then. This administration has tried without success to use sanctions to compel the military in Myanmar to abandon its coup d’état. This administration has used sanctions without success to compel China to release the concentration camp inmates in Xinjiang. The Obama administration, of course, used sanctions without success to try to deter a Russian annexation of Crimea.
Here you stand again, brandishing the threat of sanctions to try to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Why shouldn’t this be perceived as clinging to a failed tactic? And why shouldn’t President Putin assess, on that basis, that his adversary is operating from a position of relative weakness?
MR. SULLIVAN: President Putin has indicated that what he does not want to see is further NATO force posture coming closer to his border. President Putin has indicated that what he does not want to see is further American and Allied support to Ukraine. President Putin has indicated that what he does want to see is the further strengthening of Russian strategic industries in the Russian economy.
We have laid out on all of those metrics that Russia will suffer costs and consequences in the event of a further invasion of Ukraine. And he can make his own determination about what he wants to do. But the United States is going to act; we’re going to act with our allies and partners on those issues in those ways. We have the capacity to do that, and we will do that. And President Biden has been clear that that’s what we intend to do.
Q Have you seen sanctions work?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, so, first, I would say that if you go back to a personal experience I had, which was the negotiation of the — first, the interim agreement and then contributing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we do believe that economic pressure on Iran had a meaningful impact on bringing it to the table and ultimately putting a lid on its nuclear program.
There are other instances where sanctions have worked. And, of course, there are instances across administrations, Democrat and Republican alike, where sanctions have not achieved the full result.
And so, I’m not going to stand before you and say sanctions are a panacea, they’re a tool that solves every problem. But remember, sanctions are only one part of the way that we and our allies are talking about how we will deal with a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have other tools to bring to bear as well. Those tools also bear on the interests and the security capacities of the Russian Federation.
And our goal at the end of the day here is not to get into an escalatory spiral; it is to find a way forward, consistent with our principles, consistent with our interests, and consistent with open, transparent consultation with our allies to pursue diplomacy. If that works, great. If that doesn’t work, we’re ready.
Q With all of that said, is the window of time closing when it comes to diplomacy on this issue? And when you talk about options that are on the table — you said sanctions is one of the tools. What are the other options? Presidents have a whole host of options, and they’ve always said, when they are met with these types of situations, “All options are on the table.” Are all options on the table for this moment?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, we’ve been clear, both directly to the Russians and we’ve actually been clear publicly, about some of the other options. And they include changes in the forces and capabilities that the United States and NATO would deploy to eastern flank allies to reinforce and strengthen the robustness of allied defense on allied territory.
We’ve made clear that in the event of an invasion, in addition to the support we are currently providing to the Ukrainians, we would dramatically ramp up that support to support their territorial integrity and sovereignty.
We’ve also been clear that we are going to work in tandem with allies and partners not just in Europe, but in other parts of the world, on export controls that would have an impact on strategic industries in Russia.
So those are some of the extra — the additional tools that we can bring to bear in this context. All of them go to the basic proposition that the United States is going to look to strengthen and reinforce our position and our allies’ position and to support the Ukrainians in the event of an invasion — further invasion of Ukraine.
Q What about the window of opportunity for diplomacy? Is that closing, as I asked earlier?
MR. SULLIVAN: Look, it’s hard for me to characterize where things stand on the diplomacy because — we’ve come through these four days. We need to sit and consult with allies and partners. Wendy Sherman is just getting off a plane; she may have gotten off a plane in the last few hours.
We’ll take stock of where we are, we’ll consult, and then we’ll determine next steps. The Russians will have to do the same.
And all I can tell you is: As far as we’re concerned, we are ready to move forward on diplomacy and we are ready to go down the other path.
And both of those — in my view, that question of which path is one that is facing us now — it’s not facing us a year from now or five years from now; it’s facing us in the — in the foreseeable future.
Q Thank you so much. What happens if nothing happens — I mean, if Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine but keeps, like, this massive amount of troops at the border? Is this something you can live with? In this case, would there be sanctions, less sanctions, no sanctions at all?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, we’re trying to, first of all, deter and prevent a potentially massive Russian invasion. That’s step number one.
If we end up in a circumstance of the kind you described, we’ll deal with that as it comes. But I’m not going to get into hypotheticals today, in terms of our reaction.
I’ll just take one more question.
Q Thank you, Jake. To follow up: But at this moment, are we in a position where — what — the next step is reducing the troops of the bor- — on the borders of Ukraine? Is this the next thing that can happen that could satisfy the U.S. and the allies?
MR. SULLIVAN: What do you mean by “the next thing”?
Q I mean: What’s — what’s — after the week we’ve had, what are we expecting? That they take — of course, we’re hoping that they — the Russian troops back off. But is this the only next step possible? Of course, there’s the invasion. But after the entire week of diplomacy, what —
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, what we’ve said all along is that we’re happy to talk. We’re happy to talk about our interests and our concerns. We’re happy to listen to the Russians talk about their interests and their concerns. But we’ve also been very clear from the beginning that to make concrete progress — real, tangible progress — it has to happen in an environment of de-escalation.
So, we will have to see now, on the diplomatic path, what comes next. We’ll have to determine that first with our friends and then in engagement with the Russians. And as I stand here today, I can’t tell you what the next steps will be. I can only tell you that the United States, the Biden administration, our allies and partners, we’re prepared to deal with whatever comes.
Q And just a detail on the ambiance of the — in the negotiations. I mean, you made a reference to the pessimist — the different statements we heard. But the Russian officials had a more pessimistic and negative tone. Did they have the same tone when they were face-to-face with the —
MR. SULLIVAN: They were professional and businesslike. We clearly disagreed on things, and there were areas where both sides saw there was a possibility for progress.
Beyond that, it’s hard for me really to characterize their point of view. They can characterize it for themselves.
Thank you, guys.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you so much, Jake. You’re always invited.
Okay. I know there’s a lot going on, so we’ll try to get around to everybody. I just have two items for all of you at the top.
Sorry, lots of stuff in here.
In December, as a part of the administration’s approach to strengthening America’s supply chains, address bottlenecks, and lower prices for Americans, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor announced the Biden-Harris Trucking Action Plan.
Today, to uphold the 30-day commitments made in the Trucking Action Plan, DO- — the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor are announcing next steps on several new initiatives, some of them — some of which were mandated by the Infrastructure Law to support drivers, improve driver retention while expanding access to quality driving jobs now and in the years ahead.
These include expanding registered apprenticeship programs. More than 100 employers and industry partners —
(A note is handed to Ms. Psaki.)
All right. Everything is okay. I think just a statement may have gone out on the Supreme Court ruling that probably is in your inboxes. So, that’s one note for all of you.
These include — these steps announced today include:
Expanding registered apprenticeship programs. More than 100 employers and industry partners have stepped forward to work to expand registered apprenticeships in the last 30 days. This is the gold standard of training and retaining a skilled workforce.
Creating the Women of Trucking Advisory Board mandated to gather input on how to build a more inclusive and equitable workplace for women in the trucking industry.
And creating a new task force to investigate predatory trucking leasing arrangements with the Department of Labor, the Consumer Finance Bureau — Protection Bureau — and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
Beginning two studies to explore the issues of truck driver pay and unpaid detention time.
And launching the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot — an under- pilot program for truck drivers.
All of this is an effort to expand the number of truck drivers we have so we can move more goods, get more good onto the shelves, lower prices for American people.
One more item for all of you.
This Saturday, January 15th, is the last day to sign up for the quality, affordable healthcare coverage on Healthcare.gov. A record 14.2 million people have enrolled since the start of open enrollment on November 1st on Healthcare.gov alone. Four out of five consumers are finding quality coverage for less than $10 per month.
And a new HHS report out today found that, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, a majority of Healthcare.gov enrollees are also receiving subsidies to cut their co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket spending.
To be — be sure to go to Healthcare.gov, anyone listening, before midnight on January 15th and get covered.
With that, Zeke, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thanks, Jen. My inbox is usually pretty fast, but I was hoping you can give us that reaction to the Supreme Court opinions.
And on the substance of the matter there, how — how much of a blow is this to the administration’s plan — pandemic response plan that the employer mandate part of the testing or vaccination mandate struck or halted? And how will that affect the course of the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I know there’ll be a — the statement from the President that should be coming into your inboxes any moment now. But let me — let me give you a quick reaction.
First, let me start with some good news — news that maybe isn’t getting enough attention yet. That’s our jobs here — or my job here, I should say.
CMS’s requirements for healthcare workers to be vaccinated will save the lives of patients, as well as the lives of doctors, nurses, and others who work in healthcare settings. It will cover 17 million healthcare workers at 76,000 medical facilities. The Supreme Court upheld it, and we will enforce that.
The Sen- — the Supreme Court’s decision on the OSHA mandate essentially means that in the pan- — in this pandemic, it is up to individual employers to determine whether their workplaces will be safe for employees and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers.
So, President Biden — and you’ll see this in his statement — will be calling on and will continue to call on businesses to immediately join those who have already stepped up, including one third of Fortune 100 companies, to institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.
We have to keep working together in order to get this done to save more lives.
I would note that there are a couple of signs — good signs, in terms of — without this — even in spite of the ruling, that we would point to.
One is that 57 percent, according to a Navigator poll, of Americans support vaccine requirements. According to a Willis Towers Watson’s report — a survey of 534 U.S. employers — a majority — 57 percent of respondents — have or will require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Why? Because nearly — because employees want to feel safe in the workplace, because they want to incentivize workers to come back to the workplace, and because they’ve seen large companies across the country implement this and see how effective it is.
Q Another adjacent COVID topic: The President announced today that he’s going to announce next week that he’s going to be sh- — the U.S. government is going to be making free, high-quality N95s available to Americans. There’s this — the new testing website, which is launching next — website.
Why is it — you know, middle of January right now, when a million Americans are testing positive for COVID a day, roughly — you know, why is the President taking these steps now? Why didn’t he take these three months ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me — let me first say that what the President — what we’ve been working to implement is building on the steps we’ve taken over the last six months and more.
Remember, when the President took office, there was zero or one approved testing — at-home testing option on the market. Now there are nine. We needed to expand the market capacity.
The President used the Defense Production Act — $3 billion invested — to expand that market. The reason he was able to announce the purchase of or the plan to purchase an additional 500 million beyond the 500 million we’d already announced is because of the expansion of the market. And just since last summer, leading up to December, we had quadrupled the size of the market.
So, if you look at the comparison, right now, we’re doing almost 12 million tests a day in this country. We were doing under 2 million tests a day a year ago.
There’s about 300 million tests that are happening in this country every single day, in part because there’s 20,000 sites; because there are federal sites now across the country — new ones we announce every day; because we’ve sent 50 million tests to community health centers.
So, all of this is an effort to build on that and make sure that that capacity and need — and we’re meeting the unprecedented demand for tests.
Q But the Pre- — these are steps that the President has taken now because there was an unmet need. Presumably, he could have done the exact same thing three months ago when, you know, maybe it would be in effect now when the need is obviously greater than — than is — than the system has capacity to deliver right now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, Zeke, that, again, because of the steps we’ve taken, we’re able to — there’s 300 million tests that are happening in this country every single month. And that is enormous progress. We’re not starting from zero. That is my point. So this is building on that.
But in terms of the number of tests available in the market and the expansion of the market, remember, a number of them were just approved at the end of October or beginning of November. The — using the Defense Production Act means we needed to ensure there was manufacturing capacity and build on that. This is all building — a building process. And we’re continuing to expand and build from here.
I would also note that, in recent polls, despite some of the conversations we have in here, it’s less than 10 percent of the American public that can’t find a test. We’ve expanded capacity, and you’re seeing the impact of that across the country.
Q And then just lastly on the — on the voting push. I’m just — you know, we’ve heard a lot from the President talking about Republican-controlled states taking actions to limit — ease — have access to the polls. I’m wondering — election laws, we know, differ from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Has the President ever reached out to Democratic states and — you know, states like New York that don’t have, you know, early in-person voting, or New Jersey or Delaware that have some different laws that exist, you know, maybe down south — and call to — or encourage them to loosen their voting laws to bring them in line with some of the restrictions he doesn’t — he’s objecting to being rolled back right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think — look, I think the President’s view on expanding access to voting, whether it’s the expansion of early voting or the number of mail-in voting boxes — steps we know works to increase the participation of people in the process — is something — it’s very well known that he partic- — that he view- — that he strongly supports.
The DNC typically does a lot of the outreach on election implementation. But I don’t think it’s a secret where the President stands. And, certainly, you heard him say that earlier this week and convey it again on Capitol Hill today.
Q Could you talk about —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — give us a few details on what the back-and-forth was like for the President and the senators at the lunch? He sounded pretty frustrated when he came out.
MS. PSAKI: I think he sounded passionate. That’s what I saw and heard.
Look, I think the President conveyed directly to the caucus what many people heard him say across the country a couple of days ago: that now we face a system — a systematic effort to dismantle democracy — not just voter suppression, but subversion. You heard him say that when he came out and spoke to — spoke after he left the meeting. He conveyed that this is a historic chance to save our democracy, need to protect the fundamental form of American government. And his view is this should absolutely be bipartisan.
I know we’ve talked a bit about the history of Senator McConnell’s support multiple times over — writing about it in his book — for voting rights in the past.
There are 16 Republicans serving now who supported voting rights in the past; even, as the President has said, Strom Thurmond back — did back in the ’80s. Obviously, he’s not serving today, but just as an example. So that’s part of the point he made.
Also, I think it’s important for everybody to understand that his view is that he would put his record of standing up for the history of the Senate, the institution of the Senate, the rules of the Senate up against anyone’s — Democrat, Republican, anyone serving today and before then. But his view is that it’s a time — there are times in history — now is one of them — where you can’t allow the protection of process to get in the way of protecting people’s fundamental rights. And that is also an argument that he made today to the caucus.
Q But what happens now with the legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Leader Schumer has obviously conveyed what his plan and his path forward is. And I think members are going to have an opportunity to vote and decide and determine what side of history they want to be on.
Q Thanks, Jen. Did Senator Sinema’s remarks on the floor today come as a surprise to President Biden, or had she conveyed them in private to the President or to the White House?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into private conversations with any senator, including Senator Sinema.
Q Can you tell us the last time they spoke one on one?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into more details about private conversations.
Q Okay. During his first press conference last March, the President was asked if there was anything he could do to protect voting rights outside of passing legislation. At the time, he said: Yes, but I don’t want to reveal my strategy. Now, can you tell us whether the White House has identified any more executive actions that the President can and plans to take?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say the President did sign a historic executive order early on in his presidency. Also, since that period of time, I believe the Department of Justice has doubled their funding and support for protection of voting rights in states. Obviously, the — he has spoken about this issue very vocally, in recent months since that period of time, multiple times as well.
The Vice President has been leading this effort to gather support across the country. And we’re, of course, going to continue to look for ways to protect people’s fundamental rights.
The next step is, of course, these votes in the Senate.
Q I have a question about a video that Iran’s Supreme Leader posted on his website that appears to show a robot conducting a drone strike, killing the former president at his Mar-a-Lago golf club. Is the intelligence community assessing this threat and working with former President Trump to offer protection of any kind?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to the work of our intelligence community. Obviously, the — the kind of rhetoric or video from the Supreme Leader is something that we’ve seen — you know, offensive — offensive rhetoric and behavior in the past. But I’m not going to speak to more specifics of internal discussions.
Q But are you aware of the video?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on it.
Q Okay. And then one more for a colleague who’s not here. The embassy in Baghdad — the U.S. Embassy just tweeted about an attack that happened there. Do you have any details or any response?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. This may have just recently happened. I don’t have any more details, but we can venture to get you something after the briefing.
Q Okay. Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Back on the Supreme Court’s decision: More than 80 million people would have been affected by this vaccine and testing mandate. So, what kind of impact does this decision have on the broader effort just to get COVID under control?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re already looking at this point in time of more than 71 percent of people have had both shots that — to make them fully protected. Obviously, we’re encouraging people, of course, to get boosted. More than 80 percent — 83 percent, I believe, at this point, have had their first shot. We’re going to continue to work full speed at doing that.
Obviously, this was a step that we announced, and we had every intention of implementing because we knew that it was the point where putting in place requirements in the workplace would help get more people vaccinated.
The good news is that a number of companies have already decided to do that, and do that successfully. And the work and the effort is really going to be on their shoulder. So, really, it’s going to depend on how effective that is.
Q And your message to employees and workers who may see this decision and be concerned about what comes next for them?
MS. PSAKI: Our message is that we’re going to continue to work with employers across the country and continue to convey very clearly what the benefit of vaccin- — vaccine or testing requirements would be on workplaces, both as many companies struggle to fill their workplaces, struggle to bing — bring people back to the workplace — people who are concerned about their safety that this would — is an effective measure. And there are many models across the country to implement it.
Q Thanks, Jen. Should we expect the administration to try to issue a more targeted mandate following the Supreme Court ruling today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any additional predictions of next steps here.
Q But are you going to try this again, or is — are you accepting what the Supreme Court decided?
MS. PSAKI: Again, they just decided — any legal action, I’d obviously defer to the Department of Justice.
But at this point in time, what we are encouraging private sector companies to do is to take steps that have effectively worked around the country that many — the vast majority of employers — have indicated they have the intention to do.
Q Okay. And when it comes to the lunch that happened today, Senator Sinema — before the President got up there — reiterated that she does not want to change the 60-vote threshold. Senator Manchin just said now in a statement that he does not want to change that. Has the President accepted that he cannot sway them when it comes to changing the filibuster and creating an exception?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to keep fighting until the votes are had.
Q But they have said today that they are not changing their positions, despite an appeal directly from the President.
MS. PSAKI: And the President spoke to this after. Look, his job is to take on tough challenges, to speak out for what’s right. And he thinks making changes to the rules in order to get voting rights passed and protect people’s fundamental rights is right.
We’ll leave it to Leader Schumer on what the next steps are and what the process is from here. But we are going to keep having meetings, keep having calls. And that will be what the President’s focus will be.
Q What was his response to seeing Senator Sinema come out just a few minutes before he got up there, when she knew what he was coming to talk about, and say that she did not support it?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President was most focused on speaking directly to the caucus, not on her comments.
Q So, what is the President’s — I guess, the administration’s backup plan when it comes to voting rights and getting legislation passed? Is there a backup plan?
MS. PSAKI: As you heard the President say when he came out of the caucus meeting: We’re going to keep at it. We’re going to stay at it. The President is not —
Q But what does that mean, I guess, is what people would like to know.
MS. PSAKI: That means, Kaitlan, that any piece of legislation that’s ever passed — that’s hard, that’s difficult — goes through a — goes through some ups and downs and goes through some challenges. That doesn’t mean you give up. That’s not what leadership is. Leadership is continuing to fight for what’s right, continuing to fight to get something done. That means sometimes it fails.
We don’t know what will happen next. That means sometimes there are gaps between when you get to move forward. We’re going to have to determine what the next steps are.
But in the meantime, the President is going to continue to make calls. He’s going to continue to engage with his colleagues, and that’s where his focus is on at this point in time.
Q Thank you. I have a couple specific ones, but I wanted to kind of follow on that. As you’re determining next steps — I mean, frankly, things just seem like they’re going pretty poorly right now for the White House. You know, Build Back Better is being blocked. Voting rights is being blocked. Diplomatic talks with Russia doesn’t seem to have brought us back from the brink of war. Inflation is at a 40-year high. The virus is setting records for infection.
So, as we kind of hit this one-year period, and a period where everything seems like it’s in pretty rough shape, or nearly everything — which is not an invitation, I guess, to list off some other things — I’m wondering, at what point do you take stock and say that things need to change internally, whether it’s your outreach with the Hill, whether it’s the leadership within the White House. You seem to be stymied on an incredible number of fronts right now.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a little bit of a different take on this. More than 200 million people are vaccinated. We’ve had record job growth, record low unemployment rates — historically, in this country, over the last year. We’ve rebuilt our alliances and our relationships around the world. And right now, as it relates to Russia, as you heard our National Security Advisor convey, we’re working with partners around the world to convey very clearly: It’s up to them to make a choice about what’s next. We’re not going to make that on their behalf. It’s up to them to determine if there are going to be crippling economic sanctions or not, or — if they decide to move forward.
But we also recognize when you have a small margin and threshold in the Senate, it’s very difficult to get things done and to get legislation passed. And the fact that the President, under his leadership, got the American Rescue Plan passed, a Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill with 19 [Republican] votes in the Senate, about 6 [Republican] votes in the House. The fact that we are still continuing to work with members to determine the path forward on Build Back Better; that we have the vast majority of Democrats in the Senate supporting voting rights. That’s a path forward for us.
And our effort is to do hard things, try hard things, and keep at it. So, we just don’t see it through the same prism.
Q So, the sense is things are going well; there’s no need for change right now?
MS. PSAKI: I think that having worked in a White House before, you do hard things in White Houses. You have every challenge at your feet — laid at your feet, whether it’s global or domestically.
And we could certainly propose legislation to see if people support bunny rabbits and ice cream, but that wouldn’t be very rewarding to the American people.
So, the President’s view is we’re going to keep pushing for hard things, and we’re going to keep pushing the boulders up the hill to get it done.
Q And just two quick things. The President announced the distribution of high-quality masks earlier today. That’s been kind of a vague and undefined phrase. I understand “well-fitting” — like what that literally means. But in terms of the masks that you’re trying to procure, do you have a sense of the N95s, KN95s in that universe, or is it just, “We’re not quite there in the process”?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll have more, I expect, in the coming days on that. And — but right now, just so people understand the backstory here — the history, I should say — is we’ve distributed more than 30 million masks to food banks and community health centers; states have been doing that as well. We have a stockpile of 700 million high-quality masks in the government, and they’re also widely available across the country.
So, what we’re talking about here is making high-quality masks, as you know, available to the American people for free. There are a lot of ranges of high-quality masks. I think we’ll have more details on that — on what that looks like next week.
Q And then, I know you’re limited a little bit about what you can say about politics from the podium, but the RNC said today that they would ask their candidates not to participate in debates held by the commission that has done it for the last few decades. Do you or the President have any reaction to that move by the RNC?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has participated in many debates over the course of his career and believes they play a role in allowing the American people to hear from candidates on where they stand. So, I think it’s more pose- — a question best posed to the RNC on what they’re so afraid of.
Q Would he participate in a debate that was — he’s planning to run for reelection, at least he said. And would he — would he participate in a debate outside of the commission (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the DNC for that and any more specifics.
Q The President, when he spoke to reporters after the Senate lunch today, he spoke about the voting rights push in the past tense. He said, “We missed this time.” What then is the political value in moving forward with these “show votes,” given that the President effectively has acknowledged that this process has ended, and risk potentially shining a light on Democratic divisions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you all can count who’s for and against each vote, whether it’s changes to the — to the Senate rules or supporting these voting bills themselves. And I think it’s very — people publicly know where senators stand at this point in time.
I will leave it to — we will leave it to and we’ll work in lockstep with him — Leader Schumer to determine what this next steps are here. And I know he’s spoken a bit to that.
But ultimately, this is about continuing to press to move forward on the protection of voting rights and to use it as a moment to elevate this issue as an important issue for people across the country. And, of course, any new senator is going to be put in the position of determining what side of history they’re going to stand on. And that’s, I guess, the purpose of a vote.
Q The President also spoke about voter subversion when he spoke to reporters.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q But neither the Freedom to Vote Act nor the John Lewis Voting Rights Act deal with subversion; they’re focused more on suppression. Would the President want to see Democrats, if this process does move forward in the future, address laws in these 19 states, some of which would potentially allow for the overturning of a free and fair election?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, actually in Section 112, actually makes it illegal for state officials to willfully fair [sic] — or “fail or refuse to certify the aggregate tabulations of…votes or certify the election of the candidates receiving sufficient such votes to be elected to office.”
That is obviously addressing a root problem we’re seeing in laws in many states across the country. And what these laws are meant to do is provide some fundamental baselines for protections for voters, and that’s an important part of doing it.
Obviously, there’s more you will continue to build from there, but that’s an important component, I think, that sometimes everyone isn’t always aware of in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q One unrelated question about the U.S. Postal Service. Yesterday, the Board of Governors elected a new chairman, someone who has expressed support for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who, as you know, has had a very controversial tenure.
What’s the White House position on the persistent delivery delays that the Postal Service seems to be experiencing, at least anecdotally, and DeJoy’s current place as Postmaster General? Does he deserve to have that role?
MS. PSAKI: You know how I love anecdotal data. I will tell you that, going back to the holidays, 97 or 98 percent of packages from the Postal Service were delivered on time. So, there may be anecdotes from that 1 or 2 percent, but those are — that’s actual data.
Q There are delays region by region, but I take your point.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, but 97, 98 percent across the country.
We have expressed concerns in the past about delays leadership that — delay, sorry — DeJoy — that was a little slip there — DeJoy’s leadership in the past. That has not changed.
I will say, though — and I know this has been raised, so I’m just going to use it as an opportunity to address it — that many members of the Postal Service, including leadership, has expressed confidence and an interest in playing the role in delivering tests to people across the country and their confidence in doing exactly that.
So, we take them at their word. And certainly, we’re encouraged by the data we saw from December.
Go ahead, April. Oh, April, let me first say: Twenty-five years covering the White House. That’s pretty significant. (Applause.)
I don’t have a song for this, but — just congratulations.
Q You don’t have a song?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, I’m a terrible singer, so we don’t want that anyway.
Q But you know what you could give me? An interview with the President because (inaudible). (Laughter.)
Q It’s on the record.
Q On the record. Right, right. (Laughter.)
On another issue, Jen: the issue of policing. As you’re working on voting rights, we understand simultaneously you’re working diligently on this executive order to bring more teeth into protections for people — Americans, particularly minorities, who are dying at the hands of bad policing. What is different with this executive order versus what could have happened on Capitol Hill? We understand the laws have no teeth, but I understand that you guys are working to bring more teeth into these executive orders. Talk to me about that.
MS. PSAKI: It’s a great question, April. And as you know from covering this closely, we were kind of waiting on any executive orders out of the — out of deference to the negotiations that were happening in a bipartisan manner. And, of course, we believe that the ability, especially in a bipartisan way, when possible, to move forward on legislation makes it permanent. Right? And that is not the case, of course, with executive orders.
In terms of the specific details, there are — they are under discussion. I just don’t have anything I can outline for you at this moment because there’s an internal policy discussion.
Q So, I understand there’s a sense of urgency on it. I was told from one source it was “days,” and then another said it could be “weeks,” but it’s happening soon. Why the sense of urgency right now, especially when you’re dealing with voting rights, trying to figure that out as well?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I think there’s a recognition and a commitment by the President to deliver on what he promised. And, of course, we’re very supportive of the efforts to negotiate police reform on a bipartisan level. Obviously, that didn’t move forward as we would have hoped. And so, there’s — there’s a legal policy, a substantive process that it has to go through in the consideration of executive order. That’s ongoing.
It is hard to predict the timing of that, so I don’t want to do that from here. But it’s a — it’s a reflection of the President’s commitment to delivering on his promise.
Q And last question. When candidate — or President-elect, I guess you could say — Joe Biden was building his Cabinet, he specifically singled out Marcia Fudge for her work and the fact that she was one of the presidents of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated that is having its Founders Day. He talked about the great work that the sorority does.
What does he have for the Delta sorority — Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated today, as they’re celebrating Founders Day, since he knows about them so well?
MS. PSAKI: Of course. Well, the President wishes the women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated a happy 109th Founders Day and many more years of academic excellence and service to those who are members.
The President has been very vocal of his support, as you noted, April, for Delta Sigma Theta and all Divine Nine sororities and fraternities. In October, Vice President Harris hosted a historic meeting of the Divine Nine Councils of — Council of Presidents at the White House, which included immediate past president Beverly Smith.
And we’re incredibly grateful to the work — he is — Delta Sigma Theta has done to uplift communities across the world, especially the hard work of former national president and current HUD Secretary, Marcia Fudge, and the women of Delta Sigma Theta who work on behalf of the American people in the Biden-Harris administration each and every day, of which I hear there are a few.
Q Thank you so much. Also a “one year” kind of question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q When you listen to the President’s inauguration address, you hear the words “unity” and you hear “better angels” of America. We didn’t hear these words in his speeches at the Capitol or in Georgia. Does it mean that he has changed his state of mind and that he thinks that America can’t be unified anymore?
MS. PSAKI: No, actually quite the contrary. I mean, the President believes that protecting people’s fundamental rights to vote and participate in the process, whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, an independent — whatever party you are a member of — that that is not a partisan issue. It should be a unifying issue.
And that is why he reflected, when he went to the caucus today, on the fact that there are 16 Republicans who have supported voting rights in the past, because it has not been historically a partisan issue. And he’s not prejudging who people support; he is trying to protect people’s ability to participate in the process.
Q Okay. And maybe just a quick follow-up, if I may. With the Congress as it is, with the Supreme Court as it is, what’s the way forward for the rest of the mandate? Is it more executive orders? Is it smaller steps rather than, you know, take transformative reforms? What’s — you know, what’s the idea?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a big question. But — (laughs) — I would say — I would say that the President has had — we feel we’ve had a lot of success over the past year getting the economy back on stronger footing, getting 200 million Americans vaccinated, getting a Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed, rebuilding our relationships in the world and America’s standing in the world.
And what we want to do now is build on that in year two. That means continuing to press to get voting rights done, to get Build Back Better done. There are — to get CHIPS funding passed so we can ensure that manufacturing happens in the United States.
So, of course, there are still big, bold pieces of the President’s agenda he wants to get done. And he’s going to keep fighting for it.
It is also true that it is challenging to move things forward with such a small margin in Congress. And he is very well aware of that; we’ve been living it for almost a year now.
Q Jen, a testing question and then a couple from pool colleagues who —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — couldn’t be here.
The President mentioned the other 500 million tests —
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q — that are now in the works. Can you give us any
sense on timeline: when you’re looking at contracts, when you’re looking at delivery, when people will actually end up seeing them after they see this first half billion?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So — well, I had said earlier this week that we were looking to finalize our contracts for the first 500 million within the two weeks. I can give you an update that now we’re at the point where we’ve procured about 380 million of those tests. And we’re going to continue to build from there.
So the plan is to — you know, we feel we’re making very strong progress, of course. And after we conclude this phase, we will begin awarding contracts for today’s announcement, and we’ll continue to proceed from there.
Q So can you give a rough ballpark on when that second half a billion might —
MS. PSAKI: Not yet. We may be able to as we kind of proceed in the process, as we have done with the first 500 million. But I don’t have a specific update yet at this point in time — just a status update on the first 500 million. And obviously when we make — when we conclude this phase, we’ll move to the next 500 million.
Q You had mentioned earlier in the briefing that less than 10 percent of the population is now having trouble finding a test. Can you kind of (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I said there was a recent poll. I’m happy to tweet it after the briefing if you’d like, to make it available to all of you. I think it was a YouGov poll.
Q We still see — we know how much you love anecdotal data — but people talking about the long waits, people talking about CVS, et cetera, et cetera.
The President made it a point to say testing has gotten so much better today. But that would be pretty stark if it’s now 1 in 10 Americans claiming that they’re (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Well, I said a “recent poll,” which I think is just important to note, because obviously what we’ve been doing to date and where we are at this point in time is 300 million tests every single month. That is a lot of tests. And sometimes you would think that no one is able to get a test and no one is being tested when nearly 12 million people are being tested every day.
At the same time, as I have said, as the President has said, we want to do more, and we are continuing to do more. And that’s why we’re running this expedited process to procure more tests to ensure they’re free, they’re accessible, and they’re available to people across the country.
Q And two —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — from radio pool colleagues —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q — if you will. The FAA ground stop earlier this week, on the heels of the North Korean missile test, can you give us an idea of what information you all have about that? And is there a fear that these tests — North Korean tests may actually pose some type of danger or issue for U.S. civil aviation?
MS. PSAKI: I believe the FAA has spoken to this and taken kind of a look back at what happened. I think it was a 15-minute ground stop. And they have reflected on the procedures that happened and taken a look for them moving forward.
I would note that our national security and, most importantly, our defense officials across the country, after those tests, conveyed that no officials were at risk. So I’d really point you to the FAA as they assess that decision last week — or earlier this week, sorry.
Q One last one.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, go ahead.
Q The Committee to Protect Journalists report questioning — saying freedom advocates are concerned with your administration in terms of access to the President for reporters, timely responses — you know, the requests we have (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: Timely responses from our press office?
Q From the press office —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m surprised to hear that.
Q — to various queries on various topics.
MS. PSAKI: “To queries.” Okay.
Q Slow responses to requests for information — let me (inaudible) from that.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q The request to extradite Julian Assange, the restrictions on access to the media at the southern border, limited help for Afghan journalists. Can you give us a comment, from your perspective, on how you see those things playing out and what some of these criticisms are?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t read the report. But let me — well, I would say, broadly speaking, that when I spoke with the President about this job, I mean, one of our — one of the things he conveyed to me very clearly was resetting the tone with the media was a big priority for him, and ensuring that there was a respect even when there’s a point of contention or a difficult conversation, or a back-and-forth — that that is part of democracy.
But our objective is to — has been to re-instill normalcy and engagement with reporters, whether we agree or disagree, whether there is a partisan tilt to an outlet or not. And I think we have conducted ourselves accordingly.
And always we’re working to continue to be responsive. I would say — I would — I would say to inquiries of probably tens of thousands, if not more, does not to me sound like a data point, but I will look closer at the report.
The other thing I would say is that, you know, the President has taken questions at about two hundred- — on about 250 occasions over the past year. If you average about three questions per time, that’s about 750 questions he’s taken. That does not include the formal press conference he did in March, other press conferences he’s done. That’s about three. So let’s say 1,000, just to be generous there. That’s about three questions a day.
I think the American people have seen him out there answering questions. He will continue to be. That’s an important part of his engagement with the press and the public, and that will be a part of how we continue to conduct ourselves.
Go ahead, James.
Q Thank you very much, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you.
Q I want to ask one on the economy and one on the pandemic, if you don’t mind.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On the economy: In yesterday’s briefing with Mr. Deese and in today’s briefing, you have both cited economic metrics that showed great progress across 2021, from the unemployment rate to job creation to a rise in real household income. And when citing the progress in those areas, both you and Mr. Deese attributed that progress to specific administration policies and legislative initiatives.
Yet, when it came to the highest inflation in 40 years, both you and Mr. Deese attributed this to a variety of external factors, from the pandemic to supply chain constraints to inaction by the Congress on Build Back Better.
So, to be clear, for the American people in this midterm year who are going to be assessing the performance of the President and his party, where specifically inflation is concerned, does the buck stop with the President?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, James, first that the President has spoken to the fact that costs for Americans and the squeeze that puts on Americans is a top concern for him. And I think Brian Deese also conveyed that yesterday. And that’s why he put in place a Supply Chain Task Force; why we’ve prioritized taking steps, including having a port czar, including ensuring there are more truckers on the roads, to ensure there are more goods moving and more goods on the shelves. And we’ve made a lot of progress in that regard.
Of course that’s his responsibility and the responsibility of the economic team.
I also think it’s notable that if you go back to earlier
this [last] year, there were not the projections of the economic growth we have seen or the decrease in the unemployment rate we have seen. And that is, in part — not just according to us, but many outside economists — to the bills that have passed, some of them bipartisan, and the work of this administration to get the economy up and going again and address COVID.
Q So your answer is: Yes, he owns the job creation, he owns the low unemployment rate, and he also owns inflation. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: I think any president should own everything happening in the country. And the President certainly sees it that way.
Q To the pandemic: The President’s remarks this morning included yet another exhortation to the unvaccinated population to get vaccinated. He has, since assuming office, made dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of these kinds of appeals to that particular population. Do you have any evidence — indeed, do you have any sound basis for determining at all whether he is having any success in urging that population to do as he counsels?
MS. PSAKI: We do. If you go back to December of 2020, just over 30 percent, maybe 35 percent of people in this country was open to getting vaccinated. Now we’re at the point where more than 80 percent of the country has gotten at least one dose.
What the President also recognizes is that he’s not always the most effective messenger. Everybody in the country is not looking for him to tell them what to do. He certainly knows that.
What’s most important here is for people hearing from local leaders, pediatricians in some cases, doctors, people who have different political beliefs out there conveying clear, accurate information about the effectiveness of these vaccines. We think all of that has had an impact. And a lot of that is stuff that we’ve implemented.
Q But how do we know that 35 percent of the American population was willing to get vaccinated a year ago?
MS. PSAKI: I can give you the data. I’m happy to give that to you after the briefing. It was a public — public poll.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have two questions. One on Haiti, the other one on Canada.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The first one, on Haiti: Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the terrible earthquake of 2010. The effects are still being felt over there. How has the administration — or has the administration followed up on the deporta- — deport- — the migrants that were deported last fall, back — the thousands of them that were repor- — deported over there?
MS. PSAKI: Related to the earthquake? I’m —
Q Not related to the earthquake. But considering the situation over there — 12 years later, what kind of follow-up has been done with the migrants that were sent back last fall?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a very large presence on the ground — a diplomatic presence on the ground in Haiti, and that has continued to be the case. We are also the lar- — one of the largest, if not the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Haiti, through NGOs and many outside groups, in order to provide assistance for the range of challenges that people in Haiti have gone through from earthquakes or natural disasters to, obviously, the challenge — the challenge of the — that the assassination of their leader that happened this past summer.
So, we will continue to be providers of humanitarian assistance. Our diplomatic presence there is on the ground and working closely with trusted leaders in the region — in the country. And we will — we remain committed to that.
Q But you haven’t been — the Americans on the ground, the officials on the ground haven’t been in contact with the Haitians who have been deported from Texas, for instance, last fall?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — again, I would say we have a diplomatic presence on the ground that’s in touch with a range of Haitians who either have been sent back or who need help and assistance. And we work closely with local authorities to make sure that the humanitarian assistance is getting exactly to the people who need it.
Q Okay. On Canada, Jen, I just want to check something with you. Considering the multiple recent trade setbacks with the U.S., the Conservative leader in Canada this week claimed that the U.S.-Canada relationship is at its lowest point in decades. How do you see this?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t see it that way. We view Canada as an important neighbor, an important partner, a country we are aligned on in many democratic values, we work with on a range of issues facing the global community. And that is certainly the view of our government here.
Q You don’t feel a frustration towards, for instance, the fact that the Buy America measures are still imposed, actually, more strictly under this administration?
MS. PSAKI: We are certainly familiar with the frustrations of some leaders who were — who have been outspoken about it and spoke to it when they were here.
And I would just reiterate that our objective here is to make — to make electric vehicles, specifically, more accessible to Americans, to lower the cost here for Americans. And that is why the President pushed so hard for those provisions.
But we see Canada — continue to see Canada as an important partner in the world.
Q Just on the President’s first anniversary in office: What does he regard as his single-most important achievement? And does he acknowledge that any mistakes have been made? And if so, what’s the biggest mistake?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first that, you know, the President is very proud of the progress we’ve made in getting 200 million Americans vaccinated, very proud of the work we have done to cut the childhood poverty by 40 percent to help Americans who needed a little extra help get by through a challenging economic time, the work we did to get a Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed, and to rebuild our place in the world.
There are many others: I think confirming — nominating and confirming historic judges across the board, ensuring that our administration up and down the ranks looks like America. And I could go on from there. Fighting to take steps on climate in a historic manner; that has been more than any administration in the past.
In terms of — in terms of what we look back, you know, I’m not going to speculate on that from here. I will — I will let the President speak to that the next time you all see him.
Q But did he underestimate Donald Trump’s continued grip on the Republican Party and how difficult that would make it to work across the aisle and unite the nation?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I will tell you that hearing Kevin McCarthy talk today, for an example, and seeing what he said on January 21st last year is a pretty stark reminder of how much sway the former president has over members of his party.
I think that’s disappointing for everybody, not just people who work here.
Q Thank you, Jen. I wanted to ask a question from some colleagues who couldn’t be here.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q And then — and then before I get to that, I wanted to follow up on a question that Justin asked.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The President was in the Senate for 36 years.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q We’re at a point where his legislative agenda on Build Back Better and the Voting Rights Act has hit major roadblocks. Is there some introspection that his approach to the Senate is not working? And is he — are there changes that he’s making to his approach to the Senate, given his experience there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would also point to his experience leading him to stay focused and committed to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill — something that many said could never happen. And when it was voted on, 19 Republicans voted for it. He leaned on his experience in the Senate to get that done. He leaned on his experience in the Senate to get the American Rescue Plan done and passed into law.
And he will continue to lean on a Sen- — on his experience in the Senate and as for- — as a former Vice President to press for voting rights legislation, to press for Build Back Better, and getting those pieces of legislation done.
So, I would say, you know, the successes we had in the past year and that he had, despite the fact that there was a slim margin, are actually — I mean, I guess I’m biased — but pretty impressive given the margin we had in the Senate and the challenges we had up against us.
Q Given that he’s ending his first year underwater in the polls, Americans — more Americans disapprove of his job in office than approve of his job in office — what is he planning to do differently in the approach to the job in the second year that shows that he’s listening to that disapproval?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what you see in most of these polls is a real frustration and exhaustion with COVID, and the fact that it is not over. We share that. We understand that. People are fatigued across the country. It’s impacting how they live, how they work. There are worries about their kids — their ability to experience joyful things in life, like concerts and going to restaurants and seeing friends. We understand that.
The President knows that the best, most important step he can take is to continue to fight to get the pandemic under control, and also to lower costs for Americans across the country.
So, I would say it’s a continuation of the fights that he built a great deal of a base for over the course of the last year.
Q So the President doesn’t think that the disapproval rates are a reflection of the way he’s approached the job?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would point you to what most data shows you, which is a frustration about COVID and prices. And he believes — and he’s believed from the beginning that addressing COVID and the economy are number two — one, two, three, four issues. And that continues to be the case today.
Q And just a couple questions from a colleague who couldn’t be here. Do Biden and Putin have plans to meet in the future?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to predict for you on that front. As Jake mentioned, we’re just, of course, concluding the third round of talks. People are going to go back to their capitals. They’re going to discuss and assess and see where things stand.
So, in terms of next steps, we’ll have to see. We’ll know more over the coming days.
Q In those talks, is there a deadline for Moscow to de-escalate in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to set any deadlines here. Ultimately, the choice is really up to them. Are they going to proceed in in invading Ukraine?
If so, there are going to be severe consequences and economic impacts that will be devastating to the economy there, long — far beyond what happened in 2014. If that’s a choice they want to make and they think that’s to their advantage, that’s a choice they — they only have — only they have the power to make that.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
4:29 P.M. EST