James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:48 A.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We have another special guest today: our FEMA Administrator, Deanne Criswell. And she’s going to give a brief update to all of you at the top on all of the important work the — FEMA is doing to help us fight the pandemic. She’ll take a few questions, and then we’ll proceed with the briefing from there.
I know it’s going to be a short one today, but we’ll try to get around to as many people as possible.
With that, I will turn it over.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: All right. Thank you.
All right. Good afternoon, everybody — or good morning, still. Yesterday, Secretary Austin and I were able to brief the President on the tremendous work that’s being done to support our hospitals right now.
At FEMA, we’ve been part of this COVID mission since day one, beginning with supporting jurisdictions with medical personnel; acquiring and shipping personal protective equipment, medical equipment; opening testing sites; and deploying federal resources in support of our state, local, territorial, and Tribal members.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of opening our first community vaccination center in California — just one of the thousands we supported across the county — FEMA and our over 20,000-strong workforce continues to meet the ongoing requirements of the pandemic.
Our support to our partners hasn’t stopped and will not stop until this pandemic is over.
We know the most critical need right now is medical staffing for our hospitals. And we’ve been working non-stop with the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, who have been on the grounds in communities since day one, to push even more medical teams out the door to communities who need it most.
I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of these teams on their continued heroic efforts.
During my time as commissioner in New York City for Emergency Management, at the beginning of the pandemic, I had the privilege of speaking with the Chief Nursing Officer at Elmhurst Hospital, which was — at the time — the epicenter of the epicenter in those very early days, and listened to her address the Department of Defense medical team as they were concluding their mission at their hospital.
She said, with tears in her eyes, “You were the miracle we needed when we needed it most.” DOD continues to deliver on those miracles every day as they stand shoulder to shoulder with the heroes working on the frontline in your communities.
Yesterday, I spoke with Governors Whitmer and DeWine, who both said separately that these teams, in addition to adding more clinical capacity, are a morale boost to the doctors, the nurses, and the support staff in the hospitals that they’re working in. And they have been working day and night to save lives.
So now DOD is deploying six additional teams to Ohio, Michigan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico. We will also be deploying an additional HHS team to Rhode Island. And in the next several weeks, we are prepared to do more.
These teams are in addition to more than the — the more than 1,000 staff that are already deployed to 26 states, 2 territories, the District of Columbia, and 24 Tribal Nations. And since March of 2020 — since the beginning of this pandemic — thousands of federal personnel have deployed all over our country.
As critical as our doctors and nurses are, countless other professionals keep our hospitals running. Patient transporters, food workers, and cleaning staff are all at the heart of these healthcare facilities.
And so, for that reason, with the President’s support, I am now directing an expansion of our FEMA policy to permit funding to states who elect to use their National Guard troops to fill these critical support roles in hospitals.
During every disaster, FEMA’s strength is our ability to coordinate with other stakeholders –- federal, state, local, Tribal, private, and non-profit partners -– to identify gaps and meet needs. And this COVID mission has been no different.
We meet with our DOD, HHS, and other federal partners daily to anticipate future needs and fill those requests.
FEMA has also been supporting communities across the country through nearly $100 billion in funding for all types of COVID-related needs, including vaccination, safely opening and operating schools and other public facilities, and testing, thanks to an unprecedented commitment by this administration.
This funding — combined with the extraordinary work of DOD, HHS, and our other federal partners — has enabled states and local communities to fight this pandemic, save lives, and protect families.
This pandemic has shifted and changed through the Delta variant and now the Omicron variant, but our commitment, and the commitment of the entire federal family, has not changed.
Together, we will continue to surge staff, push resources, and provide support using every tool that we have available to fight our fight against COVID-19.
Thank you. And I’ll take a few questions.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Weijia.
Q Thank you. And thank you so much for being here, Administrator.
Manpower is one thing, but I know you’ve talked about, in the past, too, having to make sure they have somewhere to work and that there are hospital beds. So, for these six particular states and hospitals that have been identified, are you building out capacity, adding more physical space for the teams to work?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: In these specific states — these six states — we are just sending staff. That is the request that they had.
Our regional administrators have been in constant communication with our state emergency management directors and state public health directors throughout this pandemic. And we have been conducting, recently, facility expansion assistance to all of the states.
Right now, we’ve had a few states that have requested some assistance in helping to identify where they may be able to expand. But we’ve had no specific requests to expand hospital capacity outside of maybe setting up a tent outside of their emergency room to be able to support triage efforts.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Alex. Oh, go ahead.
Q I do have a question. You know, this has been a year of unprecedented natural disasters, as well as, obviously, a global pandemic that has no end in sight at this point.
Are you largely relying on ARP funding, or are you hoping to get more funding from the administration going forward, as we’re looking at another year of ongoing challenges?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, the funding that FEMA uses is through our Disaster Relief Fund. And right now, for all the requirements that we have on our plate, we have enough funding within that to meet all of those demands.
MS. PSAKI: Jeremy.
Q Thank you, Administrator, for doing this. What kind of feedback were you getting from governors or hospitals that led to this decision and this added flexibility?
And then, secondly, I’m also wondering — you know, next week, there’s, I guess, 120 military members going as part of this six-state deployment. That’s out of the, I think, 1,000 military members that the President has said he would mobilize this coming month. So why are you only sending 120 right now, at a time when there are, you know, nearly two dozen states, I think, that have 85-percent-plus ICU bed capacity? Are there not more requests coming in? Or what are you waiting for to deploy the rest of that 1,000?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Yeah, great questions. And so, on the first question — remind me the first question again real fast.
Q Yeah. The feedback that you’re getting from governors and hospitals that (inaudible).
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: So, again, my regional administrators, they’ve been communicating with our state directors daily. And one of the things that — that we have heard recently is, while we do need medical staffing, there’s a lot of other functions within the hospital that need additional staffing, in particular because of the Omicron variant and how it’s taking other staff within the hospital out.
And so, we’ve been able to expand our policy in order to make sure that we’re providing whatever type of resources are available to keep those hospitals functioning. So, an incredible step forward to make sure that they can keep moving.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: As far as where we’re at with the deployment of personnel going out, the Department of Defense — through FEMA, we have been sending Department of Defense personnel out throughout this pandemic.
We sent several teams out during the Delta surge, and we started to evaluate what we thought the impacts would be for the Omicron variant earlier in December. That’s where the initial announcement was made that we were going to send the 1,000 additional personnel from the Department of Defense.
As we get requests from our state partners for what they need — these are the requests that we have right now, and we’re filling those based on when they can receive them.
MS. PSAKI: Peter.
Q Thank you for the question. So, what’s the point of now sending N95 or KN95 masks out to Americans if a lot of those masks are just single, daily use, like somebody wears it once. Then what?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Masks save lives — I think is the important thing here. And we want to make sure that everybody has the tools and resources that they need in order to protect themselves and their families.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.
Q Administrator, thank you so much for taking my question. I just want to ask you: Is there any plan — you said your agency is willing to do more, but is there any plan to set up perhaps ma- — more of those mass testing sites, federally run testing sites, or the vaccination sites to help stop the spread but also get people tested?
We know that your — the administration is planning to send out those rapid tests, but the PCR test, of course, is more accurate. So, is there a plan to do more in some of those hard-hit states across the country?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Absolutely. So, again, we’re working with our states to identify what their needs are. You know, there’s many parts of the country that have built up internal capacity across their states. But those areas that need that additional testing sites, we are available to set those up.
We’ve been partnering with the Centers for Disease Control, and we are setting those up now and will continue to do so, you know, as the states need them and as they request them.
MS. PSAKI: Brian. That’s going to be — have to be the last one.
Q Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot, Administrator. When you came on in April — and FEMA’s had mass vaccination sites that it’s rolled out — I think that one of the questions is: Right now, the President just announced that they’re going to triple the stockpile of PPE, get masks out to Americans, and also try to expand the testing capacity and home test kits.
Did FEMA weigh too much of its resources for vaccinations, or should it have also been surging that capacity months ago in testing and PPE?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: FEMA’s role has always been to support our hospitals, our schools, and our public service agencies. We have been supporting them through the delivery and reimbursement for PPE, for the medical staff that we’re sending out. That has not changed, and that support will continue.
The additional support that’s coming out for the general population is something that FEMA does not participate in, and those are the issues that — or the items that you’re hearing are going to be announced and available to the general public later.
Q But when it comes to testing sites, FEMA has rolled out public testing sites. Why not surge public testing sites three months ago in anticipation that there would be surges of variants?
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Again, we’re working with our states routinely, and we’re hearing what their needs are, and we’re basing our support to them on what they need. And so, as they request additional assistance, that’s when we come together and give them the assistance that they need.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Administrator Criswell. Appreciate you coming.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: You’re always welcome and invited.
ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL: Thank you. Thank you, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I know, again, we have a short time here, so I just have two items for you at the top.
Since President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law 60 days ago, the Biden-Harris administration has hit the ground running to deliver results. We’ve made key progress toward implementing the largest long-term investment in America’s infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century.
The Department of Transportation today announced a historic investment under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to modernize, repair, and replace approximately 15,000 bridges nationwide. That’s a lot of bridges.
This is the single-largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate Highway System, and provides more than $27 billion to states and Tribal transportation facilities.
Obviously, there will be more to come, and you’ll hear the President soon.
Another little bit of news for all of you, and we’ll have more on the week ahead, I expect, in the coming days. But next Wednesday, the President will hold a formal press conference at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. So, we look forward to seeing you there and to — the President looks forward to speaking directly to the American people.
I’m going to try to go to the people who didn’t get questions, and then come back around if that works.
So, go ahead.
Q Thank you. I wanted to just follow up on the cyberattack against the Ukraine. I know the NSC said it was too soon to attribute the attack. But could you say where early indications are pointing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that — and just to — because I know there’s been a lot of questions, understandably, on this. So, let me try to address a few of them as well, if that’s okay.
The United States and our allies and partners are concerned about the cyberattack, and the President has been briefed. We are also in touch with the Ukrainians and have offered our support as Ukraine investigates the impact and nature and recovers from the incidents.
We don’t have attribution at this time, and I can’t point to any more specifics.
I know the Ukrainians also announced and conveyed that they got their systems up and running pretty quickly and that personal data was not accessed. We will continue to, of course, work with them and assess any additional impacts. We’re continuing to consult with allies and partners, including Ukraine, on this.
You might have also seen NATO’s statement as well, which says that they’re also exchanging information with Ukraine. So that’s where the status stands right now. I think it’s important to note the Ukrainians’ statements on this, which convey very, very clearly that they were able to get their systems up and running.
Q If it determined that Russia was behind the attack, how would the U.S. respond to that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speculate on that or preview what actions we would take at this time. I would just note that we will take necessary and proper steps, of course, to defend our allies, support our partners, and support the Ukrainian people. But we’re still assessing that at this point in time.
Q Could you describe in a little more detail what sort of support the U.S. has been providing Ukraine on the cyber front, like over the last few months?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our team and see if we can detail that more to all of you specifically. We have been in touch with them, working with them on many levels. And certainly the threat of cyber is something — of cyberattacks is something that has impacted a number of countries throughout Europe, throughout the world.
We’re providing, of course, best practices, the expertise we have in the U.S. government, but I can see if we can detail that more specifically.
Chris, go ahead.
Q I know there have been some challenges this week, but zooming out, kind of, even more: What’s your message to Democratic voters out there who said they voted for lawmakers to protect voting rights, turn the tide on global warming, lower prescription drug prices, reform police departments, raise the minimum wage, tackle student debt — and have gotten none of it?
MS. PSAKI: Our message to them is that we’re still fighting for absolutely every component of what you just listed and that, right now, we are dealing with the realities of the fact that we have a very slim majority in the Senate and in the House. That makes things more challenging than they have been in the past.
I would also note — and I bet a lot of Americans who have conveyed their advocacy for a lot of those issues — issues the President cares deeply about — have also cared deeply about getting the pandemic under control, have also cared deeply about ensuring schools are open across the country, that small businesses are functioning, that our economy is up and running. And those have been the top issues, basically, in every piece of data we’ve seen across the board.
So, the message from the President to them is: He is committed to continuing to fight. You heard him say this week that voting rights, the rights of people to express their views at the polls is something that is fundamental to him. And he’s going to stay at it.
Q One last thing. Do you have any news for us on the President holding a formal news conference?
MS. PSAKI: I just announced one at the top. Chris, we’ve just caught you.
Q You have. I —
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. I now relate to your teachers in high school and what they may have experienced, but it’s okay.
Q I’ll look for the Mediaite clip.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. (Laughter.) There you go.
It’s — to be fair, it is a Friday in a very busy news week. So, I will — everybody should take any pressure off of Chris.
Q Is the —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead. And we have not met before, so welcome to the briefing room.
Q Thank you. Is the President planning any sort of staff shake-up or changes at the White House given recent setbacks, including inflation at a 40-year high, the Supreme Court blocking the vaccine mandate, and the collapse of voting rights legislation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the other way to look at the last year is that 200 million Americans are now vaccinated; more than 80 percent of Americans have received at least one dose. If you look back to a year ago, only about 35 percent of people were willing to do that. The President’s — through the President’s action and leadership, we have made vaccines available across the country.
Boosters: We have provided more supply to the global community — 400 million doses — than any other country in the world.
We have had record economic growth in this country. We have record low unemployment rates in this country. And we are getting out of a pandemic and the economic downturn tied to it at a rate that is faster than anyone thought would have happened.
We have confirmed more judges that look like America, that are diverse like this country, than almost any other administration in history.
And again, the truth is: An agenda doesn’t wrap up in one year. We are going to continue to fight for every component of his legi- — of his agenda and his — and his plans for his presidency that he outlined when he was running for President.
Q One more thing. Can you confirm that a coronavirus emergency spending request is coming? And what details can you provide on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are always in touch with Congress and leaders in Congress about what needs the American people have as we continue to fight the pandemic. That has been the case continuously throughout the pandemic, and that remains the case today.
I don’t have anything to preview for you, but I would just echo what Speaker Pelosi said over the weekend — a couple days ago, where she said that we weren’t going to let resources get in the way of fighting the pandemic. That continues to be our view.
But I have nothing to preview at this point in time, but those conversations are ongoing.
Q Thank you. I have a couple of questions and one from my colleague at VOA.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q My first question is the administration’s response as hundreds of nurses with the National Nurses United held demonstrations demanding for safer COVID conditions. And they talked about there’s not necessarily a shortage of nurses, but many are not willing to work in what they feel like are unsafe conditions and feel like some of the protections are being weakened.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we believe there should be strict and stringent requirements in medical and — in hospitals and medical facilities to keep the people who are working there safe and also to keep the patients safe. And I would just note that, yesterday, the Supreme Court continued to — is allowing for the CMS requirement to move forward, which is an important component of keeping people who are patients safe but also keeping workers in a lot of facilities safe.
A number of hospital systems across the country have implemented vaccine requirements, which we certainly support, and they’ve been very successful. We — so we’d continue to encourage others to do the same.
Q With MLK coming — ML[K] Day coming, is there anything that we can expect to hear from the President — any type of new strategy, any plan? And what is he going to be doing on that day?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have more details. I certainly understand the interest. We’re dealing with mother nature here — with the storm. And so, we are adjusting and making some plans for how he will commemorate a very important day in our history. But I expect we’ll have more details for that, hopefully in the next 24 hours.
Q From VOA, just a quick question: Confirmation on — that the U.S. has information that indicates Russia has pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in Eastern Ukraine, as reported by CNN.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, I do have some detail on this. Let me confirm for you.
So, as you all have heard us say many times, we are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives.
As part of its plans, Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion — and we’ve seen this before; we saw this before leading up 2014, just to note — including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine. And the Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February.
Again, we saw this playbook before, including the widespread effort to push out misinformation, not just in Eastern Europe but around the global community.
We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in Eastern Ukraine. The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.
Our information also indicates that Russian influence actors are already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention and sow divisions in Ukraine.
For example, Russian officials and influence actors are emphasizing narratives about the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine and the increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders. This is all the spreading of misinformation.
These media narrativ- — narratives also blame the West for escalating tension, highlight humanitarian issues in Ukraine that Russian intervention could solve, and promote Russian patriotism to encourage domestic support for military action.
And, finally, during December, Russian-language content on social media covering all three of these narratives increased to an average of nearly 3,500 posts per day, a 200 percent increase from the daily average in November.
So it’s important to note what people are seeing out there and to call out this misinformation that is being spread to — as a false-flag operation. And there’s a number of tactics that they’re using in that regard.
Let me go to the back. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said today that Moscow have “run out of patience” with the West. So, how patient is President Biden with Russia’s aggressive behavior?
And another one: The AFP News Agency reports that Ukraine proposes three-way crisis summit with President Biden, Putin, and Zelenskyy. Are you open to such a format?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to preview in terms of the next steps on negotiations or talks. Everybody is back in their capitals now having conversations about that.
I will note that the President’s view and our view is that this is up to President Putin and Russia to determine what the path for it is. We are ready regardless of what they decide.
If they decide they’re going to invade Ukraine, there are going to be economic consequences that go far beyond 2014.
If they decide they want to engage in diplomatic conversations and talks, we are very open to that. And we’re hopeful they will do that.
But, ultimately, it’s a choice they need to make. And so, I would suggest you ask them that question.
Q But what about —
MS. PSAKI: Go —
Q What about the — President Biden’s patience with what Russia is doing right now?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it’s not about that; it’s about Russia deciding what path they’re going to take.
Go ahead. Oh, go ahead.
Q Hi. So, President Biden, yesterday, said that he will be providing — or the administration will be providing high-quality masks to Americans for free.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q However, health experts have been saying for quite some time now that better masks are crucial against Omicron. So why is the White House late to making them available for free?
MS. PSAKI: We aren’t. We actually have already provided 30 million masks across the country. We have built a stockpile of 750 million masks in the government.
And this is about expanding and building upon — providing high-quality masks out to people across the country.
And I would say of the money that was used for — from the American Rescue Plan to keep schools open, some of that was used for PPE. A lot of funding that has been — that has already been approved over the course of the last year-plus has been used for PPE as well. So, this is building on those steps.
I just want to get around to everybody. Oh, go ahead.
Q Just one more. So, Kamala Harris was put in charge of voting rights. Why wasn’t she with the President at the crucial Senate lunch to sell the bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Vice President has been selling the bill across the country — obviously, delivering speeches, providing — engaging and meeting with activists. She’s also been — she was also working the phones over the last couple of days and has played a pivotal role, no question, and will continue to moving forward.
Q Thanks so much, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, wait, actually, let me just make sure I get to everybody in, and then I’ll come around.
Q Thanks, Jen. Last March, President Biden signed an executive order encouraging federal agencies to help expand access to the ballot. Can we get an update on how federal agencies have dealt with that in the past year or so?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of how they’ve implemented it and steps they’ve taken?
Q How they implemented it and what steps —
MS. PSAKI: We can absolutely get you one and get you one from what — agency to agency, what they’ve been doing. And that was something —
Q And I was wondering about the situation in Congress. Could we expect any more executive orders like that or actions from the federal government that (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I will say we are going to continue to look for ways to protect and expand the rights of the American people to have access to voting.
And in addition to that executive order, the Department of Justice, as you know, doubled their funding and support for the protection of voting rights. We also have been working with organizations all across the country who are building diverse coalitions to pass pro-voter laws and push back against those that make it harder to vote and threaten free and fair administration of elections.
In addition to doing the critical work to register and educate voters, these organizations have built grassroots leadership at the state level, including among state legislators and across Latino, African American, AAPI, and Native American communities, among young people. And they’re providing also training, policy research, messaging guidance, and direct organizing to register voters and deploying voter protection teams.
So, we are working certainly at the federal level, also at the grassroots level, and we will continue to look for ways to protect people’s fundamental rights.
George, go ahead.
Q Yeah, I want to go back to first-year anniversary and ask you if there’s anything that surprised you in the first year. And I’m thinking of a couple things that weren’t being talked about a year ago at inauguration. Everybody was excited about vaccines; now you have anti-vax groups. Trump was being impeached; now he controls the opposition party. And there was no talk of inflation at the time of the inauguration.
MS. PSAKI: A lot has happened in a year. I would say — you know, actually, if we look back at data around the time or shortly before the inauguration, only about a third of the American public was willing to get vaccinated, and now we’re over 80 percent. So, actually, that’s an area where there has been an enormous amount of progress made.
There has been some surprising components, including the fact that many people who were opposed to getting vaccinated, we assumed that because it was a vaccine that was approved — one of them at least by — under a Republican president, that the FDA had given formal approval in September and obviously given the dire impacts of the virus, that there wouldn’t be as much vaccine hesitancy. But that’s one of the reasons that we took a number of the steps we did over the course of the fall.
You know, I would say that, of course, you know, you look back and there are — there are initiatives that the President has fought for that have historically not been partisan. And I don’t know if that’s a surprise, but voting rights is certainly an example of them. And as I’ve said a few times from here, there are 16 Republicans sitting in the Senate who have supported voting rights protections in the past.
So, I’m not sure if that’s surprising, but that certainly is not a development in the right direction.
Q Has he been surprised at the difficulty in bringing Republicans along to his views?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think a lot of people are surprised 19 Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill and 5 or 6 voted in the Hou- — in the Senate, and 5 or 6 voted in the House.
There are — there are, again, initiatives and policies that have historically had bipartisan support, like voting rights, that have become unfortunately perceived as a partisan issue.
Q Thanks, Jen. Back to Russia. Just hours before that cyberattack on Ukraine, Ukraine’s ambassador here in Washington told CBS News that her country believed a cyberattack would precede any major military action by Putin’s forces. I think you touched on this when you were talking about the groundwork being laid. But just to be more clear: Does the administration view cyberattacks as a signal that Russia plans to invade?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give an assessment of that from here. I would just note it’s also important that — to include the context of the fact that Ukrainian officials have spoken to the impact of this specific attack.
We know that cyber is a tool that many actors across the world use as a form of warfare. We have seen that increase — only increase in recent years. But in terms of what the chain of events would be or will be, I just don’t have anything more for you on that.
Q But has the cyberattack and the false-flag ops that you talked about, has that changed the assessment of how probable a military invasion would be compared to yesterday, before these two incidents?
MS. PSAKI: I think it gives everyone a pretty clear picture of what we’re seeing in terms of the preparations. Now, whether or not they move forward, that is up to the Russian leaders to decide. But the fact that they are laying out — to your point, Weijia — these false-flag operations, that they are sowing the seeds of misinformation, that does give you an indication of all of the preparations that are underway.
Q And then, I have one question Iran.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Because Secretary Blinken was very frank yesterday in an interview, and he said there are just “a few weeks left” to reach mutual compliance with Iran because they are just a few weeks away from having enough material for a nuclear weapon. So can you talk about what this final push for an agreement looks like and how realistic it is given there are only a few weeks left?
MS. PSAKI: I, of course, agree with Secretary Blinken. I mean, I was going to say he’s absolutely right, which seems like a silly thing to say. But I would note, Weijia, that it is a critical time, and this is how the President sees it as well.
Though there has been some progress made in negotiations, if we don’t reach an understanding soon — a mutual return to compliance — we will have to consider a different path forward.
And the bottom line is the President is not going to allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. And as Secretary Blinken noted, they have made progress, and this is no thanks to the decision by the former president to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement despite promises that they would agree on a stronger agreement that Iran would not move forward. They have done exactly those things. Exactly those things they predicted would not happen have happened.
That is why we’re in the point we are in, but that means — several weeks ago, the President asked his team to prepare a range of options. They have done that, and obviously our preference is always diplomacy.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I got — okay, Peter, go ahead. Last one.
Q Thank you, Jen. President Biden promised to bring decades of D.C. experience to the Oval Office, but Build Back Better has not passed, voting rights apparently not going to pass, and vaccine requirements that he likes are apparently illegal. What happened?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, Peter, I would say if you look back at last year and what we were able to accomplish — that includes getting the American Rescue Plan passed — a package that has contributed to cutting childhood poverty by 40 percent; has helped ensure we are moving at a faster pace toward economic growth, toward a record-low unemployment rate; helped ensure schools — more than 95 percent — are open across the country.
He also pressed, despite skeptics, to get a Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed — one that we have just — we’re just announcing today. The fact that 15,000 bridges are going to be repaired — that was despite many skeptics. And because of his efforts, 200 million Americans are now vaccinated.
The work of an administration continues after one year, and it will — he will continue to press forward on all of those priorities.
Q But as he talked about a year ago and working with Republicans, now he is talking about Republicans that don’t agree with voting rights. He’s describing them as George Wallace, Bull Connor, and Jefferson Davis. What happened to the guy who — when he was elected said, “To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy”?
MS. PSAKI: I think everybody listening to that speech who is “speaking on the level,” as my mother would say, would note that he was not comparing them as humans, he was comparing the choice to those figures in history and where they’re going to position themselves if they — as they determine whether they’re going to support the fundamental right to vote or not.
One last thing. The Bengals are playing tomorrow. I’m just giving it a shout out so that my husband will be excited at home. They haven’t won a playoff game in 31 years.
Okay, we got to wrap it up.
Q Can I get a quick —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.
Q Can I get a quick update on — now that the dust has settled, are there any steps the administration is going to take going forward with respect to the vaccine mandate? And have you found that it was a success?
And then one more update on yesterday. Are you guys still making calls this weekend on voting rights? It seems that Manchin and Sinema, even after coming to the White House — there’s no hint that they’re going to change their positions. So, I mean, what are the next few days look like before that vote?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President’s view, as you heard him say yesterday, is that we’re going to continue to press to get this done moving forward. And that means continuing to engage with a range of officials who are supportive, some who have questions and some who are skeptical.
He obviously met with Senator Sinema yesterday afternoon, even after she made a public speech about — about her opposition to the filibuster. I think that’s evidence of his continued commitment to keep engaging.
As it relates to the vaccine requirements and what’s next: As the President said yesterday, the Supreme Court has chosen to block commonsense, lifesaving requirements for employees. We’re, of course, immensely disappointed by that decision. It’s now up to the states and individual employers to put in place vaccination requirements.
Here are some pieces of good news — and this is a little updated from yesterday: Businesses and other employers have already taken these steps. Nearly 40 percent of Fortune 100 companies have vaccine requirements.
In October, prior to the OSHA rule even coming out, a quarter of workers in the country were already subject to a requirement from their employer. By January, that number had risen to nearly 60 percent of employ- — of employers requiring or planning to require vaccines.
And since the administration began implementing requirements in July, we’ve gotten from 90 million to 30 million Americans unvaccinated. More work to be done — no question.
It was good news that the CMS requirement for healthcare workers was kept in place; that will impact 10 to 11 million. And there are a number of companies across the country that are good models. We’re going to continue to echo those.
Q Just —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I don’t want you to be late. Go ahead.
Q Just real quick. Just real quick. Did the President move the needle at all with Senators Manchin and Sinema as it relates to voting rights and the filibuster yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I will let them give an assessment of where they stand.
Q And, you know, I understand you guys think this is a fight worth having. But are you clear-eyed at least, and are you willing to tell your supporters to be clear-eyed that these votes next week on voting rights and on changing filibuster rules are going to fail?
MS. PSAKI: If we believed everything every pundit said out there and listened to that, the President would not have run for office. He would not be President. We would not have an infrastructure bill that is law. We have —
Q That’s not false hope?
MS. PSAKI: We have heard — we have heard what members have said. It is important about where they stand on the filibuster.
The President is going to stay at it, as you heard him say yesterday, because he believes that voting rights is a fundamental right for people across the country.
Thanks, everyone. Happy Friday.
12:23 P.M. EST