South Court Auditorium
3:42 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, folks. I’m going to make some brief remarks, sign an executive order, and then take your questions, if that’s okay with you all.
Last week, we immediately got to work to contain the pandemic and deliver economic relief to millions of Americans who need it the most. And today we’re getting to work to rebuild the backbone of America: manufacturing, unions, and the middle class.
It’s based on a simple premise: that we’ll reward work, not wealth, in this country. And the key plank of ensuring the future will be “Made in America.” I’ve long said that I don’t accept the defeatist view that the forces of automation and globalization can’t keep — can keep union jobs from growing here in America. We can create more of them, not fewer of them.
I don’t buy for one second the — that the vitality of the American manufacturing is a thing of the past. American manufacturing was the arsenal of democracy in World War Two, and it must be part of the engine of American prosperity now. That means we are going to use taxpayers’ money to rebuild America. We’ll buy American products and support American jobs, union jobs.
For example, the federal government every year spends approximately $600 billion in government procurement to keep the country going safe and secure. And there’s a law that’s been on the books for almost a century now: to make sure that that money was spent — taxpayers’ dollars for procurement is spent to support American jobs and American businesses.
But the previous administration didn’t take it seriously enough. Federal agencies waived the Buy American requirement without much pushback at all. Big corporations and special interests have long fought for loopholes to redirect American taxpayers’ dollars to foreign companies where the products are being made. The result: tens of billions of American taxpayers’ dollars supporting foreign jobs and foreign industries.
In 1918 — excuse me, in 2018 alone, the Department spent $3 billion — the Defense Department — on foreign construction contracts, leaving American steel and iron out in the cold. It spent nearly $300 million in foreign engines and on vehicles instead of buying American vehicles and engines from American companies, putting Americans to work.
Under the previous administration, the federal government contract awarded directly to foreign companies went up 30 percent. That is going to change on our watch.
Today I’m taking the first steps in my larger Build Back Better Recovery Plan that invests in American workers, unions, and businesses up and down the supply chain. And I know that previous presidents entered office by promising to buy America and instituting the Buy American policy, but here’s why this is different and not the same:
I’ll be signing an executive order in just a moment, tightening the existing Buy American policies, and go further. We’re setting clear directives and clear explanations. We’re going to get to the core issue with a centralized, coordinated effort.
Look, today I’m creating a director of Made in America at the White House Office of Management and Budget who will oversee our all-of-government Made in America initiative. That starts with stopping federal agencies from waiving Buy American requirements with impunity, as has been going on. If an agency wants to issue a waiver to say “We’re not going to buy an American product as part of this project; we’re going to buy a foreign product,” they have to come to the White House and explain it to us.
We’re going to require that waivers be publicly posted; that is, if someone is seeking a waiver to build this particular vehicle or facility and is going to buy the following foreign parts, that waiver — the request for it — is going to be posted. Then we’ll work with small American manufacturers and businesses to give them a shot to raise their hand and say, “Yeah, I can do that here in my shop, in my town.”
It’s about — as you’ve heard me say before, I used to have a friend who was a great athlete, who’d say, “You got to know how to know.” These small businesses don’t even know they can compete for making the product that is attempting to be waived and being able to be bought abroad.
And I’m directing the Office of Management and Budget to review waivers to make sure they are only used in very limited circumstances. For example, when there’s an overwhelming national security, humanitarian, or emergency need here in America. This hasn’t happened before. It will happen now.
Here’s what else we’re going to be doing. Under the Build Back Better Recovery Plan, we’ll invest hundreds of billions of dollars in buying American products and materials to modernize our infrastructure, and our competitive strength will increase in a competitive world. That means millions of good-paying jobs, using American-made steel and technology, to rebuild our roads, our bridges, our ports, and to make them more climate resilient, as well as making them able to move faster and cheaper and cleaner to transport American-made goods across the country and around the world, making us more competitive.
It also means replenishing our stockpiles to enhance our national security. As this pandemic has made clear, we can never again be in a position where we have to rely on a foreign country that doesn’t share our interest in order to protect our people during a national emergency. We need to make our own protective equipment, essential products and supplies. And we’ll work with our allies to make sure they have resilient supply chains as well.
We’ll also make historic investments in research and development — hundreds of billions of dollars — to sharpen America’s innovative edge in markets where global leadership is up for grabs — markets like battery technology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, clean energy.
The federal government also owns an enormous fleet of vehicles, which we’re going to replace with clean, electric vehicles made right here in America by American workers, creating millions of jobs — a million autoworker jobs in clean energy — and vehicles that are net-zero emissions.
And together, this will be the largest mobilization of public investment in procurement, infrastructure, and R&D since World War Two.
And with the executive order I’ll be signing today, we’ll increase Buy American requirements for these kinds of projects and improve the way we measure domestic content requirements. For example, right now, if you manufacture a vehicle for the federal government, you need to show that at least 50 percent of the components of that vehicle were made in America. But because of loopholes that have been expanded over time, you can count the least valuable possible parts as part of that 50 percent to say “Made in America,” while the most valuable parts — the engines, the steel, the glass, the manufac- — are manufactured abroad.
So basically — but basically we’re batting zero for two. The content threshold of 50 percent aren’t high enough. And the way we measure the content doesn’t account for U.S. jobs and economic activity. We’re going to change that as well.
The executive action I’m signing today will not only require that companies make more of their components in America, but that the value of those components is contributing to our economy, measured by things like a number of American jobs created and/or supported.
At the same time, we’ll be committed to working with our trading partners to modernize international trade rules, including those relating to government procurement, to make sure we can use — we can all use our taxpayer dollars to spur investment that promotes growth and resilient supply chains.
And here’s what else the action does. When we buy America, we’ll buy from all of America. That includes communities that have historically been left out of government procurement — black, brown, Native American small businesses and entrepreneurs in every region of the country.
We will use a national network of manufacturers — called a Manufacturing Extension Partnership — that’s in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, to help government agency connect with new domestic suppliers across the country.
This is a critical piece of building our economy back better and including everyone in the deal this time, especially small businesses that are badly hurting in this economy.
The executive action I am taking also reiterates my strong support for the Jones Act and American vessels, you know, and our ports, especially those important for America’s clean energy future and the development of offshore renewable energy.
I’ll close with this: The reason we need to do this is America can’t sit on the sidelines in the race for the future.
Our competitors aren’t waiting. To ensure the future is made in America, we need to win not just the jobs of today, but the jobs and industries of tomorrow. And we know that the middle class built this country, and we also know unions built the middle class. So let’s invest in them once again. I know we’re ready, despite all of the — all we’re facing. I have never been more optimistic about the future of America than I am today.
Given even just half a chance, the American people,
the American worker, has never, ever let the country down. Imagine if we give them a full chance. That’s what we’re going to do.
I’ll stop here and sign the executive order, and then come back and take some of your questions.
This executive order is entitled “Ensuring the Future Is Made in America, by Americans — All of American Workers.”
(The executive order is signed).
There you go. Now I’d now be happy to take your questions.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Jonathan Lemire with the Associated Press. Two topics, if I may. The first: You have made reopening schools a central part of your first 100 Days agenda, and you’ve long portrayed yourself as an ally to the teachers and the unions. Right now, the Chicago Teachers Union has refused. They defied an order to return to in-person classing — for in-person classrooms because of a lack of vaccinations. Do you believe, sir, that teachers should return to schools now?
THE PRESIDENT: I believe we should make school classrooms safe and secure for the students, for the teachers, and for the help that’s in those schools maintaining the facilities. We need new ventilation systems in those schools. We need testing for people coming in and out of the classes. We need testing for teachers, as well as students. And we need the capacity — the capacity to know that, in fact, the cic- [sic] — or the circumstance in the school is safe and secure for everyone.
For example, there is no reason why the clear guidance will be that every school should be thoroughly sanitized, from the lavatories to the hallways. And so this is about making — and none of the school districts that I’m aware of — there may be some, of public school districts — have insisted that all of those pieces be in place.
And, I might add, it’s the same kind of thing I hope we can do with small businesses and businesses, making sure they have the capacity to test their workers when they come in; to make sure they have plastic dividers between their booths in their — in their restaurants, et cetera; to make sure they can sanitize.
So it’s not so much about the idea that teachers aren’t going to work. The teachers I know, they want to work. They just want to work in a safe environment and as safe as we can rationally make it. And we can do that, and we should be able to open up every — every school, kindergarten through eighth grade, if, in fact, we administer these tests.
And it’ll have the added advantage, I might add, of putting millions of people back to work – all those mothers and fathers that are home taking care of their children, rather than go to work. Even when they can work, they’re not able to do it unless they have the luxury of working distance-wise, like many of us do. They’re not able to do it. And so this is about generating economic growth overall as well.
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Great. Alex from Reuters.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’m Alex Alper from Reuters. I wanted to ask a question about Navalny — if you are considering imposing sanctions on any of the individuals involved in his attempted poisoning and/or his arrest when he returned from Germany. And if not, is that related to your concerns about it potentially derailing a New START extension? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: I find that we can both operate in the mutual self-interest of our countries as a New START agreement, and make it clear to Russia that we are — we are very concerned about their behavior, whether it’s Navalny, whether it’s the SolarWinds, or whether it’s the reports of bounties on the heads of Americans in Afghanistan.
I have asked the agencies in question to do a thorough — a thorough read for me on every one of those issues, to update me on precisely where they are. And I will not hesitate to raise those issues with the Russians.
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Jeff from NBC.
Q President Biden, Vice President Harris, a question about your COVID relief deal. On Friday, you said the nation is “in a national emergency [and] we should act like it.” Given that — given the scale and the severity of the need, how long are you willing to get sufficient Republican support before you would greenlight Democrat attempts to use reconciliation, for instance, to pass that bill?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, the decision on reconciliation will be one made by the leaders of the House and the Senate. But here’s the deal: I have been doing legislative negotiations for a large part of my life. I know how the system works. And what I’m not — I can’t guarantee anything at all, but I can say that what I’m going to be doing — and we’ve already begun — is making it clear to the leadership in the House and the Senate, as well as the — the group of 16, the group — the bipartisan group, as well as Republican individuals who have an interest in the issues that are in package, and saying “Here’s what I’m doing, and here’s why I want to do it, here’s why I think we need to do it, and what kind of support can or can’t you give to that?” And then we go on to the way in which we deal with legislation all the time.
You know, we — we didn’t have any votes for the recovery package when Barack and I came into office. We were short three votes. We didn’t know we had the votes until the day of the –- the day of the — of the — bringing it up.
And — but here’s the deal: You know, it’s interesting — and I know you ask a lot of these questions. You know the answers, but you have to — to help educate the public as well; I’m not suggesting you don’t know what I’m about to say. No one wants to give up on their position until there’s no other alternative. They either have to make a decision that they don’t do what — they don’t support what is being proposed, or they insist on what they have, or they let it all go away, fall down. I think we’re far from that point right now.
The decision to use reconciliation will depend upon how these negotiations go. And let me make clear about negotiations: I’ve always believed part of negotiation — on the part of a President and/or a chairman of a committee trying to get a major piece of legislation passed — is about consultation.
It’s not enough for me just to come up to you and say, “I like this. I expect you to support it.” I want to explain to you why I think it’s so important in this package that we have to provide for money for additional vaccines, why I think it’s so important why we provide for money to extend unemployment benefits, why I think it’s so important that we provide money to provide for the ability of people not to be thrown out of their apartments during this pandemic because they can’t afford their rent, and to make the case to you why I think and what I think the priorities within this piece — that we think the priorities are — I apologize — were within this legislation.
And I don’t expect we’ll know whether we have an agreement or to what extent the entire package will be able to pass or not pass until we get right down to the very end of this process, which will be probably in a couple of weeks. But the point is, this is just the process beginning.
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Annie, the Washington Post.
Q Thank you, Mr. President, Annie Linskey with the Washington Post.
THE PRESIDENT: Hi, Annie.
Q I wanted to ask you a little bit about one of the, sort of, major themes of your campaign, and how you sort of intend to measure and enact it — and that is the idea of unity. If you could talk a little bit about what you see unity as being? There are some people who are defining it as being bipartisan. Others are saying it is what most of the people in the country, defined by some poll, might believe, or any sort of number of other — or perhaps it’s 50 plus 1, or 50 plus 2, or 75 percent.
So, given that it is such a key part of your message and your promise, can you talk and reflect a little bit more about what is unity when you see it and as you define it?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Annie, I think it makes up several of the issues — the points you made. One is: Unity requires you to take away — eliminate the vitriol, make anything that you disagree with about the other person’s personality or their lack of integrity or they’re not decent legislators and the like — so we have to get rid of that. And I think that’s already beginning to change, but God knows where things go, number one.
Unity also is: trying to reflect what the majority of the American people — Democrat, Republican, and independent — think is within the fulcrum of what needs to be done to make their lives and the lives of Americans better. For example, if you look at the data — and I’m not claiming the polling data to be exact, but if you look at the data, you have — I think it’s — I hope I’m saying this correct –- you may correct me if I get the number wrong, I think it’s 57, 58 percent of the American people — including Republicans, Democrats, and independents — think that we have to do something about the COVID vaccine; we have to do something about making sure that people who are hurting badly, can’t eat, don’t have food, are in a position where they’re about to be thrown out of their apartments, et cetera, being able to have an opportunity to get a job — that they all think we should be acting, we should be doing more.
Unity also is trying to get, at a minimum — if you pass a piece of legislation that breaks down on party lines but it gets passed, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t unity; it just means it wasn’t bipartisan. I’d prefer these things to be bipartisan, because I’m trying to generate some consensus and take sort of the — how can I say it? — the vitriol out of all of this. Because I’m confident — I’m confident, from my discussions, there are a number of Republicans who know we have to do something about the food insecurity for people in this pandemic. I’m confident they know we have to do something about figuring out how to get children back in school.
There’s just — there’s easy ways to deal with this. One, if you’re anti-union, you can say it’s all because of teachers. If you want to make a case though that it’s complicated, you say, “Well, what do you have to do to make it safe to get in those schools?” And we’re going to have arguments.
For example, you know I proposed that we — because it was bipartisan, I thought it would increase the prospects of passage — the additional $1,400 in direct cash payment to folks. Well, there’s legitimate reason for people to say, “Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over X-number of dollars or why?” I’m open to negotiate those things. That’s all.
I picked it because I thought it was rational, reasonable, and it had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House when it passed. But this is all a bit of a moving target in terms of the precision with which this goes. You’re asking about unity: 51 votes, bipartisan, et cetera.
The other piece of this is that the one thing that gives me hope that we’re not only going to, sort of, stay away from the ad hominem attacks on one another, is that there is an overwhelming consensus among the major economists at home and in the world that the way to avoid a deeper, deeper, deeper recession, moving in the direction of losing our competitive capacity, is to spend money now to — from — from across the board, every major institution has said, “If we don’t invest now, we’re going to lose so much altitude, in terms of our employment base and our economic growth, it’s going to be harder to reestablish it.” We can afford to do it now. As a matter of fact, the — I think the response has been, “We can’t afford not to invest now. We can’t afford to fail to invest now.”
And I think there’s a growing realization of that on the part of all but some very, very hard-edged partisans, maybe on both sides, but I think there is a growing consensus. Whether we get it all done exactly the way I want it remains to be seen, but I’m confident that we can work our way through.
We have to work our way through because, as I’ve said 100 times, there is no ability in a democracy for it to function without the ability to reach consensus. Other- — otherwise it just becomes executive fiat or battleground issues that are — get us virtually nowhere.
I don’t want to hold the — my colleague may know, the Vice President — but, you know, I think there were very few debates on the Senate floor the whole last year —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s correct.
THE PRESIDENT: — on almost any issue.
Well, that benefits no one. It doesn’t inform anybody. It doesn’t allow the public to make judgments about who they think is right or wrong.
So I am — I am optimistic that it may take some time, but over the year, the way — if we treat each other with respect — and we’re going to argue like hell. I’m confident of that. Believe me, I know that. I’ve been there. But I think we can do it in a way that we can get things done for the American people.
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Great. Last question. Josh from Bloomberg.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Josh, they don’t trust you with the mic, huh? I don’t know, man.
Q No, that’s fine. I wouldn’t either. (Laughter.) Thank you, Mr. President. I appreciate you taking the questions.
You mentioned just now that you might know in a couple of weeks. Can I ask whether it’s more important for you to get something passed in a short timeframe like that or would you be willing to wait longer to get more bipartisan support?
And might I also ask that — one of the pillars is the vaccine funding — when do you think any American who wants to get the shot will be able to get the shot?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ll try to answer the three parts to your question as I heard them.
One, time is of the essence. Time is of the essence. And I must tell you, I’m reluctant to cherry pick and take out one or two items here, and then have to go through it again to — because these all are kind of — they go, sort of, hand in glove, each of these issues. Number one.
Number two, we are optimistic that we will have enough vaccine and in very short order. We, as you know, we came in office without knowledge of how much vaccine was held — being held in abeyance or available. Now that we’re here — we’ve been around a week or so — we now have that. And we’ve gotten commitments from some of the producers that they will, in fact, produce more vaccine in a relatively short period of time and then continue that down the road.
So I’m quite confident that we will be in a position, within the next three weeks or so, to be vaccinating people at the range of a million a day or in excess of that. That is my — I promised that we would get at least 100 million vaccinations — that’s not people, because sometimes you need more than one shot of the vaccination. But 100,000 — 100 million shots in people’s arms of the vaccine.
I think, with the grace of God, and the goodwill of the neighbor, and the creek not rising, as the old saying goes, I think we may be able to get that to 150 thou- — 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day. But we have to meet that goal of a million a day.
And everything points that we’re going to have: A, the — enough vaccine; B, enough syringes and all the paraphernalia needed to store, keep, inject, move into your arm the vaccine; three, a number of vaccinators, people administering the vaccine, which is not an easy task of those who have — those facilities, like the nursing homes and hospitals — they have people do it, but they don’t have the capacity to do everyone. And so I think we’re going to have — we’re leaning hard on — into areas where we can produce more vaccinators. We feel confident we can do that.
And thirdly, it’s really important that we have the fora, the place, the facility, the circumstance where people can show up, stand in line, and get their vaccine without having to stand in line for eight hours — being able to pick up the phone, call the pharmacy, and get your name on the list, et cetera.
All those mechanical things are really — they sound simple, but they’re all consequential when we’re trying to get out a minimum of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days and move in the direction where we are well beyond that in the next 100 days so we can get to the point where we reach herd immunity in a country of over 300 million people. Did that answer your question?
Q Well, my question was at what date — or, roughly, when do you think anyone who wants one would be able to get it? Summer? Is it (inaudible)?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I — no, I think it’ll be this spring. I think we’ll be able to do that this spring. And — but it’s going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we’ve ever tried in this country, but I think we can do that.
I feel confident that, by summer, we’re going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity and increasing the access for people who aren’t on the first — aren’t on the list, all the way going down to children and how we deal with that.
But I feel good about where we’re going, and I think we can get it done.
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Thank you, guys.
Q One more. One more on vaccines. Mr. President, one more on vaccines.
THE PRESIDENT: Now, wait, wait, wait. I know he always asks me tough questions, and he always has an edge to them, but I like him anyway. So go ahead and answer — ask the question.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. So you just said that you think within three weeks or so we’ll be at the point where there are a million vaccines per day, but it seems like —
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think we’ll get there before that. I said, “I hope…” — I misspoke. I hope we’ll be able to increase as we go on until we get to the million-five a day. That’s my ex- — my hope.
Q And then my — the follow-up to that would be: Now that you’re President and you’re saying, “There is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months,” what happened to two months ago when you were talking declaratively about “I’m going to shut down the virus”?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to shut down the virus, but not — I never said I’d do it in two months. I said it took a long time to get here; it’s going take a long time to beat it. And so we have millions of people out there who are — who have the virus.
We’re just, for the first day, I think — correct me if I’m wrong; I’ve been doing other things this morning, speaking with foreign leaders. But one of the things — I think this is one of the first days that the number has actually come down — the number of deaths — and the number on a daily basis, and the number of hospitalizations, et cetera.
It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of time. And we still have — as Dr. Fauci constantly points out, it’s one thing when we have mass — how can I say it politely? — mass disregard of the warnings about not wearing masks and wearing masks, and social distancing and failure to social distance, and people getting together on holidays in ways that weren’t recommended, et cetera.
We see — the first thing that happens is we see the number of infections go up. Then you see the hospitalizations go up. Then you see the deaths go up. And so we’re in this for a while. I mean, we’re — what are we now? At about 410,000 deaths. And there’s going to be more. The prediction, as I said from the very beginning to getting here as — after being sworn in, was — the predictions were: We’re going to see somewhere between a total of 600,000 and 660,000 deaths before we begin to turn the corner in a major way.
So — and again, remember: The vaccine — most of the people taking the vaccine — a vast, significant number — required two shots, and they’re an average of three weeks apart. And it takes time for it to be sure that you’re — you get to that 95 percent assurance rate.
And so it’s beginning to move. But I’m confident we will beat this. We will beat this. But we’re still going to be talking about this in the summer. We’re still going to be dealing with this issue in the — in early fall.
And last point I’ll make — and I know you’re tired of hearing me saying it, particularly — you may be tired of me saying it. (Laughs.) And that is that if we wear masks between now and the end of April, the experts tell us we can save 50,000 lives — 50,000 people who otherwise would die.
Thank you so very much.
END 4:14 P.M. EST