Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference
(October 31, 2021)
8:24 P.M. CET
THE PRESIDENT: Please, sit down. I apologize for keeping you waiting. We were playing with elevators. (Laughs.) Long story.
Anyway, good evening. I believe we’ve had a series of very productive meetings in the past few days, and I’m looking forward to continuing to make progress on critical global issues that we — as we head off to Glasgow.
Because of what we’ve seen again here in Rome, what I think is the power of America showing up and working with our allies and partners to make progress on issues that matter to all of us. And there’s really no substitute for face-to-face discussions and negotiations among the leaders when it comes to building an understanding and cooperation.
I found in all of my meetings here, both the larger sessions and the one-on-one sessions — and I had many of those — a real eagerness among our partners and allies for American leadership to help bring the world together and solve some of these big problems.
I found my one-on-one engagements with so many of the leaders, and the importance of strong, personal relationships never feels — it never ceases to amaze me when it’s — you’re looking at someone straight in the eye when you’re trying to get something done. They know me; I know them. We can get things done together.
And so, I want to thank the Italian people, by the way, for the G20, for their hospitality, and congratulate Prime Minister Draghi. He did one heck of a job leading the G20 through a difficult year marked by great global challenges, critically among them: ending the pandemic; driving a broad-based, sustainable global economic recovery; and tackling the climate crisis. I believe we made tangible progress on each of these issues, in part because of the commitment that the United States has brought to the table.
For example, I’m proud that the G20 endorsed the global minimum tax. This is something the United States has been driving for for over a year, building momentum up to this achievement. And this is an incredible win for all our countries.
Instead of nations competing against one another to attract investments by bottoming out corporate tax rates, this set a minimum floor of 15 percent to ensure that giant corporations begin to pay their fair share, no matter where they’re headquartered, instead of hiding — hiding profits overseas.
We also agreed to establish a fund in the future that — for — countries can draw on to help prevent, if necessary, and respond to the next pandemic, prepared for the next time around.
Yesterday, together with Prime Minister Johnson and Merkel and Macron — President Macron, we came together to reiterate our shared belief that diplomacy — diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, and we discussed how best to encourage Iran to resume serious, good-faith negotiations.
I also wanted to note that, even as I’ve been here in Rome, as you might guess — and some of you, I suspect, do the same thing — American reporters — I’ve been focused on the vital issues that affect American workers and families at home.
I just finished meeting with a broad coalition of partners on how to address the immediate supply chain backlogs and dealing that — that the world has been dealing with and facing, and we’re facing back at home, and how to make sure we have access to all the products we need — from shoes, to furniture, to electronics, to automobiles — to make sure that we talk about how better to secure ourself against these future shocks, whether a pandemic, climate change, or other disasters.
And the Build Back Better framework — which is, God willing, going to be voted on as early as — sometime this coming week — that I announced on Thursday includes, for the first time ever, sever- — several billion dollars to help strengthen the supply chains to make sure we have access to everything we need.
And it’s going to give workers and folks making all these products just a little bit of breathing room. The Build Back Better will also — is going to make it easier for them to afford everything from childcare while they are at work, for their kids; two years of free high-quality preschool.
And finally, today I was proud to announce, together with our close part- — EU partners, another critical win for both American workers and the climate agenda.
The United States and the European Union have agreed to negotiate the world’s first trade agreement based on how much carbon is in a product, as we negotiated the steel and aluminum tariffs that were in place.
We made agreement and, I might add, strong support of the U.S. steelworkers back home. And I want to thank them. I want to thank Tom Conway, who I spoke to today, president of the United Steelworkers, for his partnership in arriving at this deal.
The deal will immediately remove a point of significant tension with our friends in the European Union. And it rejects the false idea that we cannot grow an economy and support American workers while tackling the climate crisis at the same time.
We’re talking about a lot — a lot during the G20, the COP26. But we also know tackling the climate crisis has been a all-hands-on-deck effort. American workers are a critical part of the solution.
And now I’m happy to take some questions. And I’m told I should start with AP, Zeke Miller. Zeke, you have a question?
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t recognize you with the maks [sic] on — mask on. I apologize.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Here in Rome, you’ve tried to showcase that America is back. But back at home, your poll numbers have fallen. Your party’s nominee for governor of Virginia is facing a very tough — a tougher-than-expected race. Your party spent months trying to negotiate the centerpiece of your Democrat — of your domestic legislative agenda.
We’re one year now since your election. What — and you have done a lot in your year in office to try to turn the page on the last administration. But we’ve seen how presidents can turn the page very quickly from one to the other. So why should the world believe that when you say “America is back,” that really it’s here to stay?
THE PRESIDENT: Because of the way they reacted. You were here. They listened. Everyone sought me out. They wanted to know what our views were. And we helped lead what happened here.
It’s just very simple: You know, if you’re honest — you are honest; I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t — but that we were — we got significant support here. Significant support. We’re the most — the United States of America is the most critical part of this entire agenda, and — and we did it.
And, by the way, look, the polls are going to up and down and up and down. They were high early, then they got medium, then they went back up, and now they’re low.
Well, look, this is — look at every other president; the same thing has happened. But that’s not why I ran. I didn’t run to determine how well I’m going to do in the polls. I ran to make sure that I followed through on what I said I would do as President of the United States.
And I said that I would make sure that we were in a position where we dealt with climate change; where we moved in a direction that would significantly improve the prospects of American workers being able to have good jobs and good pay; and further, that I would make sure that we dealt with the crisis that was caused by COVID. We’ve done all of those; we continue to do them. And we’ll see what happens.
But I’m not running because of the polls.
Next question was from Jeff Mason — for Jeff Mason of Reuters.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. A question on climate and energy. Can the world and others be confident that you will be able to follow or do — make good on the promises on climate change that you will — that you have made, when you’re at Glasgow, without a vote having taken place on your bill?
And on the same topic, climate: Some NGOs are already saying that the G20 commitments today were underwhelming. How do you respond to their criticism that the G20 response is not a good sign for COP26?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll answer both questions.
Number one, I believe we will pass my Build Back Better plan, and I believe we will pass the infrastructure bill. Combined, they have $900 billion in climate resistance — in dealing with climate and resilience. And it’s the largest investment in the history of the world that’s ever occurred, and it’s going to pass, in my view. But we’ll see. We’ll see.
You know, you’ve all believed it wouldn’t happen from the very beginning, the moment I announced it, and you always seem amazed when it’s alive again. Well, you may turn out to be right; maybe it won’t work. But I believe we’ll see by the end of next week, at home, that it’s passed.
With regard to the — and, by the way, that infrastructure bill delivers an awful lot of things in terms of everything from tax credits for electric vehicles, to making sure we are able to invest, literally, billions of dollars in everything from highways, roads, bridges, public transit, airports, et cetera. But we’ll see.
And with regard to the disappointment: The disappointment relates to the fact that Russia and — and — and including not only Russia, but China, basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change. And there’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that. I found it disappointing myself.
But what we did do — we passed a number of things here to end the subsidization of coal. We made commitments here from across the board, all of us, in terms of what we’re going to bring to the
And — and, I think, you know, as that old ba- — that old trite saying goes, “The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.” I think you’re going to see we’ve made significant progress and more has to be done. But it’s going to require us to continue to focus on what China is not doing, what Russia is not doing, and what Saudi Arabia is not doing.
Q One follow-up on energy, sir. You also met with energy consumers about supply. What steps are you considering taking if OPEC Plus does not raise supply? And do you see any irony in pushing them to increase oil production at the same time that you’re going to COP26 to urge people to lower emissions?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, on the surface, it seems like an irony, but the truth of the matter is — you’ve all known; everyone knows — that the idea we’re going to be able to move to renewable energy overnight and not have — from this moment on, not use oil or not use gas or not use hydrogen is just not rational.
Certain things we can wipe out and we don’t have to do. We should be moving immediately to get rid of — as they’ve adopted here my proposal — to end methane, to deal with a whole range of things.
But it does, on the surface, seem inconsistent, but it’s not at all inconsistent in that no one has anticipated that this year we’d be in a position — or even next year — that we’re not going to use any more oil or gas; that we’re not going to be engaged in any fossil fuels. We’re going to stop subsidizing those fossil fuels. We’re going to be making significant changes.
And it just makes the argument that we should move more rapidly to renewable energy — to wind and solar and other means of energy.
But the idea that we’re just going to end and somehow — but it does, on the surface, I admit to you. We’re going to COP to deal with renewable energy, and I’m saying, “Why are you guys cutting off oil and raising the price just to make it look harder for us?” But it’s a legitimate question.
I think, though, that if anybody thinks about it, no one ever thought that tomorrow — for example, it’s going to take us between now and 2030 to have half the vehicles in America electric vehicles. So, the idea we’re not going to need gasoline for automobiles is just not realistic. But we will get to the point that, by 2050, we have zero emissions.
Jim? Jim Tankersley, New York Times.
Q Thank you so much. I’d like to actually start by following up on Jeff’s question and then ask you about supply chains as a follow-up to that.
But on the question of oil prices, economists say that, you know, when you raise the price of something, people will consume less of it. So why not allow even middle-class people around the world to pay more for gasoline in the hope that they would consume fewer fossil fuels and emit less?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, because they have to get to their work. They have to get in an automobile, turn on the key, get their kids to school. The school buses have to run. That’s the reason why. You know that, Jim. That’s the reason.
The idea that we can — that there’s an alternative to walk away from being able to get in your automobile is just not realistic; it’s not going to happen. And this wasn’t intended to happen.
And, by the way, when — when — when the cost of a gallon of gasoline gets to above three hundred and — three hundred — $3.35 a gallon, it has profound impact on working-class families just to get back and forth to work. So, I don’t see anything inconsistent with that.
But I do think that the idea that Russia and Saudi Arabia and other major producers are not going to pump more oil so people can have gasoline to get to and from work, for example, is — is — is not — is not right. But — and what we’re considering doing on that, I’m reluctant to say before I have to do it.
Q And then on supply chain, sir: One of the, obviously, big problems in the United States for supply chains is not having enough workers, not enough people to drive trucks to unload at ports, for example, and a lot of other parts in the supply chain. Workers have not returned to the labor force in America as fast as your administration thought they would. Why do you think that is? Why aren’t people coming back to work?
THE PRESIDENT: Because they’re able to negotiate for higher wages, and they move from one job to another. That’s one of the reasons why. A lot of people don’t want to continue to do the job they did before, making 7, 8, 9 bucks an hour. An awful lot of the auto — excuse me, of the truck drivers are not unionized truck drivers. They’re working like hell and not getting paid a whole lot.
And so what you’re seeing here is a combination of the desire of people to be able to change professions, to be able to do more and take care of their families, and at the same time, dealing with the issue that, in fact, we are short of workers.
But worker pay has actually gone up. And we’ve employed 6 million people just since I got elected. So, employment is up. The economy is actually, in spite of all this, still growing. You have the significant number of — I forget the number; I think it was close to six- — 16 major economists acknowledging that what’s going to happen is you’re going to see continued economic growth under our proposals.
You had a total of 14 — I think it was 14 — Nobel laureate economists in economics saying this is going to — what I’m proposing is going to reduce the — the inflation, et cetera.
So, there’s a lot going on. This — look, we really are — I know you’re tired of hearing me say this — we really are at one of inflection points in history. So much is changing. So many pieces on the table are moving. And how they get resettled depends upon the judgments we make and whether or not the United States, among others, can lead the world in a direction that’s going to increase the circumstances for a higher standard of living for workers here and abroad, as well as making sure that people have an opportunity. As I said — again, I use the phrase — “just have a little breathing room.”
I meant what I said when I ran. My desire was to build this economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down. And that’s what’s in process of happening.
But in the meantime, there’s been enormous changes as a consequence of COVID on the supply chains because why — why are we having trouble? An awful lot of the very factories and — and operations that, in fact, produced material that we need for supply chains, in everything from shoes to — to dealing with computer chips, you know, they’re out sick; they’re not working.
And so, it’s changing. The economy is changing, and the United States has to stay ahead of the curve. That’s why I introduced the infrastructure bill. That’s why I also introduced the Build Back Better initiative.
The Washington Post, Seung Min Kim. Where — where are — there you are. I’m sorry. I couldn’t see you.
Q That’s okay. Thank you, Mr. President.
On Iran: How will you determine whether the Iranians are serious about rejoining the nuclear talks, as they have indicated they will do by the end of November?
And what costs are you prepared to impose on Iran if it continues to carry out attacks against the United States, such as the recent drone strikes against U.S. forces in Syria?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in a sense, they’re two different issues. One is whether or not we get to the JCPOA — we rejoin that. And — and that depends — that’s why I had the meetings with my colleagues here in — in Rome, who are part of the — the original group of six people — six nations that got together to say that we should negotiate a change, which I found that I think we’re continuing to suffer from the very bad judgments that President Trump made in pulling out of the JCPOA.
And so, that’s one issue. And that issue is going to depend on — whether and how that gets resolved is going to depend on their action and the willingness of our friends, who are part of the original agreement, to stick with us and make sure there’s a price to pay economically for them if they fail to come back.
With regard to the issue of how we’re going to respond to actions taken by them against the interests of the United States — whether they’re drone strikes or anything else — is we’re going to respond, and we’re going to continue to respond.
ABC, Cecilia Vega.
It’s hard to see you guys with a mask on. I apologize.
Q And the masks are making my glasses fog up, so I apologize too.
Thank you, sir. On climate change: You just mentioned the incentives you have on renewable energy in your Build Back Better plan. You do have a number of incentives, but as it stands right now, there are no punitive measures in this plan to hold these companies accountable. And many experts firmly believe that you’ve got to have the stick along with the carrot in order to get to your goal to reduce emissions by 2030 by 50 percent. So can you stand here today and say to the world that you definitively will still meet that goal?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I can. Because what we’re proposing and what we’ve initiated is everything from getting the automobile makers to — to commit to going all electric, number one. Getting the unions to agree to do that as well. Making sure we have the investment in battery technology that requires us to have the ability to generate electric vehicles, electric buses, electric transportation grids. Making sure that we are dealing with everything from — let me go through some of these: that we have tax credits for — of $320 billion for dealing with alternatives by people getting a tax credit for moving on — on solar panels, on wind, and a whole range of other things, and winterizing their properties.
I — I don’t think you’re going to need any — any punitive action to get people to step up and do those things. There’s been no indication that’s the case at all. With regard to, you know, the — there’s a total of $555 billion in climate and — I’m just checking the numbers; make sure I’m right — and — climate investment, in terms of resilience.
We’re now — it’s very much in the interest of — of the industry to see to it that we move to making sure that we have the resilience to be able to, when those towers come down and the lines end up hitting the ground and burning down large swathes of — swaths of the West, to bury this underground.
There’s a whole range of things. I don’t think we’re going to have to — everybody knows which direction it’s going. And there’s no indication that there has to be a punitive effort to get people to react the way in which we have to do — at least I don’t believe so.
Q And a follow-up, sir, if I may. On your meeting with Pope Francis: The more than 50 million Catholics back at home are seeing something play out that has never happened before: this split in the conservative wing of the Catholic Church moving to deny someone like you, a Catholic president, the sacrament of Communion.
For these Catholics back home, what did it mean for you to hear Pope Francis, in the wake of this — in the middle of this debate, call you a good Catholic? And did what he tell you — should that put this debate to rest?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, I’m — I’m not going to — a lot of this is just personal. Pope Francis has become a — I don’t want to exaggerate — has become a — someone who has provided great solace for my family when my son died.
He has — he is, in my view — there’s always been this debate in the Catholic Church, going back to Pope John the 23rd, that talk about how we reach out and embrace people with differences.
If you notice what — what the Pope said when he was asked when he first got elected Pope — he was traveling with the press, and they said, “What’s your position on homosexuals?” He said, “Who am I to judge?”
This is a man who is of great empathy. He is a man who understands that part of his Christianity is to reach out and to forgive. And so I just find my relationship with him one that I personally take great solace in. He is a really, truly genuine, decent man.
And I’ll end by saying that, you know, there were an awful lot of people who — and many of you — I’m not — I’m not putting you in this position; I apologize — but many of you who are even in the press who went out of your way to express your empathy and sympathy when I lost the real part of my soul, when I — when my — when I lost my Beau, my son.
And I — my family will never forget — my extended family. Because when I had come — it was only a matter of days since my son had passed away, and Pope Francis came to the United States to visit with the — with not only President Obama but with — with the Catholic Church here. And I was asked if I would accompany him to Philadelphia, to the seminary, and — anyway.
And I did, but it was — the wounds were still raw of the loss of my son. And I had my extended family — and you’re all tired of seeing my extended family; they’re always — they’re always around — my grandchildren, my children, my wife, my daughters-in-law.
And before he left and got on the plane, the Pope asked whether or not he could meet with my family. And we met in a hangar in — at the Philadelphia Airport. And he came in and he talked to my family for a considerable amount of time — 10, 15 minutes — about my son, Beau.
And he didn’t just generically talk about him; he knew about him. He knew what he did. He knew who he was. He knew where he went to school. He knew what he — he knew what a man he was. And it had such a cathartic impact on his children and my wife and our family that it — it meant a great deal.
And as — I meant what I said — everybody was laughing; I didn’t realize you all were able to film what I was doing with the Pope when I gave him a command coin. And — and I meant what I said: I — this is a man who is someone who is looking to establish peace and decency and honor, not just in the Catholic Church, but just generically.
When I won, he called me to tell me how much he appreciated the fact that I would focus on the poor and focus on the needs of people who were in trouble. And — and so, I — I just — again, I don’t want to talk more about it, because so much of it is personal, but I’m — he is — he is everything I learned about Catholicism from the time I was a kid going from grade school through high school.
And I have great respect for people who have other religious views, but he is — he’s just a fine, decent, honorable man. And I — he — and we keep in touch.
I thank you all very, very much for your patience. Thank you. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, do you have commitments from Sinema and Manchin? Sir, do you have commitments from Sinema and Manchin? Just a “thumbs up.”
(The President gives a “thumbs up” as he departs.)
Q Thumbs up!
END 8:50 P.M. CET