State Dining Room

10:46 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Before I start, I’d like to report that later today, I’ll be signing the bill funding the government operations for the next few months. 
Funding the government isn’t a great achievement.  (Laughs.)  It’s a bare minimum of what we need to get done. 
But in these times, a bipartisan cooperation is worth recognition, so I want to thank Senators Schumer and McConnell, and Speaker Pelosi for getting this done. 
And I want to thank the substantial bipartisan vote in the Senate for sending this bill to my desk today to avoid disruption of government operations.  And I want to urge Congress to use the time this bill provides to work toward a bipartisan agreement on a full-year funding bill that makes the needed investments in our economy and our people, from public health, to education, to our national security.  
Now, for today’s news.  Every year, December brings the joys of the holiday season and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the year gone by, and look ahead and begin to imagine the new year to come. 
This year, we can reflect on some extraordinary bit of progress.  Our economy is markedly stronger than it was a year ago.  And today, the incredible news that our unemployment rate has fallen to 4.2 percent. 
At this point in the year, we’re looking at the sharpest one-year decline in unemployment ever.  Simply put, America — America is back to work and our jobs recovery is going very strong. 
Today’s historic drop in unemployment rate includes dramatic improvements for workers who have often seen higher wages and higher levels of unemployment — excuse me, higher levels of unemployment.  They are receiving higher wages.  And the rate of Black and Hispanic unemployment is also dropping sharply. 
But that’s not just jobs that are up.  Wages are up, especially for hardworking Americans often ignored in past — in past recoveries.  Workers in transportation and warehouses have seen their wages go up approximately 10 percent this year.  Workers in hotels and restaurants have seen their wages go up 13 percent this year. 
And thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we’ve delivered significant tax cuts to families raising children.  Tax cuts and rising wages for middle-class families mean that Americans, on average, have more in their pockets today than they did each — in each month since we’ve been in office than they did last year after accounting for inflation.  Let me repeat that: Even after accounting for rising prices, the typical American family has more money in their pockets than they did last year. 
In fact, we’re the only leading economy in the world where household income and the economy as a whole are stronger than they were before the pandemic. 
Applications for new small businesses are up 30 percent compared to before the pandemic.  Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we’re cutting child poverty in America by more than 40 percent.  And millions of children who spent last Christmas in poverty will not bear that burden this holiday season. 
Today’s news means that the unemployment rate has now fallen by more than two percentage points since I took office.  That’s the fastest decline in a single year on record.  And it’s about three times faster than any other President in their first year in office. 
The number of people claiming unemployment has fallen from 18 million when I took office, to 2 million this week.  Another record drop.   
We’ve also learned today that in November, 235,000 jobs were created in the private sector.  And when they went back and recalibrated, they found — the last two months — they found that job growth over the prior two months, September and October, actually created 82,000 more jobs than had previously been reported — which means that we’ve averaged nearly 400,000 new jobs a month over the last three months.  A solid pace.  
All told, in the first 10 full months of my administration, the economy has created 6 million jobs, a record for a new President.  This is a significant improvement from when I took office in January — a sign that we’re on the right track.
Because of the extraordinary strides we’ve made, we can look forward to a brighter, happier new year ahead, in my view.
But I also know that despite this progress, families are anxious.  They’re anxious about COVID.  They’re anxious about the cost of living and the economy more broadly.  They’re still uncertain.  I want you to know: I hear you.  It’s not enough to know that we’re making progress.  You need to see it and feel it in your own lives — around the kitchen table, in your checkbooks. 
And that is why, every day, my team and I are working to deliver consistent, determined, focused action to overcome the challenges we still face.  Now, chief among those challenges is COVID-19. 
Yesterday, I laid out the key actions we’re going to take this winter to fight this virus, to protect one another, to protect our economy and our economic recovery.  
They include: number one, expanding our nationwide booster campaign with more outreach, more appointments, and more hours. 
I was thrilled to see that yesterday we had more vaccine shots administered than any day in the past six months.
Number two, we’re launching hundreds of new family vaccination clinics to make it easier for children and parents, the whole family to get vaccinated in one place; and new policies to keep children in school instead of guarant- — quarantining them at home when someone in the class comes down with COVID, if they do.
Thirdly, making free at-home tests more available than ever before by having them covered by our private health insurance plans.  The availability of community health centers and other sites for the uninsured will be the alternative as well.  So, if you have insurance, you’re going to be — it will cover these — these tests.  And if you don’t have insurance, we have facilities you can attend and get these tests.  
Increasing our surge response is the fourth thing — our “surge response teams.”  They’re made up of doctors and nurses and medical staff who go into communities with rising cases and provide the needed staff for overrun hospitals — for their emergency rooms, their intensive care units, to get help to them as they need it.  And we’re about tripling the number of those surge teams. 
Accelerate — fifth, we’re accelerating our efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world and strengthening international travel rules for people coming into the United States.  This is a plan all Americans can rally behind, in my view.
We’re also addressing another concern for families: prices.  Just about every country is grappling with high prices right now as they fight the pandemic. 
And as the world economy continues to come back to life, the more — the more price pressures are going to ease as things begin to move.
But we’re not sitting around waiting.  In the meantime, I’ve used every tool available to address price increases, and it’s beginning to work.
Take gasoline and gas prices.  Last week, I announced the largest-ever release from the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase the supply of oil and help bring down prices. 
And I brought together other countries — India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom — who all agreed — all agreed to join me in releasing additional oil from their reserves. 
And China — China may very do well — do more as well.  They haven’t done it yet.   
This worldwide effort we’re leading won’t solve the problem of high gas prices overnight.  But over the last month, likely due in part to the anticipation of this action, we’ve seen oil and gas prices out of the wells — oil and gas prices on the wholesale market come down significantly.
Since the end of October — (coughs) — excuse me — the average weekly price of gasoline on the wholesale market — that’s what you sell to the gas stations — has fallen around 10 percent, and that decline has picked up in recent days.  That’s a drop of about 25 cents per gallon. 
These savings are beginning to reach Americans, and should pick up in the weeks ahead.  And it can’t happen fast enough.
And I’ve asked the Federal Trade Commission to consider whether potentially illegal and anti-competitive behavior in the oil and gas industry is causing higher prices for consumers when they don’t need to be that high because the wholesale price has come down so much.  So, we can ensure that the American people are paying a fair price for gas.
At this time of the year, another concern that is facing American families is about being able to find what you need in the holidays, whether it’s gifts or groceries. 
As I laid out earlier in the week, because of my actions — the actions that my administration has taken, in partnership with business — excuse me — (coughs) — with private business and labor, retailers and grocery stores, freight movers and railroads, these shelves are going to be — the shelves of our stores are going to well-stocked. 
We’ve sped up operations at our ports.  For example, at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach — the two busiest ports in America — over the last month, the number of containers left sitting on the docks for over eight days is down by 40 percent. 
I’ve said that before and people have come up to me and said, “Well that does that mean?  So, they’re down 40 percent.” 
     Well, it means that the products are no longer sitting on the docks; they’re getting off the docks into trains, into trucks, into mi- — into vehicles to get them to the stores’ shelves.  That is an incredible success story.
On Monday, I convened a group of CEOs from some of the largest retailers and grocery stores, as well as leading companies that works with small businesses across the country. 
And they reported that their investments [inventories] are up, shelves are well-stocked, and they’re ready to meet consumer demand for the holidays.  Now, I said that yesterday, and then I saw a couple of your stations put on — you found some empty shelves.  (Laughs.)  They’re old empty shelves, but it doesn’t matter.   But go back and take a look at some of those shelves again.  Okay? 
But the point is that the vast majority of the shelves are filled, and the CEOs of not only the — the suppliers, but the CEOs of UPS and FedEx, which are on track to deliver more packages than ever, are saying the same thing.
So, we’re heading into the holiday season in strong shape.  Again, this is about a concerted, focused action.  We averted this potential crisis by figuring out what needed to be fixed, and then we brought together the people that have the capacity to fix it or at least alleviate it.
Now — now it’s time to build on the success we’ve had this year on jobs, wages, creation of more small businesses, and fixing challenges in the economy.  We need to cut costs further for families.   That’s what my Build Back Better plan does that’s still being considered in Congress.  It will lower the out-of-pocket cost for childcare, eldercare, housing, college, healthcare, and prescription drugs. 
In fact, a new independent analysis released this week showed that my plan would mean $7,400 in tax cuts and savings for the typical family of four with two children.  Seventeen Nobel Prize winners in economics have written a letter to me, affirming that this bill would reduce long-term inflationary pressures in the economy.  
And two of the leading rating agencies — not — not, you know, liberal think tanks — two of the leading rating agencies on Wall Street confirmed this month that my plan will not add to inflationary pressures. 
What I’ve always proposed and what I’m proposing now is having a way to lower — lower some of the most difficult costs — and what are they? — the difficult costs families pay every month by asking corporations and the wealthiest Americans — including, for example, the 55 corporations that paid zero in federal income tax last year, despite generating $40 billion in profits — and I’m happy they’re profitable — to begin to pay their fair share. 
For example, just requiring corporations to pay a minimum 15 percent in taxes raises enough revenue to pay for lowering the cost of childcare for 90 percent of families and provides universal preschool for three- and — all three- and four- year-olds in America.
Now, what’s better for those corporations?  Is it better for them having childcare so parents can come back to work today and they have a better-educated workforce in the future, or having — not paying any tax?
Once again, no one — no one making less than $400,000 a year will pay a penny more in federal taxes.  My Build Back Better plan is fiscally responsible.  It’s the first major piece of legislation in more than a decade that’s not only fully paid for, but will generate more than $100 billion in deficit reduction this decade.
It fully covers the cost of its investments by making the largest corporations and richest Americans pay a little more in taxes.  I think that’s a trade-off that’s worth making.  And by the way, those very business are going to do better having a better educated and more available workforce. 
Having those who’ve done very well pay their fair share is just the right thing to do in order to provide a little breathing room for millions of American families. 
Throughout our history, we’ve emerged from crisis by investing in ourselves.  And so, we’re going to keep at this. We’re going to keep making progress for our families and for our nation. 
I promise you that’s what’s going to happen.  God bless you all.  And may God protect our troops and keep everyone safe. 
Q    First of all, Mr. President, your voice sounds a little different.  Are you okay?
THE PRESIDENT:  I’m okay.  I have a test every day to see — a COVID test.  I — they check me for all the strains.  What I have is a one-and-a-half-year-old grandson who had a cold, who likes to kiss his Pop.  (Laughter.)  And he’d been kissing my — anyway, so — but it’s just a cold.
Q    And then, on COVID policy, it seems like the administration is starting to soften some of the language.  There’s this new op-ed where you talk about COVID and “We’re going to beat it back.”  Are you no longer going to “shut it down”?
THE PRESIDENT:  No, we got to beat it back before we shut it down.  Look, it’s going to take time worldwide.  In order to beat COVID, we have to shut it down worldwide.  In the United States of America, we’re doing everything that needs to be done to take care of the American people within our borders.
But look what’s happened.  You know, we were starting to make some real progress, and then you find out there’s another strain.  And the idea that you can build a wall around America to keep any COVID from around the world out is not the — not there. 
And besides, that’s one of the reasons why — I know we get criticized — I get criticized for not doing more for the world.  But we’ve done more for the world in providing vaccines available and help than any nat- — all — every other nation in the world combined. 
In addition to that — in addition to that, we’ve also — with regard to India and other countries — and we’re working around the clock.  Remember, I suggested we suspend the patents, let everybody be able to have access to this so they can make the vaccine in their own countries. 
And thirdly, in Southern Africa — for example, South Africa has all the vaccines they need, and they don’t want any more vaccines now.  One of the things I’m considering is how can we help them deal with the issue of the —
As I said before, the biggest challenge we had in the beginning of this administration, in my view, was not getting the vaccines produced — although that was not easy, and I’ve got to give — you know, President Trump, early on, went out and — he got them to do the research to try to get the right vaccines. 
But logistically — logistically, getting the vaccines from a container that gets delivered to you, to a hospital, to a state, to a — and getting it in someone’s arms — that’s a very, very difficult thing.  And we did it better than anybody in the world has done it.  But we got to try to help other people.
Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Given that there are now multiple cases of Omicron here in the U.S., are you considering requiring vaccines for domestic travel or any other new measures for domestic travel?
THE PRESIDENT:  The measures that I announced yesterday are — we believe are sufficient to deal with the proper medical precautions to deal with the spread of this new variant.  We are doing, as you know — at NIH, as well as among the manufacturers — a lot of research to see the extent of its — how quickly it spreads, how deadly it is, et cetera, et cetera. 
But we do require for travel — we’re going to continue to require people to have masks on — masks on — and in public places, and — and federal buildings.  So — but I don’t, at this point, because — let me —
I think I know a fair amount about this issue.  But I’m not a scientist, so I continue to rely on the scientists and asking them whether or not we have to move beyond what we did yesterday.  Right now, they’re saying “no.”
Q    (Cross-talk.)
Q    What is happening in Ukraine, and what — on the border between Ukraine and Russia?  And what are you going to do about it?
THE PRESIDENT:  I have been in constant contact with our allies in Europe, with Ukrainians.  My Secretary of State and National Security Advisor have been engaged extensively. 
And what I am doing is putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do. 
But that’s in play right now.
Q    Are you going to talk to Putin soon, Mr. President?
Q    Did you talk to Putin this morning, Mr. President?
11:05 A.M. EST

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