Aug 24, 2021

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 24: Afghanistan Update

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 24: Afghanistan Update
RevBlogTranscriptsJen Psaki White House Press Briefing TranscriptsPress Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 24: Afghanistan Update

August 24, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She addressed the ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. Read the transcript of the full news briefing here.

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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
… Security. The escalating cyber threats we face require a whole of nation effort. The president will be joined by leaders from the tech, the critical infrastructure, insurance, and education sectors. And we will have more details for you later today, but I just wanted to note that is happening tomorrow. And there’s, of course, a lot of ground that we will be covering.

Jen Psaki: (00:20)
I know a number of you have been asking this as well, and yesterday evening, the president spoke, or last night, I should say, the president spoke to New York Governor Kathy Hochul prior to her being sworn in as governor of New York. He congratulated her on her new job and historic role as the next governor of New York. They talked about their shared time at Syracuse University and Governor Hochul told the president. She wanted to visit Washington to meet with him to discuss infrastructure and how to work together to improve the lives of New Yorkers. President looks forward to hosting her at a future date.

Jen Psaki: (00:51)
As you know, she also joined a call on Saturday with other Northeastern governors with the president, the FEMA administrator, and Homeland security advisor, Liz Sherwood-Randall, to discuss tropical storm Henri and the federal response to help mitigate the storm’s impact. With that, [inaudible 00:01:07], go ahead.

Male: (01:08)
Great. A couple of Afghanistan related questions.

Jen Psaki: (01:10)

Male: (01:12)
First, a Taliban spokesman said today the group wouldn’t bar Afghans from accessing the roads leading to the airport, but allow foreigners to pass. I guess for evacuation efforts, what does this mean for Afghans who assisted and can’t get through now? What are they going to be? Does this effectively cut off those Afghans from being evacuated?

Jen Psaki: (01:36)
No, that is not how you should read it. One, I should note, we have been in direct contact, not just with American citizens, but with SIV applicants, special immigrant visa applicants, and Afghans whose departure we are facilitating about how and when to come to the airport. Our expectation, which we have also conveyed to the Taliban, is that they should be able to get to the airport.

Jen Psaki: (02:00)
It is also true, and I know this may be some of the confusion out there, that there are a number of Afghans who they may not qualify for these programs. And we’ve seen over the past nine days, a rush of people attempt to come to the airport. We certainly understand that, but that also creates a security risk and one that we have great concern about. So to be clear, individuals who are eligible for special immigrant visas or others who we are helping facilitate their evacuation and their departure, we are in touch with them or working to be in touch with them about how and when to come to the airport, as well as American citizens, as you well know, and we expect that they will be able to reach the airport.

Male: (02:41)
Sorry, just a follow up. The Taliban are saying that they don’t want Afghans to leave, that now they want these Afghans to stay, that they’re needed to rebuild the country.

Jen Psaki: (02:52)
Again, our expectation and what we will continue to convey directly through a range of channels we have is that individuals, the special immigrant visa applicants, those who are eligible, those who we are facilitating their departure, will be able to reach the airport.

Male: (03:07)
But under the statement that just put out about a half hour ago, about the August 31st deadline and sticking to it, the president has, from allies, both here at home and abroad, have wanted him to push that deadline back some. And also critics of the president are speaking out very strongly on his decision. What do you say to those who are criticizing the president by sticking to this deadline it amounts for him to capitulating for the Taliban?

Jen Psaki: (03:43)
Well, first, and I think I’m just going to read the statement. I know a number of you have seen it, but just in case, because I think it has quite a bit of additional context of that is not exactly aligned in he stuck with the deadline, as you just conveyed. During a meeting this morning with the G7 leaders, the president conveyed that our mission in Kabul will end based on the achievement of our objectives. That is a key component there. He confirmed we are currently on pace to finish by August 31st. As you all know, in the last nine days, we have effectively help evacuate 57,000 people. And that has continued to escalate, the number of people were getting out each day. And our focus is, and it continues to be on evacuating Americans who want to come home, third country nationals and Afghans who are allies during the war. He also made clear that with each day of operations on the ground, we’ve added risk to our troops with increasing threats from ISIS-K, and that completion of the mission by August 31st depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to airport. In addition, as we noted in the statement, he asked the Pentagon and the state department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline, should that become necessary. So I think there’s quite a bit of context in there, including the threat from ISIS-K, which is quite real and one that we are tracking and monitoring very closely from our national security and intelligence teams, to the continued cooperation of the Taliban as it relates to getting American citizens and our key allies on the ground to the airport. And the third, of course, is ensuring that we have contingencies should they be needed. So I think those are pretty important caveats in the reporting. Go ahead.

Male: (05:27)
If you do have to adjust the timeline, how long are you talking about?

Jen Psaki: (05:31)
I’m not going to get ahead of any contingency plans that are drawn up by the State Department and the Defense Department. As you all know, the president has been meeting and attended and participated in briefings with his national security team once a day, sometimes twice a day, is in constant and regular contact. And I expect we’ll get some updates in short order.

Male: (05:56)
And when do you need to start pulling troops out of the Kabul airport to meet the August 31 target?

Jen Psaki: (05:56)
It’s a great question, Steve. I just don’t want to get into operational details that are under the purview of the Department of Defense. Go ahead. And you are correct. I will note that there would have to be time in advance of the 31st or time in advance of whatever the date is in order to do that, but they can give you the operational details. Go ahead.

Female: (06:14)
So does that mean that the evacuations will stop before the actual 31st so then there is time to get the troops and their machinery and weaponry out of there?

Jen Psaki: (06:24)
That would be correct, yes, that there would need to be time to wind down the presence. I will note, though, that the purpose of this statement is to provide additional context of what the president conveyed to the G7, which includes a number of very key components as he assesses day by day. And that includes the threat of ISIS, which is of great concern, understandably, to the president, given the threat it poses to our military who are on the ground, serving proudly and bravely on the ground. It also includes the essential aspect of having the Taliban’s coordination continue over the coming days so we can facilitate as many people as we’ve been getting out.

Female: (07:02)
So what I read from this statement is he has not ruled out extending the deadline. Is that right?

Jen Psaki: (07:06)
He asked for contingency plans, but believes we had continued to be on track to accomplish our mission.

Female: (07:12)
And one more question, Jen. Sorry, I know it’s three. Does this mean if he does stand by this August 31st deadline that every single US troop will be out of Afghanistan by August 31st?

Jen Psaki: (07:21)
Again, I will leave it to the Department of Defense to get into operational details. As you know, and as I’ve noted, he is meeting with his national security team every single day, often more than once a day to continue to discuss. And as I noted also in this statement, he’s asked for contingency plans. Go ahead.

Female: (07:37)
Thanks Jen. Just to follow up Amir’s question, so are you saying that despite this threat by the Taliban to stop Afghans from boarding planes, that you’re not seeing any slow down in Afghans being able to get to the airport if they need to?

Jen Psaki: (07:51)
I’m conveying that what we have articulated is that Afghans… There are millions of Afghans, as we know, who want to leave the country or a large number of Afghans who want to leave the country. I think that’s safe to say. What I’m talking about is the individuals we have prioritized, those who have fought alongside us, who are eligible for some special immigrant visas, who otherwise we are facilitating their departure. And that our expectation is that they will be able to reach the airport.

Female: (08:20)
So I’m just trying to figure out if the Taliban has made good on this threat yet. It sounds like you’re saying they haven’t.

Jen Psaki: (08:25)
I don’t have an update on that. I’m just conveying to you what our expectation is and what we were continuing to communicate directly.

Female: (08:30)
And then is the CIA director now the chief negotiator for the US in Kabul? And how long does he plan to stay there?

Jen Psaki: (08:38)
I certainly understand your question. I refer you to the CIA on any specific questions about his location or specific role. Go ahead.

Male: (08:46)
For a little bit of clarity, because minutes and hours matter here, when we talk about August 31st, is the understanding between the US and the Taliban that that ends at midnight at the end of August 31st Afghan time, American time? Is at the end of the 30th heading into the 31st? When exactly is the deadline as it currently exists?

Jen Psaki: (09:03)
It’s really a great question and I want to give you a very clear and articulate answer from the team on the ground. So I’ll just have to get back to you on that to make sure we give you the accurate information.

Male: (09:13)
I know that you’re continuing to do this actively, as you indicated at one of my colleagues a moment ago, obviously. There’s going to be time needed to be able to get out the American troops and others who are helping facilitate this process. What is the last call for Americans on the ground there to come to the airport at Kabul?

Jen Psaki: (09:28)
We are in touch with Americans directly, any we have contact with, and I can give you an overall assessment of where we stand with that if that’s helpful as well, but I’m not going to give you more of an articulation of that from here.

Male: (09:39)
Are there any active threats? You talked about in that statement the threat that’s posed by ISIS-K, but are there any active threats to Kabul, to HKAIA right now?

Jen Psaki: (09:48)
I’m not going to give you an intelligence assessment from here either, but I can convey to you that we have increasing concerns about the threats, and that is certainly a part of the president’s assessment and decision-making. Go ahead.

Male: (09:58)
Thank you, Jen. Is there any concern that maybe trying to reach this deadline and get everybody out, mistakes are being made now that there is a report that at least one of the Afghans evacuated to [inaudible 00:10:10] has suspected ISIS ties?

Jen Psaki: (10:12)
Well, first I would say we have a stringent vetting process, which includes background checks before any individual comes to the United States. So I can’t speak to one individual, but I can tell you and confirm for you that we take the vetting of any individual who comes to the United States and comes out incredibly seriously and it’s an extensive process. I would say that this is now on track, Peter, to be the largest airlift in US history. And that is bringing American citizens out. It is bringing our Afghan partners out. It is bringing allies out. So, no, I would not say that is anything but a success.

Male: (10:49)
Okay. And I know that you said yesterday it’s irresponsible to say that Americans are stranded in Afghanistan right now. What do you say to the American citizens in Kabul that [inaudible 00:10:58] spoke to this morning, she’s going by Fatima. She says, “We are stranded-”

Peter: (11:03)
She’s going by Fatima. She said, “We are stranded at home, for four days, three days. We didn’t hear anything from anywhere, and they’re saying to go to the airport, but we’re not being given clear guidance. Our emails are getting ignored.”

Jen Psaki: (11:12)
Well, why don’t I convey to you exactly what we are doing, and I think what’s important to note that I also said yesterday, and the full context of my answer which I put out today was that we are committed to bringing Americans home that want to leave. And that is the President’s commitment. So let me explain to you how our process works, and there have been some very good questions, including from you and from others about this.

Jen Psaki: (11:34)
One, as we’ve said, this is a dynamic number. We’re working hour-by-hour to refine and make it precise. Understand your desire and interest in having an exact number of American citizens on the ground and the State Department, I expect, will have an exact update on that tomorrow. Just to remind you, the US government does not track our citizens when they travel around the world. We rely on self-reporting, not just in Afghanistan, anywhere in the world. People have to decide to register or not, it’s up to them, individuals, whether they decide to register or not wherever they may be. And if you register when you’re in a country like Afghanistan, you aren’t required to de-register. The State Department also issues alert. They have a publicized phone number and email to contact if you’re in Afghanistan and want assistance to leave.

Jen Psaki: (12:18)
And for months, the Department has been telling Americans to leave Afghanistan for their own safety. It is our responsibility and our role to work with and help American citizens who want to leave. Let me finish. I’m almost done, and then you can ask a follow-up question. In recent days, they have reached out to every American citizen registered in Afghanistan directly multiple times. This is a 24/7 operation. Embassies all over the world are supporting phone banking, text banking, and email efforts. If we are not in touch with this individual, give me their contact information and we will get in touch with them. If any of you are hearing from American citizens who can’t reach us, give me their contact information and we will get in contact with them.

Jen Psaki: (12:57)
Our estimate of the overall number of American citizens who are there can increase because folks are just now responding to our outreach who may not have registered. It can also decrease, because people leave. They don’t tell us they leave, or individuals who may reach out and convey they have the documentation needed don’t. So there are a range of factors here, and it’s our responsibility to give you accurate information. That’s what our focus is on.

Peter: (13:22)
But you say no Americans are stranded. This is someone in Kabul who says, “I am stranded.” So is there a better word for somebody who can’t leave the house to get to the airport because Jake Sullivan says ISIS is outside the airport? [crosstalk 00:13:34]-

Jen Psaki: (13:34)
I would welcome you providing their phone number, and we will reach out to them today and I can assure you of that.

Peter: (13:40)
The final question, if the Taliban said that staying past the 31st was going to provoke a reaction, and then President Biden decides, “Okay, we won’t stay,” do they have the same kind of influence over military planning as the Commander in Chief?

Jen Psaki: (13:55)
Well, first of all Peter, the Taliban’s deadline was May 1st, struck in a deal with the prior administration. The President’s timeline was August 31st. That’s the timeline he set, and a period of time he needed in order to operationalize our departure from Afghanistan. I’d also note that as I said and we conveyed in the statement, that our objective and our focus and the focus of the Commander in Chief is always going to be on the safety and security of the men and women who are serving our country in the military. And that has to be a factor here, and that certainly is a factor for him as he thinks about the timeline. Go ahead.

Alex: (14:32)
Can President Biden assure that Afghan allies that help the military will be able to get out and will he extend the deadline to help those people get out?

Jen Psaki: (14:40)
Well, I will say that we will certainly have additional folks eligible to come to the United States after August 31st that we will help relocate. But I will also note we have now evacuated 58,700 people in the last nine days. And we are continuing to be in direct contact with eligible special immigrant visa applicants, of course with American citizens, and with individuals who we are working to facilitate their departure. So our focus is on getting the job done by August 31st, and that’s what we’re doing day to day at this point.

Alex: (15:16)
And secondly, on the vetting question, we’re seeing more debate across the country about as the refugees come here. What is the White House doing to convey the vetting standards and to assure any state officials that people who may end up in their state are okay?

Jen Psaki: (15:34)
Well, first, no one is coming to the United States who has not gone through a security vetting process. I would note to Peter’s earlier question, for people who we had evacuated who had not completed security vetting under the usual SIV application process, in the interest of getting them out of Afghanistan to third countries, we are also front-loading our security screening to complete the steps that have proven most likely to surface derogatory information while these Afghans remain at transit sites in Europe and the Middle East before they arrive here. So actually, to go back to his earlier question, because it’s all related, it’s actually the system working.

Jen Psaki: (16:08)
And we have a vetting process and a background check that can happen in advance of individuals coming to the United States if they’ve gone through the SIV process or individuals who have been moved to third countries before they move further.

Alex: (16:23)
Just a follow-up real quickly, is there going to be an education campaign? Is there going to be information sent to stakeholders across the country who may have some concerns?

Jen Psaki: (16:30)
Oh, sorry. Do you mean domestically here in the United States?

Alex: (16:32)
That’s correct.

Jen Psaki: (16:32)
Oh, absolutely. Sorry, I was misunderstanding your question. Yes, we are in touch with governors, we are in touch with local authorities, we are in touch with communities. We’ve been engaging with local media, and we will continue to do that so there’s an understanding of the stringent process that we have in place before individuals come to the United States. And I think a part of that is also a reminder that these are individuals who fought alongside the United States over the last 20 years, and that’s part of who we are as a country, and part of the fabric of the United States. So that’s part of it as well, but in terms of the specific vetting components, yes, we are absolutely thinking about that and ensuring we are communicating that effectively, or that’s our objective. Go ahead.

Speaker 1: (17:11)
Can you share more about the possible stint of Havana Syndrome that delayed the Vice President’s trip?

Jen Psaki: (17:18)
Sure. First, I will say that the Vice President is now in country, in Vietnam. And certainly, we take very seriously… Let me just get the information so I can get it to you very clearly. One second. A lot going on today, I will just note. No shortage.

Jen Psaki: (17:39)
Okay. So, we of course take any reported incident of Havana Syndrome seriously, and while this is not a confirmed case at this point in time, we take any reported incident which was recent and was reported publicly, I will note, quite seriously. As I will note, there was an assessment done of the safety of the Vice President and there was a decision made that she could continue to travel along with her staff. It was not a person traveling in her party or anything along those lines.

Speaker 1: (18:08)
Does the White House believe she was targeted or somebody on her team may have been targeted?

Jen Psaki: (18:13)
That is not as assessment that’s been made. It was an individual who was in country, and it had been reported previously.

Speaker 1: (18:19)
Can you confirm that it was two embassy staffers?

Jen Psaki: (18:23)
I don’t have any additional detail beyond that.

Speaker 1: (18:25)
Okay. And one on Afghanistan. For Afghans who are at risk in Afghanistan and won’t be able to get out in time, how will the US try to keep them safe after August 31st?

Jen Psaki: (18:35)
Well, I think as I just said in response to I think Alex’s question, there are individuals who will be eligible after, who we expect, who will certainly be eligible after August 31st, and we are determining how operationally we can deliver on that. It’s a good question, I don’t have an update right now. Go ahead.

Speaker 2: (18:53)
I have a question about a report on the conditions in Doha that was reported by Axios today. A US Central Command internal email described the housing for thousands of evacuees as, “awash with loose feces and urine and a rat infestation, a life-threatening humanitarian disaster.” Is the President aware of these conditions? And is there anything going on to improve them?

Jen Psaki: (19:17)
Absolutely. And I think the report is actually from a couple of days… I understand it was in Axios this morning, but I believe that the conditions were a report from several days ago, and certainly the State Department and other officials who are working in close coordination with countries who are hosting individuals as they’re passing through or maybe as they’re landing there for a long period of time have been working to improve those conditions.

Speaker 2: (19:41)
Do you have anything to say about how they’ve improved over the past few days?

Jen Psaki: (19:44)
I’m happy to get you an update on that, but it is something we are aware of. It is something we worked quickly to improve, and certainly, we want the individuals who are being evacuated to be treated with respect. We also want them to be safe, hence the speed necessity, but we worked to improve the conditions as soon as we learned. Go ahead.

Speaker 3: (20:00)
Jen, in the statement that you released, you said the President conveyed that our mission in Kabul and based on the achievement of our objectives. Can you be more specific about what those objectives would be? Are we talking about getting all Americans out? A certain number of Afghans out who helped the American effort? What will be the specific benchmarks of deciding that the objectives of the mission have been met?

Jen Psaki: (20:22)
Well, the statement also conveys in evacuating Americans who want to come home, third country nationals and Afghans who are allies during the war. And we again have evacuated 50,700 people in the last nine days. That is the mission we’re continuing to work to deliver on. I also noted in the statement, we also noted in the statement that of course, we have to assess these security threats. Security threats not only to individuals on the ground, to the men and women serving on the ground, I mean, that is front and center in the President’s mind.

Speaker 3: (20:53)
So that means all the individuals in the categories that you note in the statement?

Jen Psaki: (20:56)
Again, I think we’ve been clear that our objective is to any American who wants to leave, to help them leave. That is what we’re focused on every single day. I don’t have anything more to add beyond what I said in the statement.

Speaker 3: (21:07)
Can I ask one follow-up?

Jen Psaki: (21:08)

Speaker 3: (21:08)
Putting aside the specific activities of the CIA Director, why did the President decide to dispatch him to meet with the Taliban?

Jen Psaki: (21:15)
I’m just not going to have any more on this, as we’ve noted and confirmed many times in the past, we are in regular contact with the Taliban. They are currently overseeing most of the country of Afghanistan, so by necessity, that’s part of the jobs of our national security team. But for any details on the CIA Director, I point to the CIA. Go ahead.

Speaker 4: (21:33)
Thanks, Jen. During the COVID Response Team briefing, Jeff [Sines 00:21:36] gave some overall statistics about the allotment of personnel, ventilators, and ambulances across the country.

Jen Psaki: (21:41)

Speaker 4: (21:42)
Do you all have a state-by-state breakdown of that, or even more granular?

Jen Psaki: (21:45)
I can certainly check. You mean in terms of materials we’ve provided to states?

Speaker 4: (21:49)
Where the government’s resources go.

Jen Psaki: (21:51)
Yeah, absolutely. I certainly do. We can see if that’s something we can get out to you as well.

Speaker 4: (21:54)
And then I have a question on Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan, which is the debt relief for farmers of color. This has obviously been mired now down in I believe 13 lawsuits.

Speaker 4: (22:02)
… this has obviously been mired now down in, I believe 13 lawsuits. Obviously these farmers that still in jeopardy. Is the administration exploring any other ways of getting these resources to farmers of color under this program or under an alternative scheme for the administration?

Jen Psaki: (22:15)
Well, as you noted, there is active litigation. And obviously we had proposed plans to provide assistance to these farmers and hence, there’s active litigation that’s ongoing. But I can convey to you that our commitment is to certainly help these farmers. I would point you to the Department of Agriculture for any more specifics about their programs, but I know that equity is central to their objectives and certainly is part of how they orchestrate any of their programs. Go ahead.

Speaker 5: (22:45)
Thanks. Do you know what a tenor of the G7 meeting was today? Was there any dissatisfaction expressed by some of the allies? Can you say if they conveyed some of their displeasure with the US actions or the president’s actions?

Jen Psaki: (22:58)
I know Bloomberg has reporters all around the world and I will let them report on their leaders and not give an evaluation of their tenors.

Speaker 5: (23:07)
Can you also say if it’s accurate that the US is already starting to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan?

Jen Psaki: (23:13)
I would point you to the Department of Defense for any operational specifics. I know they’ll brief again today. Go ahead.

Alex: (23:18)
Just a couple of quick clarifications. Earlier today, the Pentagon said that it’s about 4,000 Americans who have been evacuated. Can you provide a bit of additional context? Was that a military flight, military flights and charters? Anything else you can say about who these people were and whether that gives you any more of a sense of how many remain in Afghanistan?

Jen Psaki: (23:35)
Well, I would say it’s more than 4,000 Americans plus their family. So it’s actually a larger number than that, but yes, more than 4,000 passport holders or American citizens plus their families. In terms of their mechanism for departure, it’s a very good question. I don’t have that level of detail in front of me, but we can see if we can break that down more specifically. So you’re asking about whether they came on military planes or charter planes?

Alex: (23:58)
Yeah, earlier, you had been breaking those two [inaudible 00:24:00] this military plus charter.

Jen Psaki: (24:02)
Yeah. Which we will continue to do, but I will see if there’s a more of a concrete breakdown for you.

Alex: (24:08)
And are you able to say at this point, if the indication is that this has to go beyond the deadline, is that something that would be telegraphed or indicated beforehand, or would that be a last minute decision or announcement from the government?

Jen Psaki: (24:21)
Well, again, I think as we stated in the statement I put out earlier, we are currently on pace to finish by August 31st, but the president also asked the Pentagon and State Department for contingency plans. We’ll let them brief him on those before we give a further assessment. Go ahead. I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.

Speaker 6: (24:41)
Thanks Jen. Two questions on the vice president’s trip delay.

Jen Psaki: (24:44)

Speaker 6: (24:46)
The last minute delay of the flight suggests that her and her team found out about this case of anomalous health incident last minute. How last minute was it? When did the case occur? And are you concerned with the timing given her travel?

Jen Psaki: (25:07)
Again, I think this is similar to Stephanie’s question. There hasn’t been any additional assessment about any targeting, as I think you’re asking about. It hasn’t even been a confirmed case at this point in time. And certainly it shouldn’t be a surprise that for the vice president of the United States, that additional precautions were taken. It was a recent case and one that was publicly reported.

Speaker 6: (25:27)
And the embassy, I know I said that there was a thorough assessment before she proceeded on with her trip. If the government genuinely doesn’t know what’s causing these incidents, then how can you guarantee the vice president’s security?

Jen Psaki: (25:47)
I’m not going to get into security details. I can assure you that the vice president of the United States wouldn’t travel further to a country if there wasn’t confidence in her security on the ground. Go ahead. Oh, sorry, go ahead.

April: (25:58)
Jen, as you said, there’s a lot going on. Just across the street, maybe an hour or so ago, there were voting rights activists who said the president needs to do more. They also said that the president needs to lean in on the filibuster in the Senate, as the House is expected to pass voting rights HR4 today. What is the thought behind that from the White house as people of all walks of life are out there saying that he needs to do more? That this president is not doing enough for the constituency that he said that he was going to work for?

Jen Psaki: (26:34)
Well, I would say first that voting rights and ensuring access to voting continues to be a central priority for the president. And in any White House and for any president, you have to do many things at one time and he certainly is the first to understand that. But he stands by the activists and their vocal calls for more and for forward action. I would say he’s with them. He’s maybe not the right target of their frustration, because his objective is also to get voting rights legislation passed, and he would like to sign that legislation into law.

April: (27:10)
But he doesn’t believe in ending the filibuster and that’s the big hurdle in the Senate. And they are saying that we are now voting like we voted in 1964. Voting rights has been stripped by the Supreme Court twice and now there are restrictive laws in states that are precluding free and fair voting in this nation.

Jen Psaki: (27:29)
Absolutely April and it’s outrageous, and the president is outraged by it. And that’s why he has asked his vice president to lead this effort. That’s why he has taken steps, including a historic executive order on voting rights. That’s why he has supported the efforts by the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to continue to take steps that are at their disposal to crack down on these abuses across the country and why he will continue to make this a central priority for him. Go ahead, Karen. I think we got to keep going, because we’re going to run out of time.

April: (27:58)
[crosstalk 00:27:58] you said you were going to talk about yesterday. We don’t know what happened yesterday. Was he in support of taking the knee in support of police reform or was he just kneeling? Because we were told to ask you.

Jen Psaki: (28:10)
Well, the president certainly supports police reform, but he also was taking a photo with a sports team and he has also kneeled in other occasions with sports teams in the past. Go ahead, Karen.

Karen: (28:21)
[inaudible 00:28:21] some of the questions about your statement. When you say there that he’s asked the Pentagon and State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline, should that become necessary, what metric would determine whether that becomes necessary? What is the president looking for?

Jen Psaki: (28:35)
Well, Karen, I think it’s not as simple as a metric. I understand your question, but for any president, they’re making a risk assessment in coordination with their teams. And the threat from ISIS K is real. The possibility of its deterioration of coordination with the Taliban is real. Putting our service members at risk is real. And those are certainly part of the president’s decision making in any regard. And again, we continue to be on track. It’s been nine days, we’ve evacuated 58,700 people. Right now, it’s the 24th. We have about seven days until the 31st and we’re going to continue to press hard to get American citizens out, get our Afghan partners out, SIV applicants and others who are eligible for departure out.

Karen: (29:22)
Can you update us on the president’s engagement with members of Congress this week, specifically on Afghanistan? Who was he talking to on this, and just some of the conversations he’s had?

Jen Psaki: (29:32)
The president has had a range of conversations with members of Congress. A lot of them have been about his Build Back Better agenda, a range of Democrats from across the political spectrum. I don’t have an assessment for you of how many of those have included questions from them about Afghanistan. I can confirm for you, which is often the case, we have been doing a number of briefings from our national security team with members of Congress, some of them in a classified briefing, and we’ll continue to do that and remain closely engaged with our process and our progress on the ground. Go ahead.

Speaker 7: (30:01)
In a statement today, you said that the mission and Kabul would end in the achievement of our objectives. What percentage of Afghan allies would constitute achieving that objective?

Jen Psaki: (30:14)
I’m not going to put a number on that for you, nor have we put a cap on how many special immigrant visa applicants there can be, or how many individuals who would be eligible for any of our range of programs could come to the United States. We’re going to continue to work to process, we’re going to continue to evacuate, we’re going to continue to work with nearly two dozen partners around the world to move people out of the country.

Speaker 7: (30:36)
Second question, the administration’s used federal funding as a lever to push nursing homes to vaccinate their workers. Has administration consider using Title I funding for schools to push vaccination requirements to teachers?

Jen Psaki: (30:48)
Well, I would say first that we’ve seen including recently, I think today or yesterday in Missouri, additional steps taken that in our view, put more kids at risk. The president thinks that’s completely unacceptable. And he has asked his Secretary of Education and … directed, I should say his Secretary of Education to use all his authority, to help those school districts doing the right thing, to ensure everyone of their students has access to a fundamental right of safe in-person learning. This can include a number of considerations, but I’ll let the secretary speak to that.

Speaker 7: (31:24)
[inaudible 00:31:24].

Jen Psaki: (31:24)
I’ll let the secretary speak to it. But the president has directed him to use every authority to ensure we’re protecting kids across the country. Go ahead.

Speaker 8: (31:32)
You mentioned today that we can provide you with information about those who are stranded. And I think a lot of us in this room are getting calls or knew at least one person there. Is there a better way that the White House can create these more direct connections to these people? Because it seems like we have more access than these people. So just wondering how these people can directly contact?

Jen Psaki: (31:50)
One, anyone who has an American citizen, who they’re looking to help get out, any of you, send them to me directly and I will get it to the right place. We are absolutely committed to this, this is an across the government commitment. Why I laid out all the specific steps we’re taking is because I wanted to provide an understanding of what we’re doing from here. Anyone we have contact information for, and it was possible that the person you know, or the person Peter knows we may not have contacted or the right contact information. That is also entirely possible. We are reaching out via phone, via text, via email, any way we can. And we’re giving them instructions on how to get to the airport, when to come to the airport. We have an entire apparatus and operation set up on the ground, we’re advertising. And this is a 24/7 operation of reaching out to these individuals.

Speaker 8: (32:36)
And regarding the vice president, was she in contact with these people that were experiencing these symptoms?

Jen Psaki: (32:42)

Speaker 8: (32:42)
And then did she get medically evaluated?

Jen Psaki: (32:45)
There was a security assessment made. She was not on the ground yet. Go ahead.

Speaker 9: (32:50)
Thank you, Jen. Two questions. Yesterday, the Biden administration announced sanction against the top military of Eritrea for human right-

Speaker 9: (33:06)
[inaudible 00:33:06]. Is there any special planning to extend those sanctions to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and [inaudible 00:33:13]? And is the President going to be as involved in the crisis in Ethiopia the same way he was engaged in the crisis between Palestinian and Israel?

Jen Psaki: (33:27)
Well, I can certainly confirm those sanctions as you noted. I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of additional sanctions. Obviously, we continue to evaluate and reserve that right should that be a recommendation made and something the President approves. And I will certainly note that the President, we are closely tracking, we’re closely engaged with high-level officials in the situation on the ground. Go ahead.

Speaker 9: (33:49)
I have any follow up question, please.

Jen Psaki: (33:51)
Okay, let me just get… I just have a few more minutes in case we’ve got to gather, so I just want to get her into as many people as possible. We’ll just keep track of it. But go ahead.

Speaker 10: (33:59)
As a followup to Jennifer’s question about the G7 virtual meeting this morning.

Jen Psaki: (34:03)

Speaker 10: (34:04)
From a White House point of view, when that meeting was over, was the President satisfied that the message had gotten through to them? Did you think there was a consensus among those leaders? Was there a lot of pushback or were you happy with how it ended? Let’s put it that way.

Jen Psaki: (34:20)
I appreciate the different way of asking the question, which is very creative. I will say, first, the President is about to give an update both on the progress that is being made in the House and also his meeting with the G7 leaders. I know that, that was now several hours ago, but we wanted to wait as there was progress being made in the House for him to give that statement. So he can speak to that and he will speak clearly to what he conveyed to them directly to give you all a sense. In terms of the assessment from others, again, I would point you to them on any further.

Speaker 10: (34:50)
[crosstalk 00:34:50] satisfied with it at the end?

Jen Psaki: (34:51)
Well, I think the President felt he conveyed what his position is and part of his position, which was a big part of his decision as it related to bringing our troops home and it’s also a huge factor for him now, is about what we’re asking the men and women in the military to do and obviously the decision to bring them home related to fighting a war that the Afghans wouldn’t fight themselves. And now it, of course, is a factor for him what threats are being posed to them every day that they are on the ground there. Go ahead.

Speaker 11: (35:25)
Thank you. Two quick questions. So how do you describe the U.S. relationship with Taliban now? Do you think it’s the defacto ruler of Afghanistan now?

Jen Psaki: (35:35)
Well, I would say, first, that it is true that they have taken over much of Afghanistan. But this is not about trust. This is not about validation. Right now we are working with them in a coordinated way to get American citizens, to get special immigrant visa applicants, to get individuals who are eligible to evacuate from Afghanistan out either to third countries or to the United States. But I’m not going to put a further label on it than that.

Speaker 11: (36:00)
[crosstalk 00:36:00] that the Taliban has included former President Karzai and [inaudible 00:36:04] governing council. How do you see this development as?

Jen Psaki: (36:08)
I don’t have an update on their discussions at this point in time from here. Go ahead.

Speaker 12: (36:13)
Hi, Jen.

Jen Psaki: (36:13)
I’ll come back to you. Sorry about that. Go ahead.

Speaker 12: (36:14)
[inaudible 00:36:14] from Bloomberg Law. With the President except a Build Back Better package that doesn’t include Medicare drug pricing negotiation?

Jen Psaki: (36:23)
Certainly, lowering the price of prescription drugs is a top priority to the President. That’s why he proposed it. I’m not going to negotiate from here, but I also know there’s a lot of support in Congress for that initiative. Go ahead.

Speaker 13: (36:33)
Thank you, Jen. Follow up on the metrics question.

Jen Psaki: (36:36)
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 13: (36:38)
This is hypothetical, but it’s not totally unrealistic.

Jen Psaki: (36:41)
I love hypotheticals.

Speaker 13: (36:42)
This is not unrealistic. [crosstalk 00:36:43].

Jen Psaki: (36:44)
Go ahead. Go ahead. I didn’t mean to. Go ahead.

Speaker 13: (36:45)
Okay. Say after the withdrawal is done, it’s declared, it’s done, everyone’s out, if one U.S. citizen was suddenly discovered saying, “Hey, I really want to get out and I’m stuck,” who knows where, somewhere in Afghanistan or in Kabul, he’s got any problem, would this trigger a diplomatic, military, all hands on deck type thing to get to that person out, whatever the date?

Jen Psaki: (37:09)
Our commitment continues to be to U.S. citizens. If they want to leave, we will help get them out.

Speaker 13: (37:14)
No matter of what the date?

Jen Psaki: (37:16)
Again, we expect there could be some, but I’m not going to get into it further. Go ahead.

Speaker 14: (37:21)
Thanks, Jen. Quick question to follow up on. You said the President’s been in touch with members about the Build Back Better plan.

Jen Psaki: (37:27)
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 14: (37:27)
I wonder, did he have direct conversations with this group of 10 moderates who were in talks with the Speaker about advancing the bipartisan package versus the Reconciliation Bill? Did he have direct contact with them or did he reach out to them at all as they were trying to broker this agreement?

Jen Psaki: (37:42)
He spoke with a range of members, including some from the Group of Nine, I believe it is, about the path forward and, obviously, we’re seeing progress and that’s a good sign and the President will speak to it shortly. Go ahead.

Speaker 15: (37:54)
Thanks, Jen.

Jen Psaki: (37:54)
Oh, okay. We’ve got to wrap up in a second here.

Speaker 15: (37:56)
Thanks, Jen. Following up on Jennifer’s and Bob’s question again on G7.

Jen Psaki: (38:01)

Speaker 15: (38:01)
And that is, Tony Blair wrote a pretty scathing op-ed claiming that President Biden’s decision put politics over policy. And also the question is here, first of all, how does the White House respond to that? And also there’s this lingering question that the President has had this impulse to get out of Afghanistan. He even had an interaction with former diplomat Holbrook where Holbrook said, “Listen, we have a duty to these people.” And the Vice President reportedly had an answer to that. What is your response?

Jen Psaki: (38:49)
I would first say that, that was clearly more than 10 years ago. Second, if it happens, which I have no confirmation of, but I say first that the President has been in touch directly with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is the current leader of the U.K., and has been clear with his G7 partners about what his objectives are, his commitment to the mission, the progress we’re making, and the factors that he has considered. And that is something he’s in touch with current leaders about. We also understand that allies and partners of ours and adversaries for different reason have advocated for the United States and our men and women in the military staying longer. But as the President of the United States and the Commander-in-Chief of this country, he has to factor in their security, their safety, and that is his responsibility even if it’s not theirs. Thanks, everyone. You’re going to see the President shortly.

Speaker 15: (39:41)
Thank you.

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