Aug 25, 2021

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 25: Afghanistan Update

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 25: Afghanistan Update
RevBlogTranscriptsJen Psaki White House Press Briefing TranscriptsPress Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 25: Afghanistan Update

August 25, 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.

Transcribe Your Own Content

Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.

Jen Psaki: (00:00)
Just to note, and I know all of you have been following this quite closely, but to reiterate, a total of approximately 19,000 people were evacuated from Kabul over a period of 24 hours that of course ended early this morning. This is the result of 42 US military flights, which carried approximately 11,200 evacuees, and 48 coalition flights, which carried 7,800 people for a total of 90 flights out of Kabul, which if I get my math right, that’s approximately a flight every 39 minutes. I believe the Department of Defense gave that statistic. And just to reiterate, since August 14th, the United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 82,300 people on US military and coalition flights as part of one of the largest airlifts in world history. Since the end of July, we have relocated approximately 88,000 people on US military and coalition flights.

Jen Psaki: (00:58)
Two other items unrelated to that topic. Today, we have announced new actions to help protect vulnerable tenants and landlords. For months, the administration has worked to speed up the delivery of emergency rental assistance as we’ve talked about quite a bit in here and help keep American families safe and in their homes. And as the president has made clear, no state or locality should delay in distributing resources that have been provided by Congress to meet families’ critical needs. And we want to continue to take steps to make that easier. So today the Treasury Department is strengthening existing guidance and implementing new policies to ensure that state and local grantees can further accelerate the distribution of era funds to struggling landlords and renters most at risk of eviction. Specifically, they’re providing explicit permission for grantees to use self attestation without further documentation of their economic circumstances, to give you a specific example, in order to speed the delivery of assistance to households in need during the public health emergency. There are also a number of steps that are being taken by USDA, HUD, the VA and HHS, including USDA is working with owners of 400,000 rental units and USD backed properties to mitigate all evictions. HUD will ensure tenants in public housing first have the opportunity to access emergency rental assistance money before facing eviction and HUD will extend the eviction notice period from 14 to 30 days during the COVID national emergency period. And the VA will expand rental support to at-risk veterans and their families from just seven states to now all 50 states and the US territories. So this is just some of the examples of steps we’re taking on there. Go ahead.

Male: (02:42)
On Afghanistan, there seems to be a disconnect. Veterans organizations, [inaudible 00:02:49] advocates are saying that Afghans with visas are risking death and facing beatings at the airport. I hope I’m framing this right, but there’s been the sense that I’ve heard, I think from you and others in the administration, the Taliban has by and large met its commitment to allow people with the right papers onto the airport. Can you try to help Americans that are seeing and what seems to be a disconnect between these two different statements of what is happening?

Jen Psaki: (03:28)
Well, first let me say, I wouldn’t see it as a disconnect, and let me explain to you why. I noted earlier that we put out earlier today that 19,000 people were evacuated in a 24 hour period. The vast majority of those were, of course, Afghans, as you know by the numbers that the secretary of state just put out. That does mean that a great number of people are making their way into the airport and onto flights to evacuate from the country. There are certainly cases and incidents we have heard, you have reported, where individuals are not getting through that should get through, and we are approaching those and addressing those on a case by case basis as those are raised. But I would note that, again, 19,000 people in a period of time, the vast majority of them are Afghans, SIV applicants, individuals who have the appropriate paperwork to evacuate, and that was just in a 24 hour period.

Male: (04:20)
Can you give us an update on where things stand with the president of the coronavirus origins review?

Jen Psaki: (04:26)

Male: (04:28)
I understand he’s gotten a copy of the 90 day report. Was there any conclusions that the [inaudible 00:04:39]?

Jen Psaki: (04:39)
Sure. Well, let me confirm for you, as you noted, he did not just receive a copy. He received a briefing yesterday on the 90 day origins report. It was a classified briefing, so of course that’s not information we would provide publicly. Because of the prioritization we’ve given to this and the importance of this information for the public, the intelligence community has been simultaneously working on an unclassified version of a summary version to provide publicly. I don’t have a timeline for you on when that will be provided, but they’ve been working expeditiously to prepare that. And we have also been doing classified briefings. But until that unclassified version is available, I won’t be able to provide any more details of the assessment.

Male: (05:21)
Without getting into details, the broad upshot of the report, is there a better understanding of what was the ultimate origin?

Jen Psaki: (05:29)
Again, I can’t obviously speak to a classified briefing. I know you were eager to receive an unclassified summary. That is something the intelligence community has been working to produce. And as soon as that is available, it will be put out publicly from the intelligence community, from ODNI, and we will also ensure you all have access to it. Go ahead.

Female: (05:46)
Thanks Jen. Secretary Blinken just said, and Jake Sullivan said the other day that even after August 31st, that the US government is committed to helping Americans and Afghans who are still in the country eligible to get out, to get out safely. How do you do that if the military is gone? How do you safeguard these people and get them where they need to go without the US military in the country?

Jen Psaki: (06:09)
Well, I know, Nancy, as you mentioned, that the secretary was asked that. He didn’t go into detail for a reason because we are currently having those discussions through diplomatic channels. But what he assured, I think, the public of and I can reiterate from here is that we are looking at a range of options for how we can continue to provide counselor support, facilitate departures for those who wish to leave after August 31st. And our expectation and the expectation of the international community is that people who want to leave Afghanistan after the US military depart should be able to do so. We’re working on that. As soon as we have more to provide to all of you, more information, we will do exactly that.

Female: (06:46)
And then based on the numbers that you’ve provided of Americans who have been evacuated, it sounds like there are at least 70,000 Afghans who have been evacuated. How do you possibly vet all of those people in a timely fashion when clearly the customs and border patrol and the relevant officials must be completely overloaded?

Jen Psaki: (07:11)
They are. And I will say, this is a reflection of the fact that we have hundreds of employees of our intelligence community working 24 hours a day to do the vetting necessary and reviews necessary to move people into the United States. Now, I would remind you that there are a number of people, tens of thousands of people who are departing Afghanistan who are going to third countries, lily pads, as we’ve been calling them, and where additional vetting can take place either because they’ve only proceeded through certain steps of the immigrant visa process or because their vetting process has not yet been completed. I can give you a little bit more detailed too, on the vetting process if that is helpful.

Jen Psaki: (07:54)
So the screening and security vetting is conducted by a combination of the intelligence law enforcement and counter-terrorism professionals from across government. So the Department of Homeland Security, Department of defense, the FBI, the State Department, the NCTC, the National Counter Terrorism Center, and additional intelligence community partners. What they are doing are they’re conducting screening and security vetting for all SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans before they are allowed into the United States. This includes reviews of both biographic and bio metric data. And if an individual is not through that vetting process, they’re not coming into the United States.

Female: (08:31)
And are there any estimates for how long it’ll take to work through that backlog? Could these people be going through the system for months or years?

Jen Psaki: (08:38)
You mean people who are in third countries? Well, what I will tell you is that it typically takes months to go through this process. And what this is a signal of is the fact that this is a top priority for the president and the intelligence community and the individuals who oversee this vetting process who have massively expedited the process in order to move through the necessary steps, thorough steps, in order to process individuals and get them moving through the system. Go ahead.

Male: (09:06)
Thank you, Jen. At the tail end of the president’s remarks today about cyber security, he was asked about Afghanistan and he made a joke-

Jen Psaki: (09:15)
I think Peter asked him that question.

Male: (09:16)
The other Peter did. And he made a joke. So what’s so funny?

Jen Psaki: (09:19)
Well, I think the question he was asked, if I remember correctly, was about when he will provide information about a decision on August 31st. I don’t want to paraphrase the question. If that was an inaccurate description of the question-

Male: (09:32)
Very important to a lot of people watching.

Jen Psaki: (09:32)
Of course it’s a very important question. And I think what he conveyed is that he has not… Well, what I can convey from here, I should say, is that as he stated yesterday, and as the secretary of state just stated, we’re on track to complete our mission by August 31st. Obviously there are discussions, and the president received a briefing just this morning. As I noted, he asked yesterday for contingency plans and he received a briefing on them this morning. These are incredibly serious issues, and there are discussions that are happening internally. And I know that in addition to the contingency plans that he requested, he also, I will reiterate, as we stated yesterday, that this is all contingent on us achieving our objectives and the continued coordination with the Taliban. And the president has spoken, I would say, to this issue, Peter, as you know. You’ve attended a number of these multiple times over the last several days. And he has also highlighted the fact that we are closely watching, closely following the threats from ISIS-K, which he also received a briefing on this morning.

Male: (10:34)
In his remarks last night, he gave a lot of time to the domestic agenda. Does he think that the build back better plan is as urgent and as time sensitive as this evacuation of Americans and Afghan friendlies from Kabul?

Jen Psaki: (10:48)
Well, first of all, I think it’s important to the American people who care deeply about whether they’re going to have jobs, whether they’re going to have childcare, whether we are going to be able to compete with China and countries around the world, to understand that we have to do multiple things at the same time. That’s exactly what any president of the United States has to do.

Male: (11:08)
The next one, just as these negotiations about safe passage for Americans and SIV holders continue, why haven’t we heard the president say the United States does not negotiate with terrorists? Is that still the US policy?

Jen Psaki: (11:22)
Well, of course it is, Peter, but I would also say that there’s a reality that the Taliban is currently controlling large swaths of Afghanistan. That is a reality on the ground. And right now our focus and our priority is getting American citizens evacuated and our Afghan partners evacuated. And I would say given the numbers that we have outlined and brief for you, that we have made a great deal of progress in doing exactly that. Okay, go ahead, Justin.

Male: (11:48)
Thanks. I had a couple, but actually I had a kind of follow up on the question that Peter just asked.

Jen Psaki: (11:51)

Male: (11:54)
You’ve talked about the coordination with the Taliban and that the president’s obviously made this threat of a severe response if they disrupt the effort to get Americans out. But I’m wondering has the US offered the Taliban anything in terms of cash or supplies to help facilitate this coordination?

Jen Psaki: (12:11)
No, this is not a “quid pro quo.” We have laid out clearly what our expectations are about moving American citizens and our Afghan partners, allies out of the country. And that’s what we’re working to deliver on.

Male: (12:24)
The fed has their big meeting in Jackson Hole this week, or a virtual [inaudible 00:12:29]. I’m wondering if the president is spoken to the Chairman Powell ahead of that meeting [inaudible 00:12:34]?

Jen Psaki: (12:35)
I don’t have any updates or previews or readouts of meetings or engagements with Chairman Powell. Go ahead.

Female: (12:40)
Thanks. A question about lawmakers who traveled to Afghanistan. Was the White House aware of those members of Congress that traveled to Kabul?

Jen Psaki: (12:49)
We were not aware of when they were in route. No.

Female: (12:52)
What’s the White House’s reaction to that? Was that official or what’s the White House’s reaction?

Jen Psaki: (12:58)
Well, our guidance continues to be to all American citizens, including elected officials, this is not the time to travel to Afghanistan. And our focus, our objectives, our resources need to be laser focused on evacuating Afghan partners, evacuating American citizens, and that’s best done in the hands of the Department of Defense and State Department professionals who are on the ground.

Female: (13:22)
One more. The 31st of course is the deadline for the drawdown. But when do the gears shift from evacuation mission to withdrawing troops?

Jen Psaki: (13:31)
Well, I noted a little bit earlier that the president was briefed this morning on contingency plans and continues to have optionality should he decide to change plans even as we are on track to complete our mission by August 31st. I would also note that my DOD colleagues have put out some information about steps that are being taken. So as we’ve made consistent and clear, commanders on the ground are empowered to make any adjustments as they see fit, when they see fit. That includes changes to the footprint. To that end, they confirmed-

Jen Psaki: (14:03)
… see fit, and that includes changes to the footprint. To that end, they confirmed last night, I believe it was, of the departure from Afghanistan of several hundred US troops. These troops represent a mix of headquarter staff, maintenance and other enabling functions that were scheduled to leave and whose mission at the airport was complete. It does not have an impact on our mission at hand. Go ahead.

Speaker 1: (14:21)
Yeah, just follow up on Afghanistan.

Jen Psaki: (14:23)

Speaker 1: (14:23)
People traveling there, the LA Times has a story saying that a group of students and their parents are in Afghanistan. Do you have any more information on that? Or is that a…

Jen Psaki: (14:33)
I do not… Who have recently traveled into Afghanistan?

Speaker 1: (14:36)
Who were apparently stranded in Afghanistan after having traveled there? I don’t know for certain if this is a legit story.

Jen Psaki: (14:42)
I certainly don’t have additional information on that. I know, as our Secretary of State just noted when he went through a thorough summary of American citizens and our contacts and our focus over the last several days, he gave an update. I’m happy to take their information if there’s something more detailed you have.

Speaker 1: (14:59)
Perfect. And then just on another issue on the Fed. We’re all waiting for some news about Fed appointments-

Jen Psaki: (15:08)
I’ve heard that.

Speaker 1: (15:09)
Can you give us any kind of a timeline for a decision on that? Can you give us any guidance on-

Jen Psaki: (15:14)
I don’t have any guidance for you on the timeline.

Speaker 1: (15:16)

Jen Psaki: (15:17)
Go ahead.

Speaker 1: (15:18)
I’m so sorry.

Jen Psaki: (15:18)
Go ahead, go ahead.

Speaker 1: (15:21)
On Afghanistan. We just heard from Antony Blinken that 45% to 46% of those evacuated have been women. There’s been a lot of consternation about the plight of Afghan women going forward, I know this is an issue of concern to you as well.

Jen Psaki: (15:39)

Speaker 1: (15:39)
But can you say what provisions you’re making to ensure that women are actually sort of an equal part of that population that is being evacuated? It’s not quite representative of the population.

Jen Psaki: (15:53)
Sure. Well, I know that our Secretary of State spoke to this just a few minutes ago. But what I can reiterate or add to, I suppose, is one, we are going to continue to work with the United Nations and our allies and partners around the world to continue to provide humanitarian assistance and a range of assistance to Afghanistan even when we don’t have a presence on the ground.

Jen Psaki: (16:16)
There are also messages we’ve made clear to the Taliban, and I think that Secretary Blinken also reiterated this, about what our expectations are and what the global community expects once we depart Afghanistan. I don’t have additional details beyond that. But I will tell you that our commitment to the incredibly brave women and leaders and population in Afghanistan that has fought alongside us, that has bravely stood up, does not change, does not diminish even after our military is departing from the ground. Yeah.

Speaker 2: (16:51)
Anthony Blinken today gave us numbers for the numbers of Americans that are believed to still be in Afghanistan, but yesterday during a briefing we asked questions about how many Afghans and Americans have arrived in the United States-

Jen Psaki: (17:07)
And I provided details on Americans yesterday.

Speaker 2: (17:11)
But not on the number of Afghans that have arrived at these military bases. Do you have a specific breakdown on the numbers of people that are coming in to-

Jen Psaki: (17:18)
Well first, I confirmed yesterday that it was 4,000 Americans who’d been evacuated. Obviously that number increased and the Secretary of State gave an updated number this morning. I would remind you that the US Military is overseeing the evacuation of individuals out of Afghanistan, and the State Department oversees the visa processing, hence, the update was provided by the Secretary of State. During his briefing, that he just gave, he also noted that he would work to provide additional numbers of Afghans. But I would note, since we provided a detailed number of Americans and we have also provided on a day-to-day basis, twice a day, the numbers of people coming out, the vast majority of those are Afghans. By numbers. Go ahead.

Speaker 3: (17:59)
The Secretary gave us some specificity in terms of what the President may consider completing the mission or achieving objectives as it pertains to Americans. Do you guys have a specific threshold or number when it comes to Afghans about what would define completing the mission or your objectives by August 31st, in terms of evacuations?

Jen Psaki: (18:18)
We have never put a cap on the number of Special Immigrant Visa applicants, the number of individuals who can apply for our variety of programs that are overseen by the State Department, and I’m not going to put a cap on that today. I’d also note that as the Secretary of State said, we will continue and we are continuing to look at a range of options to provide support and to provide a means for departing Afghanistan even after we, our US military departs.

Speaker 3: (18:56)
So there’s nothing where you guys are looking at maybe the existing SIV backlog pre-August 14th and saying we want all 18,000 or whatever?

Jen Psaki: (18:57)
We are not putting a cap on the number. We are continuing to work every day to get as many people evacuated as we can.

Speaker 3: (19:06)
And, one more quick one. You guys have been very clear in stating these numbers are Americans that want to leave. There are clearly Americans, many of them dual citizens who perhaps are choosing not to leave?

Jen Psaki: (19:14)

Speaker 3: (19:14)
What is the level of concern inside the administration about dual citizens or American citizens who choose to stay in the country at this point?

Jen Psaki: (19:21)
Well, I know this is very hard to understand for many people sitting here and I think this is why you’re asking this question… Or not sitting here, even, I should say people who watch your shows or read your newspaper. But many, many of the people, we suspect, many of the people, these 1000 contacts are dual citizens.

Jen Psaki: (19:42)
Some, as Secretary Blinken noted, are people who may not be ready to leave for a variety of reasons. Maybe they have an extended family there, maybe they’ve spent their entire lives in Afghanistan and they have not yet made the decision to depart. Maybe they’re working on a range of projects they’re not ready to leave. I know that it’s hard for us to understand as we’re looking at the images, but for many of these Afghans this is their home. And yes, they are dual citizens. Yes, it is absolutely our responsibility to make sure we are reaching out to them multiple times, we are providing opportunity, we are finding ways to get them to the airport and evacuate them. But it is also their personal decision on whether they want to depart. Go ahead.

Speaker 4: (20:29)
Could I just follow up a little bit on some of Nancy’s questions about refugees?

Jen Psaki: (20:33)
Sure, yeah.

Speaker 4: (20:36)
So first, he talked about the vetting that’s going on outside of the United States after they leave Iraq, or I’m sorry, Afghanistan.

Jen Psaki: (20:40)
Oh, not out… I didn’t mean to imply outside of… Well, some of it is happening in Qatar but some of it is happening here.

Speaker 4: (20:47)
Okay. But I mean it’s before the people come to the United States, right?

Jen Psaki: (20:51)

Speaker 4: (20:51)
It’s happening before they arrive.

Jen Psaki: (20:52)

Speaker 4: (20:52)
So a lot of that vetting, some of the pace of that vetting is within your control. You can add more people, you can add more interviewers-

Jen Psaki: (21:00)
And we have done that.

Speaker 4: (21:00)
But a lot of it is not in your control, right? Like somebody comes to you with no documents, it takes time to figure out where’s the actual birth certificate, it takes time to find documents that prove 10 years of residency. It takes time to get the kind of proof that the FBI and some of these agencies like to use.

Jen Psaki: (21:21)

Speaker 4: (21:21)
So, does that all add up to refugee camps in these transit centers across the globe with tens of thousands of Afghans sitting for months, years, whatever? I mean, it doesn’t sort of add up to those of us who have seen that process. Back in 2015, when you were in a previous administration, one of the things that you guys argued was that the refugee community in particular was the most vetted-

Jen Psaki: (21:53)

Speaker 4: (21:54)
… community of people entering the United States. And you pointed to the fact that it takes a year or two for the typical refugee to meet that burden. So I guess the question is, how can you possibly not have this, and where are you going to put these people?

Jen Psaki: (22:10)
So, okay. There was a lot of questions wrapped up in there. Let me do the best I can here.

Speaker 4: (22:15)
[inaudible 00:22:15].

Jen Psaki: (22:15)
No, it’s okay. I mean, all good questions. First, I would say even prior to the last month or two we took steps to expedite processing in the SIV pipeline. And I would remind you that for quite some time it was a program that was frozen in March of 2020 and hardly anything was done. For policy reasons, in part, by the prior administration, it wasn’t a program they necessarily supported and also because of COVID.

Jen Psaki: (22:43)
So we worked to expedite and actually had some success over the course of the few months in the spring even before evacuation flights took place to do exactly that. As Jake Sullivan said the other day, it was also not a program, to your point, that was planned for speed, because of all of the requirements. Because what American’s should also be assured of is that there is no one coming in through any of these programs who has not gone through a background check process and has been vetted.

Jen Psaki: (23:12)
That is our responsibility to the American people and one we will abide by. Hence, we are incredibly grateful to these third countries who are providing a place for a number of, many, tens of thousands of people to be for this period of time. And we have put a wide range of staff, personnel and others on the vetting process from a range of agencies to ensure that we can take steps to expedite it as quickly as possible.

Jen Psaki: (23:38)
You’re right, that some of this is dependent on documents and is dependent on information being available. But I will just close with, and then I may have missed some of your questions, but this is incredibly difficult. We’re very clear-eyed about that. And these Afghans, many of them who are departing who are still in process, made the decision and we made the decision too, that evacuating them because they are vulnerable, because their lives are at risk and moving them to a third country, even if they are in transition for a period of time, is preferable to their lives being threatened.

Speaker 4: (24:13)
One more question here.

Jen Psaki: (24:14)

Speaker 4: (24:15)
Okay, so assume that the people that are vetted, once they’re vetted, they come to the United States. Is it the commitment of this administration that all of those people, 100% of the people who have gotten through the vetting screens, obviously there might be some that fail and won’t come to United States, but that all the people that come are going to be granted legal, permanent residency and a path to citizenship in the United States? Or is it possible that some of those people will have to apply through other programs and could be deported back to Afghanistan?

Jen Psaki: (24:47)
Once individuals arrive in the United States they will be eligible to apply for asylum or other available immigration pathways which have, as a condition, additional screening processes and procedures. So, no, we can’t guarantee anyone anything. But certainly we are also working with a range of countries around the world to ensure there are safe places for individuals who are fleeing from Afghanistan have safe places to be.

Speaker 4: (25:16)
You wouldn’t see a situation where you might reject somebody’s asylum application and send them back to Afghanistan?

Jen Psaki: (25:22)
I don’t anticipate that being the plan. Go ahead.

Speaker 5: (25:25)
Thanks, Jen. Is the White House aware of any other members of Congress who are planning to make a trip to Afghanistan at this time?

Jen Psaki: (25:32)
I don’t have any more information on that, no.

Speaker 5: (25:34)
And, have you learned anything about how they made this trip, how they were able to get into the country? Did they show up on any manifests or anything? Do you guys have any more information on that?

Jen Psaki: (25:44)
I think you should ask their offices that question.

Speaker 5: (25:46)
Can I ask you a question on cyber security, in light of today’s summit?

Jen Psaki: (25:50)

Speaker 5: (25:50)
Does the White House believe that the private sector can make sufficient cybersecurity improvements without government mandates? Or do you believe that Congress needs to pass legislation mandating reports of cybersecurity incidents to sort of better address this situation?

Jen Psaki: (26:05)
We certainly have made clear that we expect private sector companies to report when they have experienced a cyber breach. We have worked in partnership with some to address these cyber breaches. And also there is an impact on the American public in many cases.

Jen Psaki: (26:21)
There is congressional legislation that some are considering, and there are a range of options of that could be taken by Congress and we’ll look at those as they move forward and if they move forward. But our view has long been that it is a combined responsibility of the federal government to put in place clear guidelines, clear best practices, and the private sector to take steps to harden their own cybersecurity.

Speaker 5: (26:52)
And one last question. Has the White House learned anything more about these possible cases of Havana Syndrome in Vietnam?

Jen Psaki: (26:57)
I don’t have any more information, no. Go ahead.

Speaker 6: (27:00)
Not to belabor the point, I know that the Secretary of State talked about this and I know that you’ve answered some questions on this, but I really just want to kind of drill down on how confident is the administration that all Americans who want to get out will be out by August 31st? I know that you’ve put out the contacts, you’ve been text messaging, all the message through your contacts to people. Is there any concern that there could be people who have somehow fallen through the cracks, haven’t been able to get in contact and they want to get out? How will the administration determine, on August 31st or whatever day the military pulls out, that all of the Americans who wanted to get out have been able to get out?

Jen Psaki: (27:45)
Well, first I think the reason the Secretary of State gave such a detailed overview is because it’s not as simple as you’ve just laid it out. Certainly, there could be American citizens, dual citizens, individuals who may want to depart who have not yet decided to depart by August 31st. We know that is a potential-

Jen Psaki: (28:03)
[inaudible 00:28:00] depart by August 31st. We know that is a potential, and therefore we want to ensure we are looking at a range of options for how we can allow them to depart, and enable them to depart after that date and time. It is also true that there may be individuals who we’re not yet in contact with, they have not contacted us and we want to leave optionality for that as well. But he also provided the specific information on the numbers to give you an understanding, all of you, everybody an understanding that while we started with a population of as many as 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan, over the last 10 days alone, 4,500 of those Americans have been safely evacuated. In the last 24 hours, we’ve been in contact with approximately 500, so we’re looking at a relatively small population left, right?

Jen Psaki: (28:52)
We also believe that there are individuals in that set of 1000 who may not want to depart for a range of reasons, as we’ve also outlined. I would also note that a big factor on the President’s mind and the Secretary of State noted this as well is the real threat of ISIS-K, which is the reason why, and the President again, received a briefing on that as he does regularly from his national security team. That is why we are concerned about numbers around the airport. That is why we are in direct contact through a range of means with individuals about how and when to come to the airport. And that is something we have to evaluate each day as well, because putting our service men and women at risk is something that weighs heavily on the President’s mind.

Speaker 7: (29:40)
And a question on the Supreme Court decision as well, the Supreme Court basically kicked them back on the, “Remain in Mexico.” What is the White House response to that?

Jen Psaki: (29:49)
Oh, well I know the Department of Homeland Security put out a statement on this last evening, so let me reiterate some of those points. We respectfully disagree with the district court’s decision, and we regret that the Supreme Court has declined to issue this stay. DHS has appealed the district court’s order, and will continue to vigorously challenge it. We are also, though, in the same vein, compelled by law, to now proceed with means by which we abide by the ruling. Go ahead.

Speaker 8: (30:24)
Does that then mean that negotiations are now underway between the US and Mexico on the returning to the migrant protection protocol?

Jen Psaki: (30:30)
Well, the Department of State, with DHS support is engaging in diplomatic discussions with the government of Mexico as part of our efforts to implement the court’s order. And I would just note, I should have said this a little earlier, I mean, our point of view continues to be that this program was not implemented in a moral way. It was inefficient. It used CBP resources. It led to a backlog in the system, and it fundamentally a program we have opposed, but we are also abiding by a court order.

Speaker 8: (31:03)
Can I ask you a threshold question about the range of assistance that the US is now promising to offer to Afghanistans after August 30th?

Jen Psaki: (31:11)

Speaker 8: (31:11)
You talked about consular services, is it the President’s expectation that the Taliban will continue to allow safe passage for Afghans to the airport after the US leaves?

Jen Psaki: (31:24)
Again, this is part of an active discussion, and I understand certainly why you’re asking the question, but we continue to believe that there could be American citizens, there could be Afghans who would be eligible for special immigrant visas, or would be individuals eligible for a range of our programs, who would want to depart. That would require a means of departing, and that’s what we’re working through now.

Speaker 8: (31:51)
So, there’s no guarantee yet from the Taliban to continue to allow safe passage for the people that the US is helping-

Jen Psaki: (31:56)
Again, these are ongoing discussions, and that is our expectation and what we’re working toward. Go ahead.

Peter: (32:02)
Couple quick questions; yesterday, the President and you, I think said that he had asked the Pentagon and state department for all contingency plans, has he received all the contingency plans, or is there a full set that he’s still waiting for more of?

Jen Psaki: (32:13)
Yes, he received the brief a briefing this morning.

Peter: (32:15)
So, he has received in totality, all the contingency plans that they’re providing?

Jen Psaki: (32:18)
Again, this is an ongoing discussion, right? As you well know, and the President has lengthy meetings sometimes more than once a day with his National Security Team, but yes, the contingency plans he requested, he received a briefing on this morning.

Peter: (32:30)
Perfect, that helps. Earlier, we heard from the Secretary of State saying that there are as many as 1500 Americans by my math, who still want to get out, who are in Afghanistan right now. Is it possible that they could be evacuated before? Could this cause these evacuations end before that day? Could it finish before August 31st?

Jen Psaki: (32:46)
Well, it could Peter, and I would just note by the numbers, right? 4,500 Americans were evacuated over the last 10 days. That doesn’t even count their family members, whether it’s a spouse, or a spouse and children, or a combination. And that we’ve also been in contact with an additional 500, so it’s actually more like a pool of 1000 who we are reaching out to multiple times a day, through multiple communication channels; phone, texts, email, WhatsApp, et cetera. As I noted a little bit earlier, we also have an expectation that there are a number of these individuals, dual nationals, people who may have expansive extended family, who may not have made the decision to part at this point in time.

Peter: (33:24)
And let me ask you, earlier, one of my colleagues asked you, and you said you didn’t want to provide a cap. As it relates to vulnerable Afghan allies who were still seeking to leave the country right now. Recognizing you don’t want to provide a cap, can you provide us a baseline? What is the stated goal as provided to the President, of the number you estimate it is at least as many as? So there’s some context for these numbers of 80 plus thousand people who have now been evacuated?

Jen Psaki: (33:50)
That is similar to me in giving a cap. And there are people who are not yet through the process, who may not count as an SIV at this point in time, or may be eligible for a range of programs. Our objective, as you’ve seen by the numbers over the past several days, is to evacuate as many people as possible who qualify for any of these programs.

Peter: (34:11)
Why can’t the White House or the administration say what that stated goal is, even as a baseline, so people get a sense of what we’re shooting for in this process? What’s the harm in saying that?

Jen Psaki: (34:22)
Because I don’t think there’s a benefit in giving a cap. That’s not our objective.

Peter: (34:27)
It gives context to when you say 80,000. 80, 000 is a lot, but-

Jen Psaki: (34:31)
[crosstalk 00:34:31] Fair.I think important context though, is that we’ve now evacuated, again, 82,000 people on US military and coalition flights. Just a week ago, some people were saying we couldn’t do 50,000. We’ve done 82,000. And so just to put into context, again, that’s a flight yesterday, every 39 minutes, that is thousands and thousands of people coming through the airport every single day. 19,000 people yesterday. I think these numbers do provide context, and we’re going to continue to press every single day to get more people who are eligible out of the country.

Peter: (35:10)
Of course, we don’t know, of those 80,000, how many are SIV eligible applicants, right? Some may just be those who wanted to evacuate the country, which is part of why I asked-

Jen Psaki: (35:20)
Well, I think that what’s important to note here is that, the people who we are prioritizing are American citizens, are SIV applicants, and others who might be eligible for a variety of programs. And in order to prevent a mass crowding at the airport, those are the people we are in direct contact with.

Peter: (35:39)
And then let me ask lastly, about the two congressmen who went over there. I know in the statement you’ve put out about, “They shouldn’t be doing this,” that this was the wrong decision to be made. About the merits of what they said though, having now returned, they said that because the evacuations started so late, there’s no way that US will be able to get all those necessary evacuees out, even by September 11th. What does the White House say to that criticism that those two lawmakers were saying, based on their firsthand experience?

Jen Psaki: (36:07)
Well, I would say first that we’re on track to have the largest US airlift in history, and I think that speaks for itself. Go ahead.

Speaker 9: (36:15)
Hi, can you speak to what a colleague’s reporting, that the administration plans to recommend vaccine boosters at six months? Not eight.

Jen Psaki: (36:24)
I have not seen that report, but I would note we just put out the guidance, the CDC just put out the guidance a couple of weeks ago or last week. It’s all running together, two weeks ago? On eight months, and if they update that guidance, it would certainly come directly from them.

Speaker 9: (36:40)
Is that under consideration?

Jen Psaki: (36:41)
I would point you to the CDC?

Speaker 9: (36:42)
And then secondly, what is President Biden prepared to do to push the Chinese on the Wuhan lab investigation? There’s been reporting that the Chinese are not being cooperative, they’re pushing back at the US on that. What does he prepare to do to free up more information on that?

Jen Psaki: (36:58)
Well, I think it’s well-known, they haven’t been cooperative, right? Through your reporting, other reporting, and just the fact that they obviously have not, in a publicly available way, provided the data and the information that we have been requesting. In terms of an assessment of what steps we might take, I don’t have anything to preview for you on that front. Go ahead.

Speaker 10: (37:16)
Thanks Jen. I know you don’t want to get into the details of the COVID origins report assessment-

Jen Psaki: (37:22)
Yeah. I will be happy to when there is an unclassified summary for all of you.

Speaker 10: (37:28)
Great. But of course, the purpose of the 90 day review was to put a focus on this question. So if at the end of the question, we don’t have clarity, or a smoking gun, or high confidence what’s the next step?

Jen Psaki: (37:41)
We’ll talk about that once the summary is out in public.

Speaker 10: (37:44)
And just-

Jen Psaki: (37:44)
Oh, go ahead.

Speaker 10: (37:46)
Well, if you can update us on the White House’s role in responding to the crisis in Haiti, I know USAID, and [inaudible 00:37:55] are giving us updates, but what has the White House been doing?

Jen Psaki: (37:58)
Yeah, this is something I think as you know, and you’ve been following closely, we’ve been deeply engaged with and involved with, under the leadership of Samantha Power, who is the Director of USAID. In terms of, are you looking for specific assistance, and specific what we’re getting to the ground? Let me get you updated numbers that we have provided as of today. I think the last information I have is about a day old, but it’s an ongoing process. Go ahead.

Speaker 11: (38:26)
Thanks, Jen. I just wanted a review on the President’s upcoming meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, and if we can expect any announcements on the reopening of Palestinian offices in Washington, and the consulate [inaudible 00:38:39]? And if not, what’s the status of those projects?

Jen Psaki: (38:42)
Sure. I know we did a briefing call to provide a preview of that last night, or I believe, yesterday, at some point in time. I will say that the presence looking forward to welcoming the Prime Minister, who was already in town, as you know, having a variety of meetings today. We expect their conversation to be wide ranging, to cover a range of topics of mutual interest, everything from COVID-19, and our efforts to address the global pandemic, to regional security issues, which could include a range of topics, including security within Israel, as well as Iran, and other issues of mutual concern. And I expect we’ll have a readout once the meeting concludes, of anything coming out of the meeting,

Speaker 11: (39:24)
Any decisions, zone-based things to be announced, that are-

Jen Psaki: (39:26)
We’ll have more to say once the meeting concludes. Go ahead.

Speaker 12: (39:29)
Thanks, Jen. To follow up on my colleague Stephanie’s question, she asks about the gear shift that might be taking place over the next couple of days. And you talked about the contingency plans and optionality, but can you say today, when the last flight will leave, in order to get the draw down done by that deadline?

Jen Psaki: (39:45)
I don’t think that’s information we’re going to be providing publicly at any point in time.

Speaker 12: (39:49)
How would we know, then? I mean, you’re giving the updates once a week-

Jen Psaki: (39:51)
Once it’s complete, we’ll provide that to you?

Speaker 12: (39:53)
[crosstalk 00:39:53] “This is it. This is the last update we’re going to give them the numbers?”

Jen Psaki: (39:56)
Oh, well again, we are in direct contact with people who are departing and evacuating from Afghanistan, whether they are SIVs, whether they are eligible for other programs, whether they are American citizens. Our objective is to do that in as safe a manner as possible, with rising threats from ISIS-K. So again, DOD will provide operational updates, as they did yesterday about moving military out, moving equipment out, et cetera. And as we’ve noted, that would be in advance of the 31st, in terms of equipment that would need to move out. But I don’t anticipate that we’re going to give you an exact date or an exact time, for security reasons.

Speaker 12: (40:37)
After it happens though, you guys have been very good about giving data, twice a day, on these numbers. Is there going to be one of those updates that will say, “And that is it, that’s the last evacuation plan?”

Jen Psaki: (40:48)
I’m sure we will make clear to all of you when it is the last flight, absolutely. Go ahead.

Speaker 13: (40:55)
NBC has announced it’s doing an interview tomorrow with the Capitol Officer who shot Ashli Babbitt. Do you have any concern for his safety, having his name disclosed like that, or any reaction to the announcement?

Jen Psaki: (41:10)
I had not seen that report of NBC’s planned interview, so I don’t really have an immediate reaction to it. Go ahead.

Speaker 14: (41:19)
What is the reaction of the administration to private contractors now selling seats for thousands of dollars on charter flights out of Kabul?

Jen Psaki: (41:30)
Well, we are evacuating people free of cost, because that is the right step to take, and certainly we wouldn’t be supportive of profiting off of people who are desperate to get out of a country. Go ahead.

Speaker 15: (41:42)
Thank you, Jen. I have a question on Afghanistan and then about a criminal justice matter.

Jen Psaki: (41:46)

Speaker 15: (41:46)
On Afghanistan, one of the real villains of this Taliban takeover has been former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. President Biden has faulted him for not fostering national unity, and not putting up much of a fight against the Taliban. There are reports that he fled the country with millions of dollars in cash and members of Congress-

Speaker 16: (42:03)
… reports that he fled the country with millions of dollars in cash and members of Congress are asking the Biden administration for answers and whether that is indeed true. Does the US government know if Ghani fled Dubai with millions in cash and will there be efforts to bring him to justice if so?

Jen Psaki: (42:15)
I don’t have any more information on what former president did when he fled the country.

Speaker 16: (42:22)
You don’t know that answer?

Jen Psaki: (42:24)
I don’t have any information-

Speaker 16: (42:24)
And on criminal justice, you said in response to a Zolan question recently that President Biden is exploring using clemency non-violent drug offenders. It’s rare for presidents to use clemency their first year in office. Should we expect any grants of clemency this year in 2021? And does that mean that the president is working toward honoring his campaign pledge to free everyone in prison for marijuana?

Jen Psaki: (42:49)
I don’t have a timeline for you. I would just stand by what I said in response to Zolan’s question about how he’s considering clemency for non-violent drug offenders. Go ahead.

Speaker 17: (42:59)
Thank you, Jen. Earlier this summer, the president had planned to take some downtime this August, and I was wondering if there was still any vacation time on the books or anything that’s coming up [inaudible 00:43:09]

Jen Psaki: (43:09)
Not at this time. Go ahead.

Speaker 18: (43:11)
I wanted to ask a followup to something Stephen asked.

Jen Psaki: (43:13)

Speaker 18: (43:14)
Is the expectation that there’ll be able to be diplomatic sort of consular embassy style services after the 31st withdrawal for those who may still need it in Afghanistan? And if so, how would that work?

Jen Psaki: (43:26)
I certainly understand the question and it’s a good question. And our secretary of state answered a version of this. This is a discussion we’re having right now to ensure that we look ahead to capabilities and capacities to evacuate individuals who want to depart after our military leaves.

Speaker 18: (43:44)
And then one other one on infrastructure, is the president is satisfied with the House holding off a vote until the end of September? And did the White House, the president play a role in sort of this agreement between the speaker’s office and the group of Democrats that were threatening the holdup that the larger reconciliation bill?

Jen Psaki: (44:00)
Well, I would say first the president sees yesterday and the step forward yesterday as an enormous step forward for not only the legislation, but for the American people. Because the piece of legislation, the pieces of legislation that moved forward include an extension of the child tax credit, more housing assistance, a great deal of funding and support for addressing the climate crisis and a great deal of tax credits for the American people and components that will lower costs for people across the country. He supports the process that Speaker Pelosi has laid out. Obviously, there’s a lot on the agenda and yesterday was a positive step forward in his view. Go ahead.

Speaker 19: (44:39)
Thank you, Jen. You’ve mentioned how United States has been in touch with the Taliban because that’s necessary because of the situation on the ground. I’m wondering, has the administration been in touch with Ahmad Massoud or any of the other anti Taliban fighters that are on the ground? What is the president’s view of this? Does he expect that we will support some of these anti Taliban fighters or as this 20 year war does come to a close at this point, are they on their own?

Jen Psaki: (45:10)
It’s a great question. I’ll have to talk to our team on the ground to see if there’s any more specifics we can provide.

Speaker 19: (45:15)
And then I know you don’t want to get ahead of the declassified report of the COVID origin, but is there any scenario where President Biden would be satisfied with an inconclusive result about the origin of the pandemic that killed so many Americans?

Jen Psaki: (45:32)
I can assure you, the president wants to get to the bottom of the root causes of COVID-19 that, as you noted, has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and wishes that there had been more done earlier on to get to the bottom of it and to, of course, save more lives. Go ahead.

Speaker 20: (45:49)
Jen, I just wanted to follow up on Steve’s question about the sort of for-profit effort. What does the administration doing to kind of protect people from exploitation? Given the desperation, there are reports that the defense contractor, Erik Prince, is offering seats on a plane, evacuation plane, out for $6,500 and some people in desperation are taking that not knowing there might be an NGO option and are… I mean, essentially this is exploitation. What is the administration doing to kind of protect people when they are so desperate?

Jen Psaki: (46:23)
We are evacuating tens of thousands of people every day for free. And that’s the focus that our military on the ground, our diplomats have on the ground. And if you’re asking me about consequences or additional steps, I will have to check and see if there’s any additional steps.

Speaker 20: (46:37)
Could you comment specifically, though, on Eric Prince? I mean, he has already made so much money from the Afghan conflict and now in these sort of waning days is once again essentially exploiting people in order to make profit. I mean, what is the position of the administration that this has taking place as you were offering flights free of charge?

Jen Psaki: (47:00)
I don’t think any human being who has a heart and soul would support efforts to profit off of people’s agony and pain as they’re trying to depart a country and fearing for their lives. Go ahead.

Speaker 21: (47:12)
Jen, just to follow up on the rental assistance.

Jen Psaki: (47:15)

Speaker 21: (47:16)
What is the White House, or what is the administration’s understanding for the delay of these billions of dollars not getting out? Is it at the state and local level, or is there red tape at the federal level, or is it a combination of that?

Jen Psaki: (47:30)
Well, a great deal of it is at the state and local level. It is, though, one, I think a couple things that may be misunderstood, maybe not by you, but about the program, which is that the program is designed to be distributed over the course of three years. So we didn’t anticipate that all of the funding would be out in the course of nine months. It’s not. We still think it should be faster. We also have a responsibility from the federal government, of course, to make this easier. There is not a system that has been set up to distribute this type of funding on a federal level. So even very well-meaning leaders in states and localities are figuring out how to break through the bureaucracy and get this money out. Some states need to do a better job of that. I will note that in the data that was released today, there are some interesting statistics, and this just shows you state to state where the differences are, right?

Jen Psaki: (48:18)
So in Kentucky, the program has shown consistent growth. Most recently assisting 65% more households in July than in June. That’s a dramatic improvement, of course, in that state. And program administrators attribute the recent growth to Treasury guidance that allows for self attestation for the application process. So we’re going to continue to try to cut red tape from here too if it makes it easier for states. Texas attributes their leveling off to having fully addressed existing application backlogs. They’ve done a very good job at getting this money out to people who need it. And North Carolina, which is a state slower to distribute assistance in prior months had notable increases this month as the investments they made in the developing their program’s infrastructure paid off. So point is, it’s really different state to state. Certainly as we’ve said, states and localities should not hesitate, should not delay in getting this money out because this is how we can keep people in their homes, but we’re also going to work from a federal level to cut red tape wherever we can. Go ahead.

Speaker 22: (49:14)
Going to be the one out of left field today. But the vice-president is going to be campaigning for Governor Newsom on her way back from Asia. Previously, President Biden expressed at least interest in campaigning for him with everything going on. And I’m wondering if that’s still on the table. And secondly, whether you all feel any sense that this recall is in some ways a referendum on Democratic policies, including handling of coronavirus amid this Delta surge?

Jen Psaki: (49:42)
Well, I would say first I can confirm the president does still plan to go and campaign for Governor Newsom in California. I don’t have a date for you at this point in time, but that is still certainly his plan. And I will leave the analysis on the roots of the recall to others. Go ahead. Go ahead, Shelby.

Shelby: (49:58)
Thanks. I have one question and then a quick clarification on something.

Jen Psaki: (50:02)

Shelby: (50:03)
So first Lincoln was really specific in giving numbers for Americans that actively want to get out of Afghanistan. Has the State Department made direct contact and confirmed with all American citizens that they might want to stay in Afghanistan or is the assumption that if they haven’t contacted the embassy or the State Department that they must not want to leave?

Jen Psaki: (50:28)
Well, I would say first we’ve sent out, as Secretary Blinken noted, 19 messages to the American citizens over the course of the last few months. We’ve also done a great deal of outreach and advertising, providing information for anyone who wants to leave, including the offering of financial assistance, in recent weeks, for people who want to leave Afghanistan. But what I also would note, and this is an important caveat, it is possible there could be Americans who have not yet contacted us, who we don’t know about. And that’s why we want to leave optionality because of our responsibility to help these Americans depart.

Shelby: (51:02)
And then this is sort of my clarification. So earlier you said that the administration is looking at a range of options to get Americans out after the 31st. And then I believe you said that the president did receive the contingencies he had asked for. So-

Jen Psaki: (51:16)
I would put those in two different categories because the contingency plans he requested would be, should… For optionality, to stay longer than the 31st. That was something he asked for. I’m talking about beyond when the military leaves for the option of allowing Americans to depart or others who are eligible for programs.

Shelby: (51:36)
So is there currently a set contingency specifically for Americans left in the country after August 31st or is that still being worked out?

Jen Psaki: (51:47)
So I want to make sure I’m not confusing anyone. So the contingency plans the president requested was to have maximum optionality, given there are a range of factors, including the threat of ISIS-K, which is very much on his mind and a threat to our US men and women who are serving, including the need for the Taliban to continue to coordinate. That is about staying longer than the 31st. Those are the contingency plans. I also spoke to, and Secretary Blinken also spoke to the fact that we are also looking for options post the departure of our military presence to allow for Americans and others who are eligible for programs to evacuate. That is something we’re working through and having discussions about. And as we have more to update, we will provide that to you. But I would look at them as two separate things. Go ahead.

Speaker 23: (52:34)
Jen, just one on coronavirus. Thanks.

Jen Psaki: (52:36)

Speaker 23: (52:37)
The EU, excuse me, is voting tomorrow to reimpose sanctions on incoming US citizens. Is the president in contact with his contemporaries about that decision? And what does this mean for our own timeline for lifting travel restrictions on-

Jen Psaki: (52:52)
Imposing sanctions?

Speaker 23: (52:54)
I’m sorry. Imposing coronavirus travel restrictions-

Jen Psaki: (52:56)
I was like, that’s concerning.

Speaker 23: (52:58)
[inaudible 00:52:58] 400 cases per 100,000 over their threshold for barring travel.

Jen Psaki: (53:05)
I would say we are in touch through working groups and through a range of channels at the diplomatic level and through our health team with Europeans and others about travel restrictions.

Speaker 23: (53:13)
So we have no updates on the timeline?

Jen Psaki: (53:15)
I don’t have any updates on the timeline, no. Thanks everyone. Have a great day.

Transcribe Your Own Content

Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.