May 12, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript May 12
May 12, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She was joined by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Administrator Michael Regan to address the Colonial pipeline shutdown. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
Two more special guests for all of you today. Secretary Buttigieg has, of course, been here before, so we’re not going to give him a lengthy introduction, but administrator Regan previously served as the secretary of North Carolina department of environmental quality. There, he spearheaded the development and implementation of the North Carolina Seminole Plan to address climate change and transition the State to a clean energy economy. And he secured the largest coal ash cleanup in United States history. Administrator Regan being his career at the environmental protection agency and is the first African American man and second person of color to lead it. I will also just note before we go to them. Secretary Granholm, Secretary, Buttigieg and Secretary [inaudible 00:00:45] will brief the full house and Senate this evening as well. They’ll take a few questions, but I will turn it over first to Secretary Buttigieg.
Pete Buttigieg: (00:53)
Thank you, Jen. Good afternoon. Let me start just by saying that we know that the cyber attack on the Colonial pipeline is affecting fuel supply for some Americans. And throughout the administration, we have been working around the clock to help Colonial return its pipeline back to normal operations, quickly, safely, and securely. The President has directed us to bring all government resources to bear to help Colonial to resolve this. And we’re working to assess the impact of the temporary pipeline shutdown on our national fuel supply while also working to help alleviate any potential shortages when and where they occur. I can tell you that I’ve been on the phone multiple times a day with the white house, with fellow cabinet secretaries and other leaders, including Administrator Regan.
Pete Buttigieg: (01:39)
We’ll be doing everything that we can to reduce the impact that some Americans could see at local gas stations in some areas until the pipeline is brought back online. Colonial has announced that they’re working toward full restoration by the end of this week, but we are not taking any chances. We are doing everything that we can in the interim to make it easier to move fuel to the places that need it. Since Friday, our inter-agency response groups has been examininating all contingencies coordinating with Colonial and working closely across the inter-agency to help alleviate any potential supply disruptions. For our part in transportation, the department has been working across our different modes of transportation to help make sure that fuel can get to the communities that need it as safely and as efficiently as possible.
Pete Buttigieg: (02:25)
Our maritime administration or [inaudible 00:02:28] has completed a survey of the availability of vessels that are qualified to carry petroleum under the Jones Act in the Gulf and up the Eastern seaboard. The Department of Homeland Security is standing ready to review any requests for a temporary waiver of the Jones Act from companies that demonstrate that there is not sufficient capacity on Jones Act qualified vessels to carry specific shipments of fuel in and around the region. Our federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an hours of service waiver, which provides greater flexibility to drivers transporting gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other refined petroleum products to 18 States. On Monday and Tuesday and into today, several States have issued emergency declarations that allow truckers to carry additional weight on State roads.
Pete Buttigieg: (03:15)
The white house and DOT have determined that 10 States can use existing federal major debt disaster declarations that are currently in place to allow those States to issue permits that allow drivers to temporarily carry additional gasoline that would ordinarily exceed existing weight limits on federal highways in their State. Each State has to follow its own procedures to issue these permits, but this decision determination provides them with the added flexibility to move fuel more efficiently if they need to. PHMSA, on our Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration is temporarily relaxing enforcement of certain pipeline operator qualification rules to make sure that emergency personnel can manually get help to get the pipeline back up and running as needed and are infrequent touch again with the pipeline operators about safety.
Pete Buttigieg: (04:07)
In addition to these steps, we are continuing to monitor the situation as it develops so that we can help anywhere that we can. For our department, our mandate and our mission revolves around safety and so, we are working hard to maintain safety while also providing much needed temporary flexibility to minimize disruptions to the American people. And DOT is in regular contact with State and local governments and with members of Congress, as well as with retailers and other companies in the sectors that are impacted. And of course, we’re in constant contact with our partners across the federal government to coordinate the response. So together, we are working to assess the impact of the shutdown, offer emergency assistance, and of course, help Colonial return to normal operations.
Pete Buttigieg: (04:49)
Our top priority right now is [inaudible 00:04:52] fuel to communities that need it and we will continue doing everything that we can to meet that goal in the coming days, and we’ll continue to keep everyone apprised. Importantly, this incident also reminds us that infrastructure is a national security issue. And the reality is that investing in world class modern and resilient infrastructure has always been central to ensuring our country’s economic security, our national security, and as we’re seeing right now, that includes cybersecurity. Thank you all and I’ll turn it over to Administrator Regan
Michael S. Regan: (05:30)
Thank you, Secretary Buttigieg, Jen, it’s good to be here with you today. As Secretary Buttigieg mentioned, the President has directed a government wide response to the Colonial pipeline shut down. And at EPA, we’re doing our part to mitigate the impacts that people and communities might be experiencing. The Clean Air Act allows EPA in consultation with the Department of Energy to weigh certain fuel requirements to address shortages. After careful evaluation, EPA and DOE concluded that extreme and unusual fuel supply circumstances exist and that granting short-term waivers is consistent with the public interest. EPA issued an initial waiver on Tuesday morning and later issued a second more expansive waiver that covers 12 States and the district of Columbia.
Michael S. Regan: (06:19)
EPA waived certain gasoline requirements, specifically the requirement for low volatility, conventional gasoline, as well as reformulated gasoline. While the waiver alone will not resolve the supply situation, it will help alleviate supply shortages. The waiver allows the use of any residential winter gasoline that may exist in the region. It will also allow butane to be blended into existing fuel stops, increasing the supply of gasoline by up to 5%. EPA granted the waivers to help mitigate the supply shortages of gasoline in the effected areas until normal supply to the region can be restored. EPA followed an orderly process when assessing and issuing the fuel waiver. Any such waiver is limited in both geographic scope and in the duration to mitigate any potential impacts to air quality. At this time, we do not anticipate air quality problems from these limited waivers.
Michael S. Regan: (07:21)
In assessing the situation and issuing the waivers, EPA has been in close coordination and communication with all of the impacted States. Our partnerships with the States is key to being able to effectively respond to the developing situation like this one. Going forward, we will keep coordinating with our State colleagues to assess the situation on the ground and to determine whether we can provide any future flexibilities to alleviate impacts for people and communities in these affected areas. We understand that there are shortages resulting from the colonial pipeline shut down that cause stress and confusion in people’s lives. Our response underscores the importance of President Biden’s all of government directive, which asked federal agencies to harness our collective expertise and work in sync when urgent matters arise. This inner agency effort is the linchpin to a swift and coordinated response. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Jen.
Jen Psaki: (08:23)
Speaker 1: (08:24)
Thank you so much. One question for Mr. Regan, one question for Mr. Buttigieg. Many of your fellow North Carolinians cannot find gasoline right now. What’s your advice to them about what they should do and what they shouldn’t do until this situation is resolved?
Michael S. Regan: (08:39)
Yes, we are in very close coordination with my home State, just like the other 12 States. I think the folks should follow the advice of the governors and the attorney generals, which they’re asking folks not to panic, not to hoard gasoline, and to watch for the updates that are coming from the federal government. We have some really good coordinated efforts at the federal state and local levels, and we’re working very hard to alleviate these circumstances.
Speaker 1: (09:04)
And then Secretary Buttigieg, you mentioned that this situation shows the importance of world class infrastructure. What could have been done or what should be done to prevent something like this from happening?
Pete Buttigieg: (09:18)
This is part of what we have in mind when we talk about resilience. We need to make sure our infrastructure is resilient to climate security issues caused by the increased frequency and severity of weather events, but we also need to be sure that we are resilient in the face of cyber threats. And certainly in the kinds of things that the American Jobs Plan will be funding and supporting. A big part of the expectation for local authorities or States or other bodies seeking to get funding is that there be robust cybersecurity, resilience and planning written into that.
Pete Buttigieg: (09:49)
This is not an extra, this is not a luxury, this is not an option. This has to be core to how we secure our critical infrastructure and that includes infrastructure that is not owned and operated by the federal government. We’re being reminded that private companies and often local authorities own and operate so many of the critically important utilities and other infrastructure we count on.
Speaker 2: (10:11)
Secretary Buttigieg, does the fact that this one ransomware attack could take down roughly 45% of the East Coast’s fuel supply mean that we should be building additional pipelines going forward?
Pete Buttigieg: (10:23)
Well, in this case, this was an issue about how a cyber attack impacted a pipeline that’s there. I’m not sure it really speaks to the number or quantity of pipelines or their throughput. I do think it reminds us that we need to make sure that we have the most resilient and flexible infrastructure for the future, especially when it comes to something like energy. We’ve now had, you could argue two major wake up call experiences, one in Texas, and now one here each with a different cause, but both reminding us about the work that we have to do as country.
Jen Psaki: (10:54)
Mr. Secretary, Secretary Granholm yesterday said that she expected this issue to be resolved by the end of the week, more or less. Is that still your expectation? Go ahead.
Pete Buttigieg: (11:06)
I’ll defer to announcements from the company on their process. Again, PHMSA’s in touch with them to review any plans that they have. I would emphasize that there is a lot that is involved in getting a pipeline up and running again. And so, there’s the announcement then there’s the actual process and then sometime for that to be fully up and running, which is one of the reasons why we’re not wasting any time. And haven’t been since even over the weekend, in taking the steps that we need to mitigate any shortages, even things that could happen while the pipeline is getting fully online, but before that’s completely taking place.
And just a followup for you. Perhaps for both of you, you described the permits and the waivers to allow other ways of getting fuel to these affected areas of the country. Is that working? Is that fuel arriving?
Pete Buttigieg: (11:54)
We’ve gotten indications and feedback that the hours of service waiver has had an impact. And we expect that the waivers will as well, but obviously they’re very new. And so, we’ll be closely looking for feedback, both from companies and from States on how that’s going.
Jen Psaki: (12:11)
Michael S. Regan: (12:11)
Well, I will add that these waivers are working. We’ve seen an exceptional response from all of our States, so we’re very appreciative of these waivers. It does expand the fuel supply. It allows for fuels to be moved around more freely in the region, and it does relieve some of that tension. And so, we’ll continue to work closely with our States and our partners to ensure that we are taking all of the actions that we can to alleviate some of these situations.
Jen Psaki: (12:38)
Mr. Secretary, we now see gas above $3 a gallon for the first time in seven years. Bottom line, what’s your message to Americans who are worried about how this is going to impact their wallet. How long do you think this is going to last and do you think prices are going to go up even further?
Pete Buttigieg: (12:53)
Well, my message is that we understand these concerns that we’ve seen that in a lot of the impacted geographies that this is a real issue. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been working with every lever of government that’s available and not the federal government is an island, but interacting with States and with companies to address this. So, I can’t speak to longterm energy markets. Obviously, this is a very specific and acute issue, but we recognize the concern that’s out there. And that’s why we haven’t wasted any time to get into action. And it’s why the President has directed us to be really thorough in examining all of our different authorities and all the different pieces of our respective agencies to be helpful.
Jen Psaki: (13:30)
The administration has been saying that you’re willing to consider Jones Act waivers, have any requests been filed? And since the [inaudible 00:13:40] administration has finished survey, what’s [inaudible 00:13:44] about how many Jones Act [inaudible 00:13:45] ships are truly available right now, [inaudible 00:13:48], the Gulf, et cetera.
Pete Buttigieg: (13:51)
So I can’t speak to any specific waiver requests going on right now. But what I’ll say is that this merit has acted very quickly to provide what is essentially a one of two- …
Pete Buttigieg: (14:03)
… did very quickly to provide what is essentially a one of two parts for this determination to happen. One is the analysis that they do. And then the other part is, of course, for Homeland Security to pick it up and run with it. And we’ll continue making sure that they get any information they need and be able to turn it around quickly. The level of analysis that’s already been done, my understanding is previously that’s taken a couple of days and Mayor Ed was able to do it in a matter of hours. So they’re moving quickly, and bottom line is stand at the ready to very expeditiously process what comes in.
Speaker 3: (14:31)
Are you confident that another attack on the pipeline can’t happen eminently? Has the company told you anything about that? About steps they’ve taken in the short term on that?
Jen Psaki: (14:44)
We can talk about this. They’re speaking to their specific programs, but I will just say that we’re probably not going to get into details about the company’s own preparations. We’ve talked about the fact that this was a ransomware attack, that these threats have been out there for some time. And it’s certainly a reminder to this company and others to continue to harden their cybersecurity. But we’ll let them speak to their other preparations. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (15:06)
Thank you. Secretary Buttigieg, this is Wednesday today. We’re talking about potentially a weekend restoration, but things are getting really crazy out there. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning people not to fill up plastic bags with gasoline. One in 10 gas stations in DC is out of gas and the figures are far higher in the South. Is the Biden administration having any preliminary discussions about potentially taking over the pipeline to restore the flow, If the company is unable to do it themselves?
Pete Buttigieg: (15:36)
So I’ve not heard anything along those lines. We are partnering with the company to make sure that on everything from the flexibilities we talked about to technical support and advice, that they’re getting the help they need. And they have been able through line four and ancillary lines to move some product. Although again, obviously waiting for a determination on fully reopening. I will say that this is a time to be sensible and to be safe. Of course, we understand the concern in the areas where people are encountering temporary supply disruptions, but hoarding does not make things better. And under no circumstances should gasoline ever be put into anything but a vehicle directly or an approved container. And that of course remains true no matter what else is going on.
Jen Psaki: (16:23)
Thank you, secretary. We’ll do one more. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (16:26)
Thank you. Based on what you know right now, do you anticipate having to extend the duration or expand the scope of the fuel waivers further?
Speaker 6: (16:36)
Well, we’re in close coordination with each individual state, they all have different needs. We’ll continue to assess that, and we do have the authority if needed to extend or issue a new waiver beyond the 20 days that we have already issued.
Speaker 5: (16:53)
Are there any travel announcements to either of you or are either of you going to any particular these in person, that you’re able to update us on or none at this time?
Speaker 6: (17:00)
I don’t have any travel announcements at this time.
Pete Buttigieg: (17:02)
Speaker 5: (17:02)
Jen Psaki: (17:04)
Thank you both. Thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
Speaker 5: (17:06)
Thank you sir.
Jen Psaki: (17:08)
Okay. All right. I have another kind of hard out here at one o’clock. Sorry, lots going on, but we will get to as many questions as we can. I do have a couple of additional details of outreach from the white house to governors I just wanted to convey to all of you. Our White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Julie Rodriguez has been in contact with a range of state and local leaders to discuss the administration’s response, obviously as have officials from a range of agencies and separate calls with chiefs of staff, from Governor Hogan of Maryland, Governor Northam of Virginia, Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Mayor Bowser and Nashville, Tennessee Mayor Cooper. Julie had productive conversations, outlining the actions we have taken to address the supply challenges, including of course, EPA’s waivers expanding gasoline supply. In each of these conversations, she welcomed feedback, encouraged close coordination.
Jen Psaki: (18:02)
I would also convey to you that Secretary Granholm, who was here just yesterday, also hosted a conference call yesterday with the governors of the 14 States impacted by the Colonial pipeline as a part of our ongoing effort to remain closely engaged with state and local leaders. I also wanted to provide an update on the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. As of today, SBA has received more than 147,000 applications from women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged business owners, requesting a total of $29 billion in funds.
Jen Psaki: (18:38)
Businesses that qualify for grants should expect to receive the funds within two weeks. Already $2.7 billion of relief funds have been distributed to 21,000 restaurants across the country already. And I would also note that Congress has also set aside $5 billion of these funds for applicants with annual pre-pandemic gross receipts of not more than $500,000. On top of that, the administrator, Administrator Guzman from the SBA set aside a $500 million in funding for applicants with less than $50,000 in receipts in 2019 to ensure those smaller restaurants, bars, food trucks, and other dining establishments have access to those funds. Go ahead, Jonathan.
Thank you, Jen. First, just wondering when the meeting is still ongoing, you have any readout to this point of the big four meeting with the president?
Jen Psaki: (19:31)
I do not have a readout of the meeting. That’s ongoing.
That’s Just in case. Maybe they slipped you a note.
Jen Psaki: (19:35)
Yeah, I can convey to you that one, I would expect they will go to the stakeout. I would also expect that we’ll have a written readout later this afternoon to provide to all of you.
Setting that aside, two other matters then. What does the president’s response to Congresswoman Cheney’s speech last night in which she denounced former President Trump’s big lie to the party needs to stand for our fair free elections and that her subsequent ouster this morning from her leadership position?
Speaker 3: (20:03)
Well, let’s start with the facts. More than 80 judges across the country threw out lawsuits attempting to overturn the outcome of the election. And on January 6th, this moment in history, we’re looking at their hearings on Capitol Hill about the events on January 6th. Our nation’s Capitol was attacked or democracy was attacked and six people lost their lives. So it’s disturbing to see any leader, regardless of party, being attacked for simply speaking the truth. And as the president said last week, it’s hard to understand. But our belief, his belief is that the American people will have to make their own decisions about whether the reaction by the people they elected to represent them should be embracing and elevating conspiracies and attacks on our democracy or whether it should be standing up for ideals that have historically have been owned by both Democrats and Republicans representing the country throughout history.
One other matter, the escalating situation in Israel. Does the administration plan to drop their objections to UN Security Council statement? Are there any plans to appoint an ambassador to Israel anytime soon, or to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem that deals with these Palestinian issues?
Jen Psaki: (21:14)
Well, first let me give you a bit of an update on our outreach. And some of that we haven’t read out to all of you because a lot of it has been happening privately. There’s been a lot of activity and engagement around these developments over the last few days. Just since this weekend, we’ve had more than 25 high level calls and meetings by senior US officials with senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and AR partners and other stakeholders. Including the Qataris, the Tunisians, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, who, as you all know, have an important role to play in the region. As we work to move toward deescalation. Just yesterday, we had more than 10 phone calls by senior Washington-based officials, including National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan’s call with his counterpart. I will also say that in the region, we of course will nominate a qualified, experienced ambassador to Israel over the coming weeks.
Jen Psaki: (22:10)
That’s in process and when it’s ready, we’ll announce that. But in the meantime, we have great confidence in our team on the ground in Jerusalem, led by a career diplomat, Jonathan Schreier, who enjoys open and regular access to a range of senior officials. And Jonathan and his team are fully latched up with both our team here, the State Department, officials on the ground. So our engagement, a lot of it is happening privately through diplomatic channels. It’s happening with officials in the region. We’re in regular dialogue multiple times per day, as I noted with Egyptian and Qatari officials, who have significant influence over Hamas. And our objective here is deescalation as we look to protecting the people in the region. Go head, Jeff.
Thanks Jen. Just to the meeting is still going on.
Jen Psaki: (22:59)
As when we came out here about 25 minutes ago, it was still going on. But I haven’t seen any rustling of activity out there, so that sometimes is an indication.
Okay. And without giving a read out on a meeting then, [inaudible 00:23:11] going on or had started anyway, can you give us a sense of when the president says he’s looking for consensus on a compromise, what points did he bring to the meeting on which he is willing to compromise?
Jen Psaki: (23:24)
Well, first I will say Jeff, that the president believes that he was elected to find opportunities for common ground and to identify areas where we can work together. So some examples where there’s already some activity on Capitol Hill are I just struck a conversation, I should say. That was a hard word for some reason, about infrastructure investment, modernizing our nation’s infrastructure. As you well know, there’s going to be in a meeting tomorrow with Senator Kapito and a number of Republican senators to discuss exactly that. To discuss the counter-proposal they put forward and where we can find some common grounds.
Jen Psaki: (24:01)
But there is also an opportunity to work together on areas like increasing competitiveness among our workforce, to competing with China, to addressing the semiconductor chip shortage. There are a range of issues that there has historically been bipartisan cooperation on, including issues like immigration. But we will see what comes up in this meeting when it concludes. Obviously the president has his agenda to discuss what we can work together on moving forward to help the American people. Each of those four leaders who are coming, none of them are wallflowers. I’m sure they will have items they want to discuss as well and I expect they’ll share that with you when the meeting concludes.
Would corporate taxes be one area where he may have said, “I’m willing to go to 25% instead of 28%.”?
Jen Psaki: (24:44)
Well, he’s conveyed that certainly publicly. And I wouldn’t see this as a negotiation to come to conclusion about the American Jobs Plan and how it will be paid for, but he’s expressed an openness to a range of proposals. And his bottom line is that inaction is unacceptable and that he is not going to raise taxes on the American people who are making less than $400,000 a year, but he’s open to a range of proposals. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (25:10)
We heard the secretary Buttigieg just mention the desire to include more funding for [inaudible 00:25:15] in the American Jobs Plan. Why wasn’t that included in the president’s initial plan? And is it a must do for you now?
Jen Psaki: (25:22)
Well, I think what the secretary was talking about is how the grant funding is determined and what will be required for that grant funding. And that’s part of the process, as you know, as these negotiations and conversations are happening with Capitol Hill. So, I think at this point, it will include as the discussions continue, time specific grants to recipient’s implementation of cybersecurity goals, using tax credits to finance needed cybersecurity improvements. But I think it’s clear that cybersecurity, ensuring private sector companies are hardening their cybersecurity, ensuring it’s an across the government efforts is a priority to the president. And this will be linked now to our proposal for how specific grants should be distributed.
Speaker 7: (26:08)
We have seen a bit of a shift in tone, out of the white house last 24 hours. Yesterday we were told there aren’t supply shortages. It’s a supply crunch. It will be short-lived. Now you all are describing it as supply shortages. Is the impact of this hack more than you anticipated?
Jen Psaki: (26:23)
Well, I would say on Monday afternoon, so 48 hours ago, we said, “At this moment, there is not a supply shortage.” That was accurate at this moment. We also said that we are continuing to monitor very closely what the impact will be. And one of the reasons that we acted as quickly as we did, convening inter agency calls through the weekend, determining what levers could be used very quickly and rapidly, according to historic standards, to help put in place contingency plans, to ensure we reduce the impact on the American people, is because we had to anticipate there could be a range of impacts. We could not predict when the company would be able to come back online. They obviously need to make those determinations themselves. So our role is not to determine that on their behalf, it’s to make preparations to help reduce the impact on the American public.
Speaker 7: (27:14)
And this obviously raises concerns, not just about future attacks on pipelines, but other aspects of the electric grid, water systems, the like. Can Americans trust that the government can prevent future attacks going forward?
Jen Psaki: (27:28)
Well, I would first note, this is a attack on a private sector company. And as I noted a little bit earlier, when I’m not even sure you could hear me, but this was an attack using ransomware. This ransomware has been out there for some time. Secretary Mayorkas, when he was deputy secretary, talked about when he was here just two days ago, the fact that we were warning about the need to harden, for companies to put in place cybersecurity protections back several years ago. And that’s something we will redouble our efforts on. At the same time, since this president took office, we have also redoubled our efforts on public-
Jen Psaki: (28:03)
… this president took office, we have also redoubled our efforts on public/private sector partnerships and efforts to work together on not just best practices, but ensuring we are protecting exactly the systems that the American people rely on. As you noted, some of those are federal entities, some of them are private sector entities, but that has been our objective from the very beginning. And this is a reminder of how important that is.
Speaker 8: (28:23)
So what kind of steps can you do to try and encourage private companies, private entities? Are there tighter restrictions you can put on their cybersecurity to ensure that these kinds of attacks don’t happen going forward?
Jen Psaki: (28:33)
Well, there is an element of any company seeing what has just happened over the last several days being a reminder of how important those steps are, and that is out of our hands. That is probably thanks to the reporting of all of you. But I would say that one of the reasons that we have stood up under Anne Neuberger, who was just here a couple of days ago, and elevated a public/private coordinating apparatus or effort to work with the private sector is because we want to ensure that well-intentioned companies understand what they need to put in place and understand the risks that they’re facing. Because we know, as this is an example of, that it won’t just impact that company, that it can impact, depending on the entity, the American public. Go ahead.
How can the president work with Kevin McCarthy who’s poised to anoint to a position of leadership at the Republican Conference, someone who does not believe in the legitimacy of the last election?
Jen Psaki: (29:30)
Well, the president is no stranger to working with people who he disagrees with or he has massive fundamental disagreements with. The facts are on our side, and more than 80 judges across the country threw out lawsuits attempting to overturn the outcome of the election. What the president believes his role is, is to lead by example and to offer another alternative of leadership to the American people, which is reaching his hand across the aisle, offering to work with members of both parties on addressing issues the American people have concerns about.
I want to ask you about ransomware, we heard from Buttigieg, and from the administrator of [inaudible 00:30:12] just moments ago, if you can help… You speak for the president, what is his message to Americans right now who are worried about the supply of gas and rising prices?
Jen Psaki: (30:22)
His message is, I understand, and I am doing everything I can using every lever of government to ensure we reduce the impact on the American people and their lives, whether it is because they want to do travel for the weekend, whether they are going to visit their grandchildren because they just got vaccinated, just to incorporate another objective, or whatever it may be. And his focus from the very beginning is, do not halt, act. I need you to act, I need you to take action, to put ever step in place that is possible.
I think I know your to these, but I want to ask them. Did Colonial pay the ransom already, or will they pay it?
Jen Psaki: (31:04)
I would send you to Colonial to answer that question. Of course, the guidance from the FBI is not to do that.
Does the US government know whether they paid or intend to?
Jen Psaki: (31:13)
I just don’t have anything more for you on that.
Do you believe that the public and the government have a right to know when a major national security asset, like in this case, pays or would pay a ransom to the Russians?
Jen Psaki: (31:24)
Well, first of all, Peter, we have not made an official attribution aside from the individual-
Jen Psaki: (31:30)
Okay, but that’s an important point, just for clarification.
[crosstalk 00:31:33]. Fair enough.
Jen Psaki: (31:34)
Official attribution, I will say that there is advice and guidance we give from the federal government, because we know this incentivizes additional attacks, that is guidance that’s given from the FBI. But this is a private sector company, and I would refer you to them for any questions about what they have or have not paid.
Thank you, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (31:52)
Speaker 9: (31:52)
Thanks, Jen. Going back to the topic that Peter first touched on, how does this president approach negotiating with someone who says that 100% of his focus is on stopping this administration?
Jen Psaki: (32:03)
Well, I would say first, this is a meeting where they could spend the entire time talking about areas where they disagree, including who won the election, and the president has 80 judges and courts and tens of millions of Americans behind him on that piece. But he doesn’t find that particularly constructive. Clearly the Republican party has to work out who they are and what they stand for, but this is not a meeting that’s focused on that. So the president has a long history of working with people where he has strong disagreements and his objective and his focus and his time today, nothing more valuable than the president’s time, is going to be finding common ground, and that’s how he’ll approach it.
Speaker 9: (32:42)
More broadly, how would you say that this administration approaches the art of compromise differently than say the Obama administration did? What did you learn from those eight years?
Jen Psaki: (32:55)
Well, first I would say that the president was the vice president at the time, he was not an outside actor, right? And he worked in close partnership with then President Obama to get a lot of work done for the American people, from the Affordable Care Act, to the American Rescue Plan, to moving forward an agenda in what we felt was the right direction. In terms of lessons learned from that period of time, I think that anyone who spent eight years as vice president would probably look back and think, “What would I have done differently at the time?” I’ll let him speak to that more specifically. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (33:33)
And Jen, just looking ahead to tomorrow’s meeting, what do you expect to gain out of that meeting? We talked to, I believe all of the offices for the Republican Senators who were involved, and one of them said, “If the White House isn’t prepared to come down on its overall number or change the funding structure, then this is all pointless.” What’s your response to that?
Jen Psaki: (33:54)
The president’s been clear, as have I speaking on his behalf, that he’s open to compromise, and his only a line in the sand is around inaction. And certainly, I don’t think anyone anticipates, including the members attending, for this to be a definitive meeting with an outcome where everything’s tied with a bow at the end. But we have been encouraged by the proposal, we expect this to be a good faith discussion and the president’s certainly approaching it through that prism. Go ahead, Karen.
Thanks, Jenn. Yesterday, we heard from Senate Republicans, including Susan Collins, who said that the public is no longer looking to the CDC for guidance because the CDC is moving too slowly. You saw Georgia move ahead on the vaccinations for as young as 12 years old without waiting for the CDC. Is the White House concerned that the public is tuning out the top health experts?
Jen Psaki: (34:42)
Well, I think you referred to two people who are obviously in public life, but I’m not sure that’s a reflection of the totality of the American public. What we know is that, or how we’ve approached things is that we believe that health and medical experts should be our north star, and that leaning on them and their data analysis and their review of what they think the guidance should be to ensure that the American people can be confident in that should continue to be our north star.
Jen Psaki: (35:11)
So here’s what we also know, as more people get vaccinated, there will be less and less need for certain restrictions, and the CDC has said they will continue to evaluate the science and update their guidelines. But our objective is to ensure that the American people have confidence in the fact that we are leaning into, we’re not making political decisions, we are leaning into the advice and counsel of medical experts. Sometimes people may feel that’s slow, we understand, it’s frustrating. I’m tired of wearing a mask too. We understand how the American people are feeling, but we feel it’s important to still maintain that commitment. Go ahead.
Has the White House conveyed the message to the CDC that it should be moving quicker to loosen restrictions? Does that come from the White House?
Jen Psaki: (35:53)
No, we have conveyed that we will continue to abide by the health and medical advice of our health and medical experts, many of whom are working at the CDC. And we look forward to, as more people are vaccinated, then continuing to update their guidelines for the public.
Can I do a real quick one on infrastructure?
Jen Psaki: (36:10)
You had said earlier that you wouldn’t see this as a negotiation to come to a conclusion about the jobs plan and how it will be paid for. Knowing you can’t give a readout of the meeting that’s perhaps still going, what did the president want to leave the room achieving today? Was the one thing tangible that he wanted to walk away from this conversation saying, ” We hit this point, we moved this forward.”
Jen Psaki: (36:32)
I think the president wanted to convey that the world is not waiting for us to work together here as Democrats and Republicans to increase our own competitiveness, to invest in the American workforce, and they’re not waiting for the resolution of a leadership fight. They are waiting to see what we will do and what we will do in this moment. And the stakes are too high not to work together to pass an American Jobs Plan, to invest in infrastructure and to make us more competitive. And he wants to certainly convey, and I think his actions convey this, that he wants us to be a good faith effort and negotiation and that’s why he invited him down here. Them, all of them, sorry. Go ahead, Jen.
Two things, one, just very quickly, it seems like the leadership meeting has let out.
Jen Psaki: (37:26)
Oh. Yeah. Should we wrap?
I don’t know if there’s anything that you kind of had embargoed until that was over that you want to add about the meeting?
Jen Psaki: (37:34)
I do want to give you an actual readout of the meeting, so I don’t have any update on the meeting. And if anybody wants to go out there to a stakeout, I will not take it personally at all, or no one who’s watching.
[inaudible 00:37:48] I just wanted to ask you about the inflation report today, and how the administration sees these numbers. Is there a concern that high inflation is going to continue for a long time and that the administration might need to rethink its spending plans? How high a monthly reading is the administration willing to see kind of quarter after quarter?
And then a phrase that’s been used a bit by some administration officials is putting [inaudible 00:38:19], saying it’s transitory. What does that mean? Is that thinking about the next couple of months or through the end of the year, just as we’re seeing these bumps that might spike up some numbers or you might see low jobs numbers, and it’s all just kind of the economy getting back to normal.
Jen Psaki: (38:42)
Sure. Well first let me say that, obviously our CHR has said that, but it reflects the consensus view among economists that as our country is experiencing a massive transition from the slowdown during the pandemic to flipping the switch back on, as we are continuing the path to recovery, that we would see a specific number of months or quarters where there is a transitory increase. And that’s something that we have prepared for, and that most economists say will be temporary.
Jen Psaki: (39:12)
I will say there’s some interesting data, it will be interesting to us, I think, hopefully to others. But for example, that as we looked at this data, so airfares increased by 10%, but are still almost 20% below pre pandemic price levels. Hotels also saw a price increase, but remain below pre pandemic price level. So Americans are feeling more comfortable traveling again, that’s a good sign. And a lot of these price increases are still below what they were prior to the pandemic. We’re also seeing in the data that some of the price increases impact are a reflection of the supply chain pressures. So if you look at used motor prices, that accounted for more than a third of the increase and that was an impact in large part, because there are fewer new cars. And as a result, there are more… And that is an impact of the semiconductor chip shortage, right?
Jen Psaki: (40:08)
So there’s a couple of data points that are specific to this moment, and we knew just as the economy sort of shrunk and shut down that as it’s turning back on, there would be some of these impacts. But we are constantly tracking, we have shared our expectations on inflation. As we experienced this massive transition, we continue to chart our path to recovery. And we know that a number of the investments that we have proposed were long needed even before the last several months.
Just one more-
Jen Psaki: (40:41)
… question. You have these surprising inflation numbers, the jobs number was much lower than expected, the situation in Israel, the pipeline, does it suddenly feel like the external world is turning on you guys or that you suddenly are juggling a lot more crises, or any concern about that?
Jen Psaki: (41:05)
That’s what we’re made for here. We certainly know that, and the president knew from having served as vice-president for eight years, that when you walk in and you’re the leader of the free world and you’re overseeing a country that is still working its way through a pandemic and an economic recovery that you have to be prepared to juggle multiple challenges, multiple crises at one time, and that’s exactly what we’re doing at this moment. Go ahead, [Corrine 00:41:30].
Thanks, Jen. I just wanted to follow up on what you said about the president nominating an ambassador to Israel in the coming weeks. I wanted to go back to Jonathan’s question, is the president considering reopening a console or consulate general in Jerusalem? And then more broadly, when can we expect the president to announce his more high profile ambassadorships, and will that come before he travels in June?
Jen Psaki: (41:54)
It’s not timed to a trip, I will say, but I would expect we’ll have more in the coming weeks. They go through a process of consideration and obviously final…
Jen Psaki: (42:03)
… they go through a process of consideration and, obviously, final decisions by the President of the United States. In terms of the question about reopening the consulate, I would certainly point you to the State Department. They may have already addressed that, but they’d be the appropriate entity for that. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (42:16)
Thanks, Jen. And thanks for continuing to take questions despite this weird situation.
Jen Psaki: (42:20)
I know, but it’s okay. I know people wanted to go out there, but yeah.
Speaker 11: (42:23)
I’ve got two questions.
Jen Psaki: (42:24)
Speaker 11: (42:24)
Well, two areas. I would like to ask quickly about jobs and also about a couple of press freedom issues, which of course, I imagine is important to everyone here. The first one on jobs. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce just polled 200 small businesses and 64% are having trouble hiring people. 42% of them cited the higher COVID-19 unemployment benefits. University of Chicago separately estimate 42% of people are getting more money not to work than they would have in their previous jobs. President Biden said on Monday, “No one should be allowed to game the system. And we’ll insist that the law is followed.” Has the White House done anything to instruct states to more severely enforce the rules on unemployment benefits?
Jen Psaki: (43:08)
We certainly expect any state is enforcing the law, but I would say that what we’ve seen across most the majority of economic data and from the majority of economists is that the biggest impacts and factors are the pandemic, and the fact that we’re still recovering from a pandemic, and people having concerns or issues with childcare, or fears, if they’re not yet vaccinated, about going back to a workplace. And there are a number of steps we’ve put in place, including assistance to restaurants, as I noted earlier today, to small businesses to ensure they have that vital assistance at this point in time. And obviously, for bigger companies, we’ve been encouraging them to use some of the $1.4 trillion in assistance they’ve received to pay higher living wages, but those are the range of factors that most economists believe are the issues at this point in time, even though we look at data over the course of several months. And over several months, we’ve been creating about 500,000 jobs a month.
Speaker 11: (44:04)
So when President Biden says that he’s basically just putting it out there that states should enforce it and the people should comply with the rules in place, not necessarily that there’s anything new the federal government’s doing.
Jen Psaki: (44:13)
Well, we certainly expect states to abide by the laws, as I’m sure you do. Did you have a second question?
Speaker 11: (44:18)
Yes, I do. I’d like to ask about a couple of press freedom issues. On Friday, we learned that the Justice Department last year sees the phone records of, as several Washington Post journalists, the Biden Justice Department defended this saying that it was the sources they were after, not the reporters. But there is some press freedom advocates who are pretty concerned about that defense. Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation said that the Biden Justice Department gave a disturbing defense of the practice. Bruce Brown, the Executive Director of Reporters [inaudible 00:44:46] the press said that it raises serious first amendment concerns. Do you, as the government’s top press officer, have concerns about reporters records being taken, including in this instance?
Jen Psaki: (44:56)
Well, given this was an action taken by the last administration and the Department of Justice oversees, obviously, our legal actions, has already spoken to it. I’m not going to have anything additional to add.
Speaker 11: (45:07)
The second part on press freedom is this marks International Press Freedom Day, which was celebrated on Twitter by the Secretary of State and the Vice President, who wrote, “The free press is critical to democracy.” The whistleblower, Edward Snowden, responded by writing, “This would be more persuasive if the White House wasn’t aggressively seeking a 175-year sentence for a publisher of award-winning journalism.” This referring to WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange. The Obama Biden Administration was infamous for taking a heavy hand toward reporters and leaks, including taking the Associated Press’ coal records and calling a Fox reporter a possible conspirator. But the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute Assange for fear of setting a precedent that could be used to prosecute journalists dealing with classified information. In the name of press freedom, will President Biden be intervening in the Assange case to stop the prosecution? Or will he be allowing the Justice Department and the courts to sort this out?
Jen Psaki: (46:03)
Well, in the name of independent justice, we will encourage the Justice Department to continue to be an independent justice department, which I know is different from what we saw over the last four years, so it feels funny to some people. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 12: (46:16)
Thank you, Jen. First question, about the potential closing of reliant line five pipeline in Michigan.
Jen Psaki: (46:23)
Speaker 12: (46:24)
Has the President been in contact with Prime Minister Trudeau?
Jen Psaki: (46:28)
That’s in the courts, so we’re not going to have anything to add. It’s in a courts process right now.
Speaker 12: (46:33)
The Amicus brief of the Canadian Government and the US Federal Court describes the potential closing as a massive and potentially permanent blow to Canadian economy and energy security. Is this a way to treat an ally like Canada?
Jen Psaki: (46:48)
I think we’ve talked about in here how important of a partner Canada is and will continue to be on a range of issues from addressing the pandemic, to just being a regional partner on facing issues around the globe. But this, again, is a situation that’s in the court so I’m not going to have more comment on it. I got to go around to other people because I have three minutes left. I’m sorry. Keep going.
Speaker 13: (47:09)
I just have two quick ones. So my first question I wanted to ask about, there’s a recent New York Magazine article about how the White House polices language in Washington that I’m sure you read the other day. And a particular graph points to an Associated Press memo that advises reporters against using the word crisis, which the administration has said that they’re not going to use the word crisis for the border. It cites a person close to the White House as saying that, “One very real possibility is that the strategy works. They may get criticism and think pieces about it, but on his 100 day mark, Biden is the most liberal president we’ve had. And the public thinks he’s a moderate. That’s a winning strategy to me. They’re willing to accept that you’re going to write this piece as long as they know that swing voters in Colorado aren’t going to read it.” So does this reflect the White House’s thinking that the goal is for Americans to view the president as moderate as he pursues, according to the quote, ” the most liberal agenda that we’ve seen.”
Jen Psaki: (48:02)
There was a lot packed into that question. Must have taken some time to write. I will say that our goal is to implement solutions as it relates to the challenges at the border and not to be caught up in semantics of what we call it, because at the end of the day, what we’ve seen is a massive reduction in the number of children who are being detained in Border Patrol facilities, thanks to the actions of this administration. We’ve seen a massive reduction in the number of hours kids spent in Border Patrol facilities. And we’re continuing to work to get kids into the arms of their family members or to sponsor homes. And that’s what our objective is. I can’t speak to a blind anonymous quote from somebody outside of the White House, which we’d all be for banning those if others would want to commit to that, as well. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Speaker 14: (48:51)
Sure. Thank you. What contingency plans are in place if Congress can’t come to a quick agreement on increasing the debt ceiling, since Secretary Yellen suggested that Treasury might exhaust the so-called extraordinary measures, sooner than some analysts have estimated?
Jen Psaki: (49:07)
Well, let me just first say that we fully expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration. And as you know, from covering it, raising or suspending the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending, it merely allows Treasury to meet obligations that Congresses have already approved. So that’s what our focus is on. And we certainly expect them to follow suit of the last several times they raised it. Go ahead in the back.
Speaker 15: (49:37)
Thank you, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (49:37)
Thanks for your patience.
Speaker 15: (49:38)
No problem. Just a few quick ones.
Jen Psaki: (49:40)
Speaker 15: (49:40)
And I’ll be quick. Does immigration continue to be a priority in these meetings that are so important? And they could do a lot for the progress of an immigration bill.
Jen Psaki: (49:51)
Well, again, it’s hard for me. They may have read some of it out to read at a meeting that was still going on when I came out here, but the President remains committed that immigration continues to be a top priority for the President. That’s why he proposed a bill on day one. That’s why he communicated in his joint session speech that we should look for ways to find common ground, find agreement on what pieces we can move forward. And he certainly believes, even as we’ve made progress at the border, that in order to address this over the long-term, we need to put in place long-term solution. So he will continue to absolutely advocate for it. But I don’t know if it was a topic in the meeting yet.
Speaker 15: (50:28)
The couple who found the five young girls that were rescued a few days ago said to the press today in any interview that he did, “We want you to come to the border and this is not humane anymore.” What do you have to say about that?
Jen Psaki: (50:40)
I will say, first, that that was a heartbreaking situation and we’re thankful for the work of CBP to ensure those minors’ safety. This is another example of why we continue to be very clear that individuals should not make the treacherous journey north and put their lives in the hands of smugglers or others for unsafe circumstances. And, again, just to reiterate, our focus remains on solutions, on ensuring we’re expediting processing, we’re getting kids into safe and humane conditions, and if going to the border changed that or helped that, that would be one thing. But our focus is on implementing pieces so we can make their lives better.
Speaker 15: (51:17)
And if I may finish, consumer prices, picking back up on what was asked earlier. Is this a concern going forward that the prices will continue to rise, that they will have any impact on the recovery that you want to have in the economy?
Jen Psaki: (51:29)
Well, again, I think this is obviously something we monitor quite closely. And we certainly monitor, specifically, it’s the job of the Independent Federal Reserve to manage all aspects of inflationary pressure as they pursue their dual mandate of achieving full employment at stable prices. So it’s the policy of us not to executive French, not to comment on that really in terms of the future of inflation. But I will say that it’s important to note what the very specific, as I did in response to an earlier question, factors are at play here, which include, as I noted, the airfares increasing by 10%, but still being 20% below pre-pandemic levels, hotels seeing a price increase, but remaining below pre-pandemic levels. So there are a range of factors here at play. Obviously, addressing the semiconductor chip shortage that we remain committed to, and we will continue to work to address. Okay, thanks. Okay.
Speaker 16: (52:25)
Just moments ago, Leader McConnell said to those reporters-
Jen Psaki: (52:28)
This is like real life happening here.
Speaker 16: (52:31)
Real news in real time. Leader McConnell said moments ago that they communicated to the President that they will not budge on the 2017 tax cuts, which means … Well, do you know what that means? I guess what does the White House, what do you say to that? And then how would you pay for this if you’re not going to pay with it via tax cuts?
Jen Psaki: (52:47)
Well, I think that question is probably more on Republicans to address than it is on the President. He’s proposed a way to pay for it. We’ll see what other ideas they have. Thanks everyone.
Speaker 16: (52:58)