Oct 14, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript October 14
October 14, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Read the transcript of the full news briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
Really 900,000. Now they’re down to 293,000. We’ve created nearly 5 million jobs in eight months. That’s 600,000 new jobs every month, on average; 10 times the rate we inherited. Growth is up, wages are up, and our unemployment rate is down below 5%, 18 months, faster than forecasters predicted earlier this year. We know there is more work to do as we’ve been talking about in here over the last several days and weeks. America’s facing the same challenges on supply chains that most other developed countries are facing as well. But thanks to the work of this administration, we’re leading the world in our recovery and we’re in a year of unprecedented growth.
Jen Psaki: (00:36)
Also, just one announcement about today that I think you saw all already, but just in case today, during President Biden’s meeting with President Kenyatta of Kenya, he announced a historic one time donation of over 17 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union, on top of the 50 million doses, we have already donated to the African Union. This donation compliments the African union’s own groundbreaking regional procurement of J&J, Johnson & Johnson via the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust. All 17 million doses of J&J are available for delivery immediately, and will be delivered to the African Union in the coming weeks.
Jen Psaki: (01:14)
Two other just scheduling notes; one scheduling note, one preview for tomorrow. President Biden, I think you may have seen this, but just in case, is honored to be speaking this Saturday at the 40th Annual National Police Officer’s Memorial Service, which recognizes the 491 members of law enforcement who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020. It’s particularly poignant that this Memorial is being held at the US Capitol. We’re nine months ago. We saw the incredible bravery of the members of the US Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies who help protect the Constitution, and what the president called, “The Citadel of our democracy,” on one of the darkest days in our modern history. We also recognized the important role law enforcement has played on the front lines of the pandemic, and the fight against the spike in gun crime over the last year and a half. The President has delivered additional money, as you know, through the Rescue Plan, to support law enforcement agencies that have been hit hard during this period and has long been an advocate of additional resources to bolster effective, accountable community policing.
Jen Psaki: (02:22)
Also wanted to just note, as you know, tomorrow, the President is headed to Connecticut. He will visit a childcare center in Hartford, where he will deliver remarks highlighting the need for investments in childcare, in preschool, that provide a lifetime of benefits for children, help parents work, and support equitable economic growth. The United States currently ranks 35th out of 37 countries tracked by the [OACD 00:02:43] and public investment in children, from birth to five, as a percentage of GDP. And only about half of three and four year olds in the United States are enrolled in early childhood education, compared to more than 90% of children in advanced countries like Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and even Latvia. Shouldn’t say, “Even Latvia,” Latvia as well.
Jen Psaki: (03:03)
The average annual cost of a childcare center for a toddler in Hartford is $16,000, and a typical four person household in the state would need to spend more than 26% of their income for childcare for two young children each year. The President’s Build Back Better agenda would ensure a parents earning up to 150% of the state’s median income pay no more than 7% of their income on childcare, and the lowest income families will receive childcare for free. After visiting the child center, he will join former Senator Chris Dodd, a longtime friend, members of the Connecticut Congressional Delegation, Governor Ned Lamont, the President of Yukon, and students, faculty, and staff to mark the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut. Sorry, a few things at the top. Go ahead, Josh.
No worries. Thanks Jen. Two things; John Kerry told AP that it hurts his efforts to get global agreements on climate change without a deal at [inaudible 00:03:55]. Can President Biden be a incredible messenger on the international stage in two weeks, without a clear path for his agenda here?
Jen Psaki: (04:02)
Absolutely. And here’s why; what the president has clearly done is prioritize climate, and investment in climate, pushing for climate legislation, taking executive actions on climate in order to take real action here at home, domestically, something that we need to do, that we were on pause for the last four years over, and also to send a message to the world that this is a top priority for him, and something he takes very seriously. The world watches closely. Of course, they know that we’re working through our legislative agenda, that we’re trying to get these things across the finish line, and I think that indicates the president’s clear commitment, and will enable him to have a strong seat at the table, regain the United States’ seat at the table.
And then, the Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer said he plans for a vote next week to try and advance Voting Rights Bill. Given that that vote’s coming up, what additional steps does the President plan to take on voting rights, and should the vote fail, what efforts does this administration willing to make?
Jen Psaki: (05:01)
Well, Josh, ensuring that voting rights legislation becomes law remains a top priority to the President. We absolutely have to do it. We must do it. It’s not an option not to do it. The President, of course, has talked with members of Congress about his commitment to this. He’s agreed with the Vice President on her asking that she should run point, and lead the effort to make voting rights a reality across the country. You’ve seen her take a number of actions on this front. So, expect the President will continue to be engaged over the course of the coming days, and he will continue to advocate for the need to get this done, to protect our democracy, and protect people’s fundamental rights. Go ahead.
Speaker 1: (05:42)
Jen. You’ve got about 10,000 and John Deere workers on strike, a number of other strikes going on. How concerned are you about the impact this might have on the economy, or the supply chain? And do you have any plans to intervene?
Jen Psaki: (05:53)
Well, we, of course are not going to speak to any ongoing potential individual labor actions, as you know, as a standard. But I will note that the President and the Vice President often say that this is the most pro-union administration in history, and they will continue to govern, and lead with that in mind. And they both feel that strongly supporting unions, the ability of workers to organize, if they so choose, collective bargaining, and the right to strike, which is one part of collective bargaining, are fundamental rights. It’s also the responsibility of management and the union to bargain with each other, and resolve their differences. That’s a part of why unions are around, and the role they play.
Jen Psaki: (06:38)
We also know that in healthy economies, employees must compete for workers. And we’re seeing that. And as an unemployment drops, our economy is shifting to a labor market where workers have more bargaining power. Ultimately, that’s a good thing for workers to have more bargaining power, and be able to choose more. That means workers can push for higher wages, and more dignity, and respect in the workplace. So this has long been a fundamental value for the President, something he’ll continue to support, broadly across the country.
Speaker 1: (07:07)
Secondly, how much longer are you willing to wait for the budget talks to reach some sort of conclusion? Is there a sense of impatience here?
Jen Psaki: (07:14)
I wouldn’t put it in those terms, but what I would say is that the President is eager to get things done for the American people, and to deliver on what he’s promised. And so, as I said yesterday, the time for negotiations is not unending, and we’re eager to move forward, we’re eager to deliver on what he promised the American people, which will result in addressing some of the issues I touched on earlier; making childcare more affordable, making universal pre-K a reality, addressing the climate crisis, making sure kids have clean drinking water, broadband is accessible, we’re repairing roads, rails, and bridges across the country. We’re eager to act. I wouldn’t say it’s impatience, I would say it’s an interest in moving forward. Go ahead.
Thanks Jen. Is it the President’s position that those who defy congressional subpoenas related to January 6th should face prosecution from the Justice Department?
Jen Psaki: (08:09)
Well, [Caitlin 00:08:09] , I know that that has been raised as an issue of course, by what we’ve seen happen in Congress. It’s the purview of the Department of Justice to determine if there would be any criminal decision, and they handle exclusively those decisions. So I’d point you to them.
But does he think those who defy these congressional subpoenas that are related to something that he thinks is so important that he is not going to assert executive privilege as his predecessor has request, that they should face consequences for defying those subpoenas?
Jen Psaki: (08:44)
Well, again, Caitlin, I think why you’re asking this question is because it’s been raised by the January 6th Select Committee about criminal actions or criminal referral. That’s something that is between them and the Department of Justice, an independent agency that would make any of those decisions.
And citing the upcoming election for governor in Virginia, Senator Mark Warner said he thinks the House needs to go ahead and vote on the hard infrastructure bill, so Democrats can have a win on the table to run on. Does the President agree with that sentiment?
Jen Psaki: (09:15)
President wants to get both pieces of legislation passed, that requires having the majority of votes in Congress to get that done, and that’s what he’s working to get across the finish line.
Is there any response to Senator Warner?
Jen Psaki: (09:25)
Nope. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (09:27)
Jen, I’m going to follow up on a couple of [crosstalk 00:09:29] asked, but he asked about the concern at the white house about these strikes and the potential impact on the economy. Is there a war right now, as we’re seeing these happening in different parts of the country, different industries, that this could have a significant impact?
Jen Psaki: (09:41)
I have not heard that expressed by our Economic Team at this point. I’m happy to check with them and see if that’s a concern they have.
Speaker 2: (09:46)
And on the timing of negotiations, we’re talking about the patience issue. The white house announced the President’s trip to Europe at the end of this month. Nancy Pelosi has set in October 31st deadline to the Infrastructure Package passed. Does the president expect that negotiations will be completed by the time he leaves for that trip at the end of the month?
Jen Psaki: (10:03)
I’m not going to set new timelines here. I will reiterate that we don’t feel that the time is unending, and we feel it’s time to move forward with negotiations, move to a place where we have a unified package, but I’m not going to set a new timeline today.
Speaker 2: (10:18)
Can the President leave for that trip if negotiations are still going on on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
Jen Psaki: (10:23)
Again, I’m not going to set a new timeline today. Obviously we want to move this forward as quickly as possible. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (10:28)
Thank you, Jen. And following up on the questions with January 6th, I know you’ve spoken to the decision by the White House Council’s Office to tell the archives to hand over those documents. Has there been any concern or conversation about what might happen one day when the shoe’s on the other foot, and if another administration of the other party comes in and says, there’s an extraordinary circumstance, and they want to hand over documents that were deemed privileged by the Biden administration.
Jen Psaki: (10:55)
I can assure you that this President and has no intention to lead an insurrection on our nation’s capital-
Speaker 3: (11:00)
I anticipated that would be your answer, almost word for word.
Jen Psaki: (11:03)
Jen Psaki: (11:03)
… [crosstalk 00:11:00]-
Speaker 3: (11:03)
I anticipated that would be your answer almost word for word.
Jen Psaki: (11:04)
Speaker 3: (11:04)
But I mean, you can understand that you’re opening potentially a pandora’s box here by saying this-
Jen Psaki: (11:11)
Actually we don’t see it that way. I understand why you’re asking this question. We talked about this a little bit last week as well. I think it is ultimately important for people to understand and remember that January 6th was an incredibly dark day, one of the darkest days in our democracy. There was an insurrection on our nation’s capital. What we’re talking about here is getting to the bottom of that. Shouldn’t everybody want to get to the bottom of that? Democrats, Republicans, people who have no political affiliation whatsoever. I will reiterate that we’re going to assess and review as is standard in the process, the documents, and any efforts to exert executive privilege, on a case by case basis, and we’ll provide you updates on those as those processes proceed, and we will continue as it relates to executive privilege for other issues to evaluate that on a case by case basis as every White House has in the past.
Jen Psaki: (12:01)
But I think if you look back at past president’s, Democratic and Republican, there isn’t really a precedent for what we’re talking about with the select committee and what they’re trying to get to the bottom of, and the uniqueness of that, I think is important context.
Speaker 3: (12:14)
On the issue of negotiating with Congress on the President’s agenda, the negotiating timetable is an open-ended. Is there anything new you can say about what the President himself has done this week to engage in those negotiations?
Jen Psaki: (12:27)
I can tell you that the President has been deeply engaged on the phone with members getting updates from his team and senior members of his team on their conversations and discussions, eager to hear where there’s agreement, where there’s still disagreement, and how to shake things loose to move them forward.
Speaker 3: (12:46)
And I have an FDA question, but not on what you might anticipate.
Jen Psaki: (12:46)
Oh, I like this setup. Okay.
Speaker 3: (12:48)
There was a decision this week by the agency to approve specific vapes or vaping cigarettes, saying they’re appropriate protection of public health. What does the President make of that decision, and does he support taxing e-cigarettes along with other more traditional tobacco products? I know this was an element of the build back better paid for agenda originally. Does he still support doing that?
Jen Psaki: (13:11)
It wasn’t something that he had proposed originally so I would just note that. Obviously we would [crosstalk 00:13:16]-
Speaker 3: (13:16)
Jen Psaki: (13:16)
Speaker 3: (13:17)
Proposed it as a-
Jen Psaki: (13:19)
But I think it’s important context, right, that he didn’t propose that. Look, the FDA, as you noted, did approve some e-cigarettes. They spoke to this and I would certainly point you to their comments. The President supports the independent review and process of the FDA. Beyond that, I’m not aware of any proposal for taxing cigarettes coming from here. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (13:39)
Thank you, Jen. White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, retweeted a message yesterday, not once, but twice, that inflation supply chain issues are high class issues, but some of the sharpest price increases over the last month included products that every American buys, beef products, chicken, eggs, regular unleaded gasoline, laundry equipment, furniture, clothing, the list goes on. Why would Ron Klain tweet that and would you agree that that’s a little bit tone deaf?
Jen Psaki: (14:07)
Do you think two tweets means more? I’m just curious. So just for context, what Ron Klain retweeted was a tweet from the former Chairman of Economic Advisors, Jason Furman, where he said for a full context, which I think is important, “Most of the economic problems we’re facing, inflation supply chains are high class problems.” What he went on to say is, ” We wouldn’t have had them if unemployment rate was still 10%. We would instead have had a much worse problem.” So I think the point here is, well, what some of these critics are saying is we don’t know if they’re saying that what they thought was great was when the unemployment rate was double what it is today, or when people were locked in their homes and therefore gas prices were lower. We’re at this point because the unemployment rate has come down and been cut in half because people are buying more goods, because people are traveling, and because demand is up, and because the economy is turning back on.
Jen Psaki: (15:06)
So Jason Furman of course, is more than capable of speaking or tweeting for himself, obviously, and providing any additional context. But what the point is here is that we are at this point because we’ve made progress in the economy, and what would be worse in our view is if the unemployment rate was at 10%, people were out of work, hundreds of thousands of people were still dying of COVID, and people weren’t able to lose their homes. So that’s the full context.
Speaker 4: (15:32)
And that’s a much more eloquent way of putting it than the high class comment in that tweet. It’s not the first time that Ron Klain’s Twitter has drawn some sharp criticism. Is that something that the White House is addressing at all given this pushback, his criticism?
Jen Psaki: (15:49)
Are we addressing the Chief of Staff’s Twitter habits?
Speaker 4: (15:52)
Jen Psaki: (15:52)
It is not a top priority, I would tell you at this point in time. The Chief of Staff is out there speaking on his own accord to members of Congress, to the media frequently, as any chief of staff does, and I think it’s important also for anyone here to be able to tout points that they find interesting and that’s the purpose of public speech.
Speaker 4: (16:17)
And then on the supply chain remedies that we were going through yesterday, there’s been obviously some action from the White House in brokering these agreements, but the private sector is calling for more federal action on things like expanding commercial driver licenses, easing some restrictions. What is the hesitation? Why hasn’t this happened yet and is there any concern that if some of these actions aren’t taken right now, at a certain point it’ll become too late and this problem will just bottleneck further?
Jen Psaki: (16:45)
They actually have been happening. So the Department of Transportation has been supporting state DMVs for months and months as they return to it or even exceed pre-pandemic commercial driver’s license issuance rates, which will allow more people to have commercial driver’s license so that they can drive trucks and more trucks that can move goods across the country. And so in 2021, an average of 50,000 commercial driver’s licenses and learners permits were issued each month with just 14% higher than the 2019 monthly average, and 60% higher than the 2020 monthly average.
Jen Psaki: (17:20)
The other thing that the Department of Transportation has been doing is expanding hours of service exemptions for truck drivers during the pandemic to support the flow of emergency goods and assistance for some supply chains. So that’s another step. So the point is we’ve been working on these pieces. They’ve been in process and what we announced yesterday was essentially in agreement between the labor unions, who are going to fill the hours, right, at these ports, an important bottleneck piece, as well as the suppliers who will be using the expanded hours, and the ports themselves, which will help move this forward quickly and help reduce some of the delays. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (17:59)
Has the President made a decision on the FDA commissioner?
Jen Psaki: (18:02)
Speaker 5: (18:04)
With the time constraints for an acting commissioner to serve, is the President committed to beat that time constraint to allow Dr. Woodcock to remain if there’s a nominee?
Jen Psaki: (18:17)
Well, the President is definitely eager to make a decision about an FDA nominee and of course make that decision public once it’s made. We’re just not quite at that point yet. In terms of the timeline, I’m not aware of what exactly that timeline is, but certainly-
Speaker 5: (18:31)
For an acting commissioner.
Jen Psaki: (18:32)
Oh yeah. Yeah. I understand. I don’t know when it ends, but we are certainly eager to do this in short order.
Speaker 5: (18:38)
On the Connecticut visit, you outlined some elements related to childcare that the President wants to talk about. So can we then assume those are red lines for the President, that those kinds of programs and ideas must be included in the package?
Jen Psaki: (18:53)
Well, I would say that certainly addressing the care economy and easing the burden on families, often women frankly, in the workforce, is a core priority of course for the President. He wants to see everything in the package and he wants to lift up what’s in the package so people understand the key components. I don’t have any new red lines to set for you today, but certainly addressing the care economy, childcare is a part of it. It’s something it’s a priority and important to the President and important to many, many, if not the vast majority or every single member of Congress. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (19:26)
Back to the issue of supply chain.
Jen Psaki: (19:27)
Speaker 6: (19:28)
In addition to announcing the deal yesterday between the Longshoremen’s Union and the Port of Los Angeles, the President also called on the private sector and elements in it to essentially boost their throughput.
Jen Psaki: (19:37)
Speaker 6: (19:38)
That requires or could require many workers who are already stressed out and overworked to work longer hours. How do you thread that? Where we see it across the economy, workers are increasingly resigning from their jobs. They’re burnt out. This President obviously believes that there are certain things that the private sector has to do for the betterment of the country. How do you thread those two things?
Jen Psaki: (20:00)
Well, you thread them by having everyone at the table, representatives of the labor unions, ensuring that they can go back to their workers and convey. Safety is a high priority. Treatment is a high priority. Pay and overtime is a high priority. It’s important to have these companies at the table so they understand what the labor unions are expecting. And it’s important of course to have, whether it’s the ports or other modes and means of transportation at the table so they can also convey what their needs are. What he was asking for, if you look at moving goods for example, UPS and FedEx are about 40% of the market of how goods are transported. He’s asking others who are moving goods to also step up their game, other companies and suppliers to also step up their game, being this is a model for how that could be done.
Speaker 6: (20:48)
The labor union IATSE is talking about striking the studios next week. Their primary complaint is that they’re not given enough time for rest. Is the President without wanting to step into this dispute, is he sympathetic?
Jen Psaki: (21:00)
Well, I would say first that’s a different issue, for clarity, right, that is not about moving goods or the supply chain, just for clarity, for people who are reading the transcript. The President is of course, I’m not going to have a comment on any individual labor dispute. Just to reiterate, but the President believes in collective bargaining rights, believes in workers’ rights, believes that’s the role that labor unions and why they are so important to our country. So that’s something that is of course between the labor unions and the companies, and organizations where these workers are serving, but he thinks that’s a healthy part of what happens in our workforce and in our economy. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (21:38)
Thanks on the Reconciliation Bill and climate. Back to that AP interview with John Kerry. He said that if Congress doesn’t pass the Reconciliation bill, it’ll be devastating, he said like President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement again. So does that mean that the administration doesn’t think it can reach the carbon cuts that it’s already promised ahead of the climate summit, that 50 to 52% reduction without-
Speaker 7: (22:03)
… climate summit that 50 to 52% reduction without reconciliation.
Jen Psaki: (22:06)
Well, first of all, none of our objectives or the president’s climate agenda begins or ends on November 1st and second or the week after. This is an incredibly important meeting. It’s a pivotal moment at the start of a decisive decade of action to tackle the climate crisis. And this is obviously a pivotal period that former Secretary Kerry, our climate envoy, is playing a central role in. And we know that the window for limiting warming to 1.5 degree Celsius is narrowing.
Jen Psaki: (22:35)
Many countries, including the United States, have put forward ambitious commitments in line with the Paris goal. And course, we are going to continue to press until the very last moment, more countries to do exactly the same. That work is ongoing, but I think it’s not a reflection of anything other than this pivotal period, where two weeks before, the president goes … Two weeks, I think, if I’m doing my math correctly, before the president goes to COP26. It is always an meeting and an important gathering. It’s an opportunity for global leaders to talk about the climate crisis and the responsibility of countries like the United States and other big global emitters. But no, I don’t think it’s whether our agenda is passed or not is not going to be the defining factor. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (23:21)
There were two analysis that suggests that the 2020 census may have under-counted some populations, specifically African Americans. Is the White House aware of this? Are they investigating it? Are you looking at analyzing whether that happened?
Jen Psaki: (23:35)
I have not looked into this myself. So let me talk to our team and see if we have something more concrete to give to you.
Speaker 8: (23:41)
Okay. One more.
Jen Psaki: (23:41)
Speaker 8: (23:42)
Hundreds of climate protestors, I think they’re gathered outside the White house right now. They’re demanding Biden stop approving fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency. I wonder if those are actions that the administration is considering or listening to their demands.
Jen Psaki: (23:56)
Of course, we’re listening to advocates and people who have been elevating the issue of climate for decades. They have important voices, and they’ve put climate on the front of the agenda when it wasn’t 10 years and 20 years ago. I would encourage anyone out there or not to look at what the president’s proposing, what he’s trying to push across the finish line at this point, which is an enormous investment and commitment to addressing the climate crisis. That’s in his legislative agenda. That’s currently working its way through Congress now. It doesn’t mean his climate commitment ends once he signs this into law, it just means that’s what our focus is on now. And it will have a dramatic, important impact. Go ahead.
Speaker 9: (24:38)
Thank you, Jen. Last month, the president signed an executive order signaling that the United States was there to issue sanctions against various entities in Ethiopia. Given the meeting today, just what is the administration waiting for? What is the United States watching right now, that’s preventing the administration from issuing those sanctions?
Jen Psaki: (24:59)
I don’t have an update on if and when. I know that’s kind of what you’re asking. We often sign executive order, or the president may sign an executive order, to prepare for and have the ability to sign into law sanctions quickly, because the executive order would’ve already been signed.
Jen Psaki: (25:15)
As we’ve talked about in the past, obviously what’s happening in Ethiopia, it’s a atrocity. It’s horrific. It’s something that frankly, I’m happy you’re asking about, because there hasn’t been probably enough attention here in the United States to what’s happening. But I don’t have an update. It’s often an inter-agency process, and I don’t have an update on when a determination will be made.
Speaker 9: (25:35)
Given Kenya currently has the leadership position in the UN Security Council, were there any kind of tangible plans that came out of today’s meeting to try and not only address the atrocities that you just mentioned, but also the fact that UN aid workers are also now being expelled from Ethiopia as well?
Jen Psaki: (25:52)
Yeah. I have not had a chance to talk to our national security team before coming out here about what happened in the meeting. Obviously, Ethiopia was on the agenda, as was counter-terrorism, as was Somalia, I’m sure, as was of course, vaccines, as we talked about. I’m sure we’ll have a readout of that, and we can see if there’s more to lay down for you. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (26:10)
Thanks. Jen. President Biden talked earlier about how vaccine requirements have been helpful. I just wanted to ask if there’s any more serious consideration of requiring vaccinations for domestic flights ahead of holiday season.
Jen Psaki: (26:22)
I don’t have anything to preview on that at this point in time.
Speaker 10: (26:25)
On the Congress, just curious, when was the last time, if you can share, that President Biden spoke with Senator Sinema?
Jen Psaki: (26:32)
I’m just not going to give you a lay down of every call. I can assure you that we’ve been in close touch with her from a very high staff level.
Speaker 10: (26:39)
[crosstalk 00:26:39] couple days?
Jen Psaki: (26:40)
I’m not going to give you an update of when he did individual phone calls, but we are in close touch with her. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (26:45)
Thanks, Jen. Yesterday, you mentioned that the Supreme court commission was going to release draft preliminary discussion materials today. Wondering if there was any update on a timeline. And is that a draft report, or what did you mean by draft preliminary discussion material?
Jen Psaki: (27:02)
It is an assessment. It is not a recommendation. That is how it was been outlined from the beginning. Given it’s 4:00, they have to be posting it pretty soon. So I would expect you’ll see it posted soon. But since you gave me the opportunity … We talked about this a little bit yesterday, but I know there’s been a little bit of confusion.
Jen Psaki: (27:20)
What they are looking at and examining are the court’s role in the constitutional system, the length of service and turnover of the justices on the court, the membership and the size of the court and the court’s selection, rules and practices.
Jen Psaki: (27:33)
These are draft preliminary discussion materials, because the next step will be a public meeting of the commission on Friday. And they won’t issue a final report and submit it to the president until mid-November. So that was just meant to convey that as should be a part of the process, it will be transparent. They will be publicly available, but there’s a process that will proceed. And the president won’t even get the final report to review until mid-November. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (28:01)
I’m curious if the White House sees the Virginia governor’s race as a bellwether. We talked about it a lot in here and if the outcome is basically a progress support of the president’s agenda, since McAuliffe is running on it quite a bit.
Jen Psaki: (28:14)
Well, I have to be a little careful about how much political analysis I do from here and not traipse into that too much. Look, I think the president of course, wants former Governor McAuliffe to be the future governor of Virginia. There is alignment on a lot of their agenda, whether it is the need to invest in rebuilding our roads, rails, and bridges, or making it easier for women to rejoin the workforce.
Jen Psaki: (28:41)
I will say, I will leave it to other outside analysis to convey, that off-year elections are often not a bellwether, and there’s a lot of history here in Virginia. But again, we’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe. And we believe in the agenda he’s representing.
Speaker 12: (29:01)
And on COVID, on travel, is there any update on the exact date where the ban on travel from Europe is going to be lifted? I think last time we heard early November. Is there an exact date that you can share today?
Jen Psaki: (29:11)
I don’t have an exact date for you today. Early November remains the case. We remain on track for that.
Speaker 12: (29:15)
Early November. The first weeks of November, the first week of November, the first few days of November?
Jen Psaki: (29:19)
I will let you assess what early November means. It means early in November. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (29:25)
Thank you, Jen. Taliban’s acting deputy minister of information and culture Zabihullah Mujahid told the [inaudible 00:29:31] that China wants to invest billions of dollars in Afghanistan. Is the administration concerned that Afghanistan might be the next frontier for Beijing to expand its influence through its investments?
Jen Psaki: (29:45)
Our focus is on working with the vast majority of the international community on delivering humanitarian assistance and getting it to the right people in Afghanistan, to make sure they have what they need. The United States is far and away, the largest of provider of that assistance. We work through international organizations to deliver that, so that is what our focus primarily is on at this point in time.
Speaker 4: (30:06)
And then another one on Iran. You said earlier this week, that in regards to Iran nuclear talks, diplomacy is the preferred path. What is the administration’s plan B should Iran continue to stall in negotiations?
Jen Psaki: (30:20)
Well, we’ve been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return, to compliance with the JCPOA and to address our full range of concerns with Iran. We’re seeking a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. If Iran demands more, offers less, these negotiations will not succeed. But ultimately, that’s what our focus is on. And I’m not going to get into hypotheticals beyond that. Go ahead.
Speaker 13: (30:45)
Thanks, Jen. Two questions. The president mentioned today that nationwide daily COVID cases and hospitalizations are down. Does the White House have a sense of when guidance will change for vaccinated Americans to once again, remove their masks indoors?
Jen Psaki: (30:56)
We leave any guidance changes to the CDC. So I’d point you to them.
Speaker 13: (30:59)
Are you hopeful that’ll by the holidays?
Jen Psaki: (31:02)
Again, we leave it to the CDC. We don’t make predictions like that. Go ahead.
Thanks, Jen. I have a couple questions. One, to follow up on Eugene’s about Virginia. Virginia Senator Mark Warner said today that the president ought to be held the House that we ought to deliver this infrastructure bill. It echoes with Terry McAuliffe-
Jen Psaki: (31:22)
I can answer again, but Caitlin asked about it earlier.
I understand that, but I want make sure I get a clear answer. I want to ask what you make of that, what you make of these Virginia leaders, saying that the president and Democrats in DC just aren’t doing enough.
Jen Psaki: (31:35)
I didn’t read it exactly that way. I think it was an assessment of what a legislative strategy and approach should be. What we’re working on, [Yumish 00:31:43] is working with leaders in the House and Senate to get both of these packages moved forward, do it in short order and deliver for the American people. I just don’t have a further comment on it than that.
The other question I have is about COVID. I’m wondering if you could explain to the American people why there isn’t proof of vaccination or testing required in domestic flights. Is the president getting briefed on that? Is there any sort of assessment on whether that will change? We’re hearing experts say that the US should follow what Canada’s doing, which is taking those policies to their domestic flights.
Jen Psaki: (32:13)
Again, we’re always looking at options for how we can keep more people safe in this country. I just don’t have a prediction of additional options at this point in time.
Speaker 14: (32:22)
Jen, [crosstalk 00:32:22]-
Can I ask you one last one?
Jen Psaki: (32:23)
I know you said that he hasn’t made a decision on the FDA commissioner, but I guess I’ll maybe try to … We already have Senator Bernie Sanders, who is saying that he has some issues with Robert Califf, who is someone who Politico is reporting the president eyeing. Is the president at all concerned that there are already senators who are worried about pharmaceutical ties and ties to drug makers with this person that could possibly be the FDA commissioner?
Jen Psaki: (32:48)
Well, given there hasn’t been a decision made at this point in time, I’m not going to speak to a hypothetical maybe nomination and people’s hypothetical reactions to hypothetical nomination. But I will tell you that the president’s views and his policy …
Jen Psaki: (33:03)
… the President’s views and his policy positions are pretty clear as it relates to prescription drugs, the cost of prescription drugs, the unacceptably high cost of prescription drugs. That’s why he has continued to push for it in his Build Back Better Agenda and he will continue to do that regardless of who is serving in any particular role in his administration.
Jen, on the issue of gerrymandering, gerrymandering is closely linked to voting rights and you’re seeing Democrats in this nation having their districts redrawn and they’re affected and they cannot fall upon or use the Voting Rights Act right now because it’s gutted, the pre-clearance issue. What is the White House doing as it relates to this in the lead up to this vote at the Senate next week?
Jen Psaki: (33:48)
Lead up to the voting rights vote next week? I think somebody asked this before.
But I’m talking about the gerrymandering piece that goes with voting rights.
Jen Psaki: (33:56)
What are we doing about gerrymandering or what are we doing about the voting rights?
Are you leaning in? Is that part of the conversations that the White House is having with Senators as it relates to voting rights? Because it all goes hands in hand and it creates-
Jen Psaki: (34:08)
I just wanted to make sure I understood what your question was, April. Look, the President continues to believe that voting rights is fundamental to people’s rights in this country. He has given speeches about it. He has taken actions through executive action. He has supported the efforts of his Department of Justice to ensure they’re putting in place protections across the country. I think his actions absolutely speak for that. I don’t have anything more to preview for you in terms of his-
Is he watching what’s happening in Texas?
Jen Psaki: (34:36)
Of course, he is. Of course, he is and, of course, we’re extremely engaged through a range of senior officials and having conversations with Congress, with activists, with advocates, with people who share the passion of this White House in addressing these issues and making sure we’re protecting people’s fundamental rights.
Speaker 15: (34:53)
So how far is he willing to go? Jen, last Friday, when the President signed the HAVANA Act, he said that he was determined to get to the bottom of who is responsible for these incidents. What is your message for those who are responsible?
Jen Psaki: (35:10)
Well, first, just so people understand, there’s an assessment that’s being done by our intelligence community understanding fully that everybody wants that assessment to be completed. We want it to be thorough and for people to have confidence in it once it’s completed. I’m not sure what your question is, sorry.
Speaker 15: (35:31)
The administration has said that the victims of these anomalous health incidents, AHIs, need to be believed, and in the statement that the President put out on Friday he said he wanted to get to the bottom of who is responsible.
Jen Psaki: (35:42)
Absolutely, which is what we’ve been doing and working on in the intelligence community.
Speaker 15: (35:46)
So on the assumption there is a who, which is what the President said, is there a determination for there to be consequences?
Jen Psaki: (35:56)
Why don’t we wait until there’s an assessment made and then we can have a further discussion about what the consequences will be. Go ahead.
Speaker 15: (36:02)
Jen Psaki: (36:04)
Go ahead, Nadia. Go ahead.
Thank you. Thank you, Jen. I have two questions on Lebanon first. Does the White House still support an independent investigation into the explosion at the port? There were some clashes today. Hezbollah supporters were trying to block this investigation. And I have another question on Iran.
Jen Psaki: (36:19)
Sure. We, of course, support and I would reiterate our support and the support of the international community, which we’ve voiced on multiple occasions for the investigation. We urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the port of Beirut. The victims of the August 2020 port explosion deserve justice and those responsible must be held accountable, so we continue to be strongly supportive of these efforts in the investigation.
And on Iran, the Israeli Foreign Minister articulated yesterday in the press conference that he actually shared detailed plan B with the White House. Should diplomacy fail in Vienna, is the White House open to these suggestions from the Israelis over the plan B, as he put it?
Jen Psaki: (37:05)
Our focus is on diplomacy. That’s where our efforts are at this point in time. I’m not going to entertain a hypothetical at this point in time. We’re eager to go back to Vienna and continue the talks. Go ahead.
Speaker 16: (37:14)
Jen, given the First Lady is going to Virginia tomorrow to campaign, can we expect President Biden will be there in the next two weeks before the foreign trip?
Jen Psaki: (37:22)
I expect he’ll do more to help his friend former Governor Terry McAuliffe. I just don’t have details at this point in time.
Speaker 16: (37:29)
Will that be true in New Jersey as well? Will President Biden be traveling there for that election?
Jen Psaki: (37:34)
I don’t have anything to preview on either at this point in time, but obviously we know the elections are soon, the foreign trip is soon, and so we will certainly have more to convey as soon as details are finalized. Go ahead.
Speaker 17: (37:45)
Thank you. When exactly will travel restrictions be lifted? We’ve heard it should be early November. Is there a precise date or when can we expect to know more?
Jen Psaki: (37:56)
Continues to be early November. That is not a very expansive period of time, but hopefully we’ll have a date for you all soon. We’ve continue to be on track for early November and to meeting that timeline. Go ahead.
Speaker 18: (38:08)
Jen, the President has been trying to get OPEC to increase supply in the past.
Jen Psaki: (38:14)
Speaker 18: (38:15)
Oil prices have been north of $80 a barrel.
Jen Psaki: (38:18)
Speaker 18: (38:18)
Are there any steps that he’s looking at, new steps, to try to deal with some of these energy issues?
Jen Psaki: (38:24)
Well, first, the President is very focused on this. He has asked his team about it. There are a number of people, senior members of the White House team from the NSC, from the NEC, working on this issue every single day. I would say that part is a supply issue, which is why you asked me about OPEC and something we continue to press them on. But part is also a logistics issue of being able to move supply around the country and that’s something that we’re also looking into options on. I know you didn’t ask me about this, but I’m just going to also convey because sometimes they’re combined, the gas issue as well as the natural gas issue, which is something that we’ve seen people in the Northeast have understandable concerns about what that may look like for them.
Jen Psaki: (39:10)
And I would just note, and we haven’t talked about this a lot so I wanted to raise it, LIHEAP funding, coverage of LIEHEAP funding is in the American Rescue Plan. And that is something that we have been communicating with a number of states and leaders about and their ability to access that funding, which is the Low Income Heating Program I think many of you are familiar with, to help prepare for any increase in cost. But we’re working on both the supply issue and the logistics issue and looking at a range of options. Go ahead.
Speaker 19: (39:38)
Jen, in Ghana, legislation is pending before lawmakers that would essentially criminalize being LGBTQ, punishing act constituting being LGBTQ up to five years in prison and advocacy for LGBTQ people with up to 10 years of prison. Will the President reach out to his counterpart in Ghana or partner nations on this legislation?
Jen Psaki: (39:58)
Well, first, I would say that the President believes that LGBTQI rights are not only human rights here in the United States but they are around the world and they are part of human rights that we should continue to raise and will continue to raise in our diplomatic engagements. I would expect that the State Department would be the first point of contact so I would point you to them and I can also check with them and see what their conversations have been like. Go ahead, John. It’s was John’s birthday yesterday. You know I have a special place in my heart for birthdays. Go ahead.
Thank you very much, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (40:29)
He’s 29 plus. In case anyone’s not sure, he’s 29 and a half. Happy 29 and a half.
Well, thank you. Two questions, please. First, so much has been in the news lately about Taiwan and the flights from China and the statements from President Xi essentially underscoring what his predecessors have said that Taiwan will be part of the motherland. Will the U.S. live up to the commitment of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1978 and send in U.S. forces if Taiwan is ever attacked?
Jen Psaki: (41:07)
Well, the U.S. commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Straight and within the region. This is why we will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self defense capability. Our approach and our U.S. defense relationship, as you referenced, is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act and we will uphold our commitment under the Act. We will continue to support Taiwan’s self defense and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo. Our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China. I’m not in a position to comment on specific operations, engagements, or training but I would like to highlight that our support for a defense relationship for Taiwan remains aligned.
Okay. My other question is strictly a political question. Going back to his days as Senator and Vice President, the President has worked sedulously as a party leader and Democratic-
Jen Psaki: (42:06)
Sedulously. Ed, will keep us very impressed with that word, as am I.
Is he following the race for Governor of Texas? And has he called Matthew McConaughy and urged him to run for Governor?
Jen Psaki: (42:20)
I can confirm there has been no calls to Matthew McConaughy from this office that I am aware of we’re tracking. Of course, the President sees his role as governing the country, leading the country, unifying the country. He is also the leader of the Democratic Party. He’s been involved in politics for quite some time. Some might say he’s a pretty good retail politician, so I can assure you, he is following everything happening out there quite closely. Thanks, everyone.
Speaker 20: (42:53)
Jen Psaki: (42:54)
Speaker 20: (42:56)
How soon? Do we know?
Jen Psaki: (42:57)
Don’t have an update for you, but will soon. I promise you, Kelly asks about this all the time. Keeping us on toes.
Speaker 20: (43:05)