Sep 1, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript September 1
September 1, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She addressed the end of the war in Afghanistan and Hurricane Ida. Read the transcript of the full news briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (01:59)
Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Okay, just a couple items for you all at the top. Another update on the hurricane, the continuing focus on the ground is on power restoration, as nearly one million customers in Louisiana, more than 40% of the state, remain without power in the middle of a heat advisory. While progress has been made in Mississippi since yesterday, 30,000 customers there still do not have electricity, and power restoration in parts of Louisiana could take weeks, as crews assess the full extent of power system damage.
Jen Psaki: (02:43)
To help accelerate these efforts, the president spoke with CEOs of the largest energy companies in the Gulf Coast yesterday and committed the full weight of the federal government to providing resources wherever they are needed. As part of that, the federal government is sharing aerial and satellite imagery to support damage assessments, helping with debris removal and traffic control so restoration workers and equipment can get access to downed wires and poles, and expediting permitting for rerunning of transmission cable across the Mississippi River and for standing up transmission towers. Federal personnel from DOE, the Army Corps of Engineers, and across government are on the ground assisting efforts, along with, as I’ve noted previously, 25,000 linemen.
Jen Psaki: (03:22)
A lack of power and damage to the healthcare facilities in Louisiana remains a significant problem. We are prioritizing the deployment of generators to locations most in need, and about 1800 patients as of today have been evacuated from healthcare facilities, with the help of additional ambulances that were pre-staged by FEMA. Cell service also remains an issue, as it has been over the course of the last couple of days, and the FCC is working directly with wireless carriers and has deployed staff to Louisiana to prioritize recovery efforts.
Jen Psaki: (03:55)
We know this has been incredibly difficult, it continues to be, for many people who had to evacuate because of the storm. And we continue to encourage individuals from impacted areas in Louisiana to apply for federal assistance. More than 31,000 households in Louisiana have already received a one-time $500 payment to support critical needs as a result of the major disaster declaration that the president approved. I’d also note, this just went out, but in case you haven’t seen it, on Friday, the president will travel to New Orleans, Louisiana to survey storm damage from Hurricane Ida and meet with state and local leaders from impacted communities. We’re just finalizing the details of this trip, so as more become available, we’ll share them with all of you.
Jen Psaki: (04:35)
I also wanted to note that today, the White House and agencies across the federal government, including HUD, Treasury, and the Federal Housing Finance Authority, are announcing steps that will create, preserve, and sell approximately 100,000 additional affordable homes over the next three years, with an emphasis on lower and middle ends of the market. These steps leverage existing authorities and dedicate additional resources to affordable housing. Specifically, they will boost the supply of quality affordable rental units by increasing the financing available through HUD, Treasury, and FHA programs for affordable and targeted housing production, including a relaunch of the federal financing banks, risk sharing program, expanded support for low income housing tax credit, and increasing access to the Capital Magnet Fund boost. And this will boost the supply of manufactured housing and two to four unit properties by expanding financing through Freddie Mac, which along with existing policies, will enable more Americans to purchase homes.
Jen Psaki: (05:33)
Last item, sorry, there’s a lot going on today. Today, the White House, Treasury, and Code for America, a civic technology non-profit, announced the launch of a new mobile friendly and bilingual child tax credit CTC signup tool that is mobile friendly and available in Spanish, to make it even easier for more Americans who do not regularly file taxes to claim their child tax credit. And as you know, this has been an ongoing effort of this White House and the administration, to reach every single person we can who’s eligible, even if they are non-filers. We will link this new tool through childtaxcredit.gov. The Code for America tool is an important and necessary resource to help more families this tax season. Treasury remains committed to creating a permanent fully resourced multilingual and mobile friendly government signup tool. That is a process that is underway. That is all I have to highlight for you this morning, or this afternoon. Go ahead, kick us off.
Speaker 1: (06:28)
Great. Thanks, Jen. Two subjects. First, on COVID, in Louisiana, state data suggests that about 10% of hospitalized patients are vaccinated. Is it still accurate to call COVID a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and could that phrase that’s been deployed frequently by the White House possibly be counterproductive at this stage to protecting some Americans?
Jen Psaki: (06:49)
Well, I would say first, we continue to track data closely through the CDC and all of our health and medical experts, who do show that across the country the vast, vast majority of those who are hospitalized, vast majority, are individuals who have not been vaccinated. That has not changed, and any health and medical expert, whether it’s Dr. Fauci, Dr. Collins, Dr. Walensky, will tell you that vaccination is very effective in protecting from hospitalization and death and serious illness. That is our objective, is to save more lives, so that hasn’t changed our messaging.
Speaker 1: (07:22)
Secondly, obviously in Texas with the law with regard to abortion, the president said in a statement he will protect and defend Roe vs. Wade. How does the administration plan to do that?
Jen Psaki: (07:33)
Well, we put out a statement from the president this morning, but let me just reiterate some of the key points, and I will of course answer your question. As the president said this morning, this extreme Texas law blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe V. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century. It will significantly impair women’s access to the healthcare they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes.
Jen Psaki: (07:58)
It also deputizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion, which might even include family members, healthcare workers, front desk staff at a healthcare clinic, or strangers with no connection to the individuals. This further isolates individuals who are facing this tough choice. And I would note, for those of you who didn’t see, people who report, these private citizens, could get up to $10,000 for reporting somebody who is seeking an abortion.
Jen Psaki: (08:27)
So our focus and the president’s focus is to reiterate our deep commitment to the constitutional right, of course, established by Roe V Wade nearly five decades ago, and to continue to call for the codification of Roe, something that the president talked about on the campaign trail, the vice president talked about on the campaign trail, and this highlights even further the need to move forward on that effort. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (08:48)
Thanks, Jen. One on COVID and Afghanistan, the second one on Afghanistan. Specifically, the boosters. President Biden has pledged to follow the science in the fight against COVID, though some experts have expressed some concern that the decision to make boosters widely available this September is a bit premature and that it was made before health experts were able to fully weigh in. So here’s my question. What can you tell people who are concerned that the desire to get ahead of the virus has actually put us out in front of the science instead?
Jen Psaki: (09:23)
Well, first of all, we always lead with science, and let me just reiterate some things for anyone who’s expressing a concern. This was a decision made by and announced by the nation’s leading public health officials, everyone from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner, Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director, and Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They reviewed mountains and mountains of available data on vaccine effectiveness and made a clinical judgment that boosters would be needed and announced a plan to begin them in September, subject, of course, to the FDA and CDC processes to continue.
Jen Psaki: (09:59)
We also know that there needs to be a plan in place to implement these booster shots around the country. But I will tell you that this was a recommendation made by our nation’s leading health experts based on mountains and mountains of data. There will still be a final piece of this process that will be seen through, but our responsibility and our objective is to save more lives, protect more people. And as soon as this data, the science made clear that boosters would help do that, we wanted to put that information out to the public.
Speaker 2: (10:28)
The September 20th date, is that firm, that date to roll out boosters, is that a firm date?
Jen Psaki: (10:34)
Well, it’s based on and pending, subject to the final FDA and CDC processes, yes.
Speaker 2: (10:41)
Okay. And then one on Afghanistan, there’s some reporting that we’d like to confirm regarding a call in June, in July, rather, between President Biden and former Afghanistan President Ghani, one that [inaudible 00:10:52] appeared completely unaware that the Taliban would take over. And secondly, that they discussed the plans to project that Afghan forces were still in control. Is that accurate? Can you tell us a little bit more about that call?
Jen Psaki: (11:05)
Well, I’m not going to get into private diplomatic conversations or leak transcripts of phone calls, but what I can reiterate for you is that we have stated many times that no one anticipated, the vast majority, I should say, there may have been individuals and agencies, so I don’t want to eliminate that option, but our national security team and no one in Congress, or I would say most people out in the public, anticipated that the Taliban would be able to take over the country as quickly as they did, or that the Afghan national security forces would fold as quickly as they did. So even the content of the reporting is consistent with what we’ve said many times publicly.
Jen Psaki: (11:43)
I’ll also note something that the president said in his press conference around the same time of this reported phone call. The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in the place. The question is, will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it? And what the president conveyed publicly and certainly privately, as well, repeatedly…
Jen Psaki: (12:03)
… conveyed publicly, and certainly privately as well, repeatedly to Afghan leaders as did our national security officials, is that it’s important that the leaders in Afghanistan do exactly that, lead and show the country that they are ready to continue the fight against the Taliban that they have the will for the Afghan National Security Forces to continue that fight even as our US forces leave.
Speaker 3: (12:22)
Did the President at that point in time have some sort of a perception that even the former president of Afghanistan didn’t have that confidence in the Afghan forces, is that why maybe he was pushing Ghani to be more stern and to be more confident?
Jen Psaki: (12:39)
The president has consistently conveyed, and I as just noted an example publicly, that the Afghan leadership at the time needed to do exactly that, lead. They needed to come together in a cohesive manner. They needed to be united. They needed to show the country and the Afghan people they were going to fight and they were going to lead through this transition, even as the US forces left. That is entirely consistent with what he has said publicly throughout. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (13:03)
Thank you, Jen. One on Afghanistan and one on COVID as well. We, a few colleagues of mine have determined that there’s roughly 17,000 Afghan refugees in military installations in five states here as of Tuesday, while another 40,000 remained at bases overseas. Curious, how many of those Afghan evacuees have other countries committed to resettling or what is the status of those ongoing conversations? And will the US resettle, or otherwise will the US resettle all of those 40,000 here in the United States?
Jen Psaki: (13:36)
Well, not to refute the reporting of your colleagues, but just to note, the Secretary of Defense just confirmed it’s about 20,000 who have come into the United States, at a briefing earlier this afternoon. There is capacity, and we working towards capacity at our military bases for up to 50,000. And again, this is not a place where people would live. This is a place where people would go, they would receive medical care and assistance and get connected with refugee resettlement organizations that play a vital role as refugees come to our country from wherever they come around the world.
Jen Psaki: (14:12)
We are also working with third countries on what their capacities are, I can’t give you an exact breakdown now. It’s a very important question, but that’s exactly what our Department of Homeland Security, what our diplomatic team will be working through in the coming days and I’m certain they will be providing updates as we have that established.
Speaker 4: (14:28)
You talked about this a little bit, others have as well, but there are of course concerns among lawmakers, experts who’ve tracked this are saying previous arrivals of large numbers of refugees from different parts of the world and that really, and normally there may be a small handful who are eventually deemed a security risk of some kind. What reassurances can you make about the screening process and the attempts to make sure that somebody like that doesn’t make his or her way here?
Jen Psaki: (14:56)
I can absolutely assure you that no one is coming into the United States of America who has not been through a thorough screening and background check process. And there are many individuals, as you noted, who have not been through that process and they have gone to Lily-Pad countries as that process has been completed. It doesn’t mean that that’s because there’s a flag. It means they have not completed their paperwork and we were working to save tens of thousands of people, hence, we evacuated them to these third countries.
Speaker 4: (15:24)
And on COVID, is there any update on the US decision to keep Europeans and Canadians from visiting the United States? There were a few public messages from ambassadors here in Washington, the EU ambassador, the Polish ambassador among others are saying, “The time has come for vaccinated Europeans to be allowed entry into the United States, our people deserve to be reunited with loved ones and to have the opportunity to visit this great nation.” I know this is something a lot of people worry about this, just curious if there’s a status report.
Jen Psaki: (15:52)
Well, we certainly understand that and relate to that and know that people are eager to be reunited with loved ones. That is something that’s impacting many people around the world. I would note that we are right now working across federal agencies to develop a consistent and safe international travel policy. That has obviously been ongoing for some period of time. That includes travel from Europe and other countries around the world, and it is one that we want to be equitable. We want it to have standard requirements, so there’s clarity and so there’s equity across how we approach it. This will involve, of course, efforts to step up protecting the American people. It may also involve ensuring that over time foreign nationals coming to the United States are fully vaccinated with limited exceptions. Notices haven’t been made yet, but that is a process that’s ongoing. We certainly understand the interest in it being resolved and completed. Go ahead.
Jacqui Heinrich: (16:46)
Thanks Jen. It’s been now a couple of days since US troops left Afghanistan. I understand you have continued to say the mission will continue to bring people home through diplomatic and other ways. Yesterday, you guys at the White House didn’t have an answer on whether any Americans or refugees had made it out. Is there an answer today?
Jen Psaki: (17:09)
Again, this is an operation that’s being overseen by our State Department from a diplomatic front. They have a briefing today. If there are updates to provide, they will provide them. But what we are working through and what we knew would not necessarily be operational the day after our departure are a couple of steps. One is how we can get the airports operational again. We’re working with the Qataris, the Turks and others who are being partners in this effort. The civilian side of the airport had a lot of destruction to it, and we need to make repairs in partnership with them so we can get airports and airplanes, I should say, up and running. That will have a huge impact once that is up and operational.
Jen Psaki: (17:49)
The other piece is over-land efforts. Now some of this is, there are steps as we have seen over the course of the last few weeks, where individual American citizens are able to depart without conveying that they have departed yet. So what we are doing is we are tracking and staying in contact with all of the American citizens we are aware of on what our plans are, what the progress is and as we have updates on the timeline for when they can be able to depart.
Jacqui Heinrich: (18:15)
Is there sort of a timeframe where if there isn’t an update from the State Department there might be a course correction? I asked them today if they had any updated numbers and nobody’s gotten back to me. I understand the briefings coming up, but is there a timeframe where you guys will readjust?
Jen Psaki: (18:32)
A course correction in what way?
Jacqui Heinrich: (18:33)
In terms of, if we cannot say, for whatever reason, how many people have been able to leave since the US forces withdrew and we’re not able to measure that or we’re not able to publicly release that, is there a plan to do something else so that that movement can happen?
Jen Psaki: (18:53)
Today is September 1st, we ended our presence in Afghanistan yesterday… Or on the 31st, in Afghanistan. What we said at the time, and remains the case, is that we are focused on operationally moving forward on a number of fronts. There’s the diplomatic front, we have more than half of the countries in the world who have agreed that the expectation we are going to press upon the Taliban is that people will be able to freely move, depart the country. There was a UN Security Council Resolution signed, or passed I should say, just two days ago. And now we were operationally working on both airplanes so that can depart, or getting the airport up and operational, and over-land departures. At the same time, we are in touch with every American citizen we have contact with about our efforts and our commitment to get them out of the country. I’m not sure what a course correction would look like. That is what our efforts are at this point in time, 36 hours after, or just about two days after our last planes depart.
Jacqui Heinrich: (19:49)
We’re hearing about some journalists who were left behind. FOX confirms that a number of journalists working for US Agency for Global Media, a federally funded agency of Congress, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists were left behind. And we’re now also hearing from some senior State Department officials that there were constraints getting people through the gates at Khwaja, that some of the communication methods to contact people were available to so many that they were instantly ubiquitous, that those priority groups could not get through. Was that a contingency that was planned for?
Jen Psaki: (20:27)
Well, Jacqui, I think it’s important to remember again, 120,000 people made it out of the airport and out of the country and our commitment to people who want to evacuate, want to leave, American citizens, journalists, Afghan partners who have stood by our side is enduring and remains. I know there’s been some reporting on this, so let me give you just a couple of examples, because now we can talk about this, of some of the ways that we worked to get American citizens out.
Jen Psaki: (20:56)
One, the most used method was the muster point or what we called the muster point. The State Department would blast notifications through a variety of channels to American citizens telling them to meet at a specific location from which we would either bus them into the airport in convoys or escort people on foot. We offered multiple opportunities for each of these muster points at various times, each with multiple transits to the airport. The majority of American citizens who got out were evacuated exactly this way.
Jen Psaki: (21:24)
We also talk people through, one-on-one, walking into the airport with State Department officials on the phone, on the other end of the phone, the whole time facilitating safe passage, past checkpoints. This was incredibly labor intensive, but effective at resolving problems on the ground one by one in challenging environments.
Jen Psaki: (21:41)
In limited cases, and some of this was reported, where people were trapped or in immediate danger, US security forces went beyond the wire. Sometimes you have a helicopter to pick people up safely. We didn’t talk about these much, these “helo-hops” at the time because they were dangerous missions. We didn’t want to create the expectation that we’d be sending a helicopter for everyone who wanted to leave Afghanistan.
Jen Psaki: (22:01)
So I note those because I think it’s important to understand the steps and the roles that our US military on the ground took far beyond just checking people off on a list at the gate to ensure we could get American citizens, our Afghan partners and others out, and we will continue those efforts through other means. I just-
Jacqui Heinrich: (22:18)
I just want to put a pin in that report. Was the President in any way pushing a false narrative in that call with the Afghan President?
Jen Psaki: (22:26)
I think it’s pretty clear, again, I’m not going to go into details of a private conversation. But what we saw over the course of the last few months is a collapse in leadership and that was happening even before Ghani left the country. What the President has conveyed repeatedly, privately and publicly, is you need to stand up and lead your country. And that’s something he said at a press conference in July, in a public forum as well. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (22:50)
By my math, we’re just shy of 48 hours since the last-
Jen Psaki: (22:52)
Thank you for the math, it’s all running together.
Speaker 5: (22:55)
… military leaving Afghanistan. We’ve learned a lot more just in the last few hours about the nature of the cooperation we saw over the last two and a half weeks between the Taliban and the American forces on the ground. I wonder if you could speak to whether, since in the last 48 hours, there has been any continued form of interactions between the US and the Taliban? Obviously now much more in a diplomatic capacity.
Jen Psaki: (23:16)
Well, again, this would be an effort that would be overseen underneath the leadership of the Secretary of State and the State Department. It will be necessary to have some form of communication and coordination with the Taliban to continue to evacuate people from the country. They oversee Afghanistan, the majority of large swaths of the country.
Jen Psaki: (23:35)
I will note that we had prior conversations or methods of engagement even before the last couple of weeks. So, it’s obviously a different form at this point in time, that will continue, that’s part of what the President asked the Secretary of State and the State Department to pursue.
Speaker 5: (23:50)
And obviously the Chief of Staff said last night, “I don’t know if we will ever recognize their government as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.” You’ve talked a lot about the points of leverage that the US holds over the Taliban, is that one of the points of leverage-
Speaker 5: (24:03)
… that the U.S. holds over the Taliban. Is that one of the points of leverage recognized within the Taliban? Is that something that’s even under consideration?
Jen Psaki: (24:07)
There’s no rush to recognition from the United States or any country we have spoken with around the world. It will be very dependent on their behavior and whether they deliver on what the expectations are of the global community.
Speaker 5: (24:18)
And then quickly on abortion. We’ve seen in a number of states, Republican led states, an effort on voting rights, for instance, to pass similar legislation throughout the country on voting rights. What’s the level of concern at the White House that the decision on Texas specifically will lead to a similar wrath of laws across the country? And what is the recourse for the White House at a federal level to help prevent this?
Jen Psaki: (24:41)
The step that can be taken is for the codification of Roe, something the President and the Vice President have called for and would require Congress to act on. I will note that certainly we’ve seen, this is not the first threat to Roe we’ve seen in a state across the country. It’s an extreme threat. And again, I would just note this is offering up to $10,000 to individuals who report someone who is going to get an abortion. I mean, that is what we’re talking about here, and beyond that, as I’ve already outlined. So yes, of course, it’s of great concern and, of course, it’s of great concern because this is not the first time that there have been efforts by some in the country to prevent a woman from having the right to choose. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (25:21)
Quick follow-up on the discussion about leverage. Is there no concern here at the White House that China could actively try to undermine the U.S. leverage that it has with the Taliban and particularly providing the kind of access to the global marketplace you talked about yesterday?
Jen Psaki: (25:36)
Well, first I would say that China doesn’t have that capacity on their own and that there are more than 100 countries, a UN Security Council Resolution, China did abstain from but they didn’t vote against that calls on, presses the Taliban to allow for safe passage of people in the country and those who want to leave Afghanistan. So China is going to have to think about what role they want to be seen as in the world in this moment as well.
Speaker 6: (26:02)
Let me ask you this, the President said yesterday, “We are not done with ISIS-K.”
Jen Psaki: (26:06)
Speaker 6: (26:07)
Senator Kaine, before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, was talking about working toward a new superseding AUMF.
Jen Psaki: (26:14)
Speaker 6: (26:15)
Is this something that the White House is interested in working with him on so that ISIS-K is specifically mentioned in a Congressional authorization for the use of force?
Jen Psaki: (26:22)
We’ve said in the past that we’re interested in working with Senator Kaine on that, and that continues. I will note that in this case, ISIS-K attacked and killed 13 members of our armed forces. We have every right of self-defense to continue to go after ISIS-K, and the President has made clear that’s what he wants the military to continue to do.
Speaker 6: (26:39)
So future strikes on ISIS-K will be in the vein of self-defense?
Jen Psaki: (26:43)
Again, these are authorities that the military already has, but we also are open to and look forward to working with Senator Kaine and others in Congress who are looking to update the 20 year old AUMF. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (26:58)
Just two questions, Jen. There’s a bill in Congress called the Women’s Health Protection Act that would protect abortion access from state laws like the one in Texas. Does President Biden support that?
Jen Psaki: (27:08)
I’d have to look more closely at the specifics of the law. Obviously, codifying Roe, protecting a woman’s right to choose, is something the President’s committed to, but I don’t have the specifics of that bill.
Speaker 7: (27:20)
And then just secondly, has the President met with either Federal Chair Jerome Powell or Lael Brainard one-on-one in recent weeks?
Jen Psaki: (27:27)
I have no meetings to report to you or read out for you.
Speaker 8: (27:30)
Broad question about the Zelensky Meeting that’s underway. The events, demands, phone calls that led up to the 2019 impeachment, I’m just wondering, did they factor in any way into the way the White House prepared for this meeting, specifically the fact that Hunter Biden was a key part of those conversations with the last administration and Zelensky? And did President Biden expect in any way, shape, or form to address that dynamic in today’s meeting?
Jen Psaki: (27:52)
Jen, is the White House satisfied with OPEC’s decisions today to continue gradual increases in output? And can you give us a sense of what communication or contact the U.S. has had with OPEC members about that?
Jen Psaki: (28:09)
That’s a great question, Jeff, I will have to talk to Brian Deese and our economic team about our exact reaction, I want to get that right, and also whether we’re satisfied with the actions they announced. I will get that to you and anyone else interested after the briefing? Did you have another question?
I did, one on Zelensky.
Jen Psaki: (28:22)
President Zelensky said in the Oval Office today that he was eager to hear President Biden’s vision for the Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO. And he also said he’d like a timeframe for that. What is President Biden’s vision right now and does he have a timeframe?
Jen Psaki: (28:39)
Well, I think it’s important for people to understand, not you necessarily, but everyone out there that this is not a decision that the United States makes. We continue to support and we continue to call for ensuring that NATO’s door remains open to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations of membership and contribute to security in the Euro Atlantic area. This is NATO membership and we reaffirmed and our allies are reaffirmed in the June 2021 NATO Summit Communique that we support Ukraine’s right to decide its own future foreign policy course free from outside interference, including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO. There are steps that Ukraine needs to take. They’re very familiar with these efforts to advance rule of law reforms, modernize its defense sector, and expand economic growth. Those are steps that aspirant countries like Ukraine need to take in order to meet NATO standards for memberships, and we certainly support their efforts to continue to do that. Go ahead.
Speaker 9: (29:39)
Today was the first day [inaudible 00:29:41] blending together at this point that the President did not have a meeting in the Situation Room with his National Security Team. I know there’s stuff not on the public schedule, but does the President view this moment as a time where he can shift at least some of his focus to the myriad of other issues that are on his plate that he wants to focus on or has wanted to focus on before the withdrawal became such a huge issue?
Jen Psaki: (30:01)
Well, he did receive a PDB this morning as is, of course, standard for most Presidents and those will certainly continue. Look, I think the President knows that his responsibilities and the multiple crises he will continue to have to face as President are part of his job description and if there is a meeting warranted in the Situation Room with his military leaders, National Security Team about Afghanistan or any other issue, of course, he’s going to be there for that. But he also knows that part of his commitment to the American people is getting the pandemic under control, is addressing the hurricane and making sure that people in Louisiana and Mississippi and other states in the Gulf Coast know he’s doing absolutely everything in his power to make sure they have power. I didn’t even mean to say it like that. And so he knows that he has to do multiple things as President in order to govern the country.
Jen Psaki: (30:54)
So yes, of course, he will continue to work with his National Security Team on a range of issues, whether it’s follow- ups, diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan, or, of course, he’s right now having a meeting with the leadership of Ukraine. But he also knows he has a commitment to address a range of issues to the public and he’ll continue to do that.
Speaker 9: (31:13)
And just one more quick one. One of your colleagues over at the State Department briefed reporters earlier today saying that, anecdotally, they thought a majority of folks in the SIV pipeline did not get out. I’m not minimizing the 100,000 plus Afghans that did get out, but is there any particular specific frustration given the President’s commitment to those who helped American personnel on the ground and the majority were not able to get out of the country?
Jen Psaki: (31:35)
Well, first, I would say that of the numbers, and I know Ed asked a question of this and you all of us have been asking understandable questions about the breakdown of numbers of people coming out, and that is information we hope to have for you very soon, but 77% of the people who were evacuated were Afghans at risk, SIV applicants, P1, P2 applicants. Obviously, there’s a range of programs and the different names of them mean virtually nothing to most people in the American public, but that is a number that stuck out to me from the largest airlift in U.S. history. Are there more people who want to leave Afghanistan? Absolutely. Are there more people who will be eligible for our programs? Absolutely, and that’s why we are so focused on the diplomatic efforts that are being led by the State Department, including a presence in Doha, including efforts to engage with the Taliban, including efforts to work with the international community to make clear what we expect. What is also true is that every person who wants to leave Afghanistan and come to the United States is not going to be able to do that. And that is a sad truth, but it is something that is important for people to also understand. But I will say, we still want freedom of evacuation and movement for people who want to depart. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (32:50)
Thanks, Jen. As FEMA continues to roll out aide in the Southeast and we just look at the historic nature of Hurricane Ida, is the administration working at all looking at ways to proactively identify people who may be eligible for disaster assistance just given the process of applying how [inaudible 00:33:08] it may be for someone going through these circumstances?
Jen Psaki: (33:10)
What we’re trying to do is make it as easy as humanly possible, providing phone numbers, providing websites. As I noted, there are about 31,000 people who have already received checks from one of these programs. So what we have done, and I’ve been giving quite extensive toppers on this each day to make sure you have all the information you need, is we set up quite a bit of preemptive resources in the region. I know you’re asking about economic assistance and obviously we’ve worked to get that out the door as quickly as we can, but also to set up generators, food, water, FEMA resources, using all of the resources of government even before the storm hit. That is something that we tried to do to reduce the impact, save lives, make sure we’re helping people as quickly as possible.
Speaker 10: (34:01)
And then just given President Biden’s trip on Friday, around 90% is New Orleans is still basically without power, what proportions are you all taking to make sure that his trip to the city is not going to take away from relief efforts?
Jen Psaki: (34:13)
First of all, absolutely would not go if it would take away from relief efforts, and this is a trip that is being planned in close coordination with leaders on the ground to ensure it’s the right time to go. But we are not going to go to any part of the state or visit any community where we would take away from relief and restoration efforts. I’d also note, as I said at the beginning of this briefing, the President also spoke with the CEOs of the largest energy companies in the Gulf Coast yesterday and committed the full weight of the federal government. We know, he knows, how important it is for people to get power back on that has air conditioning at a time where it’s 90 degrees. That is people being able to be in their homes. Maybe they’re in hotel rooms right now and they can go back. There’s a range of reasons why, of course, turning the power back on is vital to the people of the state. We’ve seen some success in Mississippi, but he is pressing on that with every lever of the federal government. Go ahead.
Speaker 11: (35:08)
A quick question on the rebuilding of the Gulf and also the [inaudible 00:35:13] Infrastructure Bill. Steel prices have doubled in the United States in the last six months. Is the administration ready to remove tariffs on steel that bring down the cost for the rebuilding efforts?
Jen Psaki: (35:24)
I know there’s obviously an ongoing review of a range of tariffs. I have nothing to report on that at this point in time. We’re right now in the stage of recovery. There will be an extensive rebuilding stage and we will continue to look for a range of ways we can provide resources from the federal government to play a role on that. But I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time.
Speaker 11: (35:44)
And speaking of the tariff review, when can we expect the results of the China tariff review? Are you worried about customers paying higher prices for imported products at a time when the supply chains are [inaudible 00:35:53] around the world?
Jen Psaki: (35:54)
Well, as you know, we have a very aggressive and ambitious supply chain effort to address challenges we’re seeing in the supply chains. We also were impacted-
Jen Psaki: (36:03)
… the challenges we’re seeing in the supply chains, we also were impacted or supply chains around the world were impacted a great deal by Delta. And we’re working in part to address and help many countries recover from COVID so that we can get supply chains up and running. But I don’t have any timeline for you on when that review will be completed. I will note that we look at our relationship with China and all the components through a comprehensive package. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (36:26)
Thank you. One on Ukraine and one on abortion. On Ukraine, when the president was in Brussels, he was asked about Ukraine getting into the NATO Membership Action Plan. And at the time he said, “School’s out on that question.” I know the meeting’s ongoing, but was that expected to come up in the meeting, and is the president’s position still the same?
Jen Psaki: (36:43)
Again, as I noted a little bit earlier, there specific steps the Ukrainians need to take in order to meet the requirements of NATO membership. We support the efforts of the Ukrainian leadership to work exactly toward that. And we support the efforts of any aspirin who wants to join NATO, who is working to meet those objectives. Certainly, we expect, and I think they’ve said publicly, they were planning to raise it. We’ll see, but that has not changed.
Speaker 12: (37:11)
On abortion, some activists today noted that the statement you put out on behalf of the president did not offer any specific agenda of what’s next or again, specifically how the administration plans to push back against the Texas law. So I just wanted to give you a chance, if there are any specifics or internal planning to share there now.
Jen Psaki: (37:30)
Well, as the president committed on the campaign trail and remains committed to now, codifying Roe V. Wade as the law of the land is something that Congress can do. He will continue to push them to do. And that is a specific course of action that can be taken to help protect from these types of lawsuits in the future.
Speaker 12: (37:47)
Is there anything else beyond that?
Jen Psaki: (37:48)
I can’t speak to any actions of the Department of Justice. They’re independent. I don’t have anything to preview on that front. Go ahead.
Speaker 13: (37:55)
Has the administration explored whether to grant Afghans living United States, including refugees, temporary protected status.
Jen Psaki: (38:02)
TPS status? Well, many of them are here because they were eligible for SIV programs or eligible for refugee programs or a range of programs that were in existence specific to Afghanistan. So I don’t have anything to preview on that front, or I’m not aware of a consideration of that. Go ahead.
Speaker 14: (38:20)
Thank you. President Biden will be 79 years old on November 20th. During the campaign, there was talking about how old he is and how he would not be able to survive at the White House, especially in time of crisis. But we’ve seen him during this crisis, the COVID crisis, the hurricane crisis, the Afghanistan crisis. Do you think that those who called him sleepy Joe should apologize to him?
Jen Psaki: (38:48)
I don’t think we’re looking for an apology. I think we’re looking for allowing the president to continue to address multiple crises at a time, which is exactly what he’s been doing over the past few weeks. Go ahead.
Speaker 14: (38:58)
I have a second question.
Jen Psaki: (38:59)
I think we got to keep going here.
Speaker 15: (39:01)
To come back to Texas again, so on one of those specifics, advocates are calling for the administration to lift restrictions on the abortion pill as more states, as was mentioned, are expected to follow Texas’ lead. Is the administration going to do that?
Jen Psaki: (39:16)
I think that’s a decision that would be made by FDA, no? So that would be a decision made by FDA.
Speaker 15: (39:21)
So that’s still working through the process?
Jen Psaki: (39:25)
FDA is an agency that makes their own decisions.
Speaker 15: (39:27)
Jen Psaki: (39:28)
Oh go ahead.
Speaker 15: (39:28)
Also, this has prompted many Democrats to look back at whether the Supreme Court should be reshaped. Has the president’s position changed on that, on expanding the Court?
Jen Psaki: (39:40)
As you know, there’s an ongoing Court reform committee that has been meeting. It’s a diverse group. They’re considering a range of issues and topics, including what the future of the Court looks like. I think the president will wait for that process to complete before making any evaluations. Go ahead, Karen.
And to follow some of these, are steps that the administration is taking right now to work with Congress, to advance legislation. You’re saying the president will continue to call for the codification of Roe, but is there something that this White House is actually doing right now on the Hill?
Jen Psaki: (40:10)
Well, it requires members of Congress themselves to voting to codify, right? But of course, in the range of conversations we have from senior leaders in the White House, there’s no question that this is a topic and will be a topic given the ruling or given the news this morning and these conversations with members and their staff.
On COVID vaccine rates, the White House COVID team has been touting some pretty good numbers on vaccination rates. Jeff Zients said the other day that there were 4 million more shots in August compared to July, more first shots. What does the White House think is driving that right now? And is there something specific that the federal government is doing to see that difference from July to August?
Jen Psaki: (40:47)
There’s a bunch of different data. And some of it is in your polling, frankly, from some of your news organizations. So I can’t break it down for you, but what we’ve seen consistently as the three factors are mandates that have been put in place by companies, private sector institutions, and others. Fear of Delta, which is understandable. People are seeing horrifying stories on local news, on national news, of young people, in some cases, children being hospitalized. And that is scaring people, which we hate for that to be the scenario. But that has certainly, we believe, prompted more people to get vaccinated. It is also possible that the FDA final approval has prompted more people to get vaccinated, but I don’t have an exact breakdown. But certainly, we’ve seen those as the three biggest factors recently. Go ahead in the middle.
Speaker 16: (41:38)
Thanks, Jen. How does the manner in which the evacuation was managed affect our relationship with the EU, considering some of the concerns on the pullout weren’t listened to and the US hasn’t removed certain sanctions added under the Trump administration? That’s my first question.
Jen Psaki: (41:52)
I’m not sure I totally understand your question. The last part was which sanctions?
Speaker 16: (41:56)
That the US hasn’t removed certain sanctions that were added under the Trump administration.
Jen Psaki: (42:00)
On the Taliban or under who?
Speaker 16: (42:01)
Well in Iran, like sanctions on Iran. That was an issue within the EU. So some of those sanctions-
Jen Psaki: (42:08)
Are you asking about Afghanistan or something else?
Speaker 16: (42:10)
I’m asking you about, how does the manner in which the evacuation was managed, how does that affect our relationship with EU? And then there was just some other concerns as well?
Jen Psaki: (42:20)
Well, I would say first, that one of the big groups we helped evacuate were some of the staff and partners from our allied countries and many of them in Europe over the course of the last two weeks. That was done by the US military in coordination with many of these countries. Two, we just got a UN security council resolution passed in coordination with a number of these countries, to make clear to the Taliban what our expectations are. Three, these are many of the countries that worked with us to help build a list of 100 countries, more than half the countries in the world, making clear we are united in what we expect from the Taliban. So I would say that is evidence of us working closely together.
Speaker 16: (43:02)
Also, what are we to make of the fact that as soon as we pull out, you see Republicans discussing adding $25 billion to the Defense Authorization Act, but here, unemployment expires on Labor Day, forbearance on student loan is about to expire? And we’re always talking about how we don’t have money for human infrastructure, but we see this being put forward.
Jen Psaki: (43:21)
You’re absolutely right. I mean, I would say first, it was not the number one factor, but it did strike the president that we had been spending on average $300 million a day in Afghanistan. $300 million a day. We don’t think that’s something that most people in the public are tracking, but it’s a war we fought for 20 years, spending $300 million a day. I’ll let you all do the math on that. So that is certainly a concern. And certainly, as you noted, there are a range of areas domestically, internationally too, where we feel that money could be better spent. Go ahead.
Speaker 17: (43:52)
Two foreign questions for you. First of all, on these muster points that were used in Kabul to evacuate people, were those used only for American citizens and permanent residents, or were they available to SIVs and vulnerable Afghans? And also, did the Taliban given assurances or assist in guaranteeing those people’s safe passage? And did they make any stipulations about who could be evacuated under that specific-
Jen Psaki: (44:13)
Well, first, yes, we did use meeting at locations to get others evacuated as well. I’ll let the State Department and Defense Department go into any further details should they choose to. I would also note that, while that was the way that a great number of American citizens were evacuated. There were also numbers who came of course, through the gates, including Afghans and vulnerable Afghans, who also came through the gates of the airport, especially in the earlier days of the evacuation. And clearly, as I noted, of the more than 120,000 people who were evacuated, 77% of them were people at risk.
Jen Psaki: (44:50)
And maybe that was the number of people coming to the United… I got to check on that number. But that makes clear that the Taliban, yes, they did allow more than 120,000 people, including the vast majority of them vulnerable Afghans, to get through. Whether we met them at a checkpoint, whether we got them through the gates, that is true. That does not mean we think the Taliban are good actors. We don’t, but we needed to work with them in coordination to get this done. And as a result, it was the largest airlift in US history.
Speaker 17: (45:17)
On Russia and Saudi Arabia, just quickly on these reports that they’ve inked some military deals. Has the administration reached out to Saudi about what appears to be Riyadh’s concern that they can no longer rely on Washington?
Jen Psaki: (45:30)
We are in touch with a range of partners, including leaders in Saudi Arabia. I’d point you to the State Department for any updated conversations with them.
Speaker 18: (45:36)
Jen Psaki: (45:37)
Okay. Thank you, everyone. Have a good day. We’ll see you tomorrow.
Speaker 19: (45:40)
What about Americans left behind in Afghanistan, Jen? The president said, “The buck stopped with him.” Do you care to elaborate on that? What does the president plan to do to get Americans back home?
Jen Psaki: (45:49)
He also said yesterday he’s getting them home and we’re going to do exactly that.
Speaker 19: (45:51)
Thank you, Jen.