Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, October 4, 2021

 MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Okay.  Happy Monday.  Two items for all of you at the top.

We’re seeing strong movement and early action toward vaccine requirements across industries and, importantly, in the airlines industry.

United Airlines was notably first to institute a requirement and, within 53 days, were able to get to over 99 percent of its staff vaccinated.

Over the weekend, we saw JetBlue, Alaska, and American Airlines step up and move forward with their own requirements.

These actions are notable, as they represent a significant share of our country’s air travel.  We know these requirements work.  And by acting now, these airlines will ensure smooth implementation and grea- — create workplaces that are safer from COVID-19. 

Also, I wanted to note a USDA — Department of Agriculture — announcement today.  Secretary Vilsack spoke about our efforts to address competition just a few weeks ago in the briefing room, and talked about how the pandemic revealed vulnerabilities in our food system, including consolidation in processing capacity that created supply bottlenecks and led to a drop in effective plant and slaughter capacity, leading to — the shorthand of that — an increase in prices as people go to the grocery store and try to buy meat and other products to feed their families.

We also know farmers and ranchers are losing money when they sell their livestock to the processing plant and consumers are paying more.  It’s the meat processors in the middle that are making up the difference.

We need more competition — something he noted then — and we can do that by helping small- and mid-sized farmers and small- and mid-sized processors, because the more processing capacity we have, the more competition there is for farmers, the better price we’ll get — the better price they will get, and consumers will get fairer prices too.

That’s why, today, the Department of Agriculture is announcing the new Food Supply Chain Loan Guarantee Program, using $100 million in American Rescue Plan funds to leverage hundreds of millions more in loan guarantees to expand capacity for meat and poultry processing and address bottlenecks in the food supply chain more broadly.

This is a meaningful step forward, and today’s announcement adds a new commitment to the $500 million previously announced to support meat and poultry processing capacity under the Build Back Better initiative.

Aamer, welcome back, I guess.  I haven’t seen you in a while.  I don’t know; you have a rotation.  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)

Q    Thank you for the welcome.  Senator Manchin has said that he wants to see a Hyde Amendment included in the reconciliation bill.  Congresswoman Jayapal and others are opposed to that.  Where does the President stand on inclusion of the Hyde Amendment in the reconciliation bill?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to negotiate the package from here, but, as you know, the President opposes the Hyde Amendment.  That has not changed.

Q    Okay.  On the Pandora Papers, I was wondering if — it’s a lot to absorb, but the main, underlining issue seems to be that sheltering of assets of the world’s rich, powerful, and sometimes notorious actors that are getting promising levels of protection and secrecy that now rival or surpass what was seen overseas, now in the United States.

What, if anything, does this administration want to do about addressing this matter?  Should states be allowed to continue to set, sort of, these financial regulations that make some states — including Delaware and some other states — particularly attractive for these trusts?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, broadly speaking, the President is committed to bringing additional transparency to the United States — the U.S. and international financial systems.  And you can see that in policies he’s proposed and supported over the course of his presidency and even prior to that. 

In June, he issued a memorandum establishing fighting corruption as a core national security — a core national security interest.  And through work responsive to this memorandum, the government — we have elevated efforts to curb illicit and opaque financial transactions at home and abroad, including by reducing offshore financial secrecy, robustly implementing federal law requiring U.S. companies to report their beneficial owner to the Department of Treasury, and, as necessary, identifying the need for new reforms.

He’s also pledged to work with partners and allies to address issues such as the abuse of shell companies and money laundering through real estate transactions — something that we’ve certainly seen and was a part of this reporting.

And I’d also note that, last year, Congress came together in a bipartisan fashion to direct the Treasury Department to develop a beneficial ownership database that will meaningfully increase transparency and accountability. 

I would also — last thing I would say, and then you may have follow-ups, is: You know, if you look at the President’s proposals in the Build Back Better agenda, he has been clear he wants to make the tax system more fair, wants to crack down on people who are not paying their fair share — whether they are businesses or whether they are individuals.  That has been central to his policies, his proposals, and central to what he’s fighting for in Congress right now. 

Q    If I could (inaudible) just one other thing outside of Pandora: OPEC said today that it’ll add only 400,000 barrels per day to production in November.  Is current price level an obstacle for recovery?  And should OPEC be pumping more?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the United States is not a member of OPEC, as you know.  While we — we do communicate with our international partners who are members of OPEC and convey, as we did a few months ago, our urging to find a compromise solution to allow post-production increases to move forward, as they did several months ago. 

I would note, as it relates to gas prices here: Gas — one, what we’re seeing in some parts of the country is that gasoline price is naturally ticking up, in part in the wake of Hurricane Ida because the hurricane hit a region that is a key center of the nation’s oil production and in refining infrastructure.  And we’ve been working around the clock with the state and local governments for the last month to, of course, restore electricity and also help facilities get back online for production to ensure that did not have an impact on oil prices and gasoline here.

And the Department of Energy also authorized several million barrels of Strategic Petroleum Reserve exchanges through that period of time.

We also announced a couple of recent steps.

So the point is here: While we’re not a member of OPEC, we’re also taking a number of steps — and have been — to plan for, protect against rising prices here within the purview of what we have.

And the Department of Transportation extended an amended — an emergency declaration offering temporary flexibility to how many hours a truck driver can drive.  They applied nationally to goods that support COVID-19 response as well as gasoline and other types of fuel building materials, et cetera, in an effort to ensure this was not having an impact. 

And the last thing I would note is that, back in August, NEC Director Brian Deese also sent a letter to the FTC Director, Lina Khan, asking the FTC to use all of its available tools to monitor the gasoline market and take action as needed.  She responded to that and said she would look into it.

So, we’re going to continue to use every tool at our disposal, even as we’re not a member of OPEC, to ensure we can keep gas prices down for the American public.

Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Was there any concrete movement or progress in the negotiations with Senators Manchin and Sinema this weekend?  And if so, can you tell us a little bit more about it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can tell you that the President is going to have a virtual meeting with a number of progressive House members later this afternoon in order to have a discussion about the path forward, which includes the recognition that this package is going to be smaller than originally proposed.  And what he wants to hear from them is what their priorities are, what their bottom lines are so he can play a constructive role in moving things forward. 

I would expect that, later this week, he’ll have probably another virtual meeting with members who might consider themselves more moderate, or however you want to define them.  They’re all out of session this week as you know, so, hence, that’s why the meetings are virtual.

We have been in touch or we’ve stayed in touch with staff and a range of members over the course of the weekend as we work to continue to make progress, but I don’t have any additional updates from Senator Manchin or Senator Sinema at this point.

Q    And how long do you plan to give those negotiations with Manchin and Sinema?  Is there a deadline?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that our objective is getting this done and delivering for the American people, and we’re going to continue pressing forward until we get it done. 

So, yes, it requires Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin moving forward and supporting a path forward.  It also requires agreements on what a package would look like.  So, the President is going to continue to work with a range of members from across the Democratic Caucus.

Q    And then, just on one other topic.  I’m assuming you saw what the Facebook whistleblower had to say last night.  Do these revelations change the way the White House thinks about regulating Facebook and other social media giants?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as we saw — the revelations that came out in that interview — in our view, this is just the latest in a series of revelations about social media platforms that make clear that self-regulation is not working.  That’s long been the President’s view and been the view of this administration.  They validate the significant concern that the President and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed about how social media giants operate and the power they’ve amassed.

Reports in recent weeks — and I think, obviously, the whistleblower was — came forward last night in the report, but — about efforts to attract young users and negative effects on teenagers’ mental health are certainly troubling.  They’re hardly isolated incidents.

And so, our effort is going to be: Continue to support fundamental reforms, efforts to address these issues.  Obviously, that would be up to the purview of Congress, but certainly we view these as continuing in a series of revelations about the power of these platforms. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Senator Sanders said pretty clearly this weekend, quote, “We’ve got the President of the United States on our side.”  Is that how President Biden views it, that he’s on the side of the progressives in this fight right now?

MS. PSAKI:  He’s on the side of the American people, and he is going to continue to press forward with both the infrastructure package and the reconciliation package.  And that’s what the discussions with members of Congress is foc- –are focused on.

Q    Does he see Senators Sinema and Manchin as the roadblocks, as the obstacles right now? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as he stated earlier today, he knows that — and you all know — that the majority of members are — support moving forward with a bold and ambitious agenda that is going to fundamentally make us more competitive in the world; help compete with China; rebuild our roads, rails, and bridges; give the American people more breathing room.  And we know that, fundamentally, we need two more votes in the Senate.

Q    And circling back to one thing he did say on the debt ceiling — that he can’t guarantee that the U.S. won’t reach this debt ceiling: Given the dire economic consequences that have been laid out if indeed the U.S. defaults, can you elaborate on what he was saying in terms of what the American people should be preparing for as the worst-case scenario?  Does he see this as potentially inevitable where we are today? 

MS. PSAKI:  No.  He also said in the same set of remarks that he — or in comments — that he couldn’t imagine it going to that point, because Congress has raised the debt limit 80 times; they’ve done it in a bipartisan fashion. 

And it is imperative that we move forward, given the impact this could have on the American people, whether it is people’s bank accounts, their Social Security accounts, their economic security — there is a great deal — retirement savings, salaries for service members.  There’s a great deal that is at risk for Americans who are going to be waiting at home, watching how this might impact them.

Now, the moment we’re in, as the President talked about earlier today, is: Despite the fact that under the last administration, nearly $8 trillion in bills was compiled — I think I have a little chart here just to give you a little visual — almost $8 trillion during the Trump administration, $676 billion during the Biden administration. 

So what Senator McConnell is refusing to do is to pay the debts of what were rung up under his leadership when he was in the Senate — still continues to be, of course — and when Trump was President.  The debt limit is about paying for bills we have already spent.  It is not about — it is not about initiatives that we’re talking about and debating now.

And this tells you exactly where that — those costs came from.

Go ahead.

Q    The President said this morning that he intended to speak with Senator McConnell.  Have they had that conversation yet?  And will it be face-to-face or over the phone?  Or —

MS. PSAKI:  I think what the President was conveying is that he’s, of course, open to speaking to Senator McConnell.  That’s the role — or should be the role of any President: to work to address what could be an economic catastrophe for the American public.

They have not talked yet.  I don’t know when it will be scheduled.

But what is clear is this is not a negotiation.  We know what needs to happen here.  What is happening in the Senate right now is Senate Democrats have proposed that they would — they would do all the votes to raise the debt limit.  We are — we are — they are happy to be the adults in the room.  They’re not even asking Republicans to vote for it at this point.  We know they’re unwilling to be the adults in the room.  They are un- — they are blocking the effort for — by Democrats to raise the debt limit themselves.

So, it’s pretty clear what needs to happen.  That is the fastest, the simplest, the cleanest, the least risky way to get this done.  And certainly, that’s what the President would convey if and when they speak.

Q    Obviously, the President has known Senator McConnell for a long time.  He said they’ve “been down this road” before — I think this morning.  He also knows that he’s not someone who generally changes his mind or bows to pressure like this.  So, if Republicans do not give on this, what is the President’s recommendation to Senator Schumer, as the clock is quickly ticking toward that deadline?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, when we’re — when we keep ticking, we’ll keep having a discussion about that.  Obviously, the Democrats have expressed a willingness, an openness, and a desire to get this done, unlike the Republicans in the Senate, despite the fact that $2 trillion of that $8 trillion was for tax cuts for the wealthiest, which were unpaid for.  And the rest of it, they supported — most of them supported across the board. 

The President, as you heard him say, wasn’t ruling out options this morning as it relates to legislative paths forward.  But what is very clear here is that the cleanest, easiest, fastest way to get this done is by the Republicans allowing Democrats to move forward with a vote.  They can do that tomorrow, and we can reduce the uncertainty for the American people.

Q    So he’s not ruling out reconciliation, just to be clear?  The President is not —

MS. PSAKI:  He is not ruling out.  But let’s be clear about what — that process.  That is a long procedural process, potentially —

Q    Right.  And the clock is ticking.  That’s why I was asking. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, right.  But this is an important point because it’s a long procedural process.  It allows for the Republicans to do unlimited — unlimited amendments that could be about any topic that may or may not have anything to do with the debt ceiling.  Why are we going to play around with the security and the economic security of the American people, and the security and the full faith and credit of the United States?  That’s the President’s point he was making this morning. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  First, does the President agree with Dr. Fauci that it’s “too soon to tell” if people are going to be able to gather for Christmas?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President relies on CDC guidelines, and they have not changed their guidelines about who can gather together — those who are vaccinated.  But we leave it to them if they need to change their guidelines based on where the pandemic sits. 

Q    Thank you.  Following up on something that you just said: You said that the President is going to have a virtual meeting with House progressives to talk about how this Build Back Better package is now going to be smaller than $3.5 trillion.  But you have been saying that it costs zero.  So, are you now admitting that the plan does not cost zero?  Or is it less than zero?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let’s — let’s not dumb this down for the American public here.  What we’re talking about is how much the topline investments are, which are all paid for, so therefore, it costs zero.  No matter what the cost or size of the topline investments are, we have ways to pay for it. 

So, the point is — that’s important to the American public, all of your viewers too — is that this is not going to cost the American public a dollar.  This is going to — we are going to pay for this by asking corporations, the highest incomes — so, people under $400,000, I should say — corporations, highest income to cover the cost of these necessary investments.

Q    So just to not dumb it down then, does the plan cost nothing, or is the plan free?

MS. PSAKI:  The plan costs nothing for the American people who make less than $400,000.  If you think that —

Q    Not free?

MS. PSAKI:  — that companies that paid zero in taxes last year — 50 of the top companies — should continue to pay zero in taxes, we’re happy to have that debate.

Q    And then just one more, Jen.  Thank you.  A group of activists followed Senator Kyrsten Sinema into a ladies’ room screaming about the Build Back Better plan yesterday.  The President said today, “I don’t think they’re appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody” and “it’s part of the process.”  He is an expert on the process.  Has he ever been chased into a restroom by activists?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me be clear here, because I think the context of what happened here is very important.  And Senator Sinema put out a statement this morning.  So, as she said, and I would reiterate from here, the protection of the freedom to protest, to speak out, and to criticize is fundamental to our democracy.  The President believes that.  Maybe he shorthanded it, but he wanted to make that clear this morning. 

What happened this weekend was that her classroom, her students, and the safe and intellectually stimulating environment she’s worked to create during the years of teaching at ASU was breached.  That’s inappropriate and unacceptable. 

And I think the context of what happened here is important, despite the fact that, of course, we stand for and the President stands for the fundamental right of people to protest, to object, to criticize, as they often do outside of the gates of the White House.

Q    So does the White House condemn these protesters who chased her into the restroom?

MS. PSAKI:  I just said it was inappropriate and unacceptable.  I think that pretty much —

Q    Well, will you ask them not to do that again?

MS. PSAKI:  I think that’s pretty clear that they shouldn’t — they shouldn’t breach the classroom and make the students feel like their privacy, their intellectually stimulating classroom, and their time as students in college is being broached upon.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, I have a follow-up to Peter’s question. 

Q    China — China —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 

Q    Can I have a follow-up? 

Q    — again sent airplanes —

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll come to you next, Emerald. 

Q    China again sent warplanes flying over Taiwan.  What is the White House’s interpretation of what China is doing?  And what can be done to kind of ratchet down those tensions?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we remain concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing risk miscalculations and undermines regional peace and stability. 

We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.  And we have an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.  That’s why we’ll continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability. 

We maintain our commitments, as outlined in the Three Communiqués, Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances. 

Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region. 

We have been clear privately and publicly about our concern about the PRC’s pressure and coisci- — coercion toward Taiwan, and we will continue to watch the situation very closely.

Q    Is the White House monitoring the oil spill in California?  And are you guys engaged on that?  And kind of, what are you taking away from it, moving forward? 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  We are certainly monitoring the oil spill, and we’re very engaged in it.  We’re working collaboratively with state and local partners to address efforts to find the leak, contain the spill, and assess impact and address potential causes.  The response is currently a 24/7 operation, and response efforts are scheduled to continue until federal and state officials determine that the response to the crude oil spill is complete. 

All available actions are being taken to ensure the safety of the public and response personnel, to control the source and recover spilled materials, to maximize the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and minimize impact to maritime commerce.

So, early on Sunday, a unified command was established between Amplify Energy, the operator of the Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as the cities of Long Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

We have — the federal government has, so far, conduct- — 14 boats have been conducting oil recovery operations since Sunday afternoon; 4 aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments; shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel; and approximately 3,150 gallons of oil have been recovered from the water; and 5,360 feet of boom has been deployed.

So, we are very engaged in the effort that is 24/7 at this point in time.

Q    Next question.  White House economic advisers predicted there would be short-term inflation, but now we’re seeing more reports that this is, you know, becoming more long term, maybe well into next year.  Did the White House misjudge the situation?  And what is the White House doing to maybe manage these new expectations?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the Federal Reserve and the OECD continue to project that inflation will come down in the next year.  And we look to those projections; obviously, it’s under the purview, specifically, of the Federal Reserve.

I would say, over the long term, what we’re working to do is get our Build Back agenda — Build Back Better agenda passed — something that outside economists, Nobel laureates have said would address inflation over the long term, reduce costs.  And that is — that’s one of the reasons it’s a huge priority for the President.

Emerald, I promised I’d go to you next.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I appreciate it.  First, following up on Jeff’s question regarding China and Taiwan: China has grown increasingly aggressive under this administration, and then now we’re set to start trade talks back with them.  There was concern when President Biden took office about his son’s business dealings with China.  He was supposed to divest himself of his stake in a Chinese private equity firm in December with ties to the Chinese central bank.  As of April, he had not yet done that.  And at some point, you were going to get back to us on that.  Do you have an update on that?  Has he dissolved that interest now?

MS. PSAKI:  I’d point you to his representatives on that.  He doesn’t work in the administration.  I would say though, Emerald, that — and I think you’re referring today to the announcement — this speech by Ambassador Tai about phase one.  And what I think it’s important to note here is that this approach definitely differs from the approach of the prior administration, in our view. 

Their approach hurts select sectors of the American economy and wasn’t targeted to address strategic problems we have.  These initial steps will help — we’re taking — are going to realign our trade policies towards — from the PRC toward our priorities.  And that’s the objective of this President.  It’s just the first stage in this process.  Obviously, the Ambassador gave an extensive speech today.

Q    But as we enter into this, though, the President has said during the campaign that none of his family will have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country.  Wouldn’t it be assuring to the American people, as we head into this, if they just let the American people know if Hunter has divulged himself of that to make sure there’s no (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I conveyed to you — and then I think I’m going to have to move on — that you should talk to —

Q    No, there’s — I have one more on Peter —

MS. PSAKI:  — that you should talk to his representatives.  And —

Q    Okay, I will.

MS. PSAKI:  There’s no reason to yell.  I’m certainly not yelling.  You should talk to his representatives.  That remains his policy.  He’s been working to wind that down.  Beyond that, I would talk to his representatives.

Q    I just have one more follow-up on what Peter asked regarding Dr. Fauci.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    Dr. Fauci has indicated that in the time of COVID, people should be willing to give up personal choice or personal civil liberties for the greater good.  We’re also seeing very disturbing images out of Australia. 

So, first off, I want to know, does the President agree with that statement by Dr. Fauci?  And then, secondly, does President Biden support what the Australian government is doing in their country?  And would he consider similar measures in the United States if case count goes up — continues to go up over the winter?

MS. PSAKI:  The President has been pursuing our own policies here in the United States, which has led to nearly 80 percent of the American public getting at least one shot and bringing the cases of COVID down dramatically over the past several months.  So, we’ll continue to abide by and conduct our own policies.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The President acknowledged that the topline spending number in the reconciliation bill is going to have to be less than he envisioned.  Has he started thinking, considering what, for him, would be a priority to keep in the bill versus not?  And is he talking about that or sharing that view in these conversations that you’re talking about with moderates and liberal lawmakers on the Hill?  Is he sharing what he thinks ought to stay versus what can maybe go?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a conversation.  But the President’s red lines continue to be that he will not raise taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 a year and that he wants to give the middle class in this country some breathing room.

But what he wants to do is have a conversation, hear from everybody on what their toplines are and what their priorities are.  These were his initial proposals, right?  So, really, this is a conversation to move the ball forward, and that’s part of the conversation he’ll have with progressive members and other members later this week.

Q    And can you talk a little bit about tomorrow’s trip to Michigan and why he decided to do that —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — and what he hopes to accomplish there?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  So, tomorrow, he will be traveling to Michigan, as you all know.  It’s a state that would benefit greatly from both the bipartisan infrastructure package and the Build Back Better agenda.

Just to give you a couple of examples: Michiganders — I confirmed that is actually what people from Michigan call themselves, with Chris over here — spend an extra 67 percent of their time commuting because of the need for updating infrastructure.  I mean, this is something that impacts people across the state every single day.

Almost 10 percent of people in Michigan don’t have broadband access.  That is really something that will help level the playing field for people, whether they’re in urban or rural communities.  Forty-four percent of people in Michigan live in childcare deserts. 

These are all issues that are addressed by both of these packages.  There’s more details, and we’re happy to provide more to you as we lead into tomorrow.  But this is a state that could benefit greatly from the President’s bold and ambitious agenda.  He wants to go out there and talk about the components and the pieces of these bills that will make people’s lives better, even as we’re having very important conversations about the legislative logistics here.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you so much, Jen.  Thank you.  For international visitors —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — the administration is looking at the CDC to guide which vaccines will be accepted.  Right now, the CDC says it considers “fully vaccinated” those who got Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, of course, but it also says that guidance can be applied to vaccines that have been listed by the World Health Organization.  Will there be any change to this guidance?  And — for example, the Russian vaccine, who is not in the WHO, will it be accepted?

MS. PSAKI:  I would point to the CDC.  As you know, we’re going to have an update on our international travel guidelines as we get closer to November.  Early November remains the timeline that we’re focused on, but I will leave it to our health experts to outline more specifics.

Q    A follow-up on that.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Sorry.  Thank you.  After — so, after a couple of weeks ago, the last update on those guidelines, Canadians can fly, for instance, from Vancouver to Seattle but can’t drive across the border for a nonessential trip.  Now, that’s had a big impact on border communities all across the country, especially like Point Roberts, Washington, just — which can only be accessed by land through Canada.

Governor Inslee, Senator Murray, Congressman DelBene have asked the administration to either change that policy or at least explain it, and haven’t heard anything.  Can you tell us anything about the reason for that difference?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, it’s determined by our public health officials.  And our objective, of course, is to return to overland travel, just like we’re working toward returning to international travel.  But we leave it to them to make that determination.

Go ahead.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything more on this. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks.  I wanted to go back to — you and the President earlier said that reconciliation was a risky way to get the debt ceiling through.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    And I know that you’ve said that there’s potentially votes that could happen.  But the parliamentarian has said that it’s not going to impact your other reconciliation bill in any way.  And Democrats control the Senate, so therefore you have the majority to knock down any amendment that Republicans would offer. 

So, while I totally take the point that it would be cleaner if there was just a vote on the bill, I’m wondering if you could identify what the risk is, and particularly in the context of — I think what Republicans say is you guys don’t want to go down this path because rather than a, sort of, pause that would be a set time limit, reconciliation would force you to put a actual dollar amount on what the debt ceiling increase would be.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the reason why — obviously, as you know, but others may not, it would be a separate reconciliation bill, not from — not the same as the reconciliation package we’ve been debating and talking about — which, by the way, we’ve been working on it for months now, as you know.  The reconciliation process would mean essentially starting from scratch. 

And the point is: Why wouldn’t it be the preference for everybody involved — Democrats, Republicans, the American public?  We have a bill that we could vote up or down to raise the debt limit.  It’s a much easier, cleaner, simpler, less risky process.

And, yes, Democrats are in control of the Senate, but Republicans can still bring up a range of amendments, as they have in many other cases, about a range of issues.  Extending the process — they can be unlimited.  That’s how the process and rule work.

So, to us, that doesn’t make sense as the preference.  We’re not ruling out options, but the clear, clean, fastest, least risky option is very crystal clear to us here.

Q    Okay.  I wanted to ask about the energy crisis that’s going on abroad, and we kind of touched on it earlier.  You spoke about efforts to sort of shore up the energy in the United States, but there’s a couple of crunch points. 

One is: As other nations, including China, are struggling with energy, it leads to those inflation issues because we have — much of our supply chain is abroad and factories aren’t functioning there.  In Europe, some of our closest allies are seeing lines for fuel are on the — you know, stacking up. 

So, I’m wondering what we’re doing to sort of deal with this crisis internationally and if there — you mentioned that there have been conversation with OPEC a couple months ago.  But in the past week — I know last week you said you’d kind of circle back on what message we had conveyed.  Have we asked them to accelerate beyond what, a few months ago — the sort of gradual increase in production that we had asked for? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, when — so I think one of the questions I was asked last week is about Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor, who was meeting with Saudi Arabia and the UAE last week. 

So, in those meetings, while the Saudi Arabia meeting was focused on Yemen and that was the primary purpose, he and his team did reiterate the importance — the imperative of creating conditions to support global economic recovery.  And included in that is, of course, the price of oil around the world.

We are in regular touch with OPEC, so I didn’t mean to convey that we were only in touch months ago.  We are in regular touch with members of O- — OPEC members, I should say, since we are not a member — and that has been ongoing.

Go ahead.

Q    At the risk of asking another esoteric question about the debt ceiling —

MS. PSAKI:  It’s okay.

Q    — you have said in this room that you believe that — the White House believes that Congress enacting a law is the only way to raise or lift the debt ceiling.  But can you maybe put a little bit more meat on the bones as to why the White House has determined that, for example, ideas like minting a trillion-dollar coin or invoking the Fourteenth Amendment would not solve the problem?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, as was reported, we obviously look at a range of options, and none of those options were viable, either because they wouldn’t be accepted by the Federal Reserve, by the guidance of our Treasury Secretary, or just by legal restrictions.

So, we know that the only path forward here is through Congress acting.  There’s a simple process that could be done in the next few days, before we hit Friday, to reduce uncertainty, to make sure the American people don’t have to worry about their bank accounts, their retirement savings.  And all Republicans need to do is get out of the way, let Democrats be the adults in the room, and take a vote.

Q    Another question.  Last night, on “60 Minutes,” there was an exploration into this Kafkaesque situation that members of the military have been in.  After 10 years of paying their student loans under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, 9 out of 10 of them have had their forgiveness rejected when they’ve applied. 

An advocate who was in the piece said that the President has the power, under a 2003 law, to solve this problem for those members of the military.  Will he use that law?  And is there anything else this administration can do to help these people?

MS. PSAKI:  So, what you’re referring to, just for others, is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is an important but largely unmet — hence, the reporting last night — promise to professionals who serve their communities and do hard work that is essential to our country’s success.  And fixing this program has been a priority for this administration from the first day. 

That’s why, in the coming weeks, the Department of Education plans to announce a major overhaul of the program that, through a series of executive actions, will restore the promise of the program to teachers, service members, nurses, firefighters, and others serving their communities and our country.  It will include an opportunity for public service and many not-for-profit professionals to get any prior payments made on the federal loans for their studies counted toward PSLF, regardless of the loan program in which the payments were made.

So, there’s going to be upcoming rulemaking — the Department of Education will have more — but this is something we want to reform and address and make better for the people who should benefit from it.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  With the President saying that he cannot guarantee that the debt ceiling will not be reached, is the White House taking preparations in the event of that happening? You’ve outlined that it would be catastrophic.  So is the White House making plans in preparation for the worst? 

MS. PSAKI:  He also said right after he made that statement — the next sentence was, I can’t imagine that that would happen, which I think is important context for people to understand. 

It requires Congress acting.  That is the one path forward. That is why we are talking about it, why he gave remarks today, why we are continuing to press forward to get this done.

Q    Yes, but — so is the White House or the administration preparing for the worst, in case that does not happen?

MS. PSAKI:  There isn’t another option; it has to pass legislatively.  That’s what has to happen. 

Q    Okay.  And also, can you comment at all on — there’s an outage of Facebook and Instagram today and other apps.  Is the White House aware, looking into that — what may be going on?

MS. PSAKI:  We are aware, we’re monitoring, but I don’t have any other updates.  I’d really point you to the companies for that. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Did the President ever consider asking Democrats to use reconciliation earlier this year to lift the debt limit and avoid potentially cratering markets and affecting the American people?  If this is such an economic risk, why give McConnell any say at all?

MS. PSAKI:  Why let McConnell off the hook or Republicans off the hook?  I mean, this is their debt that they chalked up themselves.  This is a period of time where we could easily solve this in the next two days and easily do that through allowing Democrats to be the adult in the room, despite the fact that Republicans spent like drunken sailors over the last four years before President Biden took office. 

So, it’s easy to get it done.  We did not need to start a long procedural process.  That’s exactly what that would be.  We’re not ruling out options because, as we said — I said in response to an earlier question, we have to get this done.  We have to get this done to ensure that people don’t worry about their retirement savings, don’t worry about cos- — their college savings for their kids.  But it’s easy to get it done, and we don’t think Republicans should be left off the — let off the hook.

Go ahead.

Q    You said that the President has not yet talked to McConnell since McConnell sent that letter.  When was the last time the two spoke on the debt limit? 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any readout of any recent call from them.

Q    And have you asked business groups to use their influence with McConnell and other Republicans to try and get them on board?

MS. PSAKI:  Business groups have been pretty vocal in recent days and weeks, but we leave it to them on how they want to reach out and engage with members.

Q    And a quick question on tomorrow.  Do you — are you intentionally going to a congressional district that Trump won?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re going to a state and a part of the state that could benefit from all of these packages because they’re hugely popular whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, an independent. People don’t think of their roads as partisan for good reason, nor do they think of their childcare as partisan.  So that’s why the President wants to go make the case in Michigan.

Go ahead, Karen.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Senator Sinema said in a statement over the weekend that good-faith negotiations require trust and that canceling the infrastructure vote further erodes that trust.  Some progressive Democrats have said they haven’t felt that Sinema and Manchin have been forthcoming about where they are in negotiations — in numbers and red lines.  When you say that the President wants to play a constructive role in moving this forward, does that also include him rebuilding trust within the Democratic Party?  And how would you do that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I think the way the President sees this is that we’re in the midst of a legislative process, and this is how the process works.  Less about trust or not trust.  I know that word is thrown out there a lot and has been over the last week.

You know, the President put out his bold proposals.  Members of Congress, a co-equal branch of government, argue for their priorities, some with strong emotion — good for them because they’re passionate about what these issues are, how these packages could fundamentally change things for people across the country. 

And you’re seeing now that this is a recognition of the important moment that this is.  But, in his view, this is how the process plays out.  There’s going to be vo- — there’s going to be arguments.  There’s going to be disagreements.  That’s not dysfunction; that’s democracy.  And we’ve seen it work this way — bumps in the road.  Look at the Affordable Care Act.  Look at Dodd-Frank.  Look at even the American Rescue Plan.  These were not smooth legislative processes; they rarely are.  And we’re still in the middle of it.

Q    You said “Why Michigan?” — or you answered “Why Michigan?”

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    But why now to go out on the road and do an event like this?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I think the President felt that, and we all felt, that the last week or two — what was important was for him to be available, to have meetings, to bring people down to have these conversations.  He’s obviously still doing that, but now it’s also important to remind people, as they — as the sausage-making has been kind of the dominant storyline for the last few weeks, what this is all about, why he’s fighting so hard for it, why there’s important debates and discussions about what are in these two important packages.

And so that’s what he’s going to do in Michigan tomorrow, and I expect he’ll do more of it in the weeks ahead.

Go ahead.

Q    I have two questions on the oil spill.  Is the White House considering a national emergency declaration for the spill there?

MS. PSAKI:  That would really be something typically that is requested by the governor and granted by FEMA, so I don’t have any updates on that.  We’re, of course, continuing to closely monitor.  We’re in close touch with the governor and his team, but I would point you to FEMA on that if there’s an update.

Q    And the administration’s effort to stop auctioning offshore drilling leases is currently subject to litigation.  You know, the judge blocked the stoppage of that.  How does this spill kind of underscore that effort that the administration wants to no longer lease new offshore drilling?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think one of the reasons that — one, there are also existing oil leases, I should just clarify — not that it was your question —

Q    Right this is — this is existing oil leases.  Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  — that are still ongoing.  That has not changed.  And obviously you referenced the ongoing litigation.

Look, I think the President has identified addressing the climate crisis is a core priority for him and this administration.  And certainly, taking every step possible to do that remains a priority.  I wouldn’t say that this changes that.  That has been the case before this and will be the case even as we work to ensure recovery is complete.

Go ahead, Andrew.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Last week, Chairman Thompson of the January 6th Select Committee said that this committee would be making referrals for criminal contempt in the event that Trump administration witnesses fail to honor the subpoenas that have been served on them. 

In past administrations, those sorts of referrals have not been acted on by the Justice Department.  And I know the President has said that the DOJ will act independently of the White House.  But broadly speaking, will the Biden administration break with recent precedent and actually follow the law in this case?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, these witnesses have not failed to appear at this point in time, so we’re not quite there in the process.  And obviously, we would point to the Department of Justice. 

I think there have been cases — I know this wasn’t your question, but since you asked about January 6th, broadly — where we have — did not exert executive privilege.  For example, in the matter of certain former DOJ officials who had been called to testify before Congress. 

I cite that both to illustrate how we have approached this issue so far and the broader spirit in which we’ll continue.  But obviously, issues that are of the purview of the Department of Justice will remain there.  And we’re not quite at the point where anyone has failed to appear.

Q    Let me rephrase that slightly then: Past administrations have not followed the law and acted on these sorts of referrals.  Whether or not one will happen in the future — but —

MS. PSAKI:  But I’m just — I understand your question.  I’m just — of course we’re going to follow the law.  But I’m not going to get into hypotheticals that aren’t, right now, relevant to current — this current state of play.  I would also point you to the Department of Justice, as you noted in the beginning.  But I also wanted to note where we have broken with some recent past precedent and how we’ve approached, just to give you an example. 

Go ahead.  Go to you, Eugene.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Any update on the Department of Education’s look at whether or not the President could write off student loans?  Ron Klain told us that they were looking at that and that it would take a few weeks, or that he was hoping that it would take a few weeks.  Just wondering what — if there’s a holdup and what the holdup is.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any other update.  I would say that, obviously, lowering the cost of college or relieving student debt is a priority to this President and this Vice President.  If Congress wants to send us a bill that would, you know, relieve $10,000 in student debt, the President would be happy to sign that.

Obviously, there hasn’t been action on that to date.  And I would also note that part of his proposal has been lowering the cost of college, giving more people access to college who wouldn’t have otherwise had it, which shows his commitment to the issue.

Q    And Harold Koh, a senior advisor to — the only political appointee on the State Department’s legal team, resigned and wrote a memo.  And I want to get this right, so I’m going to read from what he said: “I believe this administration’s current implementation of the Title 42 authority continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return individuals who fear persecution, death, or torture, especially migrants fleeing from Haiti.”  He also said, “Lawful, more humane alternatives plainly exist.”  So I want to get your reaction to that memo. 

And also, why is the only political appointee of the State Department’s legal team wrong?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I haven’t seen his memo, at this point.  I’m not sure when —

Q    I’ll send it to you.

MS. PSAKI:  — came out.  That’s fine.  Please do. 

I would say that we don’t see Title 42 as an immigration policy; it is a public health authority because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and it is determined by the CDC. 

It is also true that there are several exceptions for Title 42, including those who are fleeing persecution, who express a concern of fear.  It goes through a process.  Those who have health issues — those are individuals who go through our immigration proceedings and process. 

So, it remains in place because we’re in the middle of a pandemic.  But I think the short-handing of that isn’t an accurate depiction of what our policy actually is, even as it relates to exemptions.

Q    Jen, a question on climate change. 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure. 

Q    So, during his West Coast trip, the President called for bold action on climate change in response to wildfires and other extreme weather events.  But the climate provisions are also a major sticking point in the reconciliation process between Senator Manchin and the progressive faction.  What is the President telling fellow Democrats about climate policy during those talks?  And is this an area where he’s willing to make concessions?

MS. PSAKI:  It remains a priority to him, otherwise he wouldn’t have proposed it.  And there’s also very broad support within Congress for climate provisions that are in both the reconciliation package, as well as the infrastructure package.  That includes historic investments in electric vehicles, electric vehicle charging stations, the replacing of lead pipes to make sure kids have access to clean drinking water. 

And as you know, in the reconciliation package, it helps create a climate corps, helps make sure there’s a standard, has key pieces that will be pivotal investments to addressing the climate crisis. 

I’m not going to negotiate from here, but obviously the President would have proposed that — would not have proposed them if he did not think they were priority to him. 

Go ahead, in the middle.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I have a question on Ethiopia since the President mentioned Ethiopia once again in his remark.  But, one, something about Senator Joe Manchin.  Do you know if he wants to be President?  Does he really like to be President?  Does he want to play the role of President?  Does he like the President?  Doesn’t he like the President?

I guess I don’t really expect you to answer because I know it’s difficult to go from winning a Senate seat in West Virginia to maybe beating Donald Trump by 7 million votes.  But what does it say about democracy that you can win an election by 7 million vote and one person can actually doom your entire agenda?

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t see it that way.  We’re in the middle of a process.  This is democracy; it’s not dysfunction.  So we’re going to keep at it. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  If I could go back to that question on inflation.  You said the spending package will help inflation over the long term; the New York Federal Reserve president says he sees elevated inflation for at least another year.  So what is the timeline you’re looking at for the long term, especially since this reconciliation package could go into effect over the course of 10 years?  You know, how long should Americans be expected to wait for those prices to come down?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the Federal Reserve and the OECD and others have also said inflation is expected to come down.  They continue to say it’s transitory.  I would say that it is a 10-year package, but what’s important about the package is that several economists — Nobel laureates and others — have conveyed it would help address inflation over the long term, which is something that I think is in the interest of the American people, the public, and future governments, of course.

Go ahead,

Q    In the last 24 hours, North Korea’s press agency says they’ve reopened the hotline with South Korea.  Just wondering if the administration has been in touch with Seoul in that time, and what concerns you may have about the, I guess, supposed — I don’t know if it’s a real hypersonic missile — but the alleged hypersonic missile.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we support, first — to your first part of your question, I think — we, of course, support and continue to support inter-Korean dialogue and engagement and cooperation.  And we’ll continue to work with our ROK partners to that end.

As it relates to our engagement, you know, we of cour- — well, let me — on the missile launches — let me add that so I don’t miss that.  We, of course, condemn any illicit missile launches, which are destabilizing to the region and to the international community.  We’re consulting closely with our allies, both in capitals and in New York at the U.N., as we assess the recent events and as we determine next steps.

As it relates to our own engagement, which I think you were also asking about, with North Korea — you know, our goal, of course, remains complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  We remain prepared to meet with DPRK without preconditions. 

In our messages, we have made specific proposals for discussion with the DPRK.  We hope DPRK will respond positively to our outreach.  But at this point, we have not had a response.

Q    And then just following up on Taiwan: In the last few hours, it’s been reported that China sent 52 aircraft into Taiwanese airspace.  So, these strong statements from the State Department and from you don’t appear to be listened to in Beijing.  So, what now?  What next?

MS. PSAKI:  We —

Q    How (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  We are also in touch privately, conveying clear messages through diplomatic channels.  And that’s probably the appropriate place for those. 

Q    Has the President spoken?

MS. PSAKI:  No, the President has not.  But we have — obviously have a — have high-level officials who are in touch with a range of officials there. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  On Pandora Papers: So, will the Pandora Papers revelations affect the dialogue between the White House and its strategic partners?  For instance, a month ago, President Biden was discussing corruption issues with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, and now Mr. Zelenskyy is reportedly involved in this offshore scandal.  So does this fact, let’s say, undermine trust between Washington and Kyiv?

MS. PSAKI:  I would say that, as I — as I stated a little bit earlier, but let me reiterate: I mean, the President’s commitment is to bringing additional transparency to both the U.S. and international financial systems. 

It’s something that he has pressed for in his domestic agenda but also something that, in international forums, he has focused on elevating as important to level the playing field; reduce corruption; ensure that, you know, we are doing that as a coordinated international body. 

So, I wouldn’t say it changes.  It — maybe it makes it even more important to be on the international agenda. 

Go ahead, in the middle. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, last one.  Go ahead, in the middle.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Given — in relation to Taiwan, I’m wondering, can you say which U.S. officials have been raising concerns with China privately about China’s military activity near Taiwan?

MS. PSAKI:  I would point to the State Department and Department of Defense who can give you any more detail there is to offer.

Q    And then, also, is there an update on a potential meeting between President Biden and President Xi (inaudible)?

(Audio clip of Ms. Psaki is heard.)

MS. PSAKI:  No, I would say that we — I just heard my voice, which was a little bit of — (laughter) — an out-of-body experience. 

But I would say part of — and obviously there was a significant speech that Ambassador Tai gave today.  And part of our objective and our engagement as it relates to — or, as it relates to our China strategy, is to maintain high-level dialogue.

So, I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in terms of a meeting or next conversation, but certainly maintaining high-level dialogue at that level is a priority to this administration. 

Thank you.  We’ll do this again tomorrow.

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