Joe Biden

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki

December 02, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:07 A.M. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good morning. Okay, so we don't have a long time this morning because of a gather. If people want to stay, I'm happy to answer additional questions, but we wanted to get it in before the President left for his trip to the NIH.

A couple of items I just wanted to note for all of you at the top.

Today, as you will have seen, the President will announce new actions to combat COVID-19 as we head into the winter months and face a new variant. We're pulling out all the stops to get people maximum protection from this pandemic.

The President will talk about a new nationwide booster campaign to get people their highest level of protection yet; kids vaccines being widely available and the launch of hundreds of new family clinics to make it easier for parents and kids to get vaccinated together; and free at-home tests for Americans, also making them widely available to people who are uninsured, at community health centers, and other locations where people can go.

Taken together, the actions announced today will build on our strong progress. They will help protect people, slow the spread of COVID, accelerate our path out of the pandemic.

Our view and belief -- and the belief of our medical team -- is that we have the tools to keep people safe. We're executing on a robust plan that builds off all of the actions we're taking -- we've taken to date. We are not starting from scratch here.

The slide behind me, as you see, outlines some of the big measures we are taking and the President will talk more about later this afternoon.

I also wanted to note: Today, the United States government, in coordination with allies and partners, is imposing sanctions to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its ongoing attacks on democracy, human rights, and international norms and for their continued repression both inside and outside of Belarus.

This is the fifth time the United States has imposed sanctions on Belarus since August of 2020, and the third joint action with the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada this year alone. It reflects our united determination to act in the face of the increased repression, including the detention of nearly 900 political prisoners; and in response to the Lukashenko regime's callous exploitation of vulnerable migrants from other countries and the regime's orchestration of migrant smuggling into the European Union.

We will continue working with -- together with allies and partners to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in Belarus.

Alex, why don't you kick us off?

Q: Thanks, Jen. Considering samples of Omicron were found in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands before South Africa identified and announced the first cases there, can you explain how the U.S. is continuing to justify a ban on travel from just South Africa? And is the administration considering bans on travel from any of those other countries? And how long will the travel ban remain in effect?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we will continue to assess on a daily basis. And the President is meeting with his COVID team every single day, including this morning, to assess what additional steps should be taken to protect the American people. And he will always err on the side of protecting the American people.

The decision to put in place specific travel restrictions from a set of countries was made based on the recommendation of our health and medical team and based on the fact that there were hundreds if not thousands of cases that we were seeing in South Africa -- and concern about neighboring countries. So that was the decision that was made at that time. No one wants that to be permanent.

As you know, we are assessing and reviewing, working 24/7 -- our health and medical teams are -- to evaluate, learn more about this variant. And we will assess if additional restrictions need to be put in place.

Q: And then on the Iran nuclear talks. The Israeli PM Naftali Bennett spoke with Blinken today and suggested Iran nuclear talks should be halted and stressed that Iran is conducting, quote, "nuclear blackmail." What's the U.S. response? Is there any consideration of halting the talks at this point?

MS. PSAKI: Every country, including, of course, our friends in Israel, is entitled to their own point of view. Our view is that a diplomatic path forward, continuing to pursue a diplomatic -- an opportunity for diplomatic discussions to have greater access to return to mutual full compliance with the JCPOA is the right -- continues to be the right path forward.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q: Hi, Jen. The announcement today that the President is making includes requiring insurance companies to pay for at-home, over-the-counter tests. Will the --

MS. PSAKI: Reimburse, yes. Yes.

Q: To reimburse customers for --


Q: -- for those tests. Will the government reimburse the insurance companies or do the insurance companies just need to cover that cost?

MS. PSAKI: It's a very good question, Jeff. As you know and, I think, may have seen in the background call last night -- or if not, I'll provide additional information -- we expect to be -- have the final rules on this and have this implemented in mid-January. So I expect additional details about how it will work and the functioning of it will be out in that timeline.

Q: So that question is just not answerable yet? We just don't know?

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see with our COVID team if it is. But again, there's typically a rulemaking process -- that will be done through HHS -- that will answer and provide additional clarity on this -- on the implementation of it.

Q: Okay. And on a separate topic, do you have any updates on White House plans to arrange a call between President Putin and President Biden? Foreign Minister Lavrov today said that Moscow will take measures to ensure its own security if the U.S. and its allies refuse to discuss security guarantees.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we're hardly refusing to have discussions with the Russians, considering our Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of Russia had a discussion today. And we've had ongoing discussions at a high level with the Russians.

The President continues to believe in the benefit of global -- of diplomacy at a high level, at a leader level, as you've seen over the past -- of course, for the past 10 to 11 months.

But I don't have anything to preview or announce as it relates to a call or engagement between President Biden and President Putin.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Jen. So, just following up on this Minnesota news: Given the fact that this individual began experiencing symptoms on November 22nd, tested positive on November 24th, that would suggest that there's been community spread of this variant for at least the last 10 days within the United States. Is that the White House's assessment? And to what extent does that change your understanding and your approach to combating this new variant?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we need to be very careful from the government and, of course, from the media as well about how we assess and attribute community spreads or what has happened here.

There is a -- there was information put out by the Minnesota Public Health Department. I would just reiterate a couple of the components of that. Many of you may have seen it but in case you haven't: There's an individual, an adult male, a resident of Hennepin County -- he had been vaccinated -- the person developed mild symptoms, as you noted, on November 22nd and sought COVID-19 testing on November 24th.

The person's symptoms have resolved. The person spoke with the Minnesota Public Health Department investigators, and reported traveling to New York City and attending the Anime New York City 2021 Convention at the Javits Center from the 19th through the 21st.

Any contact tracing, which is imperative and important, would be done through the CDC and public health officials as well. But I would also note that the Minnesota Public Health Department will do a press conference at noon, and we would expect they'd have additional information.

Important question about contact tracing and how -- and what we anticipate. I just want to really rely on the public health officials to speak to that.

Q: And are you aware of any other cases of the Omicron variant in the United States at the moment -- other than the Minnesota case and the California case?

MS. PSAKI: We have been very transparent -- I would -- I think -- hopefully, you would all agree -- about providing that information as it becomes available.

It typically comes through public health departments. They often provide it themselves first, but we are in close touch, every single day, with state and local public health authorities.

So, not that I'm aware of.

Obviously, again, it typically rises through public health officials.

I would note, as Dr. Fauci has said over the course of the last week, every single day we do -- even the restrictions we put in place was not going to prevent this variant from coming here; it would just slow. That was the objective.

So, we do anticipate there will be more cases, and we know that will be the case. And that's why we're focused on doing everything we can to fight the virus and the variant.

Q: This is big picture, here: President Biden has repeatedly promised to "shut down" this virus. He has talked about wanting to "end the pandemic." Is that still possible? Does he still believe that that is possible? Or are we starting to shift now, especially with the rise of this variant, to perhaps accepting that we need to live with COVID for years to come?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say, there's a lot we don't know about the variant yet. And that is challenging and frustrating -- I understand -- for Americans, for all of you. And we want to give the space and time for the public health officials, who are working 24/7, to assess and provide guidance on it.

There are a range of options, as Dr. Fauci has spoken to and our medical experts have spoken to. It could be less deadly; it could be more. We don't know. So, I just want to say that we are -- that is the next step in this process.

The President -- and you'll hear him speak to this today -- continues to believe that if we build on the bold steps that we've taken to date, if we continue to make the vaccines more accessible, to increase testing, increase masking, we can return to a more -- a version of normal in this country. That's what everybody wants and everybody would like to see.

Go ahead.

Q: Back on the question about these reimbursements for rapid tests.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: As anyone who has tried this knows, it can be kind of a cumbersome process. So, why not just try and subsidize the price of these tests as some of the other countries have done?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that we're approaching it a little differently from some other countries. I know this isn't exactly what you asked, but we see the FDA process of reviewing and evaluating the efficacy and effectiveness of tests as the gold standard. That is a high bar, in our view, and that's important to abide by that.

Our medical team looked at a range of options. We want to make testing more available and more accessible to people across the country. There are four times more tests available now than there were in the summer. We will continue to build on that.

So, this is a step that was -- our team agreed was implementable and possible to do now, and we will continue to build on it.

Q: And on the issue of government funding, yesterday you said you were confident that we won't see a shutdown. You know, we know the House is acting today, but a small group of Senate Republicans are still objecting. Do you still have that same level of confidence today that we won't see a shutdown come tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the good news that I think you all saw today -- and we just put out a SAP -- or Statement of Administration Policy; you know how we feel about acronyms around here -- supporting the swift passage of H.R. 6119, which was basically a deal struck this morning.

We still feel that there's time for lawmakers to set aside reckless and irresponsible political games and enact the short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government through early next year and allow for time for a full year budget agreement, which is obviously our overarching objective.

So, there is still time to do that. And, of course, it's up to Congress to do that. But we are confident they will take steps to keep the government open.

Q: There is still time, but not a lot of time. So, have you started to take steps to prepare for a possible shutdown, even if it is, you know, just one that lasts through weekend?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. So, there are steps that are taken by OMB -- our budget team -- that are standard. And they're not steps taken out of an assessment or evaluation of what's possible or the legislative possibilities. They typically start engaging with agencies about a week in advance of any scheduled timeline for government funding. They did that as of last Friday. They had another scheduled time to engage with agencies today. So, that is standard operating procedure, and that's underway.

But again, our objective is, of course, to prevent the government shutdown. And we are -- and, of course, that's up to Congress to get done.

Q: And just one quick immigration question. The administration announced today that the U.S. and Mexico have reached a deal to restart the "Remain in Mexico" program that was started under President Trump. This is something that your administration is fighting in court.

The President, you know, has railed against this policy. He's called it "dangerous" and "inhumane," saying it "goes against everything we stand for as a nation." I'm just wondering if you can reflect on how he feels about having now to see this move forward now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you noted, Mary, Secretary Mayorkas also -- and the President have repeatedly said that this program is -- has endemic flaws. It imposed unjust -- it has imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregularly -- irregular migration. Deeply flawed.

That's why we stopped enrolling individuals in the program on day one and subsequently issued a memorandum in June terminating the program. And Secretary Mayorkas issued another memorandum announcing and explaining his decision to terminate the program, once again, in October.

As you noted, though, we are in a situation where we're under a court -- abiding by a court ruling, and so that is what we are working to implement at this point in time.

There are some key changes and exemptions the Department of Homeland Security announced this morning and can speak to. But our view of the program has not changed. We're working to implement under the court order.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Another testing question. So, you said you wanted to make testing as affordable and available as possible. So, in addition to requiring insurers to cover at-home tests, is the administration doing anything to make in-person PCR tests more widely available, more affordable? Because as anyone who has had to get a PCR test -- let alone a rapid PCR test -- knows, it can be hard to find one and expensive, and especially getting that quick test is very, very hard.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Part of the plan the President is announcing is free tests -- about 50 million tests -- that we're going to make available at places like rural clinics, community health centers to ensure they're broadly available in a range of places where people can go and access them.

And again, you know, this is part of our effort to build on what we've already done to date. We made 3 billion dollars' worth of investments to accelerate the production of rapid tests and expand capacity.

When the President took office, there were zero at-home tests available; now there are eight. This supply will quadruple -- this supply will quadruple this month from where we were at the -- in the sum- -- in the summer. And we're going to continue to build on this.

So, this is a step to make it more affordable for people at home but to also make them more widely available at a range of locations -- community health centers, rural health clinics -- so that people can go and find them.

Q: And on abortion: Based on what we heard at the Supreme Court yesterday, is the White House concerned that this Supreme Court is about to overturn Roe vs. Wade? And what, if anything, are you doing to prepare for that possibility?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm not going to make an assessment of how the Supreme Court will rule. But what I will say is that the President is committed to working with Congress to codify the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion, as protected by Roe.

He's announced his strong support for passage of the Women's Health Protection Act, urges Congress to pass it.

And, again, I would reiterate -- something I conveyed yesterday -- that he believes that Mississippi's law blatantly violates women's constitutional rights to safe and legal abortion; every American deserves access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare.

We're not going to predetermine how the Supreme Court will rule. But he supports codifying Roe through Congress. That's something that they can act to do.

Q: Do you think that's a real possibility?

MS. PSAKI: There is a bill currently, the Women's Health Protection Act, and he urges Congress to pass it.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Jen. A handful of key aides have announced either that they are leaving the Vice President's Office or are reportedly going to be leaving the Vice President's Office soon. Is the Vice President not satisfied with the staffing that she has had so far, or do people just not want to work for her anymore?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I would say that working on a presidential campaign -- maybe covering one too, I would say, to be fair -- and working in the first year of a White House is exciting and rewarding, but it's also grueling and exhausting. It's all of those things at once.

And many of the team members you're referencing -- and I would just note, there has been one -- an announcement about Symone Sanders departing, but there hasn't been official announcements about others, so I would leave it to them and the Vice President's team to make any additional announcements.

But in my experience, and if you look at past precedent, it's natural for staffers who have thrown their heart and soul into a job to be ready to move on to a new challenge after a few years. And that is applicable to many of these individuals.

It's also an opportunity, as it is in any White House, to bring in new faces, new voices, and new perspectives. And I expect you'll hear more from the Vice President's Office on that in due time.

Q: So this is not a case of bad headlines about the Vice President and a decision being made to shake up the staff to fix an image issue?

MS. PSAKI: You know, Peter, I think I spoke to it. And I would note that -- and I'll just speak to Symone, since I knew her before and she's been officially announced -- and I knew her even before she joined the Biden campaign, sitting on many panels with her on CNN -- on CNN sets.

And knowing someone like her, she joined the campaign early on, as many of you know. She's been a part of this for two and a half, or three years. She's somebody -- and anybody who has spent time with her knows that she is whip smart, and she is -- she is -- has charisma coming out of her eyeballs. And she's going to do plenty of interesting things in the world in the future.

She'll always be a part of this Biden-Harris family, and it's only natural after a couple of years to be ready for something new. And that's what happens in my experiences -- in my experience in the past, in White Houses, often.

Q: Does the Vice President think that staff are to blame for her not making any kind of meaningful progress on the big things in her portfolio, like passing voting rights or addressing the root causes of migration?

MS. PSAKI: I know the Vice President is grateful to all of the staff who have served her. She also understands the excitement and the grueling nature of working on a campaign and working in a White House. And, again, as I noted earlier, it's also an opportunity to bring in new faces and perspectives, which is overall a very positive thing.

Q: Okay. And then, big cities are dealing with smash-and-grab robberies. A record number of police officers have been shot and killed this year. What is President Biden going to do about all this lawlessness?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I would say that, one, the President proposed additional funding in his budget over the funding that had been proposed by the prior President to increase and support local police departments, to make sure we keep cops on the beat, and we ensure that local communities are working in partnership to crack down on crime and any dangers they see in their community. So, that's one of the steps.

We've also worked with a range of communities across the country on strike forces, as you know -- something we've talked about in the past. We're continuing to implement that from the Department of Justice.

But the President absolutely believes that community police forces can have an important, instrumental effect in helping keep communities safe.

Q: And does the President still think that crime is up because of the pandemic?

MS. PSAKI: I think many people have conveyed that, and also one of the reasons that crime -- one of the root reasons crime we've -- root causes of crime in communities is guns and gun violence. And we've seen that statistically around the country.

Q: But, to your point, so when a huge group of criminals organizes themselves and they want to go loot a store -- a CVS, a Nordstrom, a Home Depot -- until the shelves are clean, do you think that's because of the pandemic?

MS. PSAKI: I think a root cause in a lot of communities is the pandemic, yes.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. I wanted to follow up on some of Alex's questions about some of the travel restrictions on Southern Africa.

You say that the White House will continue to reassess those, but I wonder -- we heard from the U.N. Secretary-General who called these travel restrictions a form of "travel apartheid."

Is there any diplomatic effort underway on the part of the administration to address the concerns that have been raised about this decision?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, Mike, it's a great question. I mean, we, of course, are in close touch with -- at a diplomatic level -- with leaders in these countries about the steps we're taking and why we're taking them. And it's not meant to be a punishment.

It is steps recommended by our public health officials and medical experts in order to delay the spread of a variant -- not prevent it, again, but delay -- in order to give us more time to assess and evaluate what this variant means.

But, of course, we are in touch through diplomatic channels.

Q: Part of the plan that the President is discussing today calls for accelerating the distribution of 200 million vaccines in the next few days to the international community.

The President, though, indicated the other day that, at least as it relates to South Africa, the problem was not the supply of vaccine but the implementation, the wariness --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- among some of the citizens. Can you make -- can you discuss little bit more about what is going into the decision about where to send these vaccines and how?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Another important issue that -- that probably we don't talk about enough because it's not just vaccine supply -- it's know-how, it's the ability to get shots in arms, it's the ability for -- to have staffing. It's vaccine hesitance, which we've experienced in this country. We have a lot of lessons learned.

And we're also working through programs -- through USAID, through the State Department, and others -- to ensure we are augmenting support in those areas as well.

So, we are prepared to provide additional vaccine doses to South Africa when they're prepared to receive them. And that is an open communication -- we're having an open discussion about that as well.

Q: And then, lastly, this is a version of a question we ask you often, but given the fact that the --

MS. PSAKI: The President had his doctor's appointment. (Laughter.)

Q: -- given the --

MS. PSAKI: More Fed nominees coming. What else you got? (Laughter.)

Q: Given the fact, though, that President was just in Minnesota, obviously in the case -- the latest case of Omicron was from there. I'm wondering -- you had announced, as part of the travel, that this was a ramp up of a national travel campaign on the part of the President, the administration.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: Are there any determinations being made about the President -- where he travels, how often he travels -- given concerns about this? We saw him, as well -- a long rope line -- when he was there after the event. Is that the kind of thing he might be discouraged from doing until we know more about just how transmissible this is?

MS. PSAKI: That has not been advice given by our health and medical experts at this point in time. Obviously, we abide by CDC guidelines. But I would expect -- and our plans are moving full speed ahead at this point to have the President travel around the country, sell his infrastructure plan, make clear to the American people what he's doing to lower their costs. So you'll see him out on the trail, I would expect, next week.

Go ahead.

Q: Jen, can I follow up on his question, please?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

Q: Given what you said about the first year at the White House being so grueling, are you expecting or preparing for turnover here at the White House among senior ranks?

MS. PSAKI: You know, I think I noted that because I've worked here before. And in my experience, especially in the first year or first two years, if you think about it, it's not just being in a White House for a year. A lot of people have -- also did the campaign prior to this, and that means two years, three years. I'm looking at some of the people who covered the campaign. (Laughter.) So, again, I'm sympathetic to you all as well.

I don't have any -- anything to anticipate or preview for you. Just to note that, in my experience, it is a normal course of events that people are ready to do something new. They're ready to spend time with their families. They're ready to sleep more. And that is -- that is to be expected in the first year, 18 months, two years of any White House.

Q: Also -- I'm sorry -- another topic. There's language in the Senate's NDAA amendment package that would create a nonpartisan commission looking into the war in Afghanistan. Does the President support a commission like this?

MS. PSAKI: I know I had seen that, and I had meant to ask our team about this. Let me get you something right after the briefing on it. I know that we have spoken in the past about our openness to looking into the last 20-year war -- mistakes made, what can be learned from that. But let me get you something more official from our team.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you so much, Jen. On the new requirements for all travelers getting tested 24 hours before arrival in the U.S. --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: Who is going to be responsible for covering the costs for tests for Americans? Will that be individuals or insurance companies?

MS. PSAKI: For Americans who are coming back into the United States?

Q: Correct.

MS. PSAKI: Let me check. It's a -- it's a good question. And I just want to make sure I give you accurate information.

Q: And another on the testing requirements. In many countries, it's still very difficult to get COVID tests, particularly ones with a less than 24-hour turnaround, in a timely manner. So what considerations are being made on this given the new requirements?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we're implementing any of these policies, we obviously take into consideration -- we take into consideration, as you know, in our prior announcement about requirement of vaccination, where country -- in countries where that wasn't available. I will check and see if there's any exemptions or anything that is going to be applicable in the same regard.

Q: And can I ask you one on student debt as well? Is the administration at all considering continuing to defer student loan payments past January, or to at least keep interest rates at zero percent in order to provide relief for Americans who are still hurting? And if not, why not?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to preview about a decision on that front. I'm not sure one has been made yet.

Go ahead.

Q: What's the administration's response to OPEC Plus saying they're going to go ahead with their planned output increase? And in light of that and the dropping oil prices, is the administration reconsidering its SPR plans?

MS. PSAKI: On the second part, we have no plans to reconsider.

On the first part, we appreciate the close coordination over the recent weeks with our partners Saudi Arabia, UAE -- the UAE, and other OPEC Plus producers to help address price pressures. We welcome the decision today to continue the 400,000 barrel -- barrels-per-day increase.

Together with our recent coordinated release from the SPR, we believe this should help facilitate the global economic recovery. And the President is committed to doing everything in his power and work with other countries to bring down costs for the American people and continue our strong economic recovery.

As you know, this is an issue not just happening in the United States but around the world and, hence, openness to close coordination on it.

Q: Just to follow up on one of the questions that Mike asked --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: Right when the infrastructure bill passed, you said that one of the things the President would be doing is local TV interviews.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: I think he's only done one so far.


Q: I know that that the First Lady did one, I think, more about Christmas, yesterday. So --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- is there a plan for him to do that in a real way in the next couple of weeks?

MS. PSAKI: I would very much like that to happen. We are always competing with time on the schedule; I'm going to be honest. His schedule has been quite packed. But he would like to do it. We're working to get it on the schedule.

So, I don't have anything to predict or preview for you at this point in time, but hopefully we will be able to add some local interviews in the next couple of weeks.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Is there anything beyond economic sanctions that the United States is willing to do if Russia takes more action against Ukraine?

MS. PSAKI: Well, without -- I'm not in a position to preview, at this point in time, anything we're considering. Obviously, Sec- -- our Secretary of State is still on the ground, I believe, having these conversations with our European partners. And anything we would do, we would do in close coordination with them.

As you know, one of the areas of discussion has been providing additional assistance, security assistance to Ukraine. I don't know if you're asking about that, but I would point to that. We have provided a great deal of assistance over the course of the last several months. So that's another area obviously we would look at.

But I don't have anything to preview on any of these fronts at this point in time, other than we are in close coordination, preparing a range of options, and have conveyed directly to the Russians that if they proceed, as they did in 2014, that we have a range of options that we will consider taking.

Q: One question on COVID -- and I know that you kind of get variations on this a lot but --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- with the testing, public health people are saying, "Well, why not just ship tests -- ship these rapid tests to every American household," or "Why not require a vaccine or a test to fly domestically?" Why not go further in the direction of, you know, public health and mandates given the potential risk and the fact that we're headed into winter?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, one, I would say that nothing is off the table, so -- including domestic travel. And -- but we do have some protections -- some strong protections in place already, including requirement of mask wearing, which was extended; doubling of fines if people are not in compliance.

We th- -- how we look at this is -- of course, we base our decisions on the advice of the health and medical experts, what's going to be most effective, and what is -- we can implement -- what is most implementable. So we look at a range of factors as we make decisions about what steps we can put in place.

So, again, nothing's off the table. But we -- the announcement we made today is building on steps we've taken to date -- significant steps we've taken to date to continue to protect more people, put in place additional precautions that will save more lives.

Q: Can you just tease out what "most implementable" means? Are you worried about legal challenges? Are you worried about, you know, political blowback?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we've taken another [sic] steps that are -- a number of steps that are not intended to be controversial or divisive but still may be perceived that way. But our most important factor is what is going to be most effective, and that's what we really base our decisions on.

But as you've seen over the past several months, we build on -- we build on our steps, right? We've continued to add and make vaccines and boosters more available and accessible. Today's a good example of that.

We continue to put in place additional travel restrictions, as we announced tod- -- are announcing today as well.

So we will continue to evaluate and assess on a daily basis. If there are additional steps our health and medical team is recommending, we will consider those as well.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks. On the Supreme Court yesterday -- again, showed how much the balance has shifted toward conservatives, particularly those Justices appointed by Donald Trump. Has the recent -- has any of this changed the President's thinking on embracing any of the proposals to restructure or expand the Supreme Court, term limits -- anything on that he has -- might be rethinking, given the nature of the Court?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as I think you know, there's a Court reform commission that has been working on and putting together a report -- something that he will be receiving and will take a look at and review.

And that court commission looked at a range of questions: Court expansion is one of them, term limits is another one, how cases are taken up and considered. That -- and it was -- this Court commission is -- has a range of viewpoints that is included. So, he will take a look and assess that.

I don't expect he will have anything to say in advance of that before he reviews it.

Q: Is the plan that he will read that and then sort of make some sort of determination? What is kind of -- any deliverables from the President in response?

There's been some criticism that the commission really lacks much authority and from -- progressives say it's toothless. Is there anything that the President is expected to do upon receiving that report?

MS. PSAKI: I don't want to get ahead of the President. I know he looks forward to reviewing it.

And I think if you look at the history of the Supreme Court, it was important to the President to have a range of viewpoints that he could look at and assess and look at the historic nature of a lot of these issues.

As the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he takes the role of the Court, the role of institutions quite seriously, but I'm not going to get ahead of him reviewing it. We'll see what he thinks.

Q: And just one, just to --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- just to clarify, because I know there's been a few different questions on this. On the free COVID testing, is the expectation that Americans will have to file the claim themselves with their insurance companies --


Q: -- to get it back? Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Go ahead.

Q: The President said yesterday that he's optimistic that the new variant won't affect supply chains and sort of push things backward from the progress that has been made in recent weeks. But are you similarly optimistic, as an administration, about the overall economy in the face of the new variant and, in particular, the effect that new government restrictions here and around the world might have on economy?

MS. PSAKI: It's a great question. And I have -- I've talked to our economic team about this as well. And the fact is, this variant has been -- we've been aware of it for about a week now. Right? And so, our economic team will continue to assess. And we will provide updates if needed if there are areas of concern.

Now, what we don't know right now is a lot about the variant; there is still a lot we need to learn, including how deadly the variant may be, the effectiveness of our vaccines. Those will all be factors as our team looks at the impact.

I think what the President was speaking to is his view that there's a lot of progress we've made on the supply chain bottlenecks. We've un- -- we've unfrozen a lot of those issues, and a lot of the suppliers out there and retailers have -- are pretty confident about their ability to get -- you know, stock the shelves and make sure that people can go to stores and get what they need. So that's an encouraging sign. We've done a lot to prepare for this moment.

But we will continue to assess. And at this point in time, I don't have any new economic projections from our team on it.

Q: And, just as a quick follow-up on it, are you all concerned at all that people afraid of catching the virus because of the variant will be less likely to return to work and that that might delay some of what your administration had hoped would be more of a surge back into the job market in January?

MS. PSAKI: Again, really good question. I think right now what our focus is on is encouraging companies and encouraging organizations out there and -- and large entities to take steps to protect their workforce. And that includes -- and that's why it's so important for us to continue to advocate for getting people vaccinated, getting people boosted, making sure people are abiding by mask guidance. We know these steps work and they can protect people. And our medical doctors think that they are still going to provide additional protection from this variant.

We'll know more in a couple of weeks, which is good. But we've been very focused on that so that employers and companies can also ensure and convey to their workforce that they will be safe and they're abiding by these recommendations.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Much of the public booster campaign that you all just announced is targeted specifically at getting seniors access to the booster. But, just given the early confusion around boosters in the broader public, is there any more campaign that you can think of to target, say, young people for instance?

MS. PSAKI: Our campaign is actually focused at getting everybody who's eligible boosted, which is anybody over 18, at this point in time. And that's one of the reasons that we have -- one of the announcements -- or one of the steps the President is going to talk about today is these mobile clinics or the opportunity for generations of a family to bring their kids, bring their grandparents, and all get vaccinated and boosted at the same time.

So, our objective is to get every eligible adult boosted, get every eligible adult vaccinated. And we're continuing to build on steps we've taken to increase access. And that's a big part of the President's speech and announcement today.

Q: Given that only about 59 percent of the public are vaccinated though and the U.S. has fallen behind some of our peer countries in this regard, are you all considering any strategies maybe from -- adopting from abroad or considering what public messaging has been successful or not in shifting strategy on this (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, more than 82 percent of the public has received at least one dose. So that's a good step forward. Obviously, we're going to continue to build on that. But the United States has one of the most effective efforts in the world to get people vaccinated, and we'll continue to build on where we've seen success.

Go ahead, Karen.

Q: Two questions on boosters and one is a follow-up to what he was just asking. You know, we've heard the White House say there's a 100 million Americans who are eligible for boosters who haven't gotten that shot, and only 44 percent, right now, of eligible seniors have gotten their booster. Why does the White House think that the pace of boosters is sluggish at this point? Like what's not being done to convince Americans who got their shots to get this extra shot? Why is it slower?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it's hard to get into the minds of every American and why they are or aren't getting boosted. So that's a hard question for me to answer effectively from here.

What we do know -- obviously, we don't want to be, we would prefer not to be in a situation where we are dealing with an unknown variant; I think everybody can deal with -- understand that. But the fact that people -- there are unknowns, and we are out there encouraging people to get boosted at the time where we're still learning more about a variant. We've seen numbers go up. We hope that more people will take this seriously and get boosted.

I can't assess though why people psychologically are or are not getting boosted.

Q: And the plan that the President is going to talk about today calls for expanding capacity at pharmacies for boosters. What exactly would that look like? Is that a focus on supply? What are pharmacies -- what do they need to do to speed things up or get more robust efforts going there?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it's about making sure we're reaching more pharmacies, that we are making sure they have the supply needed to ensure that boosters are available in pharmacies across the country and in communities that are harder to reach.

So, it's just expanding access, it's expanding supply, getting to more communities, and building on the steps we've already taken to date.

Go ahead.

Q: A question on shipping vaccines overseas. As a part of the announcement today, the administration wants to accelerate shipments overseas -- 200 [million] doses in 100 days. What is enabling that acceleration? Is it higher production? Is it, you know, shifting from domestic use to international use? Can you explain a little more about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we've always committed to doing both -- domestic and international use. I don't believe it's taking away from our domestic supply.

Q: (Inaudible), yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it's expediting our -- our plans to provide vaccines to the global community. We've also been able to move more quickly, as it relates to giving vaccines to a lot of countries because we've done this before; there's a blueprint.

And in the initial stages, I think many of you may remember, there were sometimes logistical or other hurdles we had to get through with countries. Now we have a blueprint and an ability to do that so it can move a little more quickly.

But I can check and see if there's more detail on, you know, how we expedited it logistically.

Q: And China says they're -- they're contributing as many, if not even more, doses than the United States is. Obviously, the administration said that they're the primary -- the biggest provider of vaccines overseas. How would you compare what the U.S. is doing and what China is doing? How do you compare those two vaccination efforts?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don't have their numbers in front of me. But what I can convey is that we are providing doses to the global community with no strings attached. I don't think that's the case for every dose from China.

Q: Does the administration have an assessment of how effective the Chinese vaccine is?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any from here. You should ask the public health experts that.

Go ahead.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on the issue of domestic air travel --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: -- that came up (inaudible). You said, "Nothing is off the table." Does that mean there are active discussions about a vaccine requirement or some other change when it comes to domestic air travel? Can you clarify how active that conversation is, whether we could see something before -- before Christmas?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to predict on that front. There are active discussions about a range of things that will never see the light of day every single day. And our COVID team is going to continue to bring ideas forward, continue to make recommendations. We'll see what they come up with and what's discussed. And the President takes their advice and counsel very seriously, but I would say there's discussions about a range of options every day.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. I have two questions about the upcoming democracy summit.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: So there's been concern among some Asian countries that the summit is putting them in an uncomfortable position because they feel like they have to choose between the U.S. and China. What is your response to that?

And Russia's Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy also raised concerns recently about the summit. So, what is your response to their criticism that the summit is dividing countries?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our objective with the summit is to bring together 110 governments, representing diverse democratic experiences around the world, as well as civil society and private sector leaders to discuss how we can work together to protect democracy around the world, to stand up for democracy around the world. That's nothing we're going to apologize for, no matter what the criticism is from any country around the world.

And it's an opportunity to also be clear that we should always be -- no democracy is perfect. No democracy is every -- ever final. And we should continue to build on that, discuss, engage, encourage positive change.

So that's our objective, and hopefully countries who participate will feel this is an opportunity to be a part of that positive change moving forward.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Jen. I appreciate it. So, on these new COVID guidelines, only the new transportation mask mandate -- or the extension -- has a date attached to it; that is extended to March 18th. The rest of the measures are in place for the duration of the public health emergency. How long does the administration anticipate the public health emergency portion of this will last?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can't give an end date on that because we're still in the middle of fighting the pandemic. I will note that there are a couple of pieces that we have dates on, in terms of when they were -- will start. I'm not suggesting that was your question, but that is a determination that will be made by the CDC, by our public health experts, not a political determination. So, we will wait for their guidance on that.

Q: The 212(f) restrictions though were in place for 20 months, nearly two years. Is your -- is it your anticipation that we could see some of these measures in place for that long or is it more a matter of weeks in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I can't give you an assessment of that because we're going to base it on the public health guidelines -- what steps we need to take to protect the American people.

Go ahead.

Q: As for the funding --

Q: Thank you so much --

Q: Can I just ask on the funding --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: -- really quickly? Most of these programs, if they require funding, are being -- are being funded by previous congressional packages and anything that's leftover. Is there anything leftover from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan? Or does the administration need to go back to Congress to ask for more money if it were to say, reimburse insurance companies for some of these --

MS. PSAKI: Well there's also funding that was in the American Rescue Plan. There's funding that's been proposed in Build Back Better. I'm not aware of additional funding being requested beyond that at this point.

Go ahead.

Q: Okay, thank you. Just a follow-up on international travel restrictions --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: -- just to get an idea of what the general direction here is. You said the administration is going to assess day to day. And, for example, today we learned that Norway is suspecting a large cluster of cases linked to the new variant. So, what's the idea? Is it to multiply restrictions, or is it to lift those already in place because the variant has spread already and nothing can be done to delay the spread?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we're going to assess both. And it will be assessed by the CDC, by our health and medical experts. And we'll rely on their guidance. So, I wouldn't expect the lifting of restrictions before we know more about the variant.

We will continue to evaluate if additional restrictions need to be put in place. None of these are meant to be permanent. None of them are meant to be a punishment. They're all put in place to protect the American people, to hopefully save more lives.

Go ahead, in the back.

Q: I wanted to ask about the second Omicron case from today.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q: The CDC is saying that it was -- the individual who tested positive was at a convention in New York. Is there concern at all about super-spreader events like that where this individual was there or with what happened in California?

MS. PSAKI: So, the CDC is the best entity to speak to contract [contact] tracing, which they will do extensive contract -- contact tracing on. And I would also point to the fact that the Minnesota Public Health Department also has a press conference coming up at noon. So, I will let them speak to how they're approaching that.

Q: If I could also ask you about the at-home COVID tests --

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q-- the test -- when can Americans expect to be able to use their private insurance to cover this? I know that there's going to have to be a rulemaking process out of HHS and Treasury; there might be one more agency -- Labor -- in there. When can Americans expect to be able to actually use this coverage?

MS. PSAKI: That rulemaking -- we expect to get clear guidance by mid-January. So, that's really the next step. Beyond that, I can't predict at this point. But we are going to get free tests in places at -- like rural health clinics and community health centers. That's something we're going to start to do this month.

Go ahead.


MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Okay, let her finish. Let her finish. Let her finish.

Q: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Sir, she was asking questions.

Go ahead. Go ahead.

Q: (Inaudible) you are saying something that is not right. That is not -- that is wrong.

Q: (Inaudible) you're saying is going to be done in mid-January or is starting in?

MS. PSAKI: We will expect to learn more about that process in mid-January. They'll give an update by then.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Jen. Two questions on the COVID -- Winter COVID Plan. One question, one clarification. So, the administration, in that plan, is releasing a Safe School Checklist. And it says "to give schools a clear game plan on how to get as many staff and students vaccinated as possible." So, is the President pushing for vaccine mandates for kids or would they support -- or would he support a vaccine mandate for schoolboards to impose that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we gave more description of this, but let me give you an example. And some- -- as somebody who has kids in elementary school, this -- other people may relate to this: Most elementary schools, or a lot of them out there, if there's somebody who tests positive for COVID, that often means that people with close contact also have to quarantine for a set number of days. That's the process in a lot of different schools. These decisions are made school district to school district.

One of the pieces you'll hear him talk about that has been implemented in other places is looking into this question of whether there can be additional testing that can be administered in schools so that you -- you can keep kids in school. The objective is to keep kids in school. So, that's -- that's kind of the most vibrant example I would give you of what we're really talking about here.

Q: And the clarification: So, the Winter Plan -- the administration is pushing pharmacies -- or is the administration pushing pharmacies to make more robocalls and robotexts to people? It says "millions" in this.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah --

Q: Because I can't get CVS to stop calling me, you know? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think what our objective is here is to make sure people know where they can get a vaccine and get a booster. And a lot of people are still confused about that. And access, we know, is a huge barrier.

So, I'm sorry about all the calls. That means CVS is just, I guess, doing a very effective job, but that's what our objective is.

I have to wrap this up in a minute, but, Patsy, go ahead.

Q: I have a question on --

MS. PSAKI: Patsy, go ahead. Go ahead.

Q: Just following up --


MS. PSAKI: Let Patsy -- I just answered --

Q: You keep saying that South Africa had dozens of cases. You know that's false. You know that is false.

MS. PSAKI: Simon, I answered a question on this. Let Patsy --


MS. PSAKI: Simon. Simon. I answered a question on this. Let's -- let's let Patsy ask a question.

Q: (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: It's not effective to scream over your colleagues in here. Let's let Patsy ask a question.

Q: (Inaudible.) You said something that is false. That is all I'm saying.

Q: Following up on Chris's question on sending vaccine to assist abroad: Can you specifically talk about the plan to send directly to humanitarian settings and conflict zones? Do you have any idea as to where, who you'll be working with?

MS. PSAKI: Can you say the beginning part of your question again, Patsy? Sorry.

Q: Well, part of the administration's plan is to send out 200 million doses in the next 100 --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- days, including humanitarian settings and conflict zones. Can you talk specifically about that, please?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, Patsy -- and I'll get you more details on this, but what we typically do is we work through trusted global health partners like the United Nations, other NGOs that are trusted, who can get humanitarian assistance and aid, including vaccine doses, into communities. So, that's typically how we would approach it.

Q: Okay. And then just another follow-up on a question that my colleague asked -- and you said you will give more specifics on the Democracy Summit --

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q: -- which is: What are the criterias in determining who gets invited? Why are you, for example, leaving out Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and inviting Pakistan? Why are you inviting Kosovo and Serbia, but not Bosnia?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our objective here was to invite a range of countries, a range of -- of civil society leaders and other private sector leaders to have a discussion about democracy.

It does not mean that we are invit- -- that everyone we're inviting, we're giving a stamp of approval on. Every democracy is a work in progress. And it doesn't mean that we are giving the opposite of a stamp of approval or a negative stamp to people who are not invited.

This is just meant to be -- to include and invite a diverse set of voices, countries who can speak to our global effort to protect democracy.

George, it'll have to be the last one.

Q: (Inaudible) on Beijing Olympics, if you don't mind -- if you have any more updates on whether the President has made his decision on the Beijing Olympics, and whether the decision-making process includes considerations on human and women's rights, in light of the treatment of the Chinese tennis player, Peng Shuai, after she disclosed that she was sexually mistreated by a Chinese official.

MS. PSAKI: I don't have an update today. I will say, broadly speaking, as I've conveyed before, that, of course, any decision takes into account a range of issues, including human rights, our concerns about them -- issues we have been quite outspoken on.

George. Let's do George and Yamiche, and then we got to wrap it up.

Go ahead, George.

Q: Thank you. I wanted to see if you could clarify a situation on the continued steel tariffs on the UK. There was a report in the FT that said that was because of concern that the British were going to harden the border with Ireland. The UK trade minister said that's a false narrative. Is there a link?

MS. PSAKI: I'd have to check on that with our team. I haven't delved into that deeply today. So, let me do that, George, and we'll get back to you.

Go ahead, Yamiche.

Q: Hi. I have two quick questions. The first is -- just because the Omicron variant is in several states -- I'm just wondering if you could talk a little bit about why the travel ban still makes sense. And I know that you talked about the timeline still being iffy, but could you just maybe explain a little bit more why those travel bans make sense right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is all based on -- it's not a decision made out of the White House. It -- ultimately, it's based on the recommendation -- always -- of our public health and medical experts.

They have advised -- several days ago -- the President to put in place restrictions on a set of countries where we are seeing the variant, specifically in South Africa, spread to hundreds if not thousands of cases and neighboring countries because of the concern about spread.

We will evaluate every day if those restrictions -- any of these restrictions should be expanded upon. But, again, there's more at this point we're still learning about the variant that our team is working 24/7 to assess, and I don't have any prediction of an end to any restrictions or additional ones at this point in time.

Q: Part of the administration's ramp up is requiring insurers to cover the cost of rapid tests. But there are obviously millions of Americans who don't have insurance, so I'm just wondering, why not just subsidize the tests directly and give them sort of -- and give them out freely, like they do in Europe, given the fact that there are so many Americans that are uninsured?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Yami- -- I answered a version of this a little bit earlier, but let me repeat some of the -- some of the, I think, most important points here.

One, we believe that our process for evaluating tests is the gold standard that other countries and parts of the world don't meet. We have eight approved by the FDA -- I believe I'm correct in that.

We also assess a range of options for making tests available. So, in addition to people being able to be reimbursed, we're providing 50 million tests to community health centers, rural clinics -- something we're going to do this month to make them available to people who are uninsured and people who need access to these tests. So that is a step we're taking in addition to the ability of people to get reimbursement from their insurers.

Q: If I could just do one more, and it's just -- on "Remain in Mexico," I know that there's a deal that's been struck. I know the lawsuit has forced President Biden to sort of have to deal with reinstating it. What's the next phase of this? Because, obviously, advocates are saying making asylum seekers stay in Mexico and remain in Mexico is dangerous and also a violation of their rights. Is there sort of a plan for that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, the Department of Homeland Security -- and just to reiterate some of the points I made earlier, but just in response to your important question: The President continues to believe that MPP has endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts. That's why we have -- we ended the program, it's why the Secretary of Homeland Security has repeatedly issued memos expressing the point of view of the administration.

As you noted, this is a court order issue that we are implementing. The Department of Homeland Security can speak to the specific aspects of this, but they did announce some key changes to the program being announced to address some humanitarian concerns. It's in the courts currently. So that's where it is.

But even as we are in a position where we have to implement it, we made some changes that they can detail in more -- further detail.

Okay. Thanks, everyone. Thank you, everyone. Have a good day.

11:59 A.M. EST

Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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