Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Good afternoon. Okay, a couple of items for you today. Not much going on around here, obviously. You've all seen the President's statement we issued this morning on the House passing his Build Back Better Agenda for the middle class, which came just three weeks after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal also passed.
And since this came through today, I wanted to just highlight and note for the American people a couple of the big benefits that are in this package that we're looking forward to moving through the Senate.
Today, families pay an average of $8,600 per year on pre-K. Under the President's plan, many of them -- most of them -- will pay $0.
The average family pays 13 percent of their income on childcare. Under the President's plan, no middle-income family will pay more than 7 percent of their income. Two parents with one toddler earning $100,000 per year will save more than $5,000 per year.
Under the President's plan, a family of four earning $80,000 per year will save nearly $3,000 per year -- or $246 per month -- on health insurance premiums.
With this plan, countless Americans will save countless Americans thousands of dollars by negotiating prescription drug prices -- for example, limiting cost-sharing for insulin products to make sure they're no higher than $35, starting in 2023. Insulin is essential for many people around the country. It will cap it at $35. That is a big deal.
And one of the biggest financial burdens on families is housing costs, as we're seeing around the country. Build Back Better will take historic steps to reduces those costs by helping to build, rehabilitate, or preserve 1 million homes.
Finally, it also reduces the deficit by $112 billion over 10 years. And several economists and analysts from leading rating agencies like Fitch Moo- -- Fitch Ratings and Moody's Analytics have made clear the President's agenda will not contribute to higher prices. Their findings echo 17 Nobel prizewinners in economics who have already stated they believe the Build Back Better Act will "ease longer-term inflationary pressures."
Also wanted to provide a brief update on COVID. Obviously, a lot going on in our efforts to take on the pandemic.
This morning, as we all saw, the FDA authorized boosters for all American adults six months after primary vaccination.
The CDC will make the final clinical recommendation, we expect, this afternoon. This is a very encouraging step to further protect Americans, especially as we enter the winter months.
If you're one of the approximately 100 million people in this country already eligible for a booster, our recommendation is that you get the extra protection afforded by a booster as soon as possible. They are widely available across the country and accessible.
Thanks to the President's operational planning since August, over 32 million Americans already have their booster, and boosters are available at over 80,000 locations.
Second, we're making strong progress protecting kids, with already 10 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds getting their first shot.
Kids that have gotten vaccinated this week will be fully vaccinated by Christmas. And we're continuing to make a big push to reach parents and kids through visits to one of our 30,000 sites for kids by the First Lady, innovative partnerships with DC Comics, and a White House visit from Ciara earlier this week.
Third, we've shipped over 250 million vaccines to the world -- more than all countries combined -- and made an announcement of a historic opportunity for mRNA manufacturers to receive funding and resources from the U.S. government to produce an additional 1 billion doses next year.
Last, over 80 percent of 12-and-older Americans have gotten one shot. This is a huge number. We're continuing to push for more vaccinations.
And finally, our view -- the recent polling will show you -- that vax requirements work. And recent polling indicates 60 percent of companies are moving forward with a vaccine requirement, which is a big step forward.
Just another little update of something happening here today. Today, first week in the job, our Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu and the seven Cabinet members and other agencies responsible for implementation as outlined in the executive order -- Departments of Commerce, Energy, Transportation, Labor, Interior, Agriculture, EPA, and OPM -- held their first meeting.
Also attending was Brian Deese, who is co-chairing the Task Force, senior staff from across the White House -- Gina McCarthy, Susan Rice, Louisa Terrell, Evan Ryan, and Jason Miller.
I have certainly invited him to speak to all of you, and he has conveyed to me he is putting his head down and getting to work, as the President has asked him to do, but will eager -- be eager to speak to you probably sometime after Thanksgiving.
Finally, one note. We gave a lengthy update -- don't worry, I will not do that again -- on supply chains yesterday. Today, we have new data from Freightos, a leading freight indicator, that I just wanted to highlight that shows shipping prices have declined by almost 25 percent over the past two weeks -- specifically the price for shipping -- of shipping a container between China and the West Coast, which has declined for two straight weeks.
And, of course, this reduction in prices and shipping costs helps ensure that we are cutting costs for consumers as well.
I guess last thing here is the Week Ahead. We did announce earlier this week that the President and First Lady will travel to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to celebrate Thanksgiving -- or "Friendsgiving," as some people call it -- with service members and military families -- thank them for their service -- as part of the Joining Forces initiative. That is on Monday.
On Tuesday, the friend -- the President, the First Lady, the Vice President, and the Second Gentleman will participate in a service project in Washington, D.C.
And later that day, the President and the First Lady will travel to Nantucket, Massachusetts, where they will remain for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Aamer, why don't you kick us off?
Q: Thanks. Now that the bill has passed the House, can you talk a little bit about the game plan in the days and weeks ahead to get it through the Senate?
And, I guess, in the media, does the President have plans of talking today or over the weekend to Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema?
And just, if you could basically let us know what's the plan going forward to get this through to the endzone.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is absolutely committed, of course, to getting this through the Senate, signing it into law, and ensuring these impacts, these cost-cutting measures are put in place into law as soon as possible.
A number of these steps, including cutting childcare costs, could have an impact early next year if -- once we get this through the Senate.
We have been -- we have remained in touch, even as we've been working to get it through the House, at a high senior staff level -- senior White House officials -- with Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin, other members of the Senate, as we know that is the next important step here. And that will continue. And I'm sure the President will engage when that is -- when it is the right moment to do that with them as well. But I don't have anything to predict for you over the next couple of days.
Q: The President announced today his intention to nominate two new members to the Postal Service Board of Governors. Is he looking to remove Postmaster Dejoy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say we are, of course, deeply troubled -- continue to be deeply troubled, as many Americans are, by the early reporting on Postmaster General DeJoy's potential financial conflicts of interest and take serious issues with the job he's doing running the Postal Service.
As you know, the President does not have the authority to fire the Postmaster General; it's ultimately up to the Board of Governors by majority.
So what was announced today is the President's intention to nominate two leaders to the bipartisan United States Postal Service Board of Governors to replace outgoing Governors Ron Bloom and John Barger. Both Derek Kan and Dan Tangherlini are experienced public servants.
And certainly, again -- just to reiterate -- it's up to the board to make a determination about leadership, but we have continued concerns about -- about the Postmaster General's leadership.
Q: Yes, I wanted to ask a few questions about oil. Has the U.S. heard back from China, Japan, South Korea, and India on a coordinated release of emergency stockpiles?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update to provide to you today. I would reiterate for those who weren't following this as closely: We have been in touch with a range of officials and leaders from countries -- including China, including other countries around the world -- that are oil producers about ensuring there is adequate supply out there, but I don't have any update for today.
Q: Okay. Is Biden considering using authority under a 2015 budget bill to declare an emergency and to limit or stop exports of oil for up to a year?
MS. PSAKI: We have a range of options at our disposal, but I don't have any new ones to introduce to all of you today.
Q: And finally -- I'm sorry -- any message for OPEC ahead of its December 2nd meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our message continues to be -- privately as well as publicly, of course; it's always good when it's consistent and important -- that we want to ensure that the OPEC member countries and OPEC as an organization meets the demand needs that are out there with the adequate supply. That is something we've pressed them on in the past.
And I don't have any new conversations privately to convey, but I'll see if there's more we can report to all of you about the meeting.
Q: We know that the President was at Walter Reed earlier today. Can you provide an update on how the physical went and the colonoscopy as well? And what information will you be releasing?
MS. PSAKI: We will have a comprehensive written summary that will be released to all of you later today as soon as it's finalized. I'm not going to get ahead of that. It's, of course, done by medical experts, which -- as is appropriate. But we will release that out to all of you later this afternoon.
As I noted in a tweet -- I hate to reference that, but here we are: Earlier this morning, the President had a conversation with Vice President Harris as well as Chief of Staff Ron Klain at around 11:35 this morning. He was in good spirits. He resumed his duties as President at that point in time.
There was also two sets of letters that we released publicly around -- one was at 10:10 a.m., the other was at 11:35 a.m. -- about the transfer of power under the 25th Amendment and the resumption of power. So -- but that's a reflection of how he is and how he is feeling.
Q: Okay. And then if I could, the vaccine mandate for the civilian federal workforce is set to take effect on Monday. Can you provide us an update on what the implementation is going to be like? And are there any concerns about possibly having staffing shortages because of that?
MS. PSAKI: There are not. Let me give you just an update on this overall -- again, for people who haven't been paying as close attention. So, November 22nd is the deadline -- not 12:01 a.m. that morning, but by the end of the day. But we don't see it as a cliff. We'll be providing more guidance in days to come.
We are the largest employer in the country. So it is -- the U.S. government that is, of course -- so it's going to take some time to collect the data, even as it comes in that day. And once we have gone through the data and have that, we will share that with all of you publicly.
But especially as we know, we will -- what we have seen is there is a surge in attestations and vaccination as we get closer to the deadline, which is certainly encouraging. But we want to have the final data Monday, through the day, before we release that publicly. It's going to take a little bit of time to process.
But, no, we do not anticipate facing any governmental operational disruptions due to this requirement. And, in fact, the requirement will avoid disruptions, in our view, in our labor force because vaccinations help avoid COVID.
Q: And how will the boosters for Moderna and Pfizer, which are pretty close to being approved -- how will that factor into these vaccine requirements for federal workers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we abide by the CDC guidance -- which we follow it and will continue to -- which is two shots of an mRNA vaccine or one J&J shot; that has not changed. And so we're not going to get ahead of any changes they could make in the future.
Q: Thanks, Jen. A couple of questions on the Build Back Better plan and also how things went last night in the House. Does the White House have any response to Representative McCarthy's eight-hour speech last night that delayed the vote?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Kevin McCarthy said a lot of words -- a lot of words; I just want to emphasize that -- over the course of eight and a half hours.
For those of you who didn't watch all of it: He mused about -- he shared his wish that he could have been in Tiananmen Square. He mused about whether or not Abraham Lincoln was actually assassinated. He shared his whole his hope or his thought or dream -- I'm not sure -- about picturing America in a swim meet after World War Two against every other country.
But in eight and a half hours, what he did not talk about was cutting the cost of childcare, cutting the cost of eldercare, what we were going to do around the country to bring more women into the workforce, to protect our climate, and that -- for generations to come. That, in our view, tells you all you need to know about Kevin McCarthy's agenda and what he supports.
Q: Okay. And Senator Manchin -- on the topic of Senator Manchin: He says he's still not decided on this bill. Is there anything that the White House is doing to get him to come around on the bill? I know you mentioned this a few moments ago, but is there anything specific that you guys are doing to kind of convince him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we've been in close touch, as you all know, with Senator Manchin for several months now. That will continue. That can include answering questions he may have, hearing concerns he may have. We are in touch with him, with his staff through senior White House officials at this point in time. And we believe he's been operating and negotiating in good faith. That has been our experience to date.
So now, as everyone knows, the next step is getting it through the Senate. That's what our focus will be on. And I expect we'll continue the discussions and negotiations as they have occurred to date.
Q: Could you tell us when was the last time the President spoke with him?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update on that. But I would note that a lot of this work happens -- and I think members of Congress and their staff will tell you this -- at a staff level. It's answering questions. It's following up. The President has had him here a number of times, as you certainly all know well, but I don't have an update on the last call.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q: Following up on that, the President has made it clear how important paid leave is to him in this bill. Would the President sign the Build Back Better Act if paid leave got dropped from the bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you're right that the President absolutely wants to see paid leave in a final package. That's why he proposed it in his initial proposal when he laid out his speech back in May, outlining his Build Back Better Agenda. He thinks it's long overdue. He thinks it will help bring more women into the workforce. It will ensure that more women have seats at the table. And it's something he would like to see in the package.
He also knows and recognizes that you need the majority of members in the Senate -- all -- every single Democrat -- to support something to get it across the finish line. And what he looks at -- and I'm not going to prejudge what the outcome is here -- is the totality of -- and this is how the American people look at things -- the totality of packages of what is included.
This bill, no matter what -- everybody supports universal pre-K, cutting the cost of childcare, historic investment in addressing the climate crisis, making sure there's more housing units available, investing and making sure eldercare is less expensive.
There are disagreements -- everybody knows that -- publicly, but he knows he's not going to get everything he wants in this package. If it's not in there, he'll continue to fight for it.
Q: So what is the backup plan if paid leave does get dropped from the Build Back Better Bill?
MS. PSAKI: He'll continue to fight to make it law.
Q: And just a logistical question. Will we get all the results of the President's physical this afternoon, or are there some lab results or test results that we won't see until a later date, like next week?
MS. PSAKI: I expect it will be a comprehensive summary of everything today and don't anticipate, at this point, that there would be lagging results later.
Q: So, first, following up on the physical. If this was a routine physical, why wasn't it on the schedule that you gave us last night? Why the secrecy there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to peel the curtain back for the American people on how this works and how it typically works -- if you look back at history here: This morning, we notified the pool -- the press pool -- many of you are part of that and rotate through that. We called the President of the White House Correspondents Association --
Q: Very early. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: -- very early this morning -- who was awake. We called the network bureau chief -- chair -- that's rotating, as you know, and indicated that the President -- not only would the pool be gathering, but the President would be going to get a routine physical.
I then sent out a tweet to many, many people out there at around 6:15 a.m. And we have put out many, many updates since then, and we will put out a comprehensive written summary later this afternoon.
That's pretty standard for how it's approached -- sharing this information. It's -- it follows protocols that have been followed in the past.
And, again, you all will receive a comprehensive summary later this afternoon.
Q: Okay. Moving on to the Build Back Better plan: Is the President going to stop saying that the Build Back Better plan does not increase the deficit "one single cent" if we now know that that is not true?
MS. PSAKI: It is true. And I would note that several economists and experts out there -- I would note -- I think you're probably talking about the CBO score.
Q: Which Joe Biden himself, in 2010, called the "gold standard" for Democrats and Republicans.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, since we're all here to communicate with the public about accurate information, what I would just note is that one of the components that experts -- Democrats and Republicans, including former heads of the CBO -- have pointed to is that IRS -- IRS enforcement is not something that there's a lot of experience in the CBO scoring.
They still scored it, but it is undervalued by the assessment of many economists and experts, including people who have been critical of us in the past, who estimate -- including former Treasury Secretaries of both parties -- who estimate there will be significant savings, significantly higher than what is estimated currently.
So, our assessment and the assessment by many economists out there is that there will be savings. Over 10 years, it will actually reduce the deficit.
Q: The CBO's projection is that it's going to -- that there's going to be at least a $160 billion increase to the deficit over 10 years. That is 16 trillion cents. So the President was not telling the truth.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter -- just to go back to the content facts here -- so CB- -- so the IRS enforcement component, something recommended by former Secretary Hank Paulson, former Secretary Larry Summers -- Democrats and Republicans of both parties -- who feel there could be significant savings over the course of time.
I'm just going to note something that form- -- Trump-appointed IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said: " The administration estimates $400 billion in additional revenue can be generated over the next decade from enforcement efforts focused on higher-end incomes, shrinking the tax gap. This figure is no surprise".
Republican former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson cowrote an op-ed with other former Treasury Secretaries, saying that there could be considerably more revenue than we projected, from the White House, from this.
So, again, this is an area where experts -- economic experts -- neither of us are one; I think we can confirm that --
MS. PSAKI: -- have confirmed that there are significant savings that will come from this. That is why moderate members of the House, I think they would tell you -- and many of them have spoken to this, including Congressman Kurt Schrader, who was one of the moderates who was on the borderline, given deficit impacts -- have said they felt comfortable with it because of the expertise out there about the impact of IRS enforcement.
Q: When the last administration tried to say that the CBO was incorrect, you tweeted, "Watching [Mulvaney] try to walk away from [a] CBO score and explain [the] budget outline is awkward and uncomfortable to watch." So what is the difference between the Trump administration saying, "Don't listen to the CBO" and the Biden administration saying, "Don't listen to the CBO"?
MS. PSAKI: Actually, we've praised the overall work of the CBO on the Build Back Better Act repeatedly. And that's what we believe.
But again, I would point to the fact that there isn't a great deal of history or experience in scoring IRS enforcement. That's something that economists across the board have noted. That's something that leaders on the Hill -- Democrats and Republicans -- have been briefed on for several months now. And that's why it wasn't really a surprise to them and why the vote, in part, moved forward.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q: Jen, thank you. Can you explain the timing of the physical today? What was behind it? Did the fact that the President is turning 79 years old tomorrow have anything to do with the timing? Did he want to have that before his birthday?
MS. PSAKI: The President is well aware that his birthday is a matter of public record, as the President of the United States. I can confirm that.
I will say, Kristen, we knew that we were going to do -- he wanted to do and committed to do a physical before the end of the year, so this is obviously -- meets that timeline. And obviously, we work through scheduling availability and requirements in order to do that because any President is typically at Walter Reed for a couple of hours.
Q: And not to harp on this point -- but, you know, I think there was an expectation there would be a press conference tomorrow. He obviously had a very --
MS. PSAKI: Tomorrow?
Q: I'm sorry. Yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q: He obviously -- it was a late night for all of us here in Washington.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it's okay.
Q: He obviously had a very full day yesterday. Was there any last minuteness to the decision of his going in today?
MS. PSAKI: In -- I'm sorry, I don't really understand your question.
Q: For the physical.
MS. PSAKI: To do it or not -- I'm not --
Q: To do it. To do the physical.
MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure I'm understanding your question. Did we schedule it yesterday?
Q: Was this planned in the -- days in advance?
MS. PSAKI: We had planned to do the physical, yes. But I would --
Q: Days in advance?
MS. PSAKI: Right. But what's the root of your question, just to make sure I answer it?
Q: Just when was it planned? When did he first schedule the physical? We -- just because he had such a full day yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: And he had a colonoscopy today. A lot of people that know --
MS. PSAKI: That is -- that is the nature of being President. And as you -- and as I would note, in the pool report -- and this may be why you're asking -- the co- -- the meetings yesterday didn't end until after eight o'clock last night. Obviously, the President was closely watching the vote last night, as we all were -- maybe not through the totality of the eight-and-a-half-hour missives, but he was watching closely last night as well.
Q: Is there any discussion about having a doctor brief us, given that he is the oldest sitting Commander-in-Chief?
MS. PSAKI: We will be releasing a comprehensive summary -- a written summary -- that will have details from the doctor and other experts who were consulted -- medical experts who were consulted -- that you'll receive later today. So that, I think, is what our intention is.
Q: I also just want to ask you on a different topic, broadly speaking. The country is sort of waiting for, anticipating a jury verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case. What is the President's direct message to people who want to protest, express their opinions after the verdict? And might we hear from the President after there is a verdict?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I certainly -- I just want to preface: I'm not going to prejudge a verdict on an ongoing deliberation over a case. And clearly, once it's concluded, I'm sure there will be something we have to say from the White House.
But -- and we have been in close touch with officials on the ground through law enforcement channels to ensure we are supporting any effort toward peaceful protests. That's certainly what we will continue to encourage as anyone looks to have their voice heard, regardless of the outcome.
Q: There was one conspicuous thing missing from the week ahead that Bloomberg is particularly interested in, which is the Fed chair, of course.
MS. PSAKI: "What's the President's favorite Thanksgiving meal?" No, okay. (Laughter.)
Q: Yeah. On what -- is it accurate to say that it'll happen on Monday or Tuesday, since that's the time that the President is going to be in?
MS. PSAKI: The President intends to make a decision. And I expect we'll have more to share in advance of his departure. So, by process of elimination, expect they'll more -- there'll be more to report early next week.
Q: Okay. Government funding runs out December 3rd. I'm wondering if the White House right now is looking for a CR to get, you know, towards New Year's or if you'd like a longer government funding.
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question. I -- just given the pure volume of legislative work this week, I have not had a conversation with the legislative team about this.
Obviously, we would typically work closely with leadership on determining what that might look like. Let me see if there's more we can report on that to you.
Q: And then, yesterday, you got a bunch of questions about the EV tax credit in Build Back Better. The Canadians are obviously upset about it. It would make sense that because Senator Manchin has said that he doesn't support it, that the President's message to the Prime Minister is that it's probably going to drop out of the final version of the bill. Is that sort of an accurate representation of what their conversation was? Or how would you characterize what his message for the Canadians was yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: I think his message was exactly what I conveyed publicly, which is that there's a long history of using tax credits here to incentivize choices. That's true. They'll lower the cost here of electric vehicles by twenty- -- $12,500 for a middle-class family. That's something we want to incentivize in the United States. And we feel it's an industry that will help move towards a more clean energy future -- something that will help address the climate crisis that we share an interest with with the Canadians.
Certainly, as the Canadian leaders read out, this was an issue they raised. I'll leave that to them to characterize further.
And the President said, of course, we're happy to continue having a conversation. However, this is something the President is deeply committed to because he believes good-paying union jobs that will help us move toward a clean energy indus- -- help us support clean energy industries is in our economic and national security and national interest.
Q: One last one to just -- on the conversation you had with Peter. The CBO estimated that this -- the tax enforcement would bring in a little over $200 billion. You guys are obviously saying $400 billion. I'm wondering if you can -- I don't think they're just throwing darts. I also take the point that you guys think that they're not experienced at, sort of, figuring out how much this enforcement will bring in. But "twice as much" is a big discrepancy. And so, I'm wondering why you disagree so, so dramatically with the CBO on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn't characterize it exactly in that -- those terms. I would, again, point to -- and just another person I haven't introduced here -- but Doug Elmendorf, who you all are familiar with, who directed the CBO from 2009 to 2015, said estimating the returns on additional IRS enforcement was challenging because large funding infusions to the agency had little precedent and it was difficult to quantify the "indirect effects" of more auditors.
So, I would note that we also technically, I guess, have disagreements with economic experts who are projecting it would have even larger savings. I mean not -- not bad disagreements, but our projections are not exactly the same as Larry Summers, who said that the proposal could result in almost $800 billion in revenue and has a Washington Post op-ed about it where he talks about that; and others who have projected it would have even larger savings.
So, I think it's just an indication of the difficulty, but what we're pointing to and what we think is an important indication for the American people and for many members of Congress who are concerned, as the President is, about deficit reduction -- and this bill will save money in the deficit over the course of 10 years -- is that this is something where it will have that impact. It has a larger impact than even we are projecting. And that's what we felt was important to point to.
Q: In an effort to flesh out the historical record of the day, is there anything you can tell us about the 85 minutes that Kamala Harris served as Acting President?
MS. PSAKI: I will leave that to the Vice President and her team to characterize. You know, I would note that -- and you didn't ask me exactly this, but I know other people have been talking about this and, as a woman myself, I will note that, you know, the President, when he selected her to be his running mate, obviously he knew he was making history -- was making history that was long overdue, in our view. And part of that was selecting someone who could serve by your side, as your partner, but also step in if you were -- if there was a reason to. And that includes the application of the 25th Amendment, as was done this morning.
He also, of course -- we also know we make history every time they're working together, every time she's out there speaking on behalf of the government as the Vice President of the United States. But certainly, today was another chapter in that history, I think, that will be noted for many women, young girls across the country.
Q: You have disclosed that the President received a colonoscopy today. Are you in a position right now to talk about any other procedures or tests he might be undergoing as we speak?
MS. PSAKI: We will disclose all of that, but I'm going to leave it to the medical experts to do that, and they will do that later this afternoon in a written summary.
Q: Yeah, thanks, Jen. In his statement yesterday, when he talked about the U.S. purchasing Pfizer's COVID-19 pill, the President mentioned that he wanted to make that pill free for the public. Can you lay just, sort of, how that would work, ensuring that that pill might be free?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, vaccines around the country are largely free, so that is -- there is a precedent for that, you know, across the country and something he wants to ensure it's available and accessible to people to protect them from COVID.
And I think this falls into the category -- falls into the -- falls into our expansive effort to fight the pandemic, get it under control, and get on the other side of it. So, in terms of how it would work like with contracts? Or --
Q: Yeah. Does it require negotiations with insurance companies or pharmacies or --
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question. Let me talk to our COVID team and see what else it would require.
Q: Okay. And then, on Ethiopia, the situation there seems to continue to be deteriorating. What advice does the White House have for Americans that are still in the country, especially given that the FAA sort of warned there could be inadvertent risks to commercial flights in the area?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as things have deteriorated there, we have taken strong measures to encourage Americans to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible while they can do so safely via commercial travel, which is still ongoing, because things can change in an instant and flight options could disappear.
And the State Department goes to great lengths to assist U.S. citizens in crisis. We want to ensure Americans who may be in Ethiopia should not expect the United States will be able to facilitate a military evacuation in a dangerous environment.
There are no plans -- and people should understand this who are on the ground -- to fly the U.S. military into Ethiopia to facilitate evacuation.
So, the State Department is using every measure they have to communicate directly and broadly with Americans there about the fact that it is time to depart.
Q: And just really quick: You were asked yesterday about the Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, and you didn't have anything to say then. I wonder if you have any sort of update from the White House on whether the U.S. or the President is following that.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. We are deeply concerned by reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing after accusing a former PRC senior official of sexual assault.
We join in the calls for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe.
I can't speak, of course -- I know you're not asking this -- but to the details of the case or any more details of where she might be, obviously. But I want to be clear where the United States stands, generally speaking.
First, any report of sexual assault should be investigated, and we support a woman's ability to speak out and seek accountability, whether here or around the world.
Second, we'll continue to stand up for the freedom of speech. And we know the PRC has zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those that speak out, and we continue to condemn those practices.
Q: Can I go back to some news from yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: You were asked about this idea of a "diplomatic boycott." I'm wondering if you can offer any additional details or define for us what a "diplomatic boycott" means.
MS. PSAKI: I just don't have any more updates from here today, and it's just an indication that there hasn't been a final decision.
Q: Okay. And then also, at the outset, you mentioned today that the infrastructure czar and seven Cabinet Secretaries were meeting. Can you provide any additional details about what they were discussing, sort of what their priorities are, any additional info on that meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can tell you that going back to last Friday when the Cabinet -- when the President had a meeting with his Cabinet, the focus of that was on infrastructure implementation. And he basically went around to each Cabinet member who had purview, or was going to oversee a key part of the implementation, to get an update from them on what their approach would be.
Some departments, as you know, will be creating entirely new programs. Some will have a level of funding, including the Department of Transportation -- some will have a level of funding, like the Department of Commerce, they've never had for some of these programs before. So, it was different project to project.
So what I would anticipate is that they will -- that our implementation coordinator will receive an update on the work that is happening by each of these members and that these will be regular meetings that will continue to ensure that there is implementation that is effective and efficient, and that we are reducing waste, fraud, and abuse.
Q: Okay. Can I ask you one quick question -- sorry, last one -- on the turkeys, if you don't mind.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, the -- those turkeys. Yes. (Laughter.)
Q: Can you confirm where they are going after they may pardoned? I've heard Purdue University.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, wow. There's a --
Q: This is a really random question.
MS. PSAKI: This is an important question. (Laughter.)
I -- we will get you that after the briefing. I can confirm that part of it is staying in a hotel, which -- my daughter did not believe me, but that is accurate.
Q: On the turkeys who are pardoned --
MS. PSAKI: They stay in advance -- the turkeys do --
Q: I see.
MS. PSAKI: -- in a hotel. But we will get you the det- -- I think there have been details put out by the -- I'm not sure if it's the "Turkey Bureau," but we will get you all of the details after the briefing.
Q: On the turkeys, are any humans going to be pardoned by President Biden? There are people who are serving life in prison for marijiuana who want him to honor his commitment to release everyone in prison for pot. Are people going to get pardoned as well by President Biden?
MS. PSAKI: I will just reiterate that the President is, of course -- I have nothing new to update you on. But the President is, of course -- will look to the use of his clemency powers. He's talked about his approach -- or his view on nonviolent drug offenders, but I don't have anything to update you on, on that, today.
Q: Jen, in the wake of the President's physical and on the topic of his health, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 50 percent of voters surveyed did not agree with the statement that "President Biden is in good health," and that voters are almost evenly split on the question of if he is in "good mental health."
I understand that the President disagrees with this assessment, the White House disagrees with this assessment. But I'm curious: Where do you think these voters concerns are coming from?
MS. PSAKI: I can't speak to the assessments of voters. There are certainly quite a bit of conspiracy theory pushing out there on a range of social media platforms and even through the mouths of elected officials. So, that could certainly be a root cause, as you know.
But I would say that we are not only following past precedent of what has been done, if you look back -- and I know this was noted in the statement we put out this morning of the times where there was a transfer of power under the Bush administration. We're looking at past precedent there and making sure we're following that but also going beyond in many cases.
And the comprehensive summary that we put out this afternoon will have, certainly, an overview of the -- the President's routine physical and their assessments. And that is something we will make widely available.
Q: And just one more on Build Back Better: How confident is the President that he will be able to keep all 50 senators on board with minimal changes? And on the topic of changes, is there anyone sort of engaged on paid family leave, but is there any red line for him on something that absolutely has to stay in the bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President would have loved to have seen -- seen his entire original proposal passed. But he also knows from having served 36 years in the Senate, that's not how it goes.
He's somebody who governs from the position of "compromise" not being a dirty word. He sees consensus as the way you get things done, and that's certainly how we're going to approach the next few weeks as well.
So, his bottom lines have not changed. He wants to lower costs for the American people, give them more breathing room, ease the burden on -- of areas like childcare, eldercare, healthcare. Those are all components that are solidly in this package. And he won't raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year. So those are his continued bottom lines.
Q: Following up on Build Back Better, Jen --
Q: Thanks, Jen. I --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Katie.
Q: Kyle Rittenhouse has been declared not guilty by a jury on one count of first-degree reckless homicide. On the second count, first-degree reckless endangerment, he has also been found not guilty. What is the White House's response to that?
Q: Not guilty on all counts, correct?
Q: All counts.
MS. PSAKI: I -- obviously this happened while I was out here. So, let me talk to the President and talk to our team, and we will get you a statement as soon as we can.
Q: Does the President think the judge in the Rittenhouse trial saying that the victims in Kenosha should not be referred to as "victims" but rather "looters" or "protesters" is appropriate?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I'm not going to give an assessment of this from here. Let us get you a comp- -- a statement as soon as we can.
Q: And last question on the physical: Will you be offering a full list of the people who treated the President and their assorted specialties?
MS. PSAKI: We will be offering -- we will be referencing additional medical experts who the President spoke with, but I don't think -- I am not going to prejudge what the final comprehensive summary will look like.
Q: Build Back Better, Jen. Catholic bishops --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q: Thanks, Jen. It's in the news --
Q: -- fear faith-based preschools could be excluded from receiving Build Back Better money --
Q: -- that the booster shots --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q: -- because they would --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q: Is the administration --
MS. PSAKI: I don't think you need to talk over her. She's just asking a question.
Q: Okay. I'll go after her then. I'll go after her.
Q: Is the administration considering changing the definition of what it means to "fully vaccinated"? And is there any concern, at a state level, that there could be some confusion about what it means to be "fully vaccinated," given that some governors have started to change that definition?
MS. PSAKI: Well, some governors, I know, have offered booster shots in advance of -- or have expanded that. Right? I'm not sure if they've changed the definition, which is typically done by the CDC. We follow CDC guidance. CDC guidance continues to be: two mRNA shots and one Johnson & Johnson.
We don't prejudge and I can't preview for you if they're going to change that at any point in time. But that's what we will continue to follow and that's what we would advise others to follow around the country.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q: Okay, Jen, on Build Back Better, Catholic bishops -- Jen --
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay. Thank you.
Q: Okay, here we go: Catholic bishops fear --
MS. PSAKI: You know what? I'm moving on over here.
Q: -- faith-based preschools --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q: -- I'll go next. I'll go next, please. Thank you.
Q: Do you have -- do you have any reaction to the report that the U.S. is considering deporting a group of Afghans who did not meet the vetting requirements back to Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to look into the specific details, but I would note that our -- our thorough vetting processes are in place for a reason -- and we follow those to the letter of the law -- and ensure that we are not only welcoming people who served by our side for many years during a challenging, long war but also that we are making sure the American people know they're safe. But I have to look into these specific examples.
Q: And then one on Russia if I may. According to Kremlin spokesman -- spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, some certain preparations are underway for the virtual meeting between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Can you confirm that?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any meeting to preview or call to preview for you at this point in time. If something like that is confirmed or finalized, we're happy to share that information.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Ahead of Thanksgiving, I wanted to ask you about hunger in the country, specifically hunger among military families. We've seen some of these recent reports that as many as 15 percent of enlisted military families were dealing with food insecurity even before the pandemic. Secretary Austin, as you know, talked about this as an issue just this week.
I know that Chairman McGovern has been pushing the White House to hold a summit on hunger. Is that something the White House is really considering? And is there anything new the White House is doing on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, because of the American Rescue Plan, we've cut childhood hunger in half over the last year.
And I would tell you that when we look to getting the Build Back Better agenda passed, to the impact it's going to have on lowering childcare, lowering eldercare -- the cost of eldercare, lowering the cost of healthcare -- these are all costs on families that impact what they're able to afford in their daily lives.
And, certainly, the impact on military families -- as a military family himself -- or, I should say, the President and Dr. Biden -- that is heartbreaking. And they're going to continue to fight to do more to make sure there are not hungry families, whether they're military or not, in this country.
In terms of a summit, I don't have any plans to preview for you on that front.
Q: Can I just follow up, because there's two -- in both the House and the Senate version of the NDAA, it called for a basic needs allowance to help military families that are low income and having a hard time. But there's a difference -- this is wonky, but the Senate --
MS. PSAKI: It's okay. We're a safe place. Wonky.
Q: -- the Senate version would basically count the housing allowance as income, which a lot of activists say would mean that a lot of low-income families would no longer qualify for that basic needs allowance, so thousands of military families could suddenly not qualify for that extra money and that extra help.
OMB said that they just need more, you know, comprehensive data and analysis to determine if they support the inclusion or exclusion. Is there any update on where the White House stands on that?
MS. PSAKI: I'm happy to check and see if there's any update on it. Obviously, our objective -- overarching objective is not to make it more challenging for anyone, including -- especially military families -- to put food on the table.
That -- making sure that's not the case is central to the President's agenda. But I will see if there's more to report on that.
Q: Again, Jen, Catholic bishops fear --
MS. PSAKI: Chris, did you have a question?
Q: -- faith-based preschools could be excluded from --
MS. PSAKI: We don't need to scream or shout over other people in here --
Q: -- receiving Build Back Better money. I'm raising --
MS. PSAKI: -- so we're going to keep moving on.
Q: -- I'm rais- -- I've got a legitimate question here.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q: Okay. Legitimate question.
Q: I had a question about Section 230. Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that they were going to defend Section 230 in a lawsuit filed by the former president, but as a candidate, President Biden repeatedly called for the repeal of Section 230. So, does the Justice Department's actions yesterday represent a change in President -- the President or the administration's attitude?
MS. PSAKI: He called for reforms of Section 230; that continues to be his position.
Q: I have a question that concerns religious liberty --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the middle.
Q: -- religious freedom.
MS. PSAKI: Go -- wait -- go ahead in the middle, Brett. Go ahead.
Q: Thanks, Jen. Appreciate it.
Q: Hoping you can respond that.
Q: Does the White House have any reaction to Senator Rubio this morning calling the President's pick to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency a "communist" or any of the criticism that she faced at her hearing yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I did see some of that commentary. I also enjoyed the pushback from Senator Elizabeth Warren, who maybe we should just point to as our response. But I would say the President nominated her to serve in this job because she is eminently qualified, and she's somebody who would represent the role and the United States effectively in the position. And certainly we're hopeful she's confirmed.
Q: Jen, thank you. I'm not an economist either --
MS. PSAKI: (Laughs.)
Q: -- but I can divide by 10 years. And even if you take -- would you be willing to go so far as to say that even if you take the lower CBO expectation of what the IRS would bring in in a Build Back Better Act, that the deficits on an annual basis will be so low that it might -- it would be palatable to the American people and palatable to Senator Manchin in particular? Would you go so far as to say?
MS. PSAKI: I don't want to speak for Senator Manchin or all of the American people; I can only speak for the President and the White House. But what I think it's important for the American people to understand, and certainly Senator Manchin too, is what I've noted a little bit already to date: The former head of the CBO conveyed how difficult it is to score IRS enforcement. We have former Treasury Secretaries who don't always agree with us -- former Secretary Paulson, former Secretary Larry Summers -- conveying that there could be much greater savings.
So, what I'm conveying to you is that our calculations and assessments, and those of outside economists, are that it will actually be -- this bill will actually reduce the deficit, and it will also lower costs and reduce inflationary pressures.
Q: Can I follow up there for a second? Seventeen billion dollars, or whatever, a year is a drop in the bucket compared to the natural deficits the country is actually running up right now. Is that -- do you think that's palatable, then, to Senator Manchin, to the American people?
MS. PSAKI: I can't speak for Senator Manchin or the American people. What I can speak for is what we believe our assessment is based on outside economists and experts of what the actual savings will be over the course of time. And it will reduce the deficit over the course of 10 years. And that's what we're communicating to the American people and to Senator Manchin.
Q: Thank you, Jen. A couple questions on Ukraine and Russia (inaudible). Yesterday, the Ukrainian government pleaded for more military aid to defend itself against Russia. At the same time, Putin is complaining that Western countries don't take his "red lines," as he called them, seriously, and blamed Western countries for the tension in Ukraine, particularly with these weapons supplies to Ukraine.
So, given those two conflicting things, what is the President's -- you know, what's the way forward for him? Does he go with Putin's red lines, or does he go with United States wants to help Ukraine defend itself, as it says?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we go with what is in the interests of the United States and what is in our own national security interests. You know, the President's -- Putin's speech -- which is what I think what we're referring to here -- touched on a range of topics, including U.S.-Russian relations and the need to maintain dialogue to address many disagreements. We agree. That's a part of an important discussion, even as I don't have anything to preview about what that will look like or what's next.
We welcomed President Putin's statement about resolving the Donbas conflict peacefully using the Minsk Agreements. We support reenergized efforts to reach a settlement under the Minsk framework and call for immediate steps to restore the July 20 ceasefire. We also continue to have serious concerns about Russian military activities and harsh rhetoric toward Ukraine, and call on Moscow to deescalate tensions.
We have been -- have had extensive interactions with our European allies and partners in recent weeks, including with Ukraine. And we've discussed our concerns about Russian military activities and harsh record -- harsh rhetoric toward Ukraine with the Russians over the course of time as well.
So, I wouldn't say we're reacting to any component of President Putin's speech. We are going to continue to proceed and welcome steps or comments where we feel they are encouraging or positive, and convey concern where we see action or rhetoric that is -- that is not in line with what we feel should be happening.
Q: How about Ukraine's request for -- they're saying, "We need more weapons." It's pretty clear -- their message.
MS. PSAKI: I don't have thing to preview or predict for you in terms of additional assistance. We've provided, as you know, a range of assistance -- military and non-military assistance to Ukraine, and strong supporters of Ukraine over the course of time.
Q: And then a follow-up on Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: I'm just going to keep going around. Chris, go ahead.
Q: So, it's been several months since the -- people were hopeful that the pandemic was ending, that the mask-wearing guidance went away. Now numbers are ticking back up, we're going into a second winter that could be deadly, and we're still having, you know, more than a thousand deaths a day.
What is the White House's message to the American people who are, you know, frustrated over this turn of events and now potentially need to get a third shot and continue to get shots into the future to protect themselves from the virus?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we would say: We understand. We are tired and exhausted by the pandemic as well. And what we can do is encourage action; we're encouraging every eligible American to get the extra protection a booster offers. They're readily available across the country. It doesn't take a lot of time. It should be easy for people to do. And that is what our focus is on.
We're encouraging all children -- all parents of children who are eligible for the vaccine to get vaccinated. We've already seen 10 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated. Getting kids protected is a key part of moving forward in fighting the pandemic.
We also have taken actions like securing 10 million Pfizer and 3 million Merck antiviral pills. So, the American people should know that we are continuing to look for any way available and possible to get the pandemic under control, to make sure people know we're moving in a continued, better direction on this.
And we believe that moving forward with requirements and other measures that will boost vaccinations is also a positive step.
We know we're heading into the winter. We are -- that's one of the reasons we've been encouraging people who are eligible to get the boosters. We've been encouraging parents of kids to get their kid -- who are eligible -- to get their kids vaccinated. Again, they could be fully vaccinated by Chris- -- by Christmas, or the holiday season, at this point in time.
So, that's what our focus is on now. We believe we have strong measures to keep people safe, and we just need to continue to press forward in communities across the country.
Q: Is there nothing else that the administration can do? Is it basically up to the American people at this point? Or is there -- you know, what powers -- other powers do you have to take more steps? Or is it really just on Americans now to do what they can?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, you know, under the President's leadership, we not only purchased enough supply to ensure the entire American population is vaccinated, we've made it readily available across the country. We've made it accessible. We have also secured 10 million doses of -- as I noted -- of the antiviral pills. We've ensured we've run mass-vaccination communications campaigns across the country.
So, I would say the American -- the federal government and the President -- this has been his number one priority, and we've done everything humanly possible.
At a certain point, it is true that people have to go get shots, get themselves vaccinated, and protect themselves. But we want to do everything we can to make it as easy as humanly possible.
Let me go all the way to the back.
Q: Thank you, Jen. I really appreciate it. Nominees to serve in senior State Department positions and as U.S. ambassadors have been told by handlers that the backlog for confirmations is, quote, "unprecedented" and to expect to wait months longer even than they already had expected with a really delayed process.
Is President Biden considering the possibility of recess appointments, at least for postings of high operational and strategic importance?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything to preview on that front, but I will note it is unprecedented. And I would also note that there have been statements, including from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just a few days ago, emphasizing the -- how concerning the historic nature of this is.
Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican or nonpolitical at all, I think most people recognize we should have ambassadors serving in posts around the world. We should have an ambassador to China serving in that country right now, an eminently qualified one, who the President has nominated.
We should have ambassadors at posts around Europe -- all around Europe -- at a time where ensuring we are supporting NATO is a pivotal message to send to Russia and other countries around the world.
And these are not only being blocked by some but also delayed. A lot of these -- and I talked about this a little bit yesterday -- but the fact is that many of these ambassadors will move forward with bipartisan support once there's a vote. And what's happening now is there's an insistence on a lengthy debate process instead of moving forward through unanimous consent, which would mean just basically allowing for a vote without going through a lengthy floor process that would use a lot of time on the floor. That can happen.
So, there's a lot of ways that this can move forward. I don't have anything to preview for you in terms of recess appointments, but it is frustrating, it is unprecedented, and it does certainly hurt our national security.
Go ahead, all the way in the back. John, what do you have for me today?
Q: Thank you, Jen. Does the administration still recognize the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Ali as the legitimate government of Ethiopia? And are they standing by it firmly?
MS. PSAKI: I don't know if the State Department has spoken to this, and I don't want to speak out of turn here. So let me check with them and see if there's any update on this front. Obviously, we have expressed significant concern. We've put in place sanctions. I will see if there's anything more official I can convey to all of you from here.
Q: And just as a follow-up to the previous question on ambassadorships: The President has not named anyone to the key ambassadorships in Ukraine and in Hungary right now. Are any of those pending? Because this is not anything tied up in Congress; it's from the administration.
MS. PSAKI: Fair. And obviously, as is true of other personnel appointments, the President certainly wants to ensure we have the right person to nominate for each of those vital and important positions. But there are dozens of qualified nominees who are waiting to be confirmed, and we're certainly eager to see that move forward.
Q: Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone. Happy Friday.
1:30 P.M. EST
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353492