Press Briefing By Press Secretary Jen Psaki And National Economic Council Director Brian Deese
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:15 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. We have a very special guest -- a return guest, shall I say -- Brian Deese, our NEC Director, who is going to give some brief comments on the data out this morning, answer a couple of questions, and then we'll proceed from there.
So, with that, I'll turn it over to Brian Deese.
MR. DEESE: Thanks, Jen. Good to be with you all today. I, just at the top, wanted to make a couple of points about -- of context on our current economic situation, and then happy to take questions that you have.
So, four quick points. First is the context on our economic recovery. We've learned, based on data that we received over the last several days, that, in 2021, our economy experienced the largest single drop in the unemployment rate on record in the history of the country, down to 3.9 percent; the most jobs created in any year on record at 6.4 million; the strongest economic growth of any year in nearly four decades, coming in between 5.6 -- 5 and 6 percent over the course of 2021, in all likelihood; and real household income -- that is taking into account price increases -- increased in 2021.
So, just to repeat that context: the largest decline in unemployment, the most jobs created, and the strongest economic growth in nearly 40 years.
The second point is we got December price data today. And I would note that we saw a welcome deceleration in the rate of price increases in a number of respects.
In the headline -- price increase data -- we saw a decline month to month to 0.5 percent, down from 0.8 percent in the month before. It's still too high, but moving in the right direction.
As I think I say every time here -- and if I don't, I -- it's a mistake -- we never index too heavily on any individual one month of data in any direction. But I would note that we saw, in prices from November to December, a decline in the rate of growth of the prices for food at home, which is a technical way of saying food that people buy in the grocery store. And we saw a drop in the price of energy, both at the gas pump but also natural gas and winter heating costs.
And many of you focused on the annual 7 percent rate. If we are trying to look at where we are headed, the month-to-month changes are more instructive. And most independent forecasters continue to project that we will see moderation in price increases over the course of 2022.
Third point is the global context for this data, both on prices and on economic growth writ large. What we're seeing right now is these price increases are a global phenomenon, and that reflects the nature of the global challenge of coming through a pandemic crisis and a pandemic-affected recovery.
Over the past six months, price increases in the United States and Europe have basically run neck and neck. In December, the EU saw its highest recorded inflation in -- on record. Germany saw its highest inflation, in December, since reunification. And so, while there are differences country by country, this is a global phenomenon and driven by these global issues.
Which comes to the fourth point, which is: Given the unique strength of the United States economic recovery -- overall growth, as well as the labor market -- we are well positioned to attack the challenges of prices and costs head on. And that's exactly what the President and this administration are doing. And it's his principal focus when it comes to the economy.
As he laid out on Friday, his approach to attacking prices and costs are grounded in the -- in the premise that the right way to do this is to build on the economic successes that we have seen, not to abandon them.
And that really means, with respect to what we in the administration and Congress can do, is to focus on how we can expand the productive capacity of the economy; how we can make sure that our economy can produce more goods and services more cheaply and easily across the country; get more people working; and get to the strong, sustainable growth that we are beginning to see -- and if we can address these present challenges, we'll hopefully see going forward.
The President has outlined a very specific three-part plan to do that around unsticking supply chains, protecting consumers, and promoting competition and trying to actually reduce directly some of the most significant costs that Americans' families face. And obviously, key elements of the Build Back Better framework go directly at that issue. So, I'm happy to talk about the policy details behind that plan in general.
But I think, just to summarize: We have a historically strong economic growth and labor market outcomes. We have -- saw some welcomed deceleration, but price increases that are still too high; decidedly a global phenomenon happening everywhere, but we in the United States are uniquely well positioned that -- against that challenge. And that's -- that's the President's focus.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Jeff.
Q: Brian, thanks for coming today. The White House and other economists, last spring and fall, were talking about inflation being transitory. And I think at least the expectation when we were talking about it last spring was that it was going to be well taken care of by now. What did you get wrong? What did economists writ large get wrong? And how should Americans -- why should Americans be confident when you say prices are going to get better later this year?
MR. DEESE: So, I think that if we look at the situation earlier in the year, a number of projections and forecasts have come out differently than we anticipated. If you -- if you look at employment, for example, virtually nobody was projecting that we would see unemployment fall as quickly as it -- as it has and get to 3.9 percent by the end of this year. That's four years faster than the median forecast.
And so, I think we've seen a number of unanticipated outcomes.
When it comes to prices, what we have -- what we have said consistently -- focused consistently is that this is a global phenomenon; it is connected to the pandemic and the issues that that has raised. Certainly the supply chain challenges that have evolved over the course of time, through the Delta variant and over the course of the fall, have been issues that we've had to go and tackle head on.
But I think that the -- nomenclature aside, we find ourselves in a position now where we're looking forward, and most forecasters are projecting that the price increases will moderate. Our focus here is looking at what are the concrete, practical steps that we can take to try to help ensure that outcome and try to help accelerate relief where we can -- where we appropriately can.
So, when it comes to something like the supply chain challenges, those manifested more significantly than people were anticipating over the course of the summer and early fall, both because of COVID factors but also buying behavior of major retailers and major freight movers. And so, we went into action over the course of the fall to try to help address those issues and the bottlenecking we were seeing at ports. Made very significant progress on that -- a 40 percent decline in the amount of time that a container is sitting at the dock.
And at the same time, we still have work to do on that front, which is why, even this month, we're going to take additional steps with ports across the country to set up inland locations to move products and impose new fees on empty containers that are sitting idle at our ports.
So, we're going to -- we're going to stay at that and other issues. And we believe that that's the best way that we can, again, help to expand the economy's capacity to deliver goods and services to the American people.
Q: But is it the supply chain then, essentially, that is the reason for the incorrect forecasts 10 months ago?
MR. DEESE: Look, I think that we are -- our focus now is on assessing where we are and trying to address the issues in front of us in an effort to try to accelerate the course -- the course of the recovery.
As I said, there's lots of -- this has been a unique year on a lot of accounts. And so we find ourselves in a uniquely strong economic position on a number of counts, and we've got price increases that we need to -- we need to tackle, and that's our focus.
MS. PSAKI: Weijia.
Q: Thank you, Jen. And thank you, Brian, for being here. I have a quick question on some of the practical matters that you've talked about.
Are you taking any steps to help people afford food? Despite the figure that you mentioned -- that, month to month, the prices have gone down -- my colleagues are reporting about how people are finding shortages on the shelves, how the stuff that is there is more expensive. Is there anything you can do to help families pay for that food?
MR. DEESE: Well, I would say a number of things. One is, when the President came into office, he prioritized early passing the American Rescue Plan. The American Rescue Plan has historic investments in actually addressing food insecurity for people who couldn't afford food. As a result, we saw hunger in the United States decline in 2021.
It also included a -- the Child Tax Credit -- another resource that went directly -- that are going directly to families to help address the, you know, typical costs that they face on a monthly basis. And, as a result, we saw child poverty fall by 35 to 40 percent in America over the course of 2021.
And we saw -- as I mentioned, we saw some welcome deceleration in the increase in the cost of food this month.
And we're going to keep focused on those ways that we can address the typical pocketbook issues that the American people face. And this is one of the issues why the core economic logic behind the President's -- behind the Build Back Better plan is important in this context, because for working Americans who are bene- -- who are benefitting from a strong labor market and more job opportunities but also struggling with costs not only of food but costs of childcare or cost of healthcare, the components of the Build Back Better plan would directly address those issues by putting -- by providing a tax cut to families directly in their pocketbook, and then reducing other of their most salient costs.
So, for a lot of the families that you're talking about, if they, you know, only had to pay 7 percent of their income in childcare, that would free up a lot of resources to invest in other monthly needs. So --
Q: But in short of that passing and separate from what you have already done -- the measures you mentioned -- is there anything new you can do to help the food situation?
MR. DEESE: Well, I would say, first, what we have done is historic and has made a big difference. Number two, our central economic legislative priority is getting those elements of Build Back Better in place. And part of the urgency of that is to address precisely the challenges that you are identifying.
So -- and beyond that, we are looking at ways that we can unstick elements of the supply chain that may be getting in the way of, for example, physical product getting to market.
And certainly we have seen -- we have seen -- over the course of this fall, we've seen concerns about product shortages in particular categories and otherwise. What we see overall, if you look at retail inventories, including grocery store inventories, they're actually higher now than they were pre-pandemic -- so, in a pretty healthy place. But that doesn't mean that there's logistical challenges at bottlenecks that may be localized.
And to the degree that we can work with private sector companies and help, you know, ease the challenges in their private sector supply chains, certainly we will -- we'll remain open to doing that.
Q: And I do have one question on the global challenge, since you mentioned it, the President mentioned it today. Can you talk about how much you believe China's latest round of lockdowns and its zero-case doctrine is having an impact on inflation since, obviously, it's impacting the global manufacturing?
And has the administration had any conversations with China about the factory workers, about the lockdowns?
MR. DEESE: So, there's no question that the global nature of the pandemic affects global supply chains and has affected the flow of goods across economies.
One of the things that we did earlier this fall was actually set up what we call an early warning system, working with a number of our American companies that rely on sourcing input components or products from Southeast Asian countries to identify where there might be COVID outbreaks in those countries, and work with the State Department and USAID and the CDC on the ground in those countries to do what we can to actually help to stabilize the situation and reduce the potential impact of a shutdown or a lockdown or otherwise.
With respect to China specifically and the current moment, we're monitoring it very closely. As we assess the issue today, the lockdowns are most likely to have the effect isolated in China because the production facilities in those geographies are principally suppliers to the Chinese market.
But the situation is fluid and ongoing. It's something that we're monitoring in real-time and working across the interagency, including the State Department and the CDC, to try to keep a handle on.
MS. PSAKI: Peter?
Q: Brian, respecting that you said that prices are expected to moderate in the months ahead, Americans right now, at the start of 2022, are setting their budgets; they're trying to figure out how much things are going to cost them for themselves and for their families. How much longer should Americans expect that they'll be paying these inflated prices?
MR. DEESE: So what I can say is that, in the context of a strong economy, most independent forecasters expect these prices to moderate over the course of 2022. And that's consistent with the administration's view.
And you have a President and an administration that's waking up every day and thinking about the practical actions we can take to try to help accelerate that, protecting -- unsticking supply chains, protecting consumers -- make sure that consumers aren't being taken advantage of in a moment of uncertainty.
Q: So, for clarity, that means by the end of '22 it's moderated, or we're kind of back to where we were before this, by those projections?
MR. DEESE: Well, if you look at -- if you look at the projections by independent forecasters, then you see moderation over the course of '22. And you get back to -- you get back to levels that are closer to pre-pandemic normal.
But I think that, you know, in the -- in the short term, in the immediate term, I think there -- we'll focus on the practical steps that we can take; focus -- working with Congress, encouraging Congress to take practical steps that would have real, concrete impact for those families in their lives right now; and delivering in practical, concrete ways.
And I think that, as we have seen with what we were able to get done in 2021 to deliver that type of relief directly to families, that can make all the difference. And that can really help to bridge this gap for families and also help to get more people to work, that we continue to face real challenges where parents and other caregivers in this economy want to get back to work but are held back because of the cost of actually finding a quality way to take care of a kid or take care of an elderly parent -- that's compounded by the pandemic.
And us acting now to help address those costs for families would not only provide some peace of mind to those families. You know, if every American family with kids knew they weren't going to pay more than 7 percent of their income in childcare, that would be a big weight off their shoulders; it also would be a big benefit to the labor market by allowing more people to work as productively as they -- as they choose to.
Q: Thank you. You mentioned the port measures you're taking, setting up these off-site areas. Can you talk a little bit more about that? And the dwell fees -- they've had that on hold for weeks at Port of Long Beach and the Port of LA. Are you talking about imposing a dwell fee on other ports? In other words, can you give a little more detail on what you're talking about?
MR. DEESE: Sure. Sure. We're going to go a little deep on ports, but this is exciting for me. (Laughter.)
Q: I know you're not John Porcari.
MR. DEESE: No, no, it's good. I'm thrilled.
MS. PSAKI: Save room for this.
MR. DEESE: So, the first issue of the inland ports -- and the idea here is relatively simple, which is: If you're having to offload all of the containers at one location, it creates a bottleneck, it means fewer things moving through. If you can push those -- push that product out to facilities inland, then you can increase the throughput.
We've taken steps at the Port of Savannah to open multiple ports, and we've seen real progress there -- reduction in the backlog coming into the Port of Savannah quite noticeably.
So we're going to take action at the Port of Oakland, finalizing inland port opportunities there -- basically running the same play there as well. And we're working through the national port associations to basically work with any port that sees that as an opportunity to try to deploy that. And we have money that we have been able to deploy, associated with the President's infrastructure legislation, to try to help move that as quickly as possible.
On the dwell fees: There's the issue around the fees on import containers that they have identified and said they're willing to impose. Just the threat of doing that was actually quite effective at getting the ocean carriers to move on their own and provide incentives -- carrots and sticks -- to move that through.
Now, this month, they're focused on a fee on export containers -- basically, the empty containers that are sitting idle that need to be moved off and shipped off in order to create more space. And they have announced that they will impose those fees by the end of the month. But as you know, part of the announcement of those fees is to give everybody an opportunity to figure out is there a more efficient way to solve this than the imposition of those fees.
But that's where things stand.
Q: Forgive me, both you and Jen, for asking about the Fed. (Laughter.) On December -- on December 1st, you said --
MS. PSAKI: We understand.
Q: -- you said that the President would make a choice in the coming days, on the 1st. And you said that part of the reason to make those picks was so that people could, quote, "face squarely, head on, the economic challenges that we face" -- the governors can.
So, at the time, we're talking about imminent picks that would help the central bank -- which the President is now banking on to help fight inflation -- see around corners and address crises.
Six weeks later, we don't have picks. So I guess my question is: What's the holdup? What changed? And do you think that that six-week delay is having an impact if you're relying on the Fed to be able to help curb inflation and they don't have a full bench?
MR. DEESE: So, on your last question: No, I don't think it's having an impact. I think that the most immediate issue on that score is that the President's two nominees to be the Chair and the Vice Chair of the Fed are now up in front of the Senate -- one had his confirmation hearing yesterday; the other will have her confirmation hearing tomorrow. And the Senate moving expeditiously to confirm both of those nominees is important. And we are grateful to the leadership -- the committee leadership of Chairman Brown and others in the Senate for moving quickly, and that is important.
At the same time, we are working closely with congressional leadership to finalize those -- those additional nominees and are confident that we can move them on a schedule that will mean that they will be in place at the appropriate cadence. So, I don't have any news for you today about that personnel announcement, but --
Q: Is inflation, like, the ballgame when you're making these considerations, in terms of considering particular candidates one against the other? Or is it part of a range of factors?
MR. DEESE: So, I think the President laid out his thinking relatively -- in a sort of relatively detailed way in the context of announcing Chairman Powell and Governor Brainard for the positions that he's nominated them to.
And I think that that basic approach extends to the other Chairs as well -- so, obviously, expertise, independent judgment, and, you know, proximity to the range of issues that the Fed is facing.
Obviously, central among them is charting a course of monetary policy that sustains the strength of recovery and achieves the dual mandate while making sure that prices are not entrenched, but also facility with other, you know, front-and-center issues like financial regulation, and the -- the financial threats associated with climate change.
MS. PSAKI: Mary and Seung Min. And then we'll have to wrap it up. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you. You mentioned that you expect prices to moderate over the course of the year. But how worried are you that consumers and businesses are starting to expect inflation is here to stay and will act accordingly, especially as many workers aren't feeling any increase in wages due to the increase in prices?
MR. DEESE: So, it's a concern, and it's why you heard the President on Friday reinforce that -- that the Fed should and needs to have the independence to act to make sure that prices don't become entrenched. I would say that if you look at the market, you don't see -- you haven't seen a noticeable move in long-term inflation expectations, as of recently.
And so, it's -- it's a concern, but it's also part of why we think that acting in the way that we've laid out and respecting the independence of the Fed is the right approach.
And I think that for, you know, the typical people who are working and thinking about their household budgets, for many of them, they've never seen a labor market that offers as many job opportunities as they have right now.
For people in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution, wage increases are up at historic levels, which creates new opportunities.
And for many people, they are taking this opportunity to start new businesses and innovate. We've seen the rate of new applications for small businesses up -- increase by 30 percent. And that's -- you know, that's an opportunity for those people and the people that they will employ, but also a real driver of innovation and a signal of the health and the kind of economy and economic growth that we can drive if we keep at this.
And the last thing I would say is that for those typical folks sitting around the kitchen table, thinking about this coming year, the largest single costs that families face are healthcare, childcare, the cost of a home. And we have concrete, practical, straightforward ways to deliver relief on those costs and to do so in a way that wouldn't add to aggregate demand, wouldn't create an inflation concern, would be fully paid for across time. And in fact, the principal long-term economic impact would be to expand our economy's productive capacity by getting more people into the workforce.
So that's why, you know, our focus and our work on Build Back Better continues. And I guess we will leave it there.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, Seung Min is the last one.
MR. DEESE: Oh, no, we have one more. Okay.
Q: On Build Back Better, would the White House support adding a work requirement, like Senator Manchin has discussed, to the Child Tax Credit as part of the package?
MR. DEESE: So, I think the President has spoken to the importance of the Child Tax Credit and his views on that topic. I would say that if you look at the Child Tax Credit itself, 97 percent of the recipients of the Child Tax Credit are working. And among the remaining 3 percent, the majority are grandparents or people with disabilities. So, I think that you have a tool that is delivering relief to working families right now.
And, in fact, what we've seen over the course of 2021, is that as that -- as that tax cut was delivered to families, we actually saw labor force participation and the employment-to-population ratio increase, meaning that we saw more people get into the workforce. And that's consistent with evidence historically and in other countries where they have similar child allowances, where you see no evidence of a negative impact on labor force participation and, in some cases, a positive impact because it frees people up to work more.
So, certainly, the President is focused on how to get more people working and make sure that people have opportunities in this labor market. And the Child Tax Credit is actu- -- a very well-designed tool to do that.
Q: So it sounds like, at a minimum, the White House doesn't think it's necessary or it's redundant or -- as part of as part of -- as part of the package.
MR. DEESE: Yeah, certainly the -- the Child Tax Credit is a -- operates in a way that goes to working families and does not create any disincentive for people to work and, if anything, would help more families and more people get into the labor market.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thank you, Brian Deese.
Q: Can I ask one about the global phenomenon -- on inflation?
MS. PSAKI: All right, last one, Raquel, on his way out.
Q: Thank you so much, Brian. What do you make of statements that the pandemic will not be the number-one public enemy for the global economy this year, but it will be inflation and how central banks around the world will -- could be the number-one enemy of the global economy -- how central banks respond to inflation and inflation?
MR. DEESE: Well, what I'd say to that is they're very -- they're interlinked. And that that is -- that's -- has been true and has been a feature of our economy and our economic recovery for the last -- for the last year and a half, to the first question: that the more effective we are as a global community -- as the United States and as a global community -- at working to contain this pandemic, get it under control, reduce the impact on people and on -- and individual health but also on economic operations and supply chains and otherwise, the more quickly we can normalize supply chains and address the price increases, which are decidedly a global phenomenon.
So, I don't think that -- I don't think it's an either/or. I think that there is an urgent and compelling priority to address the COVID pandemic globally, which is why you see this administration and the President acting across the board for vaccines to the other -- support that we're providing globally. And that the more effective we are at doing that, the more runway we'll provide for the global economy to grow while mitigating price increases.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thank you, Brian Deese.
MR. DEESE: Thank you, all.
Q: Thanks, Brian.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. I have nothing at the top. I'm mindful of the time. And I will jump around to people who have not yet gotten questions. But I will start with Alex, if you want to kick us off.
Q: I have three questions. First, on inflation: You know, Brian talked a lot about needing to address some errors in the supply chain, but you all have taken quite a few of those steps, and we're still seeing high inflation and shortages on shelves. So, is this an issue that shows the sort of limitations of the presidency and the executive branch? Is this an issue that the President simply can't solve?
MS. PSAKI: I think what it shows -- and you heard Brian talk about this a bit -- is that it's a multi-pronged challenge. And he talked about, obviously, the steps we're taking to address supply chain challenges. And there's no question those have been impacted by the pandemic, have also been impacted by a huge increase of demand and retail purchases online that we saw across the course of the fall. So, that is one challenge that we've been attacking head on.
We also know that there are specific industries, like the auto industry, that accounts for about one third of what we're seeing in terms of inflationary increases and price increases. And if you look at the purchases of cars, one of the biggest issues there is chips and the lack of manufacturing capacity here in the United States.
Of course that's been impacted by a range of issues, including the pandemic. But one of the things that we have been advocating for and pushing for is for Congress to move forward in the -- in taking steps to support and boost -- bolster our competitiveness here. That includes over $50 billion in funding for chips manufacturing.
I would also say that, you know, that would also help ensure that manufacturing in the future is -- the capacity is increased here at home, so we're less dependent on the global supply chain around the world.
So, I think what it speaks to, Alex -- a good question -- is the multi-pronged components that impact the supply chain, that impact price increases that people have seen -- the American public has seen across the country.
Q: And then, do you have an update on how the Iran talks are going over the JCPOA?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: Is the administration satisfied with how they're going?
MS. PSAKI: So, I know there's been a lot going on. This has certainly been happening.
Right now, what's happening is: On Monday, January 3rd, the eighth round of negotiations commenced in Vienna, and those are ongoing. And what we're looking at and how -- what we'd like to remind the public of is why we are at this point now.
Most importantly, none of the things we're looking at now -- Iran's increased capability and capacity, their aggressive actions that they have taken through proxy wars around the world -- would be happening if the former president had not recklessly pulled out of the nuclear deal with no thought as to what might come next.
And if you look at that step and the impact of that -- the fact that the former president ripped up the nuclear deal meant that Iran's nuclear program was no longer in a box, it no longer had the most robust inspection regime ever negotiated, no longer had the tight restrictions on nuclear activity.
And so now where we're at -- even as these negotiations are ongoing, and as we conveyed back in December that we were a bit frustrated by the lack of seriousness that negotiators came to the table -- they've come back, and now we're back at the table, again, as I noted.
But because of the last administration pulling out of the nuclear agreement, now Iran's program has been rapidly accelerating. Iran directly attacked our partners in the Gulf, and its proxies began attacking U.S. troops again in Iraq, and the United States has become totally -- had become totally isolated internationally.
So, what we're -- we've been working to do is rebuild those relationships -- our partnerships with countries around the world, get back to the table so we can have that increased capacity and ability to see what is happening with the program.
But right now, the negotiations are ongoing. And we're, of course, eager to see the diplomatic path move forward.
Q: And then, one more on voting rights. You know, you guys have talked about yesterday's speech, and the President's actions this week is him showing that he's putting his whole presidency behind this issue. But if it doesn't pass next week, what does that say about his presidency and his political clout?
And what would you say to Democratic base voters who have seen, you know, potentially not just one legislative failure with Build Back Better, which has been shelved, but potentially a second legislative failure in a month? How do you convince Democratic voters to vote for you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I think we would say to any American, whether they're Democratic base voters or not, is that the majority of the American public elected the President to do hard things and to fight for hard things, including fighting for issues that may feel like an uphill battle but that are vitally important to protecting fundamental rights of the American public.
Every single major legislative effort that the President has undertaken, that he's been a part of, has been subject to all manner of speculation and criticism about whether it would happen or not. And if the President paid attention to that, he probably wouldn't have run for president to begin with.
So his view and, I think, the view of many in the Senate and many Americans, including the activists you referenced, is that it is time to fight, that protecting people's fundamental rights -- this is a defining moment that will divide everything before and everything after, when the most fundamental American right that all others flow from -- the right to vote and have your vote counted -- is at risk.
And he is going to be working the phones, the Vice President will be working the phones. As you know, he's heading up to the Hill tomorrow to speak to the caucus and make the strong case that you heard him make publicly, directly to members tomorrow. And, you know, I think that's evidence that he's going to fight even when it's hard.
Go ahead, Mike.
Q: If I could ask just two questions on COVID testing. So, about three weeks ago, you and I had an exchange in this room in which I --
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q: -- in which I -- (laughter).
MS. PSAKI: That made it sound nefarious. I don't remember it that way. (Laughs.)
Q: Well, no, I don't mean it nefarious. But I posited a bunch of questions that you couldn't answer about when the tests would be available; how many Americans would be able to order per family; you know, when they would be rolling off -- you know, actually rolling off the factory floors but then delivered to people and in their hands.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: It's now three -- three and a half weeks later. Is there any -- are there any answers to any of those questions yet?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, we've put out a number of steps that have been taken since that point in time -- the pleasant and democratic exchange we had in this briefing room a few weeks ago, Mike -- but including a number of contracts have been signed. There was an RFP -- a request for proposal -- that was put out.
It was important for us to take the time to assess and work closely with manufacturers and distributors to understand what they can ship and by when.
Of course, it's vitally important, once this website goes up and people are ordering it, that they actually get what they order, right? So that's what we've been working on.
So a number of those contracts have been signed. We expect that the first delivery of these contracts will be arriving by early next week, which is a good sign. We expect to also have details -- or everyone can expect we'll have details that we put out on the website, as well as a hotline later this week, and more specifics about exactly the questions that you've been asking. So the American public can expect that later this week. And we also expect to have all contracts awarded for the 500 million over the course of the next two weeks.
So that's the status of where things stand.
I would also note that, in that period of time, we've also been distributing 50 million tests to community health centers and rural health centers. We've also expanded our federal testing capacity, including right here in Washington, D.C., in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, other places that have been impacted. We made an announcement about providing additional funding and testing capacity to schools today.
And tomorrow, the President will be providing an update on COVID, on our ongoing effort to fight the virus, and providing an update on more we're going to continue to do.
So, that's what we can expect. But I would say we've made a great deal of progress in the last few weeks.
Q: Okay, but just to follow up on that --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: -- is it fair to say that, you know, with half of January finished and the first of the -- of the doses -- the first of the doses beginning to arrive maybe by next week, that there's no way that 500 million tests -- sorry, not doses -- tests are going to be delivered in the hands of Americans by the end of this month?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that's why we said at the time that we would begin to get these tests and they would begin to go out to the American public in January. And that's -- we're exactly on track for that.
Q: Okay. And then the second question goes back to the summer.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: One of the things you guys have said repeatedly is that the reason that we don't -- that we're having -- that you're having to take the kind of steps that you just talked about is because there wasn't the capacity in the system to produce the tests so that they would be more available now.
Back in the summer, when demand for tests dropped off because Americans were more interested in getting vaccinated and the CDC was saying, "Hey, if you're vaccinated, you don't need to test," and so on, understandably, demand dropped off.
Why didn't the administration do what the federal government does in many emergency -- anthrax vaccines and others -- which is to create a government market for tests and say to test makers in May and June of the -- of last year, "We will guarantee that we'll buy a billion test kits. Keep manufacturing them; don't stop"?
Why didn't the administration do that in the summer so that we would have been in a position to -- this fall, when Omicron hit -- to have the number of tests and you wouldn't have had to go through this process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say there were steps that -- and decisions that were made in the summer, including steps that we took in the early fall, which were to use the Defense Production Act to -- 3 billion dollars' worth -- to invest in the testing market.
We expanded, as -- or in part, as a result -- the testing capacity by four times. We've quadrupled the size of it. And we also took a number of steps through that period of time to expand the number of tests that were on the market.
Obviously, the FDA works on their own process. But now there are nine tests. There were far fewer -- about half of that number -- back in the summer. So, there were a number of steps that were taken over the course of time -- not just in December, not post-Omicron -- to expand and build the testing capacity.
Q: Thanks, Jen. You mentioned that tomorrow the President is going to give an update on the COVID effort. Can you give us any more details on that? Is there going to be a major announcement? What will he be talking about tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Karen, at every step in this process and frequently, the President provides updates on how we're building on our capacity -- right? -- whether that is vaccine distribution or capacity at one point; testing capacity; or supplies, PPE. So, he will be building on that tomorrow.
I don't have anything specific to prev- -- preview for you in terms of the components at this point. But let me just give you a sense of, kind of, what we've been doing to address what we've seen -- straining hospital capacity and needs, as we've seen the surge in Omicron in recent weeks. To date -- and he'll talk more about this tomorrow and build on it, is my point here.
So, we have helped more than 38 states and territories and deployed over 2,100 federal personnel and thousands of ventilators, ambulances, and other critical supplies.
In addition, more than 13,000 National Guard members have been activated in 48 states to support vaccination, testing, and clinical care. These deployments are fully paid for, of course, by the federal government.
Hundreds of military doctors and nurses are already on the ground in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, with more to follow. And we're building on that.
And this is all in addition to the hundreds of FEMA and HHS clinical staff.
We've also shipped nearly 5.5 million pieces of PPE -- from hospital gowns, to N95s, to gloves -- in the last two weeks alone.
And we've also invited our FEMA Administrator to come and give you guys an update. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that by the end of the week.
But the point is: We've been deploying a number of federal resources, and the President will talk more about specifics and more steps to build on that tomorrow.
Q: And one quick one on testing. Last year, the administration had announced there would be $10 billion going to schools for testing. Today -- well, the President, last week, specifically brought up that $10 billion when he made a pretty forceful statement about keeping schools open.
Today, the administration announced 10 million tests per month will be going to schools. What's the accounting for the $10 billion? Did schools use that? Is that money gone and that's why there's now a need for these additional tests to be sent out directly?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the funding and money went to states to distribute to local school districts. That's how it essentially functioned.
I think what the announcement today -- and I'm happy to check on the specifics of the status of it for you -- what the announcement today reflects is our desire and our commitment to keep schools open and do everything we need to do to help keep schools open from the federal government.
Now, a number of schools in -- and nearly every state across the country has made arrangements with testing providers to provide schools with tests using that $10 billion in funds that you referenced. But it's been used in different ways from school district to school district.
And so, this is just a reflection, which has been consistent with how we've approached our -- our efforts to -- against the pandemic -- to build on what we know works and a reflection of our commitment to help school districts stay open.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q: Hi, Jen. Two questions for you.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: First of all, I wanted to follow up on the President's visit to Georgia yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: That's one of our markets where voter restriction bills have passed and been signed into law in the past year. The Brennan Center for Justice says nearly a hundred more bills are pending this year in statehouses across the country. Does the President feel powerless right now to stop more voter restriction bills from passing at the state and local level?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have to take -- the President believes we have to take a multi-faceted approach. And, no, he certainly does not feel powerless. But he thinks that one of the most effective roles he can play now is by advocating for Congress to pass two pieces of voting rights legislation that will help protect -- put in place a baseline of protections for states across the country. So, there is that -- not that inconsistency.
And of course, as you know -- Georgia is one of the states -- 19 states across the country have already passed laws that are putting in place additional restrictions to make it harder to vote. More to come. That's why it's so important to move forward with legislation on the federal level.
Q: My other question is on climate. Last month, we went to New Orleans. They had a very large climate conference there -- thousands of researchers and scientists. And when we were there, we met a homeowner. He lost his house to Hurricane Ida. His grandmother lost her house to Hurricane Katrina. He blames climate change. He wants action now.
Today, the White House announced a host of clean energy measures. But as the Washington Post reported on Sunday, nearly three dozen rules that would impact the environment at the Energy Department are delayed; the President's climate plan is stuck in the Senate at the moment. So, does the President have a sense of urgency about climate? And if so, how is it not just important to the President but urgent?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President is eager to get climate legislation passed. And there's an enormous, historic, largest-ever investment in addressing the climate crisis in his Build Back Better agenda and plan. Of course, he wants to get that across the finish line.
But he is not waiting for Congress to act. That is why he has taken steps to tackle super-pollutants, phasing down HFCs, rallied the world on methane in Glasgow, stood with auto workers and America's big car manufacturers to roll out plans to boost electric vehicles, put America on track to ensure that one of every two cars sold will be zero emissions within the decade.
He's going to take -- continue to take steps. He's taken a number of steps that are -- that he has the ability to take to address the climate -- to address the climate crisis. And, of course, he wants to get his legislation across the finish line.
I think the point you raised is a really interesting one. I mean, there is a startling statistic that something like one in three Americans is impacted by extreme weather across the country. You reference a specific storm. There are storms that have taken place in the Northeast and the Northwest. It's devastating people's homes, people's communities. And it's certainly -- and it's also devastating local economies. And it's a reminder of why it's so important to act on this -- on climate.
Q: So the President believes it's urgent?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q: Thanks. On Build Back Better, there was a lot of discussion about whether it would help or hurt the situation on inflation. I just noticed in the inflation statement from the White House this morning there was no reference to Build Back Better. There was a reference to the American Rescue Plan. I'm just wondering if that reflects anything about the view of the White House on the prospects for Build Back Better or the role it can play in the situation on inflation?
MS. PSAKI: No, I would say that the -- your colleagues here who are -- frequent this briefing room have heard us say more times than they can probably count-- the role of -- of a number of economists in advocating for Build Back Better passing because of the impact it would have on lowering costs and addressing inflation.
And, ultimately, how the American people experience inflation -- as we were talking about when Brian Deese was here -- is costs rising, whether it's the cost of meat or -- which, of course, we say has a range of -- a range of reasons for it -- or the cost of goods they're purchasing.
And for us, our objective and focus is on lowering costs. And the biggest costs -- some of the biggest costs impacting the public are childcare, healthcare, eldercare -- issues that are addressed in Build Back Better.
Q: And one on COVID. In the briefing this morning, Jeff said you're in the process of, quote, "strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans." But I don't think they really got into specifics on that. Can you share any of the options that you guys are looking at on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have more details. I would just echo -- what Jeff said is that we are strongly considering that and certainly want to ensure that everybody has the necessary protections as we continue to fight the virus.
Go ahead, in the back -- let's see. Go ahead. Go ahead, Jonathan.
Q: Thank you. Three years ago, a New Jersey college student was murdered after getting into a fake Uber. Legislation to require ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to have electronic systems to match riders with passengers is awaiting White House signoff this year. Where do you stand on the legislation? And would the President be willing to meet with the parents of the murdered woman, as they've requested?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you're referring to Sami's Law. And I remember that story well. I don't know anybody who saw it or read it who wasn't deeply impacted by it.
We are committed to ensuring that the safety -- the safety of all passengers, including those in rideshare, and we'll work closely with Congress to ensure federal oversight of rideshare companies to protect other parents from the tragedy of Sam -- Sami's parents have gone through, and her friends and her entire community.
We have met -- members of the administration have met with her family and continue to be in touch on this important issue. We thank them for their continued advocacy.
In terms of a meeting with the President, I just don't have anything to preview at this point in time.
Q: And one other -- one other question. The Transportation Department is accelerating a pilot program to allow truck drivers under age 21 to drive across state lines, which safety advocates say could hurt truck safety at a time where deaths and truck crashes are up more than a third over the last decade.
Why is the administration prioritizing that issue over other safety measures such as emergency braking, speed control devices, which the National Transportations -- National Transportation Board has among its most wanted safety improvements?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we're certainly very mindful of safety. The reason this was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act is because we need to address the shortage of drivers which is impacting, of course, the transferring of goods and then the cost of goods on the shelves. Right?
So -- but we are approaching this and ensuring it's implemented in a way that sets a high bar for safety and quality. Registered apprenticeships offers critical structural -- critical structure on this front, which includes ensuring that training programs are held to defined standards and include significant supervised and paid on-the-job training, including with skilled driving mentors.
And all pilot participants in this program have to be trained on trucks equipped with cameras, automated -- automatic emergency brakes, and speed limiters. And we want to make sure it's as safe as possible while also addressing the need to have more drivers so that we can move more goods and lower the cost for Americans across the country.
Did I get to everyone so far? Oh, go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, no, go ahead. Go ahead.
Q: Thanks for the question. Yesterday, during his speech in Georgia, President Biden only very briefly mentioned the provisions of the Let America Vote Act that deal with gerrymandering and getting money out of politics. Those provisions actually poll better in public polling frequently than, sort of, the broader stuff about protecting the right to vote.
Throughout this process, Biden has been very focused -- the President -- on those right to vote provisions. Why hasn't he talked more about those gerrymandering provisions, about provisions about getting money out of politics, which do seem to be quite popular with the public?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first: What the President's objective was, going into the speech yesterday, was to make very clear to the American public what was at stake and exactly what it means when we say, "Your vote is being suppressed across the country."
Because sometimes we -- or this is what's on his mind, I should say -- we shorthand and we talk about legislation, or the status, or the meeting with this person or that person, and the American people -- their eyes glaze over because they don't -- that doesn't mean anything to them.
So, the objective in the speech yesterday, for him, was to really spend the majority of time talking about what the impact was, why this was such a dire issue, and what was at stake, and why it was important to potentially make changes to Senate rules in order to get this legislation passed.
So, I wouldn't overread into how many words he spent on different pieces of legislation. He cares deeply about both of these pieces of legislation. He wants to sign them into law.
Q: And then --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Go ahead.
Q: -- sort of, relatedly: Senator Romney today basically said -- I'll use the exact quote -- that the speech yesterday that the President gave was, quote, "going down the same tragic road taken by President Trump [in] casting [the] doubt on the reliability of American elections." Does the White House have a response to that?
MS. PSAKI: With all due respect to Senator Romney, I think anyone would note there's a night-and-day difference between fomenting an insurrection based on lies totally debunked by 80 judges, including Trump-appointed ones, and election authorities across the country and making objective, true statements, which is what the President made yesterday, about the effects of a coordinated nationwide effort to undermine the constitutional right to vote.
I know there has been a lot of claim of the offensive nature of the speech yesterday -- which is hilarious on many levels, given how many people sat silently over the last four years for the former president -- but I would note that, in our view and the President's view, what is far more offensive is the effort to suppress people's basic right to exercise who they want to support and who they want to elect. That's not a partisan thing.
And that -- that was why he gave such a strong speech yesterday.
Q: To follow up on the issue of masks and this push to expand access to high-quality masks -- health experts have long been urging and calling for Americans to upgrade their masks. So why wait until now to push for this wider availability of better masks? Like, what's taken so long?
MS. PSAKI: So, just to be clear: There is no shortage of masks on the market. That -- that is not an issue. I know that my colleagues from the COVID team made clear that we have a strong stockpile -- over 750 million masks -- that we have at our disposal, widely available -- N95 masks, other masks.
What the CDC director conveyed is that they're going -- they're in the process of updating the information on their website to help address and answer these questions. Their guidance currently is a well-fitted mask.
But what we're trying to do is continue to be responsive to what people's needs are across the country and make sure they're getting the supplies where we need them.
But there's no shortage. There is a wide -- 750 million masks that we have available.
Q: And can I quickly get your response to Mitch McConnell today, who had some strong words for the President? He called his speech a "rant," "incoherent," "profoundly unpresidential." But he also accused the President of "shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants."
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the President was asked about this and said -- a version of this, I should say -- and he said he considers Mitch McConnell a friend. And that is true. That is why it is even more disappointing that someone who has supported and advocated for voting rights in the past -- wrote about in his book, has talked about it publicly -- and repeatedly voted for the extension of voting rights protections is on the other side of this argument now.
You know, and I -- I think it clearly struck a nerve -- the President's speech yesterday and the Vice President's remarks. I think there's evidence of that. But to us and to the President, what is more irresponsible, unbecoming, and divisive is the coordinated effort by far too many Republicans across the country to perpetuate the Big Lie and make it more difficult to vote.
And we have seen evidence of that in 19 states who passed -- which passed 34 laws attacking voting rights. That's why he's standing up and made the passionate case he made yesterday.
Q: I think we've got to wrap.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks.
Q: Can I just ask quickly, on Facebook --
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q: I'm sorry. There was a ruling yesterday --
MS. PSAKI: Happy to talk about Facebook anytime.
Q: -- against Meta, I guess.
MS. PSAKI: Meta. (Laughs.) Sorry.
Q: A district judge yesterday denied the company's motion to dismiss the FTC's revised antitrust complaint, essentially clearing the way for it to go forward. I'm ask- -- wondering whether you have a view on that.
And in particular, that case is seeking to essentially break up the company -- to split off Instagram and WhatsApp. Is that something the White House thinks should happen?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we welcome the district court's decision, which allows the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust lawsuit against Facebook to move forward. The favorable decision is a testament to the skill and determination of the Federal Trade Commission, its staff, and its experts.
For generations, the Americans' approach has been to expose -- American approach has been to expose our main tech firms to more competition. The President supports that. He's talked about that publicly a number of times.
That approach has been key to our innovation and success. And we've been clear and he's been clear: We need more competition in the tech industry.
As you know, there are a range of pieces of legislation -- bipartisan, many of them -- in Congress. That's encouraging.
And in July, of course, the President signed an executive order on competition, which, among several actions, called on the federal agencies like the Department of Justice and the FTC to use existing tools to tackle these problems.
So, we're not going to prejudge what it looks like, of course. There's a legal case here. That legal case will be moving forward. But certainly, we're encouraged by the district court's decision.
Q: Thanks, Jen.
5:11 P.M. EST
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing By Press Secretary Jen Psaki And National Economic Council Director Brian Deese Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354096