Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:35 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello. Here's my mask from yesterday. I was wondering where that went.
Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday. I have a couple things for all of you at the top.
Today, the President and the Vice President met with governors to discuss the worsening 2021 wildfire season and ongoing efforts to strengthen prevention, preparedness, and response activities.
This was a follow-up to the meeting the President convened last month with Cabinet officials, governors from Western states, and private sector partners.
During today's event, the President highlighted the heroism of our firefighters who undertake dangerous work to keep Americans safe, and he discussed the actions his administration is taking to improve emergency preparedness and keep Americans safe.
The President and the Vice President then received an update from the governors about the situation on the ground. They discussed what their administration can do to support state and local response efforts and ensure the federal government's response is as quick and effective as possible.
Driven by extreme heat, prolonged drought, and the changing climate, as well as decades of forest management decisions, the 2021 wildfire season continues to outpace the devastating 2020 season in terms of large fires to date.
Already this year, FEMA has approved 20 Fire Management Assistance Grants to help states pay for the cost of fighting these fires.
The President has been receiving regular reports on how wildfires are impacting communities across the country, and he will continue to close -- to closely monitor the severity of this situation.
Cuba. On the Cuba meeting today that the President is having: Since the historic protests we witnessed in Cuba on July 11, the President has been watching the events closely. As we have stated before, he's made clear that Cuba is led by a failed and repressive regime and that communism is a universally failed ideology. That's why, from the start, the President has said that addressing this moment was a priority for the administration.
We have said many times that Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. As part of that, today the President will host Cuban-American leaders at the White House to discuss the demonstrations and the administration's response.
In addition, we also announced yesterday that the President is nominating Cuban American Frank Mora to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, a vital forum where we have and will continue to regularly urge the countries of the hemisphere to support a fundamental freedom -- the fundamental freedoms of the Cuban people.
And I know you love these. This is our vaccination update. They're so great. We are always happy to share them with you.
So, today, we recorded over half a million new shots in arms, the highest number since the 1st of July. And the average number of people getting their first shots each day is up 30 percent over the past week alone. And this is the third week that states with the highest cases have the highest vaccination rates.
Every day, Americans are making the choice to get vaccinated. This is an encouraging sign, but we need everyone across the country to have the conversation with someone they know who is unvaccinated about getting the shot. This is how we will stop the spread of the Delta variant and, as we all know, save lives.
Finally, I have a quick preview of the week ahead for all of you.
The next week -- this next coming week, the President will continue engaging with members of Congress to pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal, which will deliver historic infrastructure investments that will drive economic growth and create good-paying, middle-class jobs.
Also next week, the President will meet with Dr. Eric Lander, his Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, about his plan for preparing for future pandemics.
On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks on the administration's progress delivering vaccines to the world to fight this pandemic globally.
On Friday, we will deliver remarks on the July jobs report, as you all know, it's the first Friday of the month.
And, lastly, President Biden will then travel to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he will remain over the weekend.
Alex, please take it away.
Q: Sure. So I know we have a hard out at 3:10, so I have a couple quick questions on Congress. First, the eviction moratorium. Lawmakers are scrambling to find a legislative solution, but Speaker Pelosi said today that she'd like to see the CDC extended.
I know you all have cited the Supreme Court decision as the reason Congress needs to deal with. But why not just extend it, have that legal fight, and give Congress a little bit more room to work?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as -- as we've stated, Alex -- and to your point about Pelosi, you know, the -- the Supreme Court said that it could only be extended with congressional authorization. That was their decision. That's how they were able to strike it down, and that's what they said needed to happen.
And so, this -- this bill that Pelosi is asking for -- this would meet that requirement if successful. So, this is an important -- important -- it's incredibly important to -- to move forward.
And so the administration is working -- is going to work together with leaders in Congress on potential avenues to extend the eviction moratorium to protect these vulnerable renters and their families. We understand how critical that is, how important that is. It has been a lifeline to so many, so many Americans here.
So this is a public health concern, as you can imagine, that we think should be supported by both Republicans and Democrats. So we support the Speaker's effort, and we will do everything that we can to move this forward.
Q: And then, on voting rights, can you tell us any more information about how the President's meeting with Schumer and Pelosi on the, sort of, efforts around voting rights went?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. Oh, go ahead. I'm so sorry. Go ahead, Alex.
Q: No, no, no.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That was it? Okay, great.
So, as you stated. the President and the Vice President are hosting Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer at the White House today, later this afternoon. And this is -- they're doing this because they want to make sure that they continue having the conversation on protecting the sacred right to vote because it's such incredibly -- it's an incredible priority for them.
The President and the Speaker, the -- Leader Schumer are regularly in touch about this, but they wanted to have this meeting in person to talk about the next step.
This is both personal to the President, as we've talked about many times, having fought for voting rights his entire life. He spoke about it in Pennsylvania at -- not too long ago, just a couple of weeks ago. And he's going to just continue having those conversations.
Q: And then, one more on the CDC document that was just leaked. The Washington Post obtained the CDC PowerPoint that suggested the situation surrounding the Delta variant is more dire than, you know, the administration has characterized it.
I wanted to read a few quotes from it. It said, quote, "Given the higher transmissibility and current vaccine coverage, universal masking is essential to reduce transmission of the Delta variant." Delta variant breakthrough infections "may be as transmissible as unvaccinated cases." "Risk of infection is reduced threefold in the vaccinated population."
And so, President Biden has repeated over and over that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, but this PowerPoint seems to raise questions about that.
He's also promised to level up with the American people. So his comments yesterday -- I mean, was he being completely upfront about the challenges of the Delta variant? This PowerPoint would suggest it's a little bit more dire than he laid it out to be. And why wasn't that PowerPoint made public? Why did it have to be (inaudible) the public?
And then lastly --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, why aren't we seeing universal -- recommendations for universal masking? Why is it just in areas of high transmission when the CDC seems to be suggesting universal masking is needed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, Alex. That was a lot. (Laughs.) No, I appreciate the question. It's actually a very important question, and we need to -- and I'm happy to address all of them.
So, since May -- I just wanted to step back a little bit -- since May, the CDC and the administration have been crystal clear about the increased risk of the Delta variant in our pandemic response. And so I just want to run through a couple of examples because this is such an important moment that we're in, in fighting this pandemic.
So, in May, out of the concern of the spread of Delta, we restricted travel to India, where it was growing. That is something that we did in May, and so that -- as you know, that was many months ago at this point -- or a couple months ago at this point.
In the month of June, doctors from the admin blitzed local constituency and national media with over 400 media interviews with a clear message: Delta is a serious threat, and getting vaccinated is the clear solution. So that was in the month of June -- for the month of June.
Throughout June, the President, Jeff Zients, and our medical experts spoke dozens of times to the threat of Delta -- the threat that Delta poses.
On July 4th, the President made clear that COVID-19, quote, "has not been vanquished, and Delta is a powerful variant. This is what the President said on July 4th.
And in light of recent reporting, it is worth noting that Dr. Walensky said eight days ago that the Delta variant is the most infectious respiratory disease she's been -- she has seen in the last 20 years -- her 20 years of her career.
Our message has always been clear throughout: We need more people to get vaccinated to stop the spread of this variant, and so we have to continue to make that effort.
Vaccinated and unvaccinated people infected with Delta have higher viral loads, meaning more virus in their body than with previous variants. The last two did not have that.
And so this is what we're seeing in the Delta: High viral loads mean you are more likely to spread it. So, in the rare occasions that vaccinated people get Delta in a breakthrough infection, they may be contagious. And this is what we heard from CDC this week.
And so the most important takeaway -- and I want to be really clear about this because this is critical for all of you who report about this and for those who are watching. We should have -- the takeaway is -- we should have from this guidance and any follow-up reporting -- is actually pretty simple: We need more people to get vaccinated. That's the answer. We need more people to get vaccinated. That's if we want to stop the spread of this variant and avoid mutations, we can.
So we just need to get more people vaccinated. And the good news is that the vaccinations -- the vaccines work, so we got to get out there and make sure people get vaccinated.
Q: Karine, the President said, for the early months of this administration, that those who are vaccinated and wearing masks and doing all those steps could look toward the Fourth of July as that independence opportunity. We now know the CDC is basing some of this new science on a Fourth of July party that happened in Massachusetts where the Delta variant was predominant; we saw that vaccinated people were passing it and so forth.
Does this give the President pause about making recommendations about what the public can do? Because he encouraged people who were vaccinated to gather on the Fourth of July. A group that did so is now sort of the poster example for the CDC of what can happen with this variant.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean -- you know, Kelly O, his -- the President has always said he's going to follow the science and he's going to listen to public health experts. That's what we do, right? That's why we're -- we are all following the CDC guidance on masking. And so that's -- that's our North Star, as we -- as Jen has said earlier this week.
Look, the job of all of us in this room is to communicate the truth about where we are in the pandemic, and this is something the President has said from day one, and also highlight how we can get out of this pandemic.
So the vaccines work. That's the truth. We know masks work. That's the truth. They save lives and prevent spread of this dangerous Delta variant. So we need to help in communicating the actions we are telling the American people to take and getting vaccinated and wearing a mask. If you're in an area where there's lots of virus circulating, it's more contagious. You have to wear a mask.
I know I have one more question that I actually didn't get to for Alex that I want to make sure that I answer, which is, will the CDC release more data publicly or this data.
So just wanted to say that the CDC's first and foremost priority is getting the American people information as quickly as possible. And so, that's what they did on Tuesday: They got it as quickly as they can. They're going to be releasing this data today, as you know. And it was clear that the vacc- -- it was clear that vaccinated people had the ability to transmit an action needed to be taken quickly. And that's why they did it. They did it ahead of releasing the data, and they're going to do that today, as I just mentioned.
Q: But part of this is also in terms of getting information out. Like, why are the doctors not here in the briefing room to take our questions? Why have we not had a COVID briefing? When we got some update from Dr. Walensky, that was a phone briefing. It provides information, but the public is eager to know more about what the Delta variant can do.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know what, Kelly O? I would -- I would argue that we had the President of the United States speak to this yesterday. He gave a more than 30-minute speech about where we are as a country. I mean, he is a trusted voice; he's the leader of our country.
Q: But he's not a scientist.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but we heard from him, right? We heard from the President yesterday. We heard from the President about the Delta variant and vaccinations, in general, the day before yesterday, when he was in Pennsylvania, when he was supposed to talk about Buy American, which he did, but he led off talking about the vaccinations.
We have had our doctors on your networks, on many of the networks that are here, talking -- probably all of them -- talking about the Delta variant all throughout these last couple of days. So they have been out there. They have been talking about it. And, yeah, we heard from -- directly for Dr. Walensky herself, you know?
So this is something that we're going to continue to do. We're going to continue to make sure that we communicate directly with the American people and also hand -- work hand in hand with local governments and state governments as well.
Q: Thank you. Just to follow up on all of that -- you mentioned the CDC's data that was released on Tuesday. I think the question is: Why doesn't that guidance match the internal memos guidance? Because, on Tuesday, they updated the mask guidance to say you only have to wear it in places that have high or moderate transmissibility. The internal memo that was leaked says, "Given higher transmissibility and current coverage" -- vaccine coverage -- "universal masking is essential to reduce transmission."
So, one, why don't the recommendations match? And, two, should the American public anticipate updated guidance that includes universal masking and also new items about large gatherings and how many people should gather, given what we are seeing from Provincetown?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, Weijia, we do not make those types of, you know, decisions from here when it comes to the science, when it comes to guidance. That comes from CDC.
So the questions that you just asked me, I refer you to CDC. About those slides and the -- what you saw in the slides specifically, that comes from them, and they all have that specific, you know, kind of information for you that you're trying to get here.
I will say, though, I think the most important thing -- and I don't want to get away from this because this is what's the most critical thing here -- is that people need to get vaccinated. That's the answer. If we want to make sure that we curb this pandemic, that we curb this -- the COVID-19, that we fight -- that we win this fight that we're in, we have to get people vaccinated. That's why the President calls this a pandemic for the unvaccinated.
We have to make sure that we take care of each other and that they take -- not just take care of themselves, but take care of each other. And we're talking about our kids who are 12 and under who can't get vaccinated. We're talking about our grandparents. Right? We're talking about older people in our lives that we want to make sure are taken care of.
And so that is -- if anything, that is -- should be one of the main reasons people get vaccinated: to make sure they take care of their families and their community.
Q: Has the White House reviewed CDC's internal memo and slides?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything to say about that. I could look into that.
Q: Okay. Because the language is -- the analogies are helpful to understand, like, you know, there -- that the Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, or more contagious than the common cold or Ebola. Are these things that they're going to present to the public to help us understand --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the data is being released today, I believe, right? Right? So, it'll be -- it'll be available. It's being released today.
Q: Got it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q: And one more just follow-up on Kelly. Of all the weeks not to have a COVID briefing, why this week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I know that's the question you all are asking me, but they -- the doctors have been on national television all week, speaking to this, answering the questions on your networks. So, they've been out there talking about it. They're not hiding. They're actually having the conversations with anchors and hosts, and answering the hard questions about the Delta variant, about the CDC masking. And so they've been out there; they're not hiding. They're actually speaking to this almost every day.
So, you know, and -- and we heard from the President of the United States yesterday for a more than 30-minute speech that many of you were in. So --
Go ahead, Peter.
Q: Thank you. Building off of your point that vaccines work, then why is the President asking vaccinated people to mask up if there have been just 0.0035 percent of the 161 million fully vaccinated Americans who have had a breakthrough case?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me give you the facts about the Delta variant, and maybe this will help, Peter. It spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another, and it's spreading rapidly. It is, really, just across the country, and that is just the fact.
Two months ago, only 1 percent of COVID in the U.S. were Delta. Now, more than 80 percent are Delta. And so this is where we are today with this vaccine, and so it is -- we are listening to the experts, the CDC guidance, and this is what they are telling us.
If you live in an area that has -- that is highly contagious and that has high levels, you have to -- they are saying -- they are, you know, giving the guidance of wearing a mask to protect yourself and to protect your community and your family. That is the guidance that we're getting.
Q: And some of the preliminary stuff we've seen from the CDC says this new guidance for vaccinated people to mask up is based on data from people who got sick partying in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Has the White House seen any proof that COVID is spreading -- vaccinated people are spreading COVID who are not going to big parties?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Here's what we know, and I'm just going to repeat again: We need to get people vaccinated. That is really the answer here. That is what we're seeing from -- that's what we're hearing from CDC, that's what we're even seeing from these slides is that people need to get vaccinated. That is how we fight the Delta -- the Delta variant. That is how we fight COVID.
Q: And then, last one: The President said yesterday it is "still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country" to get vaccinated. He said, "I don't know that yet." Does that mean he has asked the Justice Department to see if it's legal to make everybody get a vaccine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, when he said that across -- about the mandate across the country, you know, I would encourage you to read his statement and make sure you read the contents of his remarks.
So, a national vaccine requirement is not under consideration at this time. That's where we are with that.
Q: But has he asked the Justice Department to see if it's even possible?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any more to add to that.
Q: A lot of questions, obviously, about the super- spreader event in Provincetown. More than 800 cases, but 74 percent of people there fully vaccinated. So doesn't that at least suggest that maybe breakthrough cases aren't rare?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But that's not what the -- that's not what the data shows us. That's not what we've gotten from CDC. We've been told -- we -- we know that it is the breakthroughs that do happen with vaccinated people are rare.
And so, right now, what the CDC has told us is, because they do know that there are some breakthrough cases, we have to -- we have to make sure we're masked.
And so, again, we just have to continue to make sure people get vaccinated. That is the answer. That's how we got to move forward. And that's what we're focused on here at the White House.
Q: So we're supposed to see that as more of a one-off event, an outlier?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, that's -- well, I'm -- what I'm saying is that what we're focused on -- our message is very, very clear -- is that we want to make sure that people get vaccinated. That is -- yes, that is one event, but what the CDC -- that what the CDC guidance tells us is that the breakthroughs have been where -- this is what the public health officials have said. Like, yes, there are breakthroughs, but they have been rare. But the problem is that they are -- it is now contagious. Right? And so that's why they're asking us to wear a mask.
Where before, with the last two variants that we've seen, we weren't seeing that. We weren't seeing vaccinated people pass that along. And so, now, that has changed with the Delta variant. That is how serious this variant is. That's why our message continues to be: Please, get vaccinated.
Q: On the eviction moratorium, Speaker Pelosi, in her statement, said that only $3 billion out of an allocated $46.5 billion has actually going out the door. So what is the administration doing to help get more money out the door faster?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so that's a good question because that shouldn't be happening. Right? We are aware that the monies are taking some time to get to the -- some time from the -- it's already out in the states -- some time getting to where the folks who really need it: the renters and lawmakers [landlords].
So, what we have done these past couple of days is we made an announcement last week that $1.5 billion of that ERA went out in the month of June, and that was the most that we saw in the last five months.
And so, we continue to -- continue to work to make sure that people are being made aware that this is -- this is in existence.
Look, this -- this shouldn't be happening. States should be making sure that these monies are getting out as quickly as possible. And so, we -- and just yesterday -- just this week, we had a Day of Action to promote the availability of the rental assistance, which reached tens of millions of Americans.
Last week, the Treasury released new data, which I just mentioned with the $1.5 billion.
And then -- so what we know is that these funds can continue to be dispersed to renters and landlords until 2025. And so these Emergency Rental Assistance are so critical, they're so important, and so we're making sure that we continue to work with local governments to get that out.
Q: Yeah. But I think people are applying. We've heard tens of thousands of people have applied. They're just waiting for the funds to be dispersed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I hear you. And that's why we're encouraging the states to get that out as soon as possible. They have it. They need to get that out.
Yeah, go ahead, Jeff.
Q: Karine, given the seriousness of the Delta variant, are there conversations in the White House, or between the White House and scientific advisors, about more lockdowns, partial lockdowns, or anything along those lines?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So that is something that -- you know, I know this was asked to me yesterday. The way we see this is that we have the tools in our toolbelt to fight this -- this variant, to fight this vaccine [virus]. And we -- we are not -- we are not going to head towards a lockdown.
We want to make sure that we're doing everything that we can because, after passing the historic Rescue Plan, we have the resources to make sure that doesn't happen. So our role, again, is to make sure that we get -- that we get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Look, this vaccine -- these vaccines are free. They're easy to get. They're never been easier to get vaccinated. So that is the number one thing that we're trying to do is making that happen. We have the resources to do that. That's what we've been able to do this past six months.
We've been able to get more than 160 million people fully vaccinated. Eighty percent of that are -- are people who are over the age of 65. And so that's what we're going to continue to do.
And so our goal is to make sure that we are not headed towards that. That is not going to be the direction that we take, because we have the tools to prevent that.
Q: You said yesterday that the federal -- new requirements for federal workers could be an example for other employers. Can you just explain: Will federal employees' data be collected when they submit their vaccination status? And will the federal government be paying for the tests that they take if they do not attest to being vaccinated?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the agencies will pay for the cost of regular federal employee screening tests, so that's how that's going to move forward. And they're going to implement -- the agencies are going to be implementing this program themselves. So, they'll be in charge of that -- how that moves forward. And so that's kind of how that's going to be dispersed -- the program.
Q: And just on another topic, lastly: The New York Times is reporting, and others, that President Trump pressed the Justice Department last year to declare falsely that the election was corrupt. Do you have a reaction --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q: -- to that? And would -- you know, would your Justice Department, the Biden Justice Department, do anything about that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So President Biden has been clear that he believes it is absolutely vital to have a Department of Justice that is free from undue political influence, and these revelations underscore why that's important.
Go ahead, Phil.
Q: Thanks, Karine. Just to follow up on MaryAlice's question: Your number, at least percentage wise, was right, from the CDC study. It says about 74 percent of 346 cases had been fully vaccinated in that cluster. So, just to clarify, it's still the belief of the administration and the public health officials that breakthrough cases are rare on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what we've been -- what we've been told by CDC and what we know from our public health expert is that they are rare. But here's -- I mean, but here's the thing, and this is what we keep trying to say, is that: We got to get people vaccinated. That is -- that is what we have to focus on. That is why we're seeing the Delta variant. And so that is what we're working on as an administration.
That's what the President talked about. He talked about incentives. He talked about ways to do this in a more robust way. And this is the way we're going to be focused on, is making sure people get vaccinated.
Q: So that actually -- that was my follow-up, which is, you know, very clear that those who are vaccinated see fewer symptoms, hospitalizations, death; there's no question about it when you look at the data.
How concerned are you guys that people see a headline like that about breakthrough cases or a headline from the slide about transmissibility and it undercuts your efforts to say "Vaccination is the answer. Vaccination is the solution"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I just talked about what we've seen the last couple of days: the rise in numbers of people getting vaccinated. And so, if anything, we're seeing people are -- are out there, who are unvaccinated, clearly getting vaccinated. And so that's -- that's critical. That's important. The numbers and the data shows that.
And so that's what we're going to continue to do, is making sure that people continue to get vaccinated.
Q: You know, we were all being tested every single day. At a certain point, we were not being tested. I'm curious what the current status of staff -- White House staff testing is, and whether, given this news about transmission, there are plans to ramp up that testing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we're going to continue to follow the guidance that's been laid out, that's been -- that's been handed. And so all of that is going to be determined -- our testing is going to be determined by the White House Medical Unit.
We continue to get tested here -- the staff does; so does the President. And so that's what we're going to -- that's what -- that's -- that's how we're going to continue to move forward.
Q: So when you say "guidance," is that -- I think the current guidance is "only if there are symptoms" if you're vaccinated. Is that the current status?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, but we've also -- we also have stated in the past, like, when we -- when you're around -- when a staffer is around the President, they get tested. And because of -- we're around the President of the United States, we get tested pretty regularly.
That's something that we have shared in the past. There's nothing new there. And we're going to continue to follow what the White House Medical Unit entails for us to do as staff and for the President.
Q: On the eviction moratorium: Why did the White House wait until yesterday to publicly inform Congress that it was them who needed to extend it legislatively?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So let me just first say, about the eviction moratorium, because this is, I think, really important: We know that this has a disproportionate effect on those Americans, both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations. And President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this -- at this moment of heightened vulnerability.
But like we've all said today, unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available. So, the Supreme Court's ruling stated that clear and specific congressional authorization would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium through July.
So, one of the things that I do want to say that we have been doing: We have had this whole-of-government effect to get the word out about the availability of the rental assistance, and to support grantees to ramping up their efforts. And so that is our focus because we know that getting that funding to renters and landlords is incredibly key and important.
So we've been doing that since day one. And now -- what we're saying right now, what we have been saying, is that we're going to work with Congress to make sure that we're able to extend it.
We support Speaker Pelosi in her -- in her efforts. And what she is trying to do actually speaks to what the Supreme Court laid out in making sure that there is a continuation of the eviction moratorium.
Q: Right, but the Supreme Court ruling was more than a month ago, and you waited until this week to tell Congress that they need to do it. And you effectively jammed them two days before --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But we've been --
Q: -- the moratorium ended.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- we've been -- we've been having conversations with Congress for some time about this. This is something that we have been working with them on some -- with some time about how do we move forward. And so this is -- so this is -- we're going to continue to do that. And we appreciate Speaker Pelosi's efforts. And we're going to work closely with her on getting that done.
And, again, from day one, this administration has been working to make sure that we -- we really take care of the most vulnerable in this country who's been affected by COVID-19.
Q: There was some confusion over military service members being mandated to get the vaccine. The President said yesterday it was all about timing and recommended the DOD study it. The DOD later put their own statement out.
What did he mean that it's all about "timing," when he also said that the numbers are going to get worse before it gets better?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll say this: The President is asking the Department of Defense to look into how and when -- and when they will add COVID to the list of mandatory vaccinations for their -- for our armed forces. Anything else, I refer you to the DOD.
Q: For both civilian and military service members?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just know it's the Department of Defense. That's who -- that's who he's -- he's been talking to about getting that done.
Q: Okay. And just on a separate note, it was reported this morning that Senator Sinema -- a key Dem swing vote -- said she will be -- not be putting off August vacation plans to vote on your $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. What's your reaction to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I know that this has come up, and I just want to be really clear about this and what she actually -- what Sinema actually said.
And so, you know, I'm not going to clearly negotiate or anything like that at the podium, but it's important to be clear about what the senator said. She is going to vote to proceed with the debate on the budget resolution. She expressed reservations about the topline, which she's been clearly clear about, and other senators have said the same. But she is stand -- she's not standing in the way of moving this process forward.
Q: Thanks, Karine. You've been clear that the position of the administration is around the importance of getting vaccinated, but I have a follow-up to Alex's question earlier. Because a lot of Americans do not know if they are in an area with substantial or high levels of transmission. So while you are trying to get vaccination rates up, is it the position of the administration that local officials in those affected areas should bring back mask mandates?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, local officials are going to look at the vaccination rate in their area, and they have the flexibility to put that into place -- to put mandates into place, as we've seen across the country.
That is not our role here as the federal government. We are not mandating mask wearing. We're following, again, CDC guidance, and we encourage -- we encourage local governments and states to adhere or to take a look at the guidance and make sure that they keep people safe -- right? -- they keep their community safe and they keep people in their state safe. So that is what we encourage.
And at the same time -- I'm going to be a broken record on this because this is true, this is the case -- we have to make sure we continue to get people vaccinated.
Q: And a question with respect to Cuba and the ongoing policy review. I know there's a meeting today, but has there been any movement on actionable steps?
Specifically, does the President plan to lift travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, and make it easier for Cuban Americans to send money to their relatives on the island, both of which are issues he campaigned on?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, no, and both important issues that we understand to the Cuban people. So we're not going to preview any specific actions here. That is not something that I'm going to do from the podium.
I will say that on the remit- -- remittances, this is a complex issue that requires coordination with experts that will help to inform the administration's policy. So, at the President's direction, the Department of Treasury and State will form a remittance working group to review available options to establishing those channels.
Q: Karine, may I follow up, please, on Cuba? Right -- right back here. May I follow up on Cuba, please? Thank you so much.
You may have noticed those protests last week across the street from the White House. I don't know if you or anybody from the White House happened to speak to those protesters, but I did. And it's anecdotal, of course, but they say they see no difference between the policy of President Biden towards Cuba and the policy of former President Obama towards Cuba. Is the approach the same of those two Presidents -- of President Biden currently and the former President, President Obama?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'm going to be really clear here. So, since day one, we have said many times -- many, many times -- that the Cuban Americans are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba, is what I said at the beginning.
Today, the President is going to sit down and -- to meet with Cuban Americans, leaders at the White House -- that's what he's going to do in just a few hours -- to discuss the demonstrations and the administration's response. And so -- including applying new sanctions on Cuba -- on Cuban leaders and establishing Internet access for the Cuban people. So, we want to lift up the Cuban people, and that is going to be our focus.
On July 22nd, The Treasury -- the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assistant [Assets] Control sanctioned one of the Cuban individuals and one Cuban entity for serious human rights abuses and the repression of peaceful pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11th.
So we are going to continue to lift up the Cuban American people that -- I'm sorry, the Cuban people -- and we're going to have a conversation. As I just mentioned, the President will have one today, and we'll probably have more to read out from that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Jenny.
Q: Thanks, Karine. Just, really quickly, following up on someone's question on the eviction moratorium. You said that you've been working with Congress for some time now. Is there anything you can share in terms of who you've been talking with and when that started?
Because Democratic leaders, quite frankly, seem pretty surprised that it's now their responsibility. Obviously, we know the Supreme Court decision has been out for a month. So, what can you share in terms of that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't -- I don't have specific meetings or conversations to share. Look, I -- what I want to be make -- make really clear is that we are going to cont- -- we're going to work with Congress on -- to get this done because we understand the importance of the eviction moratorium to everyday people, especially after what we have seen this past year with COVID-19. That is a priority for us, and we work with Congress on so many different issues and have so many different conversations, and this is going to be a priority. And so, we support what Speaker Pelosi is trying to do now.
Q: Do you have any response to Congresswoman Ocasio- Cortez calling your handling of the situation "reckless and irresponsible" because you -- the White House hasn't shown leadership on this before?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I disagree with the congresswoman. Because, as I stated and I've laid out, from day one, we have been working on the Emergency Rental Assistance. We have been making sure, working with local -- local governments to get those funds out.
Just last month, we saw $1.5 billion in just one month in rental assistance that -- which was more than the last five months.
So we have been working very hard in a whole-of-government approach that we do here at this -- at this White House and this administration, and we'll continue to do that.
Q: Thank you. Back to Senator Sinema's comments, which you noted, her reservations about the price tag: Do White House negotiators and the President support Senate Democrats scaling back the reconciliation deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, this is a process that we're going through. This is a negotiation process. We're going to continue to have -- to engage congressional members on the Hill when it comes to reconciliation, and also, clearly, the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
So, we're not going to -- I'm not going to stand here and trying to negotiate from the podium; I'm going to let congressional members do that. We'll work closely with them. We understand this is how incredibly critical this is. This is part of a Build Back Better plan that the President has put forward, his economic policy, for this country. And he is all in on this.
He brought people here -- right? -- to work with both sides of the aisles to bring this bipartisan deal on the hard infrastructure, and we're going to continue as well with the whole Build Back Better plan.
Q: And back to COVID. I know you said it's up to the CDC and health officials to lead on new recommendations. But has the White House or the President asked them to look at new restrictions -- possible restrictions surrounding large group gatherings, given the Delta variant transmission?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We -- again, we follow the science and we listen to public health officials. That's how we move forward with this.
Q: Karine -- speaking of the science, Karine --
Q: Hi, switching topics.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q: The Biden administration, earlier this week, laid out their plan on addressing root causes in Central America, including combating corruption in the region. It comes days after Guatemala's Special Prosecutor Against Impunity was fired. The State Department has suspended cooperation with Guatemala's Attorney General. So, I guess, how does this affect the White House's work in the region? And does this cause any setbacks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, thank you for the question. Yes, this is something that we are very aware of. So, the situation in Guatemala -- look, it's important to us to make sure that -- you know, that -- that corruption is -- as we're dealing with the Northern Triangle -- is dealt with.
Hold on. Yeah, I did have something that I wanted to share with all of you if I can find it really quickly. Just give me a second.
I don't have it with me.
But it's something that we're aware of. And as you can imagine, as we're dealing with the Northern Triangle, as you just stated, it's critical and important that when we're dealing with these countries and talking about how we're going to help them with the root causes; that corruption, you know, is not is -- is something that doesn't affect the process that we're trying to make.
And, you know, when we -- when we do deal with the Northern Triangle countries, it's not giving money directly to the government, it's working as well with the organizations on the ground. So that is also critical and important.
And so, we're going to keep an eye on that. We're going to stay focused on that as well. And we should have more to share on the Guatemala situation.
Q: Karine --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q: You have the person.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, my gosh. I totally forgot. (Laughter.) Oh, my goodness. Give me one second. Our Fun Friday.
Okay, for our last question for our Fun Friday Zoom, a reporter hailing from Black Information Network, Vanessa. Vanessa. Hey, Vanessa Tyler. How are you?
(Reporter via Zoom denoted in italics is only heard via livestream. Audio is not played in the Press Briefing Room.)
Q: Hi, Karine. Thank you so much for taking my question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, we cannot hear you.
Q: Can you hear me?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can't hear you, Vanessa.
Q: Can you hear me? Hello?
Q: We have questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. There are questions in the room, for sure.
Q: Can you hear me now?
Q: One more question.
Q: Karine, how do you test if that is the Delta variant -- that COVID is the Delta variant?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't understand the question.
Q: Well, how do you test, when that is the dominant strain in the area -- when people just test whether they're COVID positive or --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we don't -- we don't -- we don't test the -- we don't test it. We listen to public health and scientists, and they tell us that it's the Delta variant.
Q: Have they explained their process on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't even understand, why would they explain --
Q: I was saying, how do they explain their process and how they're determining it's the Delta variant?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, that's what they are telling us. I laid out why -- why they -- I laid out how contagious it was and I laid out why we needed to act on the Delta variant. I laid out --
Q: I get that, but a lot of what --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- what I --
Q: -- the answers we get is, "Because they say so," without a lot of (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, they're the experts. It's not just "they." These are scientists. These are experts. I just said that --
Q: I know, but they've contradicted --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on one second.
Q: -- themselves --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- hold on one second. I just said that Dr. Walensky said just recently, in her 20-year career, she had never seen a variant that was so contagious. So, this is 20 years of her career. So this is absolutely, absolutely a major, major problem that we are trying to deal with.
That's why we heard from the President yesterday. That's why we keep talking about people need to get vaccinated. So, that is -- that is the -- that is the way that we're trying to move in this administration: making sure that we are protecting people here, making sure that we're dealing with this pandemic in a way that is effective. And that's how we're going to move forward.
(Cross-talk from reporters.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'll take another question. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q: The question is --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Eugene. Go ahead, Eugene.
Q: In April, the Chief of Staff told Playbook that the Education Department was reviewing whether the President could forgive student debt, and that review would be done in a matter of weeks, rather than a matter of months. I'm just wondering where that review stands.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, this is the student -- the student --
Q: Student debt relief. So, the President is signing away $10,000 or $50,000, which is a big ask for (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I think we've been -- you know, the President, as you know, supports Congress providing $10,000 in student relief -- in debt relief, and he continues to look into what the debt relief actions can be taken administratively. I don't have an update on that at all right now, at this moment.
Look, the Department of Education is working in partnership with colleagues at the Department of Justice and the White House to review options with respect to debt cancellation.
And so, again, I don't -- I don't have any update.
(Cross-talk from reporters.)
Q: Afghanistan --
Q: I have a question on --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Okay. We're going to have to wrap up. We're going to have to wrap up, guys. We're going to have to wrap up.
Thank you so much. Thank you.
Q: Did she ever get to ask?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, everybody.
Q: What about the (inaudible) reporter?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, my gosh. (Laughter.) Can we hear you now? We still can't hear you?
(Audio does not play in the room.)
Q: Can you hear me now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm so sorry. Are you on mute?
Q: No, she's not.
Q: I'm not on mute, no.
Q: Yeah, it's something in the room.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, so we're -- we're trying to -- we're trying to hear you and we cannot. (Laughter.) Vanessa, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. Do you want to write a note? (Laughter.) Let us know what your questions is?
All right. All right, Vanessa, we'll try next Friday.
Q: Okay, thank you. Yeah, next Friday will be fine. I can hear you. I can hear you perfectly. I can hear you, and I understand --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. Vanessa, we'll see you -- we'll try and do it next week.
3:21 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/351331