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Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates

November 16, 2021

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Woodstock, New Hampshire

12:46 P.M. EST

MR. BATES: I have a little bit at the top for you. I appreciate you joining us for the President's trip to Woodstock, New Hampshire, where he will visit the NH 175 bridge over the Pemigewasset, or just "Pemi" River, which has been the state's -- on the state's "red list" of bridges in poor condition since 2013.

He will deliver remarks on how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law repairs and rebuilds the nation's roads and bridges while strengthening resilience to climate change and creating good-paying union jobs.

The bridge that has been structurally deficient for years and forced the state to spend money on Band-Aid repairs. The President will talk about how repairing bridges like this is not just important for public safety, but upgrades that are going to save commuters time and money and boost local economic competitiveness.

The President will underscore how the infrastructure law is a game-changer for communities desperately in need, offering a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild and repair our country while making American competitiveness against China and the rest of the world an even bigger priority for decades to come.

And the President will also highlight how he is following through on his campaign promises to forge bipartisan consensus and demonstrate how democracies can work and deliver for our people.

He'll also stress that when we invest in ourselves, both in our physical infrastructure and human infrastructure, as we will in the Build Back Better Act, that there is nothing that can stop the American middle class.

As you all know, this is a continuation of the administration-wide effort including the President and Vice President, the Cabinet, senior staff to go to red states, blue states, big cities, small towns, rural areas, Tribal communities, and more to translate what this law means for people across the country.

And I also want to congratulate the North Carolina State men's basketball team on their win against Colgate Saturday, and our football team for putting up a hell of a fight against Wake Forest. Go Wolfpack!

Do you want to start us off, Colleen?

Q: Sure. Thanks. I wondered if you had any more information on the meeting with Xi. What's next for the relationship between China and the President?

MR. BATES: So, I don't have a great deal to add on top of Jake's outline that he gave at Brookings today.

But you heard him earlier emphasize the upsides of a virtual but face-to-face meeting that allows for a more personal kind of engagement between the leaders and how we spent 10 months shaping the environment in a way that advantages American interests and values ahead of this discussion.

The bottom line for us is that intense competition requires intense diplomacy. That's why President Biden initiated this meeting. It was part of our ongoing efforts to responsibly manage that competition. The recurring theme throughout the discussion was on the long-term work needed to manage this competition and establish guardrails on the relationship.

And as you heard the President say himself, it is their responsibility as leaders to ensure that competition between the two countries does not veer into conflict.

Q: Should there be a boycott of the Winter Olympics?

MR. BATES: I don't have anything to add on that subject, but I can tell you that that was not part of their conversation.

Q: And would the President like to send American athletes to Beijing for the Winter Olympics?

MR. BATES: I just don't have anything to add on that subject right now. But again, it was not a part of their discussion.

Q: President Biden said over the summer that he doesn't think of President Xi as his, quote, "old friend" or good friend. And Jen said the same at the presser yesterday, that they -- that President Biden did not consider Xi to be his "old friend."

But then we heard President Xi use exactly that phrase during the brief time that the press was in the room. Do you think that President Xi was trying to in some way undermine the U.S. with what he was saying there? Do you think -- what -- how do you interpret what happened in that moment?

MR. BATES: I'm not going to speak for President Xi. But like you just mentioned, you've heard explicitly from the President himself that he has a longstanding relationship with President Xi. They've spent a great deal of time together. They are able to have candid discussions, be direct with each other, which helps them be productive. But he does not consider President Xi an "old friend."

Q: And Sullivan said today at Brookings Institute that the American and Chinese officials will intensify their engagement on Taiwan after President Biden's summit last night.

What deliverables do U.S. officials want to get -- want to achieve -- or are hoping to achieve out of that intensified engagement?

MR. BATES: I can tell you that there was an extended discussion on Taiwan, and the President underscored the United States remains committed to the "One China" policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances. And he highlighted the U.S. strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. And this is something on which we will continue to engage.

Q: And a second question on the debt ceiling: Has President Biden been talking to Leader Schumer or McConnell on a path forward on the debt ceiling?

MR. BATES: We are always in close touch with leadership about ensuring that we do not default on our obligations, which virtually every Republican leader has acknowledged would be catastrophic for our economy, would cause millions of working people to lose their jobs in short order, would cut seniors off from Social Security and Medicare benefits, generate an unneeded recession.

And I would note, on that score, that multiple times throughout the Trump administration, despite having very large and substantive disagreements with President Trump's economic agenda, Democrats always crossed the aisle in large numbers to ensure that we did not default because of the pain that would mean for American families and because of the damage it would do to our standing in the world.

So, we remain in close touch with leadership, and we believe that it is an absolute must that we raise the debt limit.

Q: Has he talked to McConnell about this recently?

MR. BATES: I don't have any specific conversations on -- to read out to you right now.

Q: Just to go back to China briefly, did the U.S. and China reach an agreement to allow journalists to come and go from the countries and for potentially a one-year, multiple-entry visa for Chinese journalists? Those are things that the Chinese state media is saying were agreed to in the leadup to the meeting, but, so far, we have not yet been able to get confirmation from the U.S. side.

MR. BATES: Well, I obviously can't speak for Chinese state media, but on this subject, I would refer you to the State Department.

Q: On infrastructure, Jen was asked yesterday how soon we might see the first new projects started. She didn't quite have an answer. I'm wondering if you have anything more on that. Are we talking weeks, months, days, potentially, when we might see these sort of new projects get started that are a result of the bill -- or the law?

MR. BATES: Well, some programs will move very quickly, while others will take time to stand up and get right. There is a spectrum here. As you heard us throughout the process make clear: This is not a stimulus bill. The American Rescue Plan was our stimulus bill, and its results speak for themselves in the sense that we are now growing -- we are now seeing historic job growth -- over 600,000 new jobs on average a month. We are growing economically at the fastest rate in almost 40 years.

But some of these you will see impacts in short order. I believe Governor Hochul yesterday pointed to some projects in New York that they are going to channel these new resources to soon. And then some are going to take a number of years.

I would keep in mind the Department of Transportation is preparing to move formula dollars to states as soon as congressional rules allow for. The EPA is ready to announce the first Superfund sites prioritized for funding. And DOE has identified the first sites for their Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

I would also remind you that last Monday, the President released his Ports Action Plan outlining specific steps and deadlines that we will take to rapidly deploy available funding. We know that communities need help now, and there is a backlog of good projects out there.

An enormous priority for the President and for his new implementation coordinator, Mitch Landrieu, who is traveling with us today, is to move swift -- as swiftly as possible to get money out the door, shovels in the ground, and start creating jobs for the American people.

Q: Today's the deadline for a lot of acting positions who weren't confirmed. What's the administration doing about that? I believe it's about 200 people fall into this category. How big of a problem is this?

MR. BATES: We are working around the clock to try and ensure timely confirmations of the qualified people who we have put forward. We are grateful to the members in both parties in the Senate who have worked with us in good faith to ensure that we are staffed in all of these vital areas.

And we also are engaged with members who have been standing in the way of our very qualified nominees, and that is going to continue.

Q: Do you know what happens with these "Acting" people then, once that time limit gets hit, where they can't act in those positions anymore?

MR. BATES: I don't have more I can provide now, but let me see if there's some we can provide later.

Q: About Danny Fenster, the journalist who was freed from Myanmar, I just wondered if the White House played any role at all. I wondered how you guys feel about, you know, the former governor doing his sort of diplomacy to get him freed.

MR. BATES: So, the United States welcomes the release of Danny Fenster from detention in Burma. We are very pleased that he will be able to reunite with his family soon. We thank our many partners who joined us in calling for his release. And we appreciate efforts by all partners -- including Governor Richardson, who helped secure Danny's release.

Q: Beto O'Rourke announced his candidacy. Does the President support it -- his candidacy for the Texas governor?

MR. BATES: So, this is the first time I have gaggled; it will certainly be the last if I break the Hatch Act. (Laughter.) But I will note for you, just speaking generally, that it is abnormal for the President to weigh in in primaries.

Q: On the Rittenhouse trial, given that we might get a verdict soon, is the President expected to address the -- whatever the verdict is? And do you -- is the White House preparing for the possibility of some kind of unrest across the country as a result of what we might see there?

MR. BATES: So, as Jen was getting at yesterday, we are not going to comment on ongoing court cases.

Q: I'm just asking (inaudible) --

MR. BATES: That is something that --

Q: -- for when the verdict comes.

Q: Because they're deliberating right now.

MR. BATES: -- that is something that we have to honor.

And I do not have any announcements to make at the moment about his schedule, but something that I can tell you -- if the plane will stabilize -- (laughter) -- is that, you know, the White House is in contact with state officials at the request of community leaders. The Department of Justice's Community Relations Service has provided trainings on de-escalation and contingency planning to local community organizations, and they are prepared to provide any further assistance that is needed.

Q: Andrew, should we expect a Fed nominee today or later this week?

Q: Or right now.

Q: Right now.

Q: Do it.

Q: Can you tell us?

Q: You want to make some news?

MR. BATES: I am not going to make history right now. (Laughter.) I just don't have --

Q: We've got a lot of financial press here --

Q: Yeah.

Q: -- right now.

Q: It'd be the best gaggle ever.

MR. BATES: I just don't have anything to offer right now.

Q: Do you plan to raise, with Russia, the case of this exploding -- blowing up a satellite and leaving debris in orbit?

MR. BATES: Sorry, just one second.

As you may have seen from the Secretary of State, Russia conducted a direct-ascent anti-missile test on November 15th that struck a Russian satellite and created a debris field in low Earth orbit.

Because of this, astronauts on board the International Space Station were forced to take emergency precautions and sheltered in the Soyuz and SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules in case the debris collided with the International Space Station.

This action demonstrates Russia's complete disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations.

This debris will continue to pose a direct threat to activities in outer space for years to come and puts at risk satellites all nations rely on for national security, economic prosperity, and scientific discovery.

The United States will work with our allies and partners as we seek to respond to this irresponsible act. We call upon all responsible spacefaring nations to join us in efforts to develop norms of responsible behavior and to refrain from conducting dangerous and irresponsible destructive tests like those carried out by Russia.

Q: On Build Back Better -- a couple of things with the vote potentially happening this week in the House.

First, you know, we're expecting the CBO score on tax revenue at some point in next couple of days. And that seems to be an area where the administration is already anticipating that it may not be as favorable a number as you all have projected. How are you planning to deal with some of the moderate Democrats who are waiting for the CBO score? Do you think that they will be persuaded that they should be -- that they should ignore what the CBO is saying when that was the hold-up for them to even vote to begin with a couple weeks back?

And then, secondarily, are you confident that you actually have 50 senators on board for this or will have them -- that you really will have Manchin and Sinema and that nobody else has any concerns?

MR. BATES: So, on your second question first: Like the President said when we released the framework, we are confident that we are going to obtain 50 votes in the Senate for the Build Back Better Act. But I'm not going to speak to any specific kinds of interactions we've had with members on that.

And then, on your first one, I appreciate you raising that because there was a flawed report about this yesterday. As reporters who've been closely tracking the negotiations for months pointed out last night after some of that flawed reporting, there has been wide agreement on the part of everyone involved -- moderates, liberals, et cetera -- that CBO does not have experience analyzing revenue amounts gained from cracking down on wealthy tax cheats who are taking advantage of every honest taxpayer.

Last night, reporters directly asked key Democratic House members whose views run the gamut, including moderates, liberals, folks in between. They universally said this was not an issue at all.

What's more: There's a huge body of work from economic experts -- including Republican former Treasury Secretaries; IRS commissioners who have served under presidents of both parties; as well as Larry Summers, with whom we have sometimes had important differences -- affirming that, if anything, our estimates lowball how much revenue can be brought in by cracking down on rich tax cheats.

Also, CBO's fiscal data, so far, lines up with our estimates that we released to all of you for costs, or they even come in below our estimates. What's more, Moody's has verified this is going to be paid for. And this will reduce the deficit is the bottom line for us.

But there is there is no issue of that sort. This is something that has been known for months, and everybody is on the same page.

Q: Can I just do one more, real quick? Germany suspended certification of Nord Stream Two -- it looks like it could be temporarily, but -- temporary, but there are concerns that there could be low fuel in Europe this winter. Does the White House have any response to that?

MR. BATES: Not immediately, but I will see if there's something we would add.

Q: Thanks.

Q: Does the President have any specific thoughts on returning to New Hampshire, given the -- given the way things went last time he was here and everything that's happened since then?

MR. BATES: Well, he -- he's very glad to be visiting today, along with members of the Congressional delegation, especially because the win -- the bipartisan win from yesterday is such a validation of what he ran on -- that Democrats and Republicans can work together on enormous, long-deferred priorities for the American people.

Like he has said many times, infrastructure investment is long overdue, and it became a punchline during the previous administration.

And so, he is glad that we are now going to be able to point to this action, which is going to strengthen supply chains; is going to be counter-inflationary, like Rob Portman mentioned yesterday at the White House; and is going to create millions of good-paying jobs, some of which will be in New Hampshire.

And we think it's a good day for everyone.

Q: The President spoke during his campaign about using the presidency's power to grant clemency to begin to tackle inequality in the criminal justice system. Now he's scheduled to pardon two turkeys on Friday before he has granted a single pardon or commutation to a person, a human being. Does he have plans to do that soon?

And is he -- are you at all concerned about the optics of doing it for these animals that are bred for food before you do it with human beings who are clearly an important part of your overall policy perspective?

MR. BATES: Well, I think the American people very clearly understand the distinction between what is a lighthearted tradition on the one hand and then an extremely serious and core priority for the President on the other.

(Air Force One experiences turbulence.) This is my first time landing standing up. (Laughs.)

But we have announced some steps we are taking in the way of initial reviews, exploring his use of clemency powers, which was a campaign promise. And we look forward to sharing more about that in the future.

And with that --

Q: Do you have a timeline of that? By the end of the year?

MR. BATES: I don't have more to add on that.

Q: Do you want to address this NRCC poll about Build Back Better?

MR. BATES: You know, I would like to speak to that and I'm glad you raise it. Give me just one second. Because --

Q: The NRCC's poll of Build Back Better?

MR. BATES: Yeah. So, the thing is about that, Steve -- I don't know if maybe -- maybe Fox Business has a poll on how they have better coverage than Reuters, or maybe Little Caesars has a poll on how they've got the best pizza in America.

But in all seriousness, virtually all of your news organizations have polled Build Back Better, joined by many other reputable pollsters. They all show the contents of Build Back Better resonate incredibly strongly with a big majority of Americans.

That is because, at a time when families are facing high prices, this will aggressively cut some of their biggest costs -- like prescription drugs, capping the cost of insulin at $35, capping the amount of their money seniors pay for prescription drugs, cutting the cost of childcare in half for a majority of middle-class families, and fighting inflation for the long haul.

What's really happening is that GOP leaders claim they care about inflation. But as Rick Scott shared this week, they're actively rooting for it and standing in the way of popular reductions to protect tax giveaways for the wealthy and for big corporations.

Also, if you look at that poll, they need to lie about what's in the policy, which, I think, says everything.

And with that, we'd better go.

Q: Thank you.

MR. BATES: Thank you all.

1:07 P.M. EST

Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353421

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