Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Washington, D.C.
2:36 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Welcome to our flight back home from New York to Washington after our trip to the U.N. General Assembly.
I wanted to just note the President called Prime Minister Trudeau right when he got on the plane to congratulate him on his reelection, and conveyed to him that he looks forward to working together in the months and years ahead.
With that, I know it's a short flight, so let's get to your questions.
Q: Two quick ones. First, with regard to what's happening at the border with the Haitian border crossers, we initially saw Mayorkas make one statement. And then, last night, that began to evolve. Now he's meeting with the Vice President. Can you explain the evolution of what's going on and what the administration hopes to learn?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, when the Secretary made comments earlier in the day yesterday, he had not yet seen the photos. As you all remember, they all started to emerge right before I did the briefing yesterday, kind of later in the morning, and he spoke right around that same time.
Once he had an opportunity to see the photos, see the video footage -- as you saw him say in a statement last night and again this morning, he was horrified. He believes this does not represent who we are as a country and does not represent the positions of the Biden-Harris administration.
I'd also note that in his statement last night, he conveyed that there would be an investigation and that he was sending additional personnel to the border as well.
So, in terms of his meeting with the Vice President today, I think it's just to provide an update on where things stand.
Q: At this point, has the President seen the photos or been briefed about this whole situation as it has kind of developed in the past day?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. He's aware and has been briefed on the situation.
Q: Has he seen the pictures, though?
MS. PSAKI: I believe he has, yes.
Q: Okay. And what was his reaction?
MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to this exact question yesterday where -- or I thought I did -- or last night. Maybe I didn't.
You know, he believes that the footage and photos are horrific. They don't represent who we are as a country. And he was pleased to see the announcement of the investigation. He certainly supports that. And, obviously, there'll be a determination made on next steps once that concludes.
Q: Does the President believe those border agents should be punished in any way, or is he just going to wait for the investigation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again there's a process in place for a reason. Obviously, we hope that investigation happens quickly. And it will determine, as was stated clearly in the Secretary's statement last night, what disciplinary action should be taken.
Q: Jen, on the U.N. speech, it was extremely noticeable, obviously, that the word "China" didn't come up. Can you tell us why deliberately not to put in the word "China"?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that it was clear in the speech that the President was talking about the importance of our -- building our alliances, working together as we address a range of challenges in the world. He sees, and I know a lot -- and he knows a lot of our partners around the world, including from the G7, see China as a country where there is great competition but not a country where he sees it is one where we seek conflict.
And so, I think it was indicative of his objective of laying out our proactive agenda of the big issues that we can work together on, including with China: climate, addressing cyber -- threats -- addressing terrorism threats around the world. And certainly, he made clear as well in his speech that he was -- and this was not directed at any one country, but directed at any country that doesn't meet the bar -- that we will hold standards of democracy high, hold standards of human rights high. And, you know, that's a message that should be heard by anyone who was listening.
Q: And, Jen, a (inaudible) question. We're perhaps weeks away from the country hurdling over the debt cliff and into a historic default. Could you talk a little bit about what approaches you're taking now on that issue?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, as you may have seen -- or be tracking, I should say -- there's a vote later this afternoon in the House of Representatives that we fully support. There'll be a statement of administrative policy on that that comes out this afternoon.
I'd also note that, in our view, this should not be a controversial vote. I've talked about this a little bit prior. There has been -- the Congress has raised the debt ceiling 80 times in the last 60 years, including 3 times under the former President. And each vote in the previous administration was massively bipartisan, with as many as 316 votes in the House and 80 votes in the Senate. And each time, there was strong support from both Democrats and Republicans, even after the Republicans passed the $2 trillion tax cuts that were not paid for.
We've also seen -- and I would also note the report that was out yesterday that showed that Leader McConnell himself has voted to raise the debt limit by more than $20 trillion during his time in the Senate.
So, we will continue to make the case that it should be -- it is not a partisan issue to want to protect the full faith and credit of the United States and that we will continue to press for bipartisan support for moving forward.
Q: A quick follow-up on that. So, you said that you support what's coming out from the Democrats in the House. One thing that they did was they stripped out a bunch of funding for security support for Israel and some concerns about Iron Dome funding. Do you support that? And is that tolerable?
Q: Well, I appreciate your follow-up and clarification. What I was conveying is we support the effort to move forward on a vote on the debt limit in the House. And again, I would point you to the statement of administrative -- administration policy that will come out later this afternoon.
Q: On the infrastructure vote that Leader Hoyer says is going to happen on Monday, it certainly doesn't seem like right now Democrats would have the votes for that to pass. So how is the administration going to help this process, which is, I think, already being set up as a pretty key political moment for the President, even if there is a subsequent vote on another version of this bill? Is the President going to be doing more meetings, or is staff going to be? I know there were a few on the Hill today. Is all of that ramping up in this next week?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, obviously a very busy time for the President -- the U.N. General Assembly speech this morning, of course. But now that we are headed back to Washington, another important bilat this afternoon, I think you can expect that he'll be meeting with, engaging with, speaking with a range of members over the coming days in this pivotal period of time.
Q: And it won't just be moderates; it will it also be some of the progressives. Can we expect that?
MS. PSAKI: I would expect it will be a diversity of voices.
Q: Do you have any update on a conversation with Macron?
MS. PSAKI: It will happen soon. We're in touch with the team of -- Macron's team about finalizing the details in the schedule for that. The President looks forward to speaking with him; to reaffirming our commitment to the partnership, the longstanding alliance; and to continuing to work together on a range of important issues, including security in the Indo-Pacific.
Q: Prime Minister Johnson -- just in regards to the meeting today -- he said that the President has too much on his plate to do a trade deal -- a bilateral trade deal. Is that accurate?
MS. PSAKI: I think that the -- well, I would say the focus of the meeting, from the President's standpoint, today is going to be working together on a range of issues, including getting the pandemic under control; dealing with, certainly, challenges in the global economy that we've seen; certainly security issues we've worked together on for a series of decades, obviously on the heels of an important announcement last week.
I don't have anything to convey in terms of a trade deal.
Q: (Inaudible) it's not on the agenda though?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think those are the primary issues, but, of course, the Prime Minister may raise a range of issues, including trade. We'll see.
Q: Back to the border situation. Can you discuss the White House's communication with the Mexican government in regards to the Haitian refugees at the border? Has the U.S., has the Biden administration asked anything specific of the Mexico government in regards to the Haitian migrants?
MS. PSAKI: We, of course, continue to be in close touch with the Mexican government about how to address a challenging situation at the border, including with a number of Haitians who have come across the border as well.
But this is not about one country or individuals coming from one country. So, it is a part of a broad and ongoing conversation with the Mexican government about how we can continue to work together to address the migration situation at the border.
But I don't have any specific updates for you.
Q: I have two questions on Iran. One is that the foreign minister said today that they're expecting to resume nuclear talks in the coming weeks. And then the second one is about the President of Iran at the U.N., just as we were boarding the plane, saying that the U.S.'s new way of war with the nations of the world is economic sanctions, and, "We don't trust promises made by the U.S. government," which already some, like, kind of, observers are saying is even harsher anti-American rhetoric than we've heard from his predecessors at previous UNGAs. So where are the nuclear talks? Where is the overall dynamic right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the door remains open to diplomacy. Obviously, they had their own political election, as you all know, that happened in Iran.
And our negotiating team has always conveyed that the best path forward is to pursue those negotiations, to have those conversations and see if we can return to the table. I don't have any updates on when that may be, but certainly there's an openness to that, and I would expect any update on next steps to come from the State Department.
As it relates to rhetoric from leadership, they have their own politics and I'll leave it at that.
Q: Jen, on refugees, you just raised the cap to 125,000 for next year -- the next fiscal year. But this year, the number was less than 8,000. What do you attribute the low number, which -- and how do you change that? How do you get closer to the actual refugee cap, moving forward?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, it had always been our intention -- although I know you're referring to the specific steps and communication with Congress that made it, I guess, more official on the 125 -- to raise the cap to 125. So this is just the next step in the process. But we always knew that when we raised the cap, for both this fiscal year and next year, it would take some time to turn the systems back on.
We know there was an impact felt by COVID because of the processing that needs to happen and the process that needs to happen globally. We also know that a number of the vital refugee advocacy organizations that we work closely with needed to rebuild themselves with staff, with funding, with support after they were diminished a bit over the last couple of years. So, we knew it would take some time.
Obviously, the last couple of months have been pivotal in building that up. And we are pleased to see their progress, and we are certainly eager to pursue the cap that we have set for next year.
Q: Senator Schumer said you should halt deportations of any of the Haitians. Has the White House been in conversation with him at all on any of this?
MS. PSAKI: We're in touch with Leader Schumer about a range of issues. I don't have any particular update on his call for that at this point in time.
Q: Jen, is the President aware and/or concerned about the latest evidence that Trump -- Trump's team was trying, you know, all sorts of ways to overturn the election, and there was very specific new stuff has come out about that. Is he following this? Will he just ignore it?
MS. PSAKI: The President has a few things on his plate, including delivering a major speech to the world -- hopefully turning the page from the last four years -- that he delivered this morning, which I think a lot of people in the world heard as quite a difference from leadership that was turning away from alliances as the President is turning toward them and looking to work with global leaders to address the challenges we're facing. So, I can tell you he hasn't focused on it much.
Q: Is American democracy threatened?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President has made clear that what we saw on January 6th, what we saw in terms of the former President's engagement is deeply concerning. It was a dark day in our democracy. It's one of the reasons we need to fight so hard to protect our democracy and also send the message to the rest of the world that that is something we are protecting in this day and age.
Q: The President talked about doubling the money for developing countries for climate finance and mentioned working with Congress on that. Is there a specific place where you see -- what bill do you see that in? Do you see a path for that actually getting through?
MS. PSAKI: It's -- it's really an across-government effort, so not through one particular agency funding. And we're looking at it as an FY22 and FY23 budget cycle process.
MS. PSAKI: So, the President was sending the message that it will come from a full range of channels and -- as the funding has been from the past. And he just wanted to send a clear message to the world, which we think this did, that we are committed to being constructive partners -- not just with words, but certainly with some skin in the game on addressing the climate crisis. But --
Q: How much are we talking, financially, with that doubling down?
MS. PSAKI: Well, if you double --
MS. PSAKI: It's about -- it's about over 11. Yeah.
Q: Twenty-six Republican governors sent a letter -- signed a letter sent to Biden asking for a meeting in the next 15 days on the border situation. What is the President's response to that? Is there -- does he -- would he agree to meet with the Republican governors about this?
MS. PSAKI: I haven't seen the letter, so I don't know that we have any direct response.
Q: I just have a final follow-up on --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q: -- the climate financing. Is it -- so, for FY22, is that money that will -- that's already within the budget proposal from a couple of months ago? Or are there going to be additional requests that --
MS. PSAKI: You mean, like the Green Climate Fr- -- Fund?
MS. PSAKI: It's additional.
Q: Okay. But so -- so, we might hear what that breaks down to or where he might want that to come from?
MS. PSAKI: I think that's what we'll have to work through from here. But it's sending an important message that we're going to continue to set bold, ambitious goals as we lead up to Glasgow and continue to strive to be a world -- leader in the world on climate.
Q: And does he want that appr- -- I'm sorry, but does he want that approved before Glasgow or the --
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is about the next two budget cycles, so it's -- and some of the funding could come from a range of sources.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: Talking about Rome and Glasgow, is there any movement on whether Xi might -- has told you he might come and would like to meet the President at one of those meetings?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any update on the President of China's travel schedule at this point in time.
Q: (Inaudible) what he might have told you, you know?
MS. PSAKI: Again, the President obviously, two weeks ago -- I think it was two weeks ago -- had a constructive 90-minute call. They talked about the importance of engaging and continuing to engage at that high level. But I don't have any scheduling details or projections for you.
Q: In the Morrison meeting this morning -- or early this afternoon -- was there any discussion of the AUKUS deal and, sort of, of the fallout with France? Or was that something that they just, kind of, skirted around in their conversation?
MS. PSAKI: I don't think I have any more details to read out for you. But, you know, I can certainly reiterate for you -- and this is something the President conveyed -- is that it's important to continue those strong working relationships and partnerships with a range of countries as we address the Indo-Pacific, including France, including members of the AUKUS and members who are not in the AUKUS, given it is such an important security priority for the world.
And again, I know he's looking forward to speaking with President Macron in the -- in the coming days.
Q: Do you have a little more color on the $10 billion in food aid that Biden mentioned in the speech?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we'll have more on that in the coming days. Let me see if there's more detail we can give you in shorter order though.
Q: About tomorrow, the climate summit --
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q: How many leaders are expected to be attending this? You know, do you have, like, a ballpark idea?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. That's a good question. We can get you an exact number of RSVPs and attendees. We can try to get you that shortly after we land.
Q: Can we expect a call in advance about that or is that --
MS. PSAKI: Say that one more time?
Q: Is there going to be a call with press about that in advance, do you know? Or how you'll be handling that?
MS. PSAKI: As the President said today, there will certainly be some news about our continued commitment to be the arsenal of vaccines in the world.
In advance of tomorrow, I will see what detail we have in terms of the rollout of that.
All right. Great. Thank you, guys.
2:52 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/352641