Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Orleans, LA
1:07 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Good to see everybody. So, let me just first say that the President is heading to the Gulf today for the people of the Gulf. That is going to be the purpose of his trip.
For as long as it takes for them to recover, clearly, we will -- the federal government will be there for the people of the Gulf.
Q: We can't hear you. We can't hear you at all. Can you come closer?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. They can't hear me. (Laughter.) I'll start over so you can hear me. Got to make sure I'm heard here.
Okay. So, the President is here for the people of the Gulf for as long as it takes for the -- for them to recover. The full force of the federal government is working closely governor -- with the governor -- with the governor in Louisiana and in Mississippi, clearly; Congressional members on both side of the aisles; local leaders.
This is not about politics, as you can imagine; this is about the people here in the Gulf that need the help in this difficult time.
But let me give you a little bit more about what today looks like. The President will meet with federal, state, and local leaders and surve- -- that surveyed the impacts of storm damage from Hurricane Ida.
He will visit the St. John Parish emergency operations center; tour a neighborhood in LaPlace, Louisiana; and do an aerial tour of hard-hit communities, including Lafourche -- my parents, hopefully, are proud of me with this French pronunciation here -- (laughter) -- I'm trying; Grand Isle; Port Fourchon; and La- -- shoot. Let me step back. Including LaFitte, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon, and Lafourche Parish.
He will be joined today by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell; Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall; and Senior Advisor and Director of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond, who is -- who is his head -- who is the lead on the Hurricane Ida relief efforts that -- the President announced that earlier this week.
The focus in Louisiana continues to be on power restoration efforts, and we're glad to see that power has returned for roughly 80,000 customers in Louisiana and Mississippi in the last 24 hours as transmission lines and substations returned to service.
However, power does remain out and boil water advisories remain in effect for more than 800,000 people. There were over 2,800 people were in shelters in Louisiana as of this morning.
Additionally, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers are working day and night with the state of Louisiana and the maritime industry to fully reopen and constitute our vital ports and waterways as quickly as possible.
The President understands how important the smooth flow of maritime commerce is to this region and to our nation, and we are doing all we can to get it back up and running.
FEMA has reported that roughly 91,000 people in Louisiana have already received a one-time $500 payment to support critical needs.
This morning, the White House announced that Governor Jack Markell will be appointed to serve as the White House Operation Allies Welcome Coordinator. An experienced executive with a career spanning both the public and private sectors, he will work alongside the National Security Council -- NSC; the Domestic Policy Council -- DPC; the Department of Homeland Security -- DHS; and other federal agencies to ensure vulnerable Afghans who pass screening and vetting reviews are safely and effect- -- effic- -- effectively resettled here in the United States.
Governor Markell is an experienced manager with a career that has spanned both the public and private sectors, and he will coordinate the administra- -- the administration's resettlement policy development and engage with state and local governments, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations to support the resettlement of evacuees and welcome them to their new homes.
In this role, which is a short-term appointment through roughly the end of the year, Markell will work hand-in-hand with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan; Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice; DHS Secretary Mayorkas; and Homeland Security -- and Homeland Security Advisor Sherwood-Randall; and Senior Response Official Bob Fenton, who leads the Unified Coordination Group at DHS.
The interagency team is working across the federal government to conduct rigorous security vetting; implement -- implement COVID-19 testing; and process payroles [parolees] into the United States.
Today, we are -- we are also announcing that the inaugural meeting of the White House Competition Council will take place at the White House next Friday, September 10th. The council was established to coordinate the President's whole-of-government approach to promoting competition, outlined in the executive order he signed on July 9th.
The council's members, including eight Cabinet members and the chair of six independent agencies, will discuss the essential role that competition plays in bringing to life POTUS's economic agenda and highlight the many initiatives already underway to lower costs of American families.
Today, we are also announcing that the CEC [SEC] will join the Competition Council and promote competition as part of a core agenda.
Some more. I have more for all of you.
As we announced this morning: On September 9th, the Biden-Harris administration will convene the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue since 2016 in recognition of the broad, deep economic agenda that the United States shares with Mexico.
Established in 2013, the HLED advances strategic economic and commercial priorities for both countries, with the shared goal of fostering economic development and growth, job creation, global competitiveness, and reduction of poverty, and equality.
This year's Dialogue will focus on four central pillars: Building Back Together; Promoting Sustainable Economic and Social Development in Southern Mexico and Central America; Securing the Tools for Future Prosperity; and Investing in Our People.
The USG delegation is led by three co-chairs: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. The Mexican delegation will be led by three co-chairs: Secretary of Foreign Relations, Secretary of Economy, and Secretary of Finance.
Last but not least, we have the week ahead for you. Just a very, very quick preview. We promise to have more in the upcoming days.
The President will give remarks on the administration's response to COVID-19 pandemic next week. We are finalizing those details, and we'll have more to share in the upcoming days.
As you can imagine, the President and the First Lady will commemorate 9/11. We'll also have further details on that later today to share.
Josh? Oh, you're blocked. (Inaudible.)
Q: Thanks, Karine. On the jobs report today, you had zero jobs added for leisure and hospitality and a decline in retail. Some economists say that's due to Delta, but is there a concern that the will of the American consumer is declining, as shown by what's happening in those sectors?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll say this, Josh: While we saw an impact from Delta in today's jobs numbers -- you heard clearly the President speak to this just this morning -- and in some in-person services, the fact is that consumer spending has consistently held up during the pandemic.
In some periods, this had led to stronger demand for goods, like home -- like home workout equipment that [sic] in-person services -- than in-person services like going to a nail salon or going out to eat.
Last month, in July, data showed consumers pivoting to spending on services as they felt more comfortable with the public health situation.
And we'll be watching carefully to see how they respond in August. We get that data later this month, so we'll have more to share at that point. But right now, it's too soon to tell.
And while it is possible that Delta will have an impact on how people spend their money, they have been consistently spending it.
And the fact that we're adding jobs at a strong pace in recent months -- 750,000 jobs per month just over the past three months -- and wage growth remains strong should help boost consumer spending in coming months and quarters.
Q: Karine, are you concerned about the people coming back to work -- not coming back to work in the service sector? Everywhere across the country, you know, restaurant owners continue to complain that they are having trouble recruiting the staff that they need. Are you -- is there anything that the White House can do, you know, beyond what has already been done to, sort of, you know, help rectify that gap in the workforce?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, you know, this is -- you know, we have a lot of work to do. We understand that. I just listed out the 750,000 jobs a month that we have been able to create. You know, Biden has created jobs every month of his presidency and has created more jobs in the first seven months than any president in history. So that does matter.
But to your point, we have a lot of work to do. But, today, again, more than 74 percent of adults have at least one dose, and over 170 million people are fully vaccinated, which is really important because that's what we have seen -- right? -- from people being hesitant, which is the vacc- -- which is the Delta, right? The Delta variant and vacc- -- and people -- and vaccination.
But, importantly, we have accelerated recently -- recent the pace of vaccinations. In August, we administered over 14 million first shots; that's almost 4 million more than in July. So that is -- we believe that's going to be helpful.
And thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we have the economic and public health tools we need to deal with challenges like Delta, without going backwards or shutting down our schools or our economy.
So, the American Rescue Plan was designed to both provide immediate economic relief and to provide the firepower and flexibility over the months and years to ensure that we could overcome inevitable bumps on the way to be -- to a strong, sustainable, and accountable recovery.
But I think what we're seeing with the vaccination is certainly going to help in those industries that you were just mentioning.
Q: Was the President talking about -- on abortion, he said there are things that can be done by the Justice Department to help individuals in enforcing a federal system. It was a little unclear. I mean, there's women who can't get abortions after six weeks. What's the plan?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, let me just first say that, today, the Gender Policy Council and the Office of the White House Counsel this morning met with the reproductive rights advocates to hear their views and get responses. The President wants to get the best ideas on the table. That is what he's talking about. That's what he charged the Gender Policy Council and the Office of White House Counsel to do in the statement that he put out yesterday on this.
And so, on the table, we're looking at legislative actions -- what are the best legislative actions, what are the actions that the administration itself can do. And he wants to see action and remains committed to that.
So that is what -- that is what the President continues to support, and that's what the President continues to look at.
And also, let's not forget: Additionally, as you all know, you know, this is all being taken seriously by Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democrats, and we're going to work closely with them.
Q: Does that mean providing transportation for people? What does it -- I still don't understand. Is it legal? Is it just -- do we know the law?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, he's been very clear -- if you read the statement that he put out yesterday: Again, he directed the Gender Policy Council and the Office of White House Counsel to launch a whole-of-government approach. That's what he wants to see.
The President specifically tasked the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas -- Texas's bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.
So this is what he wants to do. He has -- he's been taking a whole-of-government approach. Like we said, he's going to see what the best idea is on the table. And I mentioned that the GP- -- the GPC, the Gender Policy Council, and the White House Counsel met today with some -- with some groups, and they'll have those conversations.
Q: Given the smaller-than-expected jobs report today, is there any thought in the White House about the President's stance on not wanting to extend the emergency unemployment benefits? Are they reevaluating that at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, there is no plan to reevaluate that. As you know, that was temporary -- the emergency unemployment benefits. And so -- but the -- but one of the things that I can say -- and I think Jen spoke about this earlier in the week -- is that, you know, first, it's important to take a step back to look at the national landscape here. In about half of all states, 24 governors have already made the decision to eliminate pandemic unemployment benefits. In the remaining 26 states, unemployment levels vary widely, from 3 to 7 percent.
But I want to just lay out what the administration announced new tools to help states that choose to further extend pandemic unemployment benefits -- right? -- which is, first, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Department of Labor sent a letter to Chairman Wyden and Chairman Neal, underscoring and affirming that states can use their allocations of the $350 billion of state and local fiscal relief fund included in the American Rescue Plan to provide further support to unemployment workers if the economic situation on the ground warrants it.
The Department of Labor has also made $90 million in career grants available to support comprehension reemployment services for all Americans and $146 million in reemployment services and eligibility assessment grants to states -- grants to states to support reemployment services to -- for UI benefits.
And on August 26, the Department of Labor sent a letter to states with information about how to leverage existing UI program infrastructure to deliver ongoing support to unemployed workers, and highli -- highlighting relevant guidance for state workers.
So these are the things that we have done and helping states with.
And one last thing. And over the last couple of weeks, the administration has done extensive outreach to 27 states to offer support as they consider whether to provide additional payments to unemployment workers.
So this is an ongoing outreach that we will continue to do to make sure the states have an understanding of how to move forward and what they can do to help.
Q: One more question. Has the President reached out or spoken to Senator Manchin about his concerns about the reconciliation bill that came out in that Wall Street Journal op-ed? Has he spoken to him this week? Has he spoken to him since that op-ed came out?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, he is in constant communication with members on the Hill.
Let me just say this about the question you just asked me about the op-ed. So, Senator Manchin is -- as you know, is an important partner to the administration. The President firmly believes that critical investment in our future should be paid for. And if we do, economists tell us that they should not increase the inflation risk in this country.
The President should not -- pardon me, the President would pay for these investments by making corporations and the wealthiest Americans paying their fair share.
This is an important part of the President's economic policy. You've heard him talk about it for the past year, even before he became President.
So, indeed, the best way to reduce costs that are hitting families' pocketbooks -- childcare, prescription drugs, tuition, eldercare -- is to pass the President's Build Back Better agenda, which will cut these costs over the long term.
So these are -- this is what the President is going to be focused on is making sure -- working closely with Congress to get (inaudible).
Q: But has he -- has he spoken to Senator Manchin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just said that he talks to him -- he talks to members of Congress often. I don't have -- I don't have -- I don't have a call to read out to you.
Q: There are a number of polls out right now, including one from the Washington Post today, that shows that the American public approves of the withdrawal from Afghanistan but doesn't approve of the Biden administration's handling of it. How does the White House frame that disparity?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just say, I know there's been a lot of polls and conversations about, you know, the different multiple crises that the President has to deal with right now. But he sees -- like, this is -- this is -- this is the role of the President -- right? -- to make sure that we can -- we have -- address multiple crisis at the same time.
But when those moments arise, you need to have a strong and capable team, coherent in the subject matter and nimble enough to adapt quickly.
And so, the way that we see this is we have capable teams working on, you know, an airlift -- airlift as many people as possible out of Afghanistan safely. Right? We're talking about more than 120,000 people that he was able to get -- that we -- that his military was able to get out of Afghanistan.
And so that is something that -- it was one of the most historic airlift that was able to happen. And -- and so that is something that we feel that these are the different crises that he's able to work on.
You know, prepare for and respond to a historic hurricane. Right? We're going to Louisiana, which is something that FEMA has spent weeks on planning to do.
And so -- and getting the pandemic under control. If you look at where we were seven months ago, we're just in a completely different place.
So, these are the -- when you -- these are the things that the President takes on and really brings a whole-of-government approach to make sure that we get things done.
Q: In reference to Afghanistan, you mentioned that the President relies on a very strong team. But what is his level of confidence in Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador -- the envoy to Afghanistan, who had, you know, been kept on despite complaints by groups that felt that he was not, for instance, particularly attuned to the important issue of women's rights and representation of women in the government?
Does he still have full confidence in the envoy? And how much longer will he continue to serve in the Biden administration?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Who are you talking about again? I didn't hear the --
Q: Zalmay Khalilzad. Khalilzad. Khalilzad.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, got it. He has full confidence in his team. As you can imagine, he wants to -- you know, there are -- there are things -- when we think about Afghanistan and what is happening currently with -- with, you know -- as we're, you know, trying to move forward with -- with the fundamental questions before the Taliban, for example, and you're talking about women and you're talking about what's the next steps -- you know, the fundamental questions before the Taliban, as we speak, talk specifically about them.
Will they uphold their commitment to freedom of travel and safe passage for Americans and Afghan allies? Right? Will they live up to their counterterrorism commitments? Will they form an inclusive government? Will they sustain progress for women or girls? Will they respect fundamental human rights?
And so, the Taliban spokesperson said they're looking for positive relations, especially with the United States. But any future relationship with the Taliban will be determined by how they act.
If they -- if they earn any -- if they earn anything from the international community, it will be through actions and not words. So, that is how we're looking at how we're moving forward with the Taliban and making sure that women and girls -- the President mentioned that in his speech, as well, in having -- and focusing on humanitarian -- human rights as well.
Q: On the storm: We've -- you know, the death toll has gone up; we're in the dozens. We had people drowning in their basements in Queens. Was there a failure of notification at either the federal, state, or local level?
And is the President concerned there's any risk that the -- all the stuff going on in the big media markets will drown out -- forgive me for the bad phrase -- what's going on in Louisiana, where he's trying to cause attention?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I would say when the President travels, usually that gets a lot of attention, and the President is going to focus on the people of the Gulf.
You guys are all here. You guys are going to be covering it. There are going to be people clearly on the ground covering the local aspect of this.
But you gave me an opportunity to talk about the Northeast because you were just talking about the flood. I want to give an -- give you all an update on what's happening there.
So, the President approved emergency declarations from New York and New Jersey last night. The authorization emergency protective measures direct federal assistance and reimbursement for mass care, including evacuation and shelter support for those two states, which experienced severe flooding and tragic loss of life as a result of the storm.
FEMA has deployed Incident Management Assistance Teams to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and an additional IMAT team is en route to Pennsylvania.
FEMA has pre-positioned millions of meals and hundreds of thousands of bottles of water, blankets, and thousands of cots, if needed. So, this is the work that's being done right now with the federal government.
Q: We're hearing that people are not using the FEMA shelters at all for air conditioning, which is a really big problem where we're going.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll tell you this --
Q: What can you do to accelerate that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'll tell you this: As of this morning, there were six shelters open in Pennsylvania with 12 occupants. Maryland has one shelter open with 24 occupants. New York has seven shelters open with 175 occupants. And New Jersey has one shelter open and seven occupants.
So, the shelters are there. We're doing everything in a whole-of-government approach, as we've talked about, to make sure that the people who are dev- -- who have been devastated by these storms, by these floods, get the help that they need. And we'll continue to do that.
Q: Do you have the numbers for Louisiana? Because we're hearing that people are not using their, like, air conditioning shelters that are set up and people are not using them.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just give you a little bit about what we're doing for individuals, and hopefully that helps answer your question, Andrea.
So, individuals in affected areas can apply for disaster assistance and get referrals to local, state, and federal agencies and voluntary organizations. The fast way to apply for disaster assistance is through DisasterAssistance.gov.
So, for all of -- for all of you who are here and writing about this could help get the word out. So, again, it is DisasterAssistance.gov.
You can also apply by calling 1-800-621-3362 or through the FEMA mobile app. Roughly 90,000 people in Louisiana have already received a one-time $500 payment, which I mentioned at the top, from FEMA to support critical needs as a result of the major disaster declaration the President approved. And FEMA has awarded more than $107 million to help more than 150,000 disaster survivors.
Yesterday, FEMA released a new policy to reduce the barriers to apply for disaster assistance by expanding the types of documentation for homeowners and renters to prove ownership or occupancy, which has been a challenge for many disaster survivors in the past.
FEMA has a mobile communication operation vehicle equipped with satellite technology in Louisiana to both ser- -- to both serve as a mobile command center -- centers --- and help disaster survivors register to apply for federal disaster. The HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration activated their disaster hotline.
So, there's a lot that's happening on the ground that we're helping people with, and so we'll continue to do that. The President will clearly highlight this when -- on the tour today and talk about this in more (inaudible).
Q: There's reports that Democrats are considering adding additional aid for Afghan refugees -- sorry if somebody asked this; I couldn't hear -- into the reconciliation bill they're drafting up. Is that something the President would support -- adding additional aid (inaudible) security supplemental earlier?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you can imagine, I'm not going to, you know, go into back-and-forth about what's in the reconciliation bill from here.
We're continuing to have conversations with Congress. It's clearly -- the reconciliation bill and the -- and the infrastructure deal is something that's incredibly important to the President -- as we call it, the "Build Back Better deal" -- to make sure that we don't leave anybody behind, that we're building back better in all of -- in all of the items that I've listed: childcare; you know, the human infrastructure; and making sure that we're giving tax credit to the -- to the people who need it, the middle class; you know, thinking about medical -- you know medical -- medical assistance and dental assistance.
All these things are incredibly important, as well as the hard infrastructure, which is the roads and the bridges -- and something that we'll see, right? This is something that the President will talk about today: the importance of passing Build Back Better, as we're looking at what's happening just across the country.
Q: Another note on that infrastructure. Much has been made about the New Orleans levee system that helped stave off some of the worst of Ida. But as the threat of climate change becomes even more clear -- as it intensifies and temperatures rise -- I wonder if the administration feels like the need is even more pressing to upgrade the infrastructure and that perhaps it's facing a moving target.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, absolutely. It's clear that we need to make critical investments and make our infrastructure more resilient to disasters and to the impacts of climate change, which the President has proposed, as I just mentioned, the Build Back Better agenda. And the -- it's bipartisanship that we see with the infrastructure deal that was made that he helped bring -- bring both sides of the aisle together.
The New Orleans levee, as you just mentioned, the system which was built and strengthened after Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of the types of big investments in resilient infrastructure that we need to make. It successfully protected the city of New Orleans during the storm, performing exactly as designed, and the flooding impacts were not as severe as Katrina.
So, yes, it's important to continue to invest in our infrastructure. That is what the President is trying to do with the Build Back Better agenda, and he'll (inaudible).
Q: For the New -- on New Orleans, has there been any more information on the reported oil spills photographed by the Associated Press and released yesterday? Do we have any more information on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any information on that. I'm happy to go back to the team and get you some (inaudible).
Q: Is the President considering a trip to the Northeast to view the storm damage there, particularly given 40 people died?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything to preview for you, but I -- as you know, I just listed out what we've been doing on the federal government to help the folks in the Northeast.
Q: Is there an investigation into who leaked the conversation between -- the purported conversation between the President and President Ghani -- former President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any more for you on that. But let me say a couple of things on that, because I don't think we've had a chance to really address this.
So, the President conveyed privately exactly what he conveyed publicly at a pivotal time, when you're talking about the call -- the phone call with Ghani: In the pivotal time in the down -- the drawdown, when it was essential for the government and the military to step up, it was a -- it was pivotal for President Ghani to lead.
President Biden was telling Ghani three things: Work with my team to nail down the details of an effective military strategy, consolidating around population centers; two, let your military commanders implement that strategy; and, three, rally the political leaders behind that strategy to reinforce the confidence of the Afghan public and the international community behind that strategy.
So that's what he was trying to convey to the President, and I don't have any more to say on that.
Q: Did he also tell him to try to convey strength and that his government was in firm control, no matter if true?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll say this: The President, Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken, Jake Sullivan, many others all said many times this summer that whether the Afghan Force would fight for their country was a matter -- a matter of will, not capabilities of supplies. And public confidence has a big impact on will.
The view of our military leaders, as well as common sense, was that the best chance Ghani had was to rally the country and implement a strategy that could both stop the Taliban's gains and give confidence to the Afghan Security Forces and the public.
That advice was both sound and consistent with what we were saying publicly. Unfortunately, Ghani couldn't or wouldn't heed the advice.
Q: Does the President support congressional hearings on what happened and why these -- why there was such a surprise about the rapidity of the takeover by the Taliban?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll say this --
Q: Is he willing to cooperate with that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'll say this on the hearings: Since taking office, the administration has been regularly briefing Congress on Afghanistan, and that engagement will continue.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
1:37 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle 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/352079