Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Denver, Colorado
2:52 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Welcome to President Biden's trip to Colorado and Nevada. This afternoon, we are traveling to the city of Louisville, Colorado, which suffered devastating losses from the Marshall Fire.
The President and the First Lady will tour the local neighborhood of Harper Lake, which was particularly hard hit, and meet with residents and families whose lives were impacted by the Marshall Fire.
The President will then deliver brief remarks thanking the brave first responders for their heroism and assuring local residents of the robustness of the federal response.
President Biden approved Governor Polis's request for an expedited major disaster declaration on the same day it was requested -- December 31st -- providing federal assistance to impacted individuals and communities.
This action authorized critical assistance for disaster survivors through a number of federal programs, including individual assistance for temporary housing and home repairs, and direct federal assistance for debris removal and emergency response costs.
Throughout his trip, the President will be joined by Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, Governor Jared Polis, Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Representatives Joe Neguse and Jason Crow.
As you all know, the President spoke with Governor Polis on December 31st to learn about the devastation firsthand and offer immediate assistance. FEMA administration -- Administrator Criswell traveled to Colorado on January 2nd to meet with state officials, tour impacted areas, and identify further needs.
Later this evening, President Biden and the First Lady will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, for the funeral of Harry Reid. President Biden and Majority Leader Reid served together in Congress for more than 30 years and worked hand in hand during the Obama-Biden administration to achieve some major legislative accomplishments for the American people -- the Affordable Care Act and Recovery Act to name a few.
The President is going to be joined by President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and many others in honoring his late, dear friend.
Today, the Biden administration announced the distribution of billions of dollars in funding to help low-income Americans, covering heating costs this winter, thanks to the American Rescue Plan. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program will help states, localities, and Tribes address home energy costs this winter.
The administration announced that a total of 14 major utility companies have made commitments to prevent shutting off utilities for Americans applying for aid and expedite assistance, with seven new commitments today building on commitments made last November.
And lastly, the President has accepted the invitation of the Speaker of the House to deliver the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, March 1st, 2022.
And with that, Darlene, do you want to ask the first question?
Q: Yeah, sure. Thank you. First of all, can you clarify the name of the neighborhood that you said he's visiting in Louisville? Is it -- did you say "Harper Lee"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so let me actually --
Q: Like the author?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, let me actually -- so, this is -- you're talking about Colorado, right?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Okay. So let me -- he's going to do two stops on the trip, so I'll give you a little bit more.
He's going to do a walkthrough in a neighborhood in Louisville that was severely damaged and great -- and greet families and first responders. Following that, he'll be in the neigh- -- he'll do a neighborhood tour. The President is going to greet local -- and the First Lady -- local and state elected officials who have been supporting recovery efforts, then meet privately with families from the City of Louisville and the town of Superia [Superior], who suffered major -- major damage from the fire.
Does that help?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
Q: Great. And then on Kazakhstan, is there any comment from the White House on the shoot-to-kill order the leader issued there against the protesters, even his language referring to them as "terrorists," and the fact that Russian troops have been invited in?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep. So, this order is concerning, and the world will be watching for violations of human rights and due process. The United States urges restraint from government forces in maintaining stability.
Q: And one more on the Supreme Court arguments today on the administration's vaccine mandates. Do you have any sort of oral readout to offer us on what you all heard during the arguments? Did you find it encouraging -- that kind of thing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So as you just mentioned, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on two policies that are critical to our nation's COVID response.
As we've talked about, the unvaccinated Americans continue to face a real threat of severe illness and death, including from Omicron.
The OSHA rule ensures that employers are protecting their employees by encouraging workers to get vaccinated and requiring unvaccinated workers to mask and test.
The CMS healthcare rule protects vulnerable patients by requiring that covered healthcare providers get vaccinated.
Our view and the view -- not just our view, but the views of relevant voices across the spectrum, ranging from the American -- the American Medical Association to the AFL-CIO is: The need and the urgency for these policies is greater than ever. And we are confident in the legal authority of both policies.
Q: Nothing specific, though, in response to the arguments today -- this morning?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nothing specific, but we are confident in our legal authority, as we've been stating for the -- for these past several months.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Karine, the first contract for self -- your at-home test has been awarded by the administration. Can you confirm which company got that award and give us an update on the next contracts and which other companies are -- will be getting the next ones?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll say this: So, we are actively finalizing the details of the distribution mechanism, including a website, as we've talked about. I would expect us to provide those details next week. And, yes, these tests will be sent out through the mail.
What I can say is: Last night, we issued out our first letter award to provide tests toward this half a billion. This is just the first.
Q: What does that mean, the "first letter"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The first letter of award to provide -- this is just the first letter of many to come. First letter of the award of many to come.
Q: I just don't understand that. Is that the first letter to a company, a contract with a company? Or what does that mean?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, the --
Q: And can you say which company that is?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We're still finalizing that. So, what I can say is: In the coming days and weeks, you'll see more and more announcements of awards to manufacturers and test providers.
Q: Can I ask: What does the "letter" mean? I don't understand either. What does a "letter" mean?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The first letter to award -- to the manufacturers.
Q: Is it (inaudible) letters? I don't under- --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, they're letters that they would receive that tells them that they've received the award.
Q: But you can't tell us which manufacturer?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. We're still -- as I just stated, we're still finalizing that. And so, we're just still going through the process.
Q: Is it -- sorry, just to clarify: Is a letter different than a contract? Is this the -- like, are contra- -- is that -- has that first contract been signed, or is a letter something separate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as we've mentioned, there has been R- -- the RFP closed this week, so we've been awarding contracts. So that's what the letter is connected to -- is the awarding contract.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q: And on the mechanism of delivery, you said we should expect more on the website next week. Should we expect a rollout of the website next week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll give you -- I'll give you this: So, the website is being worked on across the teams, across government. They're looking at equity, accessibility, capacity, and logistics.
We have received the tests and we have to distribute them, right? That's the process. So we want to share this information as holistically as possible for American consumers.
So, as we finalize more -- as we finalize more and more awards, we'll share more details on the distribution mechanism and timing.
So, we're always -- we've always said that Americans will start receiving tests over the coming week, and this is alongside our forthcoming reimbursement policy. So, expanding federal testing sites -- 20,000 free testing sites -- and growing market capacity.
So, we're still finalizing the process, but we're moving forward, as we all know.
Q: Does the administration need more money to fight COVID? And have you requested more money from Congress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, right now, as we've said many times, like we know what works, right? We know what -- we know that the American Rescue Plan gave us enough funding to get us to where we are today with how we're looking at the economy, how we are -- how we're able to basically be in a different place than where we were a year ago. And so, we're going to continue to move forward on that.
I don't have anything to share. Clearly, we're going to be monitoring all of these -- all of -- you know, all of the processes as we move forward and keeping an eye on all of this. But I don't have anything further to share on that.
Q: You said the American Rescue Plan has given you enough money up until now. Just -- just to follow up, does that mean you've got enough? Or --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. Meaning like: With the American Rescue Plan, look where we are today than where we were a year ago. Right? We have --
Q: Sure. But in terms of the money -- like I'm well aware of your point that you got the tools, but do you have enough money to pay for additional measures as the wave continues to come?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what we feel is that we have -- we know what works, and we know how the process has been going, right? We have 71 percent of people -- more than 71 percent of people are fully vaccinated. More than 83 percent of the American public have one shot in arm. And so we know that we wouldn't be able -- at this place without the American Rescue Plan.
Clearly, we're going to continue to look at -- you know, look at, monitor everything as we move forward, and making sure that -- you know, making sure that we're continuing to deliver for the American people.
So -- but what I want to say is that, you know, we're not going to shut down. We have the tools to keep our schools open. We have the tools to keep our businesses open. And so -- but however, given this unprecedented transmissibility of Omicron, we anticipate that there will be more labor issues in certain industries as workers test positive for COVID.
So we are continuing to closely track the impacts of Omicron, and we'll assess if additional targeted relief is needed.
But we are not in the same place that we were last year, and that's what I was trying to say. Like, so we have -- the American Rescue Plan put us in a place where we're not in the same place that we were last year. And so we're going to continue to move forward with what we've been doing thus far. So, the American Rescue Plan continues to provide critical support and -- to our recovery and our response to the evolving virus.
So, that's what I was -- that's what I meant by that.
Q: If I could shift to the President's trip to Georgia next week.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that again?
Q: If I can shift to the President's trip to Georgia next week. I'm paraphrasing here, but voting rights activists, in a nutshell, were saying that they don't just want rhetoric and speeches, that they want concrete action, legislation. What's the administration's response to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, that's what the President wants. He wants concrete --
Q: But, I guess, they're saying, in essence, "don't come."
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that last part?
Q: In essence, they were saying, "Please don't come if you're just going to offer that." I mean, there was a letter issued by a number of --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just first say this: that one of the reasons we're going to Georgia is, basically, what better place to urge for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act than the home state of John Lewis, a giant in the fight, right?
It was also a pivotal place for our Civil Rights Movement. Also, Georgia is one of the many states where we are seeing attacks on the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of elections that have taken place based on the Big Lie.
So, Georgia is such a pivotal component and a pivotal part of the President's message. So, the President wants to see concrete solutions. That's why he's going to do -- make the speech next week in Georgia.
Look, the President believes that the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. But we have seen state legislators systematically take a wrecking ball to that cornerstone and actively working to strip Americans of their fundamental rights.
He has been clear, since day one, that protecting the right to vote is a top priority of this administration. And everyone heard him say that there is nothing more urgent than voting rights legislation and ensuring that all Americans have the right to vote and access -- access to the ballot -- the ballot box. And that's what he's going to talk about in Georgia.
And the Vice -- as you know, the Vice President will be joining him as well.
Q: Will he speak at all to the filibuster at all? Can we anticipate him addressing that? I know it's come up a few times before.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know it's come up a few times, and we've addressed it.
Look, he said that, if necessary, he supports a -- he'd support a rules change to uphold the sacred right of the Americans to vote. He served in the Senate, as you've heard us say, for over three decades. And he wants the Senate to be restored so that it can be its work -- it can -- it can do its work for the American people, including protecting the cornerstone of our democracy.
He knows how functional the Senate used to be and is supportive of steps that would -- that would help in making that -- in making that move in that right direction.
Q: Karine, can we expect that message at all in his remarks about -- at Senator Reid's funeral? Obviously, the senator's -- part of his legacy was changing some of the filibuster rules to do with judicial nominees. So I'm trying to get -- if you could preview his remarks, but also if that's going to be part of the -- an element (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I'm going to give the President the opportunity, you know, to say -- to say what he needs to say tomorrow and what he will say. So -- but as I said, President Biden served more than three decades in the Senate with Harry Reid and eight years as Vice President.
They're dear friends, and the President believes that Harry Reid is one of the greatest leaders in this -- in Senate history. So he is traveling to pay his respects to a man who had a profound impact on this nation, and that's going to be his focus tomorrow.
Q: And then, ahead of the Russia talks next week, I'm wondering if you can -- I know Jen has laid out some areas that are sort of out of bounds: territorial integrity and, you know, the freedom of nations to join or associate with who they choose. But I'm wondering what are the areas you guys see as potential points of, sort of, negotiation with Russia, and if you could describe, sort of, how on the same page you feel like you are with Europe headed into these talks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I mean, look, they're going to talk about an array of issues. So, that is something that we have said.
But I do want to talk about the NATO ministerial meeting that's happening today. So, we continue -- which is part of the diplomatic talks as we head into next week. We continue to be close -- be in close coordination with our Allies and partners ahead of the three sets of diplomatic talks that are starting next week, as I just mentioned.
Today, there is a virtual NATO ministerial happening where the buildup of Russia troops in and around Ukraine will be discussed. When that concludes, Secretary Blinken will speak to reporters, and the State Department will host a backgrounder previewing the strategic -- the Strategic Security Dialogue and other diplomatic engagements next week. So, you will be able to get the most up-to-date information from that.
Q: And one last one on the price of oil. Crude oil -- it's back to where it was in November before you guys took your actions with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
I know earlier in the week, or maybe it was last week, Jen had sort of praised OPEC's pace -- and that there are external factors: the unrest in Kazakhstan and Syria. But are you -- is this setting off alarm bells? Is there any new action the administration is considering to address this issue?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, the President has taken a number of steps already, as you kind of alluded to, including a historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in parallel with other countries to help address the imbalance, as well as asking the Federal Trade Commission to consider whether illegal conduct is costing families at the pump. These steps have led to real effects on prices and, ultimately, tools to continue to -- continue to remain on the table for us to address prices. So, we're -- continue to have those tools on the -- at the table.
This is something the administration is going to monitor very closely.
Q: Karine, one more on testing. So, one of the big criticisms from the six members of the advisory board who wrote criticism of the White House strategy was that a lack of adequate surveillance is putting Americans at risk. I'm wondering: Is the White House considering tracking the 500 million tests? Or -- it was my understanding that there's no plan to track the tests once they go out. Is that something you guys are reconsidering?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have more to share. As you know, we're still going -- as I just laid out, we're still going through the process. You know, the RFP closed this week, and we're awarding contracts. And we'll have more to share on the specifics, but I don't -- I don't have anything spec- -- to that specific answer for you at this time.
Q: Karine, on his speech yesterday, could I follow up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q: Yeah, so the President repeatedly and, of course, you know, very eloquently described what he says is a threat to democracy from the previous president -- you know, literally accusing him of subverting democracy to this very day. Does President Biden think that Donald Trump is fit for office? Does he think he should be in a place where he can just run again for president, for example? What's his feeling on that? He might end up facing him.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I'm not here to predict what the previous president is going to do. That is not what we're here to do. That is -- you know, that's not -- that's not my place here.
But, you know, Jen talked about this a little bit yesterday. Look, the President has never shied away from directly addressing the threat his predecessor poses to our democracy and the basic values our country was founded on.
So, in fact, he launched his campaign on that very idea: the President posed and -- that the former President posed a unique threat to the soul of our country when the Pre- -- when President Biden announced his presidency back in 2019. And he made that point throughout his campaign and over the last year in office.
The President will not back down from holding his predecessor accountable when it is appropriate. But the President also knows that -- the importance of delivering for his agenda. That's what he wants to focus on is delivering for the American people, like he has been doing.
I was talking about the American Rescue Plan, right?
That's one way, as we've seen, how the economy has bounced back in the numbers that we have seen in over the past several months -- with the unemployment rate at 3.9, with more than 6 million jobs created in this presidency alone. And that 3.9 is a historic number.
So, he's going to continue to do that as we're talking about COVID and how we're in a different place than we were last year in getting people vaccinated. More than 71 percent of the American people -- public is fully vaccinated.
So, these are the things that he is concerned about. These are the things that he wants to continue to do: getting Americans back to work, beating the pandemic. He knows that in doing so, we can restore faith in our institutions and show the American people that our democracy works. And that's the focus of this President.
Q: Okay. And then a Russia one, please. Does Russia joining this very tough response in Kazakhstan -- does that have any effect on the Ukraine talks that are coming up? Is it -- does the U.S. see something like a way to warn Russia that, you know, they're going to get overextended maybe if they're involved in civil unrest on one side of their country and, you know, invasion on another side of their country?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Are you talking about: Are we concerned about their -- expanding their influence?
Q: Yeah. Well, yes. Well -- but it goes both ways: Is the U.S. concerned about Russia demonstrating that it has this influence and this actual raw power to -- you know, around -- in its own neighborhood? Or -- but on the other side, is the U.S. maybe seeing an opportunity to tell Moscow that, you know, "You're going to get over extended and you need to deal"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, first, you know, in the talks, it's -- there's going to be -- a range of topics will be discussed. And so, I don't want to get ahead of those discussions.
On your first question, though -- or your second question; I can't remember now -- we have questions about the nature and need of Russia's presence. So the world will be watching for any violation of human rights. We call on everyone to uphold international human rights obligations, practice restraint, and bring an end to this crisis.
Q: Karine, one last one. There is no Fed nominations that have come out today. It's now been a month since your original deadline for this. And so, I'm wondering -- I mean, if you have time and guidance, great -- but having asked this every day, what's -- what's wrong? Like, what is going poorly in this process that you're a month behind schedule?
And is this becoming sort of an endemic problem for the administration -- an inability to hit deadlines? I know it's happened with COVID. It's happened now with the Fed. Is this -- you know, is indecisiveness becoming an issue that is stalling your agenda?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The characterization of your question, Justin, I disagree with, as you can imagine.
Look, I just want to say, with COVID, because this is really important: We are not in the same place that we were a year ago. And I keep saying this because it is -- it is true, right?
But I also want to say: A year ago, we were at 1 percent with people being fully vaccinated; we're now more than 71 percent. Like, that matters. And that's because of what this President has done -- taking charge, leading.
And again, the American Rescue Plan was a big part of that. Having a comprehensive COVID vacci- -- vaccination strategy was a big part of that. And we see that. And so, that is really key.
And -- and to continue how we're going to move forward on that component is people -- we're going to continue to ask people and tell people to get vaccinated. It's free. It's easy to do. And get your booster if -- if it's your time so you can have that maximum protection.
So, we're going to continue to work very hard. This is something that the President has made a priority, as well as getting the economy back -- back on track.
When it comes to the Fed, there is -- you know, we -- there is -- there is not a problem. We are -- you know, this is something that we want to make sure that we do it in a -- in a very -- in a diligent, smart way. There are -- these are important, important picks. And the President takes this very, very seriously. And when we have an announcement, we'll share that.
Q: Karine, on Chicago schools, the governor of Illinois said that he had spoken to the White House earlier in the week to request assistance with getting COVID tests for schools and that he was going to connect the school system with the White House. Has that happened? Is the White House going to help with that request? What more can you tell us on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As we do with state and local officials across the country, we're always offering up the federal government's help. That's what the federal government does.
We're in touch with the governor and mayor to assess their needs, as we are with mayors and governors just across the country and as we've been doing for this past year.
And certainly, we continue to convey that we -- that we conveyed to you publicly -- what we conveyed to you publicly and we conveyed to them privately is that the President wants kids in school, and we have the resources to ensure that schools are safe for educa- -- for educations -- for education and students.
Illinois has been provided $5 billion in American Rescue Plan money for their schools, which we continue to provide robust engagement and technical expertise on how to best use this funding to help school needs during the pandemic.
Q: So, he's had expertise providing testing? Or is there anything --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, throughout -- throughout -- throughout the year, as you know, in that -- in the American Rescue Plan, $130 billion went to school, additional $10 billion went to testing.
So, this is something that -- when it comes to testing with schools, this is something that we've been doing for months. And we provide technical assistance, help with -- help with schools getting -- finding testing manufacturers. This is something that we have done for several months now.
And so, we are in touch with the governor and the mayor. And we will -- as I said, the federal government is here to help, and this is what -- what we believe that we should be doing.
Q: Will the President get a briefing on the ground in Colorado from the governor and local officials? I know sometimes on trips like these there is a formal briefing --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q: I didn't hear that in your rundown.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, he will be getting a briefing on the ground.
Q: And then, are you aware of any reaction from the President to the death of actor Sidney Poitier?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I have not spoken to him about that. I actually -- that's the first time I'm hearing that. That's very sad news.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible.)
Q: And I have one more question. Academics who study the presidency, you know, they've done some new research, and they have concluded that President Biden has held fewer news conferences than any of his five immediate predecessors at this same point in the presidency and he's taken part in fewer media interviews than any of the last six White House presidents.
So, the President came into office; you all promised to be one of the most transparent administrations, if not the most transparent. Does that vow not cover doing media interviews and talking to the press more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think we have.
Q: Do you think he has?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think that we have been very transparent. I think --
Q: And not just the sprays that he does with us at the White House, but actually, you know --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But those sprays matter. I mean, do you guys --
Q: I'm not saying they don't. But beyond that, I guess is the --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think that you have -- I don't think you can just piecemeal it. I think you have to look at it as a whole, to be fair, right? The President does take questions from reporters when he does events and he gets asked questions, shouted questions. And he does that when he goes to Marine One, he does that at the end of events. He -- you know, he does that sometimes when he's on these trips.
And a lot of times -- because he wants to communicate to you all what he is -- you know what he is thinking, what he's -- what his policies, and answer the questions that you all have. And so, that has been happening.
And, you know, I feel -- we believe, as an administration, we have been very transparent when it comes to COVID, when it comes to what we're doing for -- to bring our economy back, when it comes to just making sure that we're delivering for the American public, for their needs, and meeting the moment that we're in, especially as, when the President came into this administration, dealing with multiple crises.
So we're going to continue to do that. And the President is always eager to take questions. And, you know, there'll be more to come.
Q: But he hasn't done any interviews with print media. There have been some with broadcast and, of course, the town halls with CNN, but nothing yet with print media.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, we're --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I hear you. I hear you. This is the first year, and this has been an unprecedented year. Right? You know, if we're going to look at this in a full lens, this has not been a normal year. And so, we -- there'll be more to come.
Q: Thank you.
3:20 P.M. EST
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/354057