Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, June 28, 2021
June 28, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:41 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Okay, just a couple of items for you at the top. As you all know, last week, the President and a bipartisan group of senators announced a historic infrastructure deal that would put Americans back to work with the biggest investments in our roads and bridges since the creation of the Interstate Highway System; connect every American to broadband; make unprecedented strides in climate and clean energy leadership; eliminate all lead drinking water pipes for the biggest investment in clean drinking water in our history; and make the biggest investment in rail since the creation of Amtrak.
And, no surprise, there is a lot of interest and excitement out there. The National Governors Association, as well as individual governors on both sides of the aisle, like Gretchen Whitmer and Charlie Baker, have come out in support. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers and IBEW, the American Society of Civil Engineers, numerous Tribal communities, the Business Roundtable, the Rural Broadband Association, the National Association of Counties, and many others.
The President will travel to Wisconsin tomorrow to keep actively making the case for this agreement and getting it over the finish line.
And he's also going to continue to make the case for his American Families Plan, which we're also fighting to pass through the two-path approach that we've been discussing with all of you.
Also, I wanted to note for all of you that, today, thanks to the President's commitment to playing a leading role in ending the pandemic everywhere, 2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will begin to ship to Peru from the United States, and 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine will ship to Pakistan.
Over the weekend, we announced we are sending 1.5 million doses of Moderna to Honduras. And over this week, we'll be able to announce more places that the United States will be sending our doses.
Finally, I wanted to make sure that you all saw that, today, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced the release of nearly $4 billion in funding to the Puerto Rico Department of Education, including $2 billion from the American Rescue Plan, to help the island's continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Secretary Cardona is in Puerto Rico today meeting with students, government officials, and education leaders.
Josh, why don't you kick us off.
Q Great. Thanks, Jen. Senator McConnell today said that President Biden should tell Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer to de-link the partisan — bipartisan infrastructure bill from any reconciliation measures. Does President Biden intend to tell congressional leaders what to do on this matter?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me just reiterate: The President looks forward to signing each bill. He's long supported the two-track approach. And his view is that the American people are most interested in what we're going to do to deliver for them: how we're going to rebuild their roads and their railways and their bridges; how we're going to make sure they have access to broadband; that we're eliminating lead from drinking water.
That's where his focus will continue to be — the case he'll make when he's in Wisconsin tomorrow. He will, of course, work very closely with the leaders in Congress — Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi. I know Leader Schumer has noted that he plans to bring up both the infrastructure bill and reconciliation in July. But he'll continue to work closely with them and other members.
Q And then, secondly, Senator Murphy of Connecticut says he's worried about how the administration used the Constitution's Article 2 authority for the warplane strikes in Iraq and Syria. Can you explain the administration's view on Article 2 and, kind of, how it's thinking about that matter?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, let me say: As a matter of domestic law, the President took this action — the airstrikes that were announced yesterday by the Department of Defense — pursuant to Article 2 authority to defend U.S. personnel.
The targeted strikes were directed at facilities used by Iran-backed militias involved in these ongoing attacks for purposes including weapons storage, command logistics, and unmanned aerial vehicle operations.
So, Article 2 — the self-defense, the defense of the United States and our interests — is our domestic justification for the strikes announced yesterday.
Q Just to follow up on that: So, has President Biden been in touch with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Leader Schumer following his clarification that he issued over the weekend?
MS. PSAKI: You're not talking about the airstrikes. You're talking about infrastructure.
Q Yeah, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: I was, like, "Huh."
We have been in touch with a range of Democrats and Republicans, including leaders of both — of the Democratic Party in both houses, I should say, about the path forward, certainly.
Q Pelosi kind of drew a really hard line on this. I mean, she just said, flat out, "We will not take up the bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill." So, does the White House feel like they need to get Pelosi on board with this approach that President Biden is taking?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the most effective role — most impactful role, I should say — that the President thinks he can play — and I think it's safe to say that leaders in Congress — Speaker Pelosi, senator — Leader Schumer, and including Republicans who support its infrastructure bill want the President to play — is to make the case to the American people, to the public about how officials are working together to deliver for them.
And that's exactly what he's going to do tomorrow. That's exactly where his focus will be. And certainly, we're working in close coordination with leaders in Congress, but it's up to them to determine the sequencing of the legislation.
Q Just a quick follow-up on Florida. Does the President plan to go to Florida? Has he spoken to any of the victims' families so far?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first give you just a little bit of an update on what we have been doing over the last several days.
As you know, because we issued a readout yesterday, the President sent his FEMA Administrator down to Florida who had a meeting with Governor DeSantis and others while he was in Florida. The President spoke to him and received a briefing afterwards.
In addition, we have more than 50 personnel on the ground coordinating closely with state and local officials, and providing assistance. FEMA has deployed an Incident Management Assistance Team, as well as building science experts, structural engineers, and geotechnical experts to support search-and-rescue operations, and a mobile command center.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also being mission assigned to provide technical assistance for debris removal. And two FEMA-supported search-and-rescue teams are involved in the response to the devastating incident. And additional FEMA National Urban Search and Rescue System teams are on alert to support personnel already on the ground.
In addition — last item — FEMA is coordinating with the state to support the opening of a Family Assistance Center, and is providing communication support to ensure information is available.
In terms of a visit by the President, we always assess — we always want to ensure that we're not pulling from local resources. We don't want to draw resources that are needed in the ongoing search-and-rescue operations and efforts. We will remain in close contact with officials on the ground.
And certainly, if there's a trip to preview or announce to all of you, I will — I will be ready to do that.
Go ahead, Major.
Q The statement this — the President released Saturday — what was the need for that? And did the President, earlier, miscommunicate? Or did Senate Republicans simply misunderstand on the infrastructure deal?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I will say, Major, that I think that the statement was quite lengthy and quite detailed in the President's name — in the President's name and the President's voice.
And a couple of the points he made in there quite clearly were that when he — when — last week, when he had the press conference, as you all know, he understand — and he indicated he refused to sign the infrastructure bill if it was sent to him without his American Families Plan and other priorities, including clean energy.
That statement upset some Republicans who did not see the two plans as linked, as you all know — who are also hoping, as you all know, to defeat the Families Plan and do not want to see their support for the infrastructure plan as aiding passage of the Families Plan.
As was noted in his statement, he left the impression that he was issuing a veto threat on the very plan that he had just agreed to, which was not his intent. And he wanted to make clear that was not his intent.
And in the statement, he also reiterated his intention to move forward with advocating for using the bully pulpit, making phone calls, working his heart out to get the American Families Plan through.
And his view is that you can do both and should be able to do both, and there can be disagreement even as he's pursuing the American Families Plan.
Q So he miscommunicated?
MS. PSAKI: I think he made pretty clear, Major, in his — in his statement this weekend that — that we issued this weekend that he did not send a — that was not the message he intended to send.
Q And you have said a couple of times the President is going to tell the country what's in it, but even those who have supported it say, "We'd like to know more about it." I mean, when are the details going to be really available for those, for example, who live in Flint, Michigan, or any other city in America that does have a lead pipe situation to know exactly what's going to be spent, when it's going to be spent, and the core legislative language that, when I used to cover Senator Biden, he would be very much focused on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what would you like to know? Settle in. I will — I will share every detail that anyone would like to know about the package.
But you're right, Major. As you know, it needs to now be written. It needs to — that is a key component. As the President said also and as we have conveyed from here, there is work ahead. And that is the important work ahead — is writing this legislation, moving across the finish line.
I will say — just because you asked me about the specific component of the package, just to give a little bit more detail there — it will put work — it will put Americans to work replacing 100 percent of our nation's lead water pipes so that every single American child at home or in school can turn on the faucet and drink clean water.
And right now, as you may or may not know, up to 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare centers get their water from lead pipes and service lines. So, that is what it will aim to address in that specific category.
Q Is that over the eight-year life of the bill or is that on a two-year thing? Do you have any determination of a timeline on that?
MS. PSAKI: It's an excellent question. The details are very important here. It needs to all be written into the final legislation of the bill. But the President is clearly eager to get that done as quickly as possible.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just another question about infrastructure: You're saying that the President was trying to clear up what he meant on Thursday and that it was not his intention to issue a veto threat. He said, "If they don't come…" — the two bills, together — "…I'm not signing. Real simple." So, did he change his mind? Or did he make a mistake?
MS. PSAKI: I will — I will say, Peter, I know that we're quite focused sometimes on process in here. I understand that the —
Q And on —
MS. PSAKI: — the process of a bill becoming a law is important. But —
Q But also —
MS. PSAKI: — the President intends to sign both pieces of legislation into law. He is eager to do that, looking forward to do that. As you know, they are both moving forward on dual tracks in Congress. The leaders in Congress are ensuring that is happening.
Q Okay. Something one of the advisors said this weekend — Cedric Richmond — he said, "Republicans defunded the police by not supporting the American Rescue Plan." But how is it that that is an argument to be made when the President never mentioned needing money for police to stop a crime wave when he was selling the American Rescue Plan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President did mention that the American Rescue Plan, they'll — the state and local funding — something that was supported by the President, a lot of Democrats who supported and voted for the bill — could help ensure local cops were kept on the beat in communities across the country. As you know, it didn't receive a single Republican vote. That funding has been used to keep cops on the beat.
Q But at the time, that was sold as: These local police departments might have a pandemic-related budget shortfall — not, "We need to keep cops on the beat because there's crime wave."
MS. PSAKI: I think that any local department would argue that keeping cops on the beat to keep communities safe when they had to, because of budget shortfalls, fire police is something that helps them address —
MS. PSAKI: — crime in their local communities.
Q But those are the local communities. The White House's argument was: The American Rescue Plan is going to be $1,400 checks. It's going to be vaccines, vaccinators. We're — it's going to put us on the path to beating the virus, not —
MS. PSAKI: It did those things as well. It was a pretty good bill and piece of legislation.
Q Okay, I've —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — got just one more. And just —
MS. PSAKI: Oh.
Q This weekend, Gwen Barry, who hopes to represent the United States as an Olympian on the hammer throwing events, won a bronze medal at the trials, and then she turned her back on the flag while the anthem played. Does President Biden think that is appropriate behavior for someone who hopes to represent Team USA?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I — I haven't spoken to the President specifically about this, but I know he's incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the Anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform all around the world.
He would also say, of course, that part of that pride in our country means recognizing there are moments where we are — as a country, haven't lived up to our highest ideals, and it means respecting the right of people, granted to them in the Constitution, to peacefully protest.
Q Thank you, Jen. I want to switch gears real quickly on the — on the COVID crisis.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q So you're planning a really large party at the White House —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — on the Fourth of July. A thousand people.
MS. PSAKI: A party for frontline workers, and men and women who served our country. Yes.
Q And also the National Mall will be open. But we are getting reports now of increasing cases of Delta — the Delta variant. Experts are now warning that those who got the J&J vaccine might actually need a booster shot — some of these experts have actually gotten such booster shots themselves — to guard against the Delta variant.
Is this too soon? Are you — are you being risky by basically allowing many, many people to get to the National Mall on the Fourth of July? Do you — is there a risk that you could be, in essence, doing exactly what, you know, was criticized by the Trump administration —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
Q — creating large gatherings that are risky?
MS. PSAKI: Let me — let me first say that we have been — our North Star has been data, has been scientists, has been the advice of our medical experts from — at every point since the President took office.
And just a few factual details — I'm not — I'm just saying, in addition to you — to what you've conveyed: The majority of Delta cases are in people who are unvaccinated. We may see some vaccinated people who test positive for COVID, of course, as we know from the data. But these — those people often have mild symptoms, remain out of the hospital, and the best way — we continue to convey to people across the country — to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, including and specifically, the percentage — the higher percentage of young people, people under the age of 27, who are at a lower rate of vaccination than people who are over that age.
So, I would say we, of course, will continue to evaluate any steps that needs to be taken to protect the public, protect the American people. But we have made significant progress, and we are confident in our plans moving forward for July Fourth.
Q Is there anything that would change your mind? I mean, if we see a spike over the next few days, is there any chance that you could change the plans or curb it or limit it in some way?
MS. PSAKI: I don't —
Q And especially because the people who are coming to events like this do tend to be young people.
MS. PSAKI: I don't anticipate, at this point, our plans changing. We, of course, are always driven by the advice of our health and medical experts. But, beyond that, I don't anticipate that at this point.
Oh, go ahead. Do you have another? Okay.
Q Oh, can I just ask you real quickly, just on Israel.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q So the President is going to be here today.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q What are the plans? What plans do you have for a visit with the new Israeli government? Is that — can you say a word or two about that —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and what your goals are for the visit today?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, absolutely. So, let me first say, on the first question you asked: We are look- — we do look forward — the President looks forward to hosting Prime Minister Bennett soon. We're working on a date, but don't have anything to preview at this point in time.
Today's visit is a chance to recognize President Rivlin's support for the bilateral relationship and for maintaining strong bipartisan support for Israel. The visit is also an opportunity to highlight the deep ties and enduring partnerships between our nations, as well as a chance for the leaders to compare notes and consult on both the challenges and opportunities facing the region.
Overall, the visit will highlight the strength of the relationship, affirm our shared interest in security and stability in the rele- — in the region, and provide an excellent opportunity for high-level consultations on key issues in advance of a visit we have with the Prime Minister at some point soon.
So it's also building — I should say — on recent engagements we've had at a variety of levels: Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken, as well as our National Security Advisor.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Senator Romney told Jake Tapper that his reading of the President's statement over the weekend was, "If the infrastructure bill reaches his desk and it comes alone, he will sign it." Is that an accurate reading of that statement from the President?
MS. PSAKI: The President looks forward to and expects to sign each piece of legislation into law, and he's going to work his heart out getting both of them across the finish line.
Q But if he only gets — if the infrastructure bill arrives and the reconciliation package is not here yet, no one has clarified that, "Yes, he will sign it." So can you clarify that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Kaitlan, I know we're quite focused sometimes on process in here, but — and hypotheticals. The President is focused on selling this package to the American people — both packages, I should say. That's what he'll be doing tomorrow in Wisconsin. And we'll be working closely with leaders in Congress to move both of these pieces of legislation forward.
Q Okay. So the White House is not going to say, "Yes, he will sign the infrastructure bill it if comes alone to his desk"?
MS. PSAKI: The President expects to sign each piece of legislation into law.
Q One more question. On the airstrikes, if the United States feels the need to keep hitting these Iran-backed militia groups, does the President think that he needs to go to Congress to ask for new authorization?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President has talked about his desire to update and work with Congress — Senator Kaine and others — to update authorization parameters and legislation.
I will say, as I stated earlier, that the President is confident, as is our team in our — our just- — our legal justification, I should say, through Article 2 and our authority and our ability to defend U.S. security personnel, which is exactly what we did in this case.
Q Can I follow up on that real quick, Jen? Did — was there any consultation with Congress beforehand or our allies, regarding the airstrikes? And what's the next step? I mean, it's — you've had the airstrikes, but — are — is there a reach out to Iran for dialogue?
MS. PSAKI: We completed a number of member and staff notifications prior to taking action and are continuing to brief members of Congress. And we're also in close touch with partners in the region, but I'm not going to outline those from here.
Q But to — but, specifically, will there be any outreach to Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that we are, obviously, working through it. We just completed the sixth round of negotiations, as it relates to the Iran nuclear deal. We are –I don't have a timeline yet for when those will reconvene. But I don't have anything to preview in terms of other outreach to Iran.
Q Don't airstrikes hurt those negotiations though, Jen?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Kelly.
I'll come to you in a second.
Q In terms of the timing of those airstrikes, was there any relationship to the visit of the Israeli President today to have those actions prior to his visit —
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q — if — okay.
And is there a concern in the President's calculation there about, now, the threats of retaliation that are coming from some of these militia groups, and what posture he needs to have given that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President's view is that it was necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action — these strikes — designed to limit the risk of escalation. We will take — and he believes we will — should and will take necessary and appropriate measures to defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region.
Certainly, I would say — just kind of in relation to this question over here — you know, we continue to believe that — and have never held back from noting that Iran is a bad actor in the region. And they have taken part in and supported and participated in problematic — extremely problematic behavior, in our view.
At the same time, we feel that we're moving forward, and look — seeking the opportunity to move forward on negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is in our national interest and that's how we will evaluate. But it was not linked to a visit by the President of Israel, nor was it linked to any elections in Iran either.
Q Briefly, on Florida: In the President's briefings about the status of what is there, has he been given any information to indicate that the chance for survivors still exist? And does he believe there is a federal role at examining the kinds of infrastructure within that building — questions that have now certainly come to many people's minds after seeing what took place?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I would say, on your second question, that there — he does believe there should be an investigation and that FEMA — a number of the resources FEMA is sending to the ground — building science experts to the scene, officials from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, officials from OSHA, and the FBI — they've all been deployed to Surfside, under their own authorities, to help participate and provide expertise in that effort.
So, certainly we want to play any constructive role we can play with federal resources in getting to the bottom of it and preventing it from happening in the future.
In terms of the likelihood and potential for survivors, obviously he would refer to local authorities on making that assessment.
Q Thanks. I just wanted to follow up quickly on the airstrikes.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The Iraqi government issued a statement, calling it an "unacceptable" violation of their sovereignty and national security. So, I'm wondering, has there been outreach to the Iraqi government? And also, do you have a response to that sort of complaint that they've lodged?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I would refer you to the government of Iraq on that specific question, but I will say that the Prime Minister is a partner. He has a tough job. His statement called for a de-escalation from all sides, and we agree with that. But the attacks against our troops need to stop, and that is why the President ordered the operation last night, in self-defense of our personnel.
Q And another one.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q Yeah, sorry, I just wanted to ask about this Alzheimer's treatment that was approved earlier this month.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q My first question is if the President was at all concerned by the approval process, which seemed to overrule the advisory board — the outside advisory board that we've obviously learned a lot about in the last year — and that the approval was, sort of, outside the regular FDA standards for medicine like this.
MS. PSAKI: It's a great question. I know it was last week or the week before. I haven't spoken with him about this specifically. I can — I can see if I can do that and get more back to you.
Q And I'm not sure you'll have more on it, but there's now this question of considering the limited efficacy and the high price of it — whether the government would impose particular restrictions on access to it due to Medicare. It's something that, you know, if it was approved fully, could have enormous costs to the Medicare system. And so I'm wondering if the White House is looking at that issue in particular.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I — well, let me talk to our health team and see if there's more we can get back to you on that.
Q Thanks, Jen. The Senate Minority Leader put out a statement today at a news conference today in which he said the President "de-linked" the two bills. Does the White House take issue with that characterization, or do you agree with that? Is that what has happened here?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President is eager to sign both pieces of legislation into law. And he is going to focus his time and his effort on selling the benefits of these packages, what they would do for the American people — whether it's ensuring kids don't have lead in their drinking water, or making sure families have additional benefit from the Child Tax Credit extension. That's what his focus is going to be.
In terms of the mechanics and the process, we're going to work closely with leaders in Congress. But he wanted to be clear that he did not intend to issue a veto threat, and he remains committed to moving that piece of legislation forward, just as he remains committed to moving the American Families Plan forward.
Q I figured I'd give it a try. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: It was good.
Q One other question on Article 2.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q What are the limits this White House sees on the President's Article 2 power? Does it acknowledge that there are limits? And to what extent does the President feel he needs to yield to the Article 1 branch when it comes to the authorization of force?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President takes legal authority and justification for military action quite seriously. And certainly, we consult our legal teams to ensure we have that justification, and we certainly feel confident we do. And when there are attacks against our — that threaten our troops — our men and women serving bravely overseas — and responding to those certainly qualifies as self-defense.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. When the President announced the bipartisan infrastructure deal last week, he said, "I know the Senate and the House better than most of you" do. Indeed, he's had long experience in Congress and in the White House. So, how does a situation like this arise, where he has to issue a statement, a lengthy one, clarifying himself, and you all have to reassure people on Capitol Hill? Did he underestimate the blowback that he was going to get from Republicans by making the statement that he did about, you know, wanting to do these bills in tandem?
MS. PSAKI: I know there's a lot of interest in, kind of, rehashing the last several days. I get it. We're not going to do that. We're going to focus on our efforts moving forward. And right now, as you saw, a number of Republicans go out on Sunday shows yesterday and talk about their commitment to getting this package forward, their commitment to delivering these benefits to the American people.
I just started out talking about the broad support from governors, labor unions, others in moving this package forward. And the President is going to go out to Wisconsin and sell this package to the American people tomorrow. That's where our focus is on.
Q Along those same lines then, in terms of moving forward: I know you mentioned earlier that the White House is in touch with a range of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q You mentioned some of the other support.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q But specifically, can you talk about outreach to liberal members of Congress? Are you guys in touch with the Progressive Caucus? There's obviously been some concern on the left about negotiating too much with Republicans. What reassurances, if any, have you given to liberal members of Congress on this front?
MS. PSAKI: Well, absolutely, we're in touch with members of — from all parts of both — you know, all parts of the Democratic Party, a range of members in the Republican Party — absolutely. Some are the President is directly in touch with, but our legislative team, senior members of the White House team are absolutely engaged with, listening to, conveying, making the case for why there are key components of this infrastructure package that should be — should be supported by a broad range of members of our party.
And I will note that there are a couple of components and, you know, some — some areas where there hasn't been probably enough information out there about the benefits in areas where I think a number of members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would be excited about and support. And certainly — I mentioned earlier — removing lead from drinking water. That is something that, as I noted in response to Major, there are 400,000 schools, 10 million homes that that could benefit — millions of kids who would benefit from that.
Also, expansion of broadband. It's a national disgrace that African American families are 9 percent less likely to have high-speed Internet than their white peers, and Latino Americans are 15 percent less likely. It will help address that.
Also, access to transportation. Americans who are trying to get to work, including communities of color that are twice as likely to take public transit but often have fewer good transit options. That's just one component.
If you go to climate — which is an area where I think we still are going to continue to do more work — making sure people across the country and people who care deeply about addressing our climate crisis know the components of what's in this package, which the President considers a down payment — not the end. A down payment.
So, 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations nationwide — that's what this would help support — with a focus on our highways, and rural and disadvantaged communities. It would help buy more than 35,000 electric school buses. It will include the largest investment in clean energy transmission in American history. It will strengthen and revitalize our natural infrastructure. And it represents the largest effort ever to address legacy pollution. These are all areas that a lot of people in the Democratic Party are excited about, historically — should be excited about. And we're going to continue to make the case and make sure we're conveying this and the American Families Plan, and the components there are what we're going to continue to advocate for.
Q Is tomorrow's speech mainly about the bipartisan infrastructure bill, or about the American Families? Like, how much of tomorrow's is going to be about that deal versus the American Families Plan?
MS. PSAKI: Tomorrow will primarily focus on the infrastructure package and the components in the infrastructure package. But the President will absolutely also be out there in the future continuing to make the case for why universal pre-K — something that makes it 50 percent more likely that kids will graduate from high school — should be law; making sure community college, two years of it, is free for people across the country; extension of the Child Tax Credit. Those are all pieces he will be out there advocating for in the future.
Go ahead, David.
Q Jen, if I can take you back to your Article 2 answers here, because they appear to be responsive to a specific incident or a set of incidents in which these UAVs were used against American troops. But that begs the larger question of whether the President believes he needs, in whatever replaces the authorization for the use of military force, something that is specific to the Iran threat — this category of threats.
And similarly, when you talk about having a longer and stronger element to the Iran deal — missiles, support of terrorism — are you also trying to now encompass this new use of UAVs?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say on the latter question, David, the focus is — as you've noted and you just noted — certainly we want to look to build the Iran deal beyond what it was in the past. We've been very clear about that, and that's part of the discussions and negotiations, and the next step would be the seventh round of discussions and negotiations.
But I would say that, as it relates to responding to attacks on our men and women serving — or threats, I should say, to our facilities that are in the region, that we don't see that on the same exact track.
Q Senator Murphy, in his statement — and I think the reason that he had some concern about this —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — I read it as less concerned about the Article 2 element to what he said was that it now seems as if we have a low-level of war underway with the Iranians, because it's this sort of constant back-and-forth. Is that an assessment that you folks agree with?
MS. PSAKI: Our objective, David, is to deescalate. But the President is going to reserve the option of responding when there's a threat against U.S. interests.
Q Afghanistan, please.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead, Ken.
Q Just on the infrastructure and the reconciliation bill, Senator Manchin suggested yesterday that he could support $2 trillion in a broader reconciliation bill. Does the President consider that to be a sufficient amount of spending?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we're just at the beginning stages of these discussions. And, clearly, as you noted — or as you alluded to, I guess I should say — there's disagreement, even within the Democratic Party, about what the size of a reconciliation package should look like. And as these discussions proceed, there will be disagreements to resolve and there will be compromises to be made in order to get a final package. I'm not going to do that from here.
The President going to continue to advocate for the inclusion of the American Families Plan and the key components in that package that he feels will be instrumental to helping the American public. And he will continue to advocate for the components of the budget he proposed. But he also recognizes there are important discussions, negotiations that are going to happen between even members of the Democratic Party on this path forward.
Q And on the select committee that the Speaker is supposed to announce later this week, has the President spoken to her about the membership of the committee — who he would like to see on the panel? And does he have a sense in when this report should be released? Does he think it's important that the findings of this select committee come out around the anniversary, for example?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President certainly supports the decision by the Speaker to create the select committee or to launch — get the process started to form the select committee.
In terms of the timeline of the release of a final report, I think he would refer to her and her judgment on that front.
Go ahead, in the middle.
Q So, back to what you said about climate: Even with those policies that you mentioned that are in the bill, there's a pretty sizable protest across the street today from the Sunrise Movement. This is a group that worked with the campaign to set policy, that's in touch with the White House, but they and people — you know, a lot of their allies are frustrated that when it came to reach a deal, it was a lot of big climate stuff that got pared down or left out. What is your message to climate activists who feel like, "Wait a second, we thought that President Biden was going to be the most aggressive President ever on this topic. Why is his first high-profile bill so whittled down?"
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say — I would dispute the notion that it's — that it doesn't do anything for climate, which some are arguing. I just outlined some key components that would represent historic investments in areas like addressing the legacy of pollution and cleaning up communities across the country, preventing — that have relied on fossil fuels, and others that have been polluted, especially lower-income communities.
It also will take enormous steps in addressing — investing in clean energy transmission. It will include making sure electric vehicle buses are part of our force across the country, and make sure electric — that purchasing electric vehicles will — which would be a huge contributor to reducing greenhouse gas emissions — is something that can be a reality for millions of Americans.
Now, whether or not everyone is aware of all those specifics, that's incumbent on us to keep conveying that, communicating it, listening, and making sure people understand that this is a down payment. And the President will continue to advocate for, press for, work for even more on the climate, as he will in the reconciliation bill and process, moving forward.
Q And does the White House want to see a clean energy standard in that reconciliation bill? And do you think that that can fit into the parameters of what can and can't be included?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there's obviously a lot to be negotiated and discussed moving forward. The President has conveyed that he would like to see an investment in clean energy tax credits, something that would certainly be an additional step forward. And there's more to discuss as it relates to the final reconciliation package and bill.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thanks, Jen. You just mentioned to a colleague that the President would like to see an investigation into what happened at Surfside, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, he supports one. Yep.
Q Can you expand on that just a bit? Would he like to see that federally run? Would he like to see consideration of building code changes? What should be the goal of that, and who should be in charge?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the goal, of course, is to get to the bottom of what happened and, of course, have it be an instructive — instructive guide on how to prevent it from happening in the future.
I've just conveyed all the federal resources we are sending down to be supportive of efforts on the ground, but I don't think I have more on it than that.
Go ahead, in the middle.
Q Housing experts are really concerned there's going to
be a huge fallout if a federal moratorium is lifted next month. And a lot of studies show that evictions cause — I'm sorry, evictions make the threat of COVID even worse, especially when it comes to Black and brown communities. What's the President's response to that? And can we see any type of changes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say the President absolutely is committed to ensuring that we continue to provide assistance, whether it's rental assistance or assistance to make sure that Americans who need help to stay in their homes, to stay in rental units get the help they need.
The moratorium was never meant to be permanent; obviously, an extension was announced just last week. But we will continue to look for ways — through federal authorities, through working with Congress — to ensure that we're helping Americans across the country.
Go ahead, Anita.
Q I just wanted to follow up on the question previously about the July 4th event.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Can you just talk a little bit about what — I know — I understand it's an outdoor event, but what precautions are being taken? So, will people be tested? Do they have to be vaccinated? Are there masks, even though it's outdoors?
And just more broadly, we have seen signs that things are going to — getting back to normal a little bit at the White House, but some signs that they aren't. I mean, can you just tell us a little bit about — are all staff here? Is that 100 percent now? Are visitors allowed in? I believe there's still no tours. Just, can you give us a sense in where things are?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, Anita. Well, first, our intention was always to bring staff back — and I think we provided this publicly — but at a — kind of, a slow pace to ensure we were integrating people back into the White House and we were taking all the necessary precautions. I think a lot of that will be done through the course of July and into the summer. That's our intention.
In terms of the timeline for resuming tours and public — and guests, I'll have to just get back to you on the specific plans for that.
Q And then, can you just talk about the event?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. In terms of precautions, I'll have to check with our team and see what the specific precautions they're taking.
Q And one thing. I believe, on Friday's briefing, you had mentioned that the President would be speaking about voting rights this week at an event. I didn't see that on his schedule. Can you talk to us a little bit about what that event is and what he's going to be talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, he has a meeting with voting rights advocates today and with officials internally. So let me just note that first, which I think you're aware of. And we're working to determine when we can schedule remarks.
It could — it could move in — just because of scheduling, it could move into next week, but I don't have anything to announce quite yet. He's looking forward to addressing the public. As we get his final date locked in, I can preview it for you in more detail.
Q Americans in the Northwest are suffering through a record-breaking heatwave right now. You know, what's the President's message on climate to those who say he's not doing enough, that there wasn't enough in this bipartisan bill? And can he guarantee the public that something will be passed by
the end of this year?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the — I would say the President is also meeting with governors from western states on Wednesday to discuss exactly the threat of these wildfires and what we can do from a federal level to help work in partnership. And he's been quite focused over the last few months on ensuring we are not just preparing and working closely with governors who are in states that might be impacted by hurricanes, but doing the same with states and governors and leaders who might be impacted by wildfires. He even got a briefing from FEMA just last week.
I would say, again, that the President is absolutely committed to addressing climate; it is one of his — the four crises he's identified as central to his presidency. The components that are in the infrastructure package are a down payment on that, but he will continue to advocate for, fight for additional steps in the reconciliation package and moving forward through the course of his presidency.
Go ahead, April.
Q I want to ask two questions — one on policing and the other on voting rights — following up on voting rights.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q On policing: The framework was announced last week of policing — of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. But with that said, what pieces are in it that the White House applauds, and what pieces are out that the White House wants back in? Because we understand qualified immunity may or may not be in there. Some parts may be in versus others parts.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I understand your question, April, but we're going to let the negotiators speak to more specifics of what is in the framework and the next steps from their end. We are closely in touch with them.
As I've noted in the past, the President will look forward to welcoming them to the White House at some point when appropriate. But we're going to let them announce the details of their agreement or their framework when appropriate.
Q Is the President — in the debate where it comes to intentionality from police when someone is killed at their hands, is he involved in that debate? Does he stand on a side of that?
MS. PSAKI: How do you mean "involved"?
Q Meaning that piece of — because there's a large component of the nation that feels that the intention should be put into it —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — as well as if it just happens as they're in police custody. So both pieces should be in it. Is the President weighing on one side or the other on that piece?
MS. PSAKI: Again, April, we're just going to let the negotiators speak to what's in the package and what's in the framework at the appropriate time when they're ready to do that.
Q And on voting rights — again, I'm going back to —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — the issue that I asked — leaning in: It seems that the President is doing more, but is there a concern if the President leans in too much with some of the members — some of the Republican members on the Hill — that it could backfire on him? Because we've heard that a bit.
MS. PSAKI: In what way?
Q In the way that they don't want civil rights. If the President himself, with — with the gravitas, with the weight of this lofty perch — if he leans in too much on it, it could just backfire. Is that a concern from you and from the rest of the members of the White House?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q Yeah, I just wanted to follow on Anita's question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Most members of the press who come in here now are vaccinated —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and don't have to be tested every day.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Is that also the case on the staff? Is all the staff vaccinated? And if you're going to come in close contact with the President, do you still have to be tested?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I mean, it's different for — there's different categories of people who have regular contact with — with the President and otherwise. So, some are tested twice a week, some are tested once a week. As you know, when there's travel, that's a different circumstance. But we still do have staff tested regularly here at the White House.
Q And everybody on the staff has been vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: I don't know if every single person has been, but we can see if there's more specific data on that for you.
Q Jen, thank you. The first U.S.-Taiwan trade talks in five years are supposed to take place this week. China has responded to that — to the government of Beijing — calling on the United States to stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan. How do you respond to the government in Beijing pressuring Washington like this about economic ties with Taipei?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say — this is not a direct response, but let me just re- — convey to you what our policy is, which is that our support for Taiwan is rock solid. Taiwan is a leading democracy and major economy and a security partner. And we will continue to strengthen our relationship across all areas — all the areas we cooperate, including on economic issues.
We're committed to the importance of the U.S.-Taiwan trade and investment relationships. And we will continue to strengthen our trade relationship with Taiwan, which is why we are looking forward to the upcoming Trade and Investment Framework Agreement council meeting, which was recently announced.
We have also been clear publicly and privately about our growing concerns about China's aggressions toward Tairan [sic] — Taiwan. And the PRC has taken increasingly coercive action to undercut democracy in Taiwan.
We will continue to express our strong concerns to Beijing in that regard and, also, our concerns about the PRC's attempts to intimidate others in the region.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead in the back. Oh, go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have quick follow-up and a question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On Iraq — I know you exhausted all the answers, but let me try —
MS. PSAKI: It's okay. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q — one last time. How do you balance the White House — in this case, the President — duty to protect Americans, whether civilians or military, in Iraq by hitting these militias, and risking violating the sovereignties of countries like Iraq, for example?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I conveyed a little bit earlier, but let me try to — try to reiterate it or say it in in a different way. You know, the President, his view — he agrees, I should say, with the Prime Minister's comments that he wants to deescalate.
That's our objective. We don't want to see Iranian proxies threatening our interests in the region. Certainly we would — we would prefer that is not the case.
At the same time, the President believes that when it is — that we have to reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing to protect and defend our people. That is certainly a balance that every President of the United States needs to strike, but it is one where he feels confident that the strikes that he announced yesterday were necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation.
Q My question is: Two Yemeni prisoners have been approved for transfer from Guantanamo. How close is the White House to shutting down their prison facilities, considering that it was the first act during President Obama, as you remember, is to shut down Guantanamo.
MS. PSAKI: I do remember. I — it is — that is correct. I would say the Department of Defense would have the best update on the timeline. It remains something the President is certainly committed to doing and eager to move forward on.
Q Thanks, Jen. Can I just ask you a quick one on infrastructure first?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Does the White House think it has 10 Republicans currently on board for the infrastructure plan?
MS. PSAKI: We continue — we'll continue to make the case, continue to convey to Democrats and Republicans why this package is something that will help their constituents across the country. But in terms of vote counting, I will leave that to leaders in Congress.
Q Has the President spoken to Senator McConnell or does he plan to speak to him, specifically about this package?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any calls with Speaker McConnell or — Speaker McConnell? — I don't have any calls with Senator McConnell to read out. Sorry, it must be that time of the briefing.
Q Thank you. There's some reports from Afghanistan that the U.S. is going to send — I think it's 37 Blackhawk helicopters and a couple fixed-wing airplanes. Is that — do you have any comment on that? And just more broadly, is there any concern about the prospects of American-made weaponry falling into the hands of the Taliban as they take over government positions, as they have been doing, and might be, you know, expected to do more?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. It's something we've been quite cognizant of from the — from our early engagement here, or at least engagement of the Biden administration and before that. In terms of any reports of weapons, I would point you to the Department of Defense.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Hi, Jen. Thanks for taking my question. I wanted to ask you what the administr- — or, excuse me, what President Biden and the White House are doing to help agencies achieve the goals the President set on climate change early in the administration through his executive orders. There's been quite a few tasks in those orders that agencies have these deadlines on or have been delayed, and I wanted to ask what the White House is doing to help with that.
MS. PSAKI: Specifically agency by agency? This might be something that might be more useful if I get you, kind of, a written update about what is happening agency to agency.
I can say, broadly speaking, that the President conveyed to his Cabinet members from the beginning that ensuring we are moving forward and taking steps to address the climate crisis and doing that with levers we have in the federal government, whether it is electrifying fleets in the government or taking steps to ensure we are being leaders on this front, is something that he has made a priority. But we can see if there's more of, kind of, a summarized update of what agencies are up to to provide to all of you.
Q And on COVID and vaccinations: What does the administration say to parents who are hearing, on one hand, from the nation's top doctors that children and younger Americans are more vulnerable as these variants are spreading, but at the same time, many children can't yet get vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. As a parent of children in that age bracket myself, it is challenging. And what we are continuing to convey is that we know it's been long, we know parents are exhausted and tired, but it's important to continue to abide by the public health guidelines, which means kids wearing masks in certain environments, not others. Obviously, you can look at the CDC guidelines to see what the specifics are.
Obviously, we can't get ahead of the FDA process for approving vaccines. I know parents, like myself, are eager to vaccinate their children. Some also will still have many questions, as we have seen as the vaccine has become available for kids who are 12 and older. And that is also part of our process of engaging with pediatricians and others to make sure parents can have those questions answered.
So we can't expedite the FDA approval process. What we can do is continue to provide public health guidelines, make sure parents understand what it means if your kid is vaccinated or not vaccinated, even if it's because they're not eligible quite yet. And, of course, make sure we have resources and supply available if and when we reach that point in time.
Q Can we —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you so much.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I'll go to both you. Okay. Why don't you go, in the front, and then we can get you in the maroon shirt. Yes. Sorry, this is confusing.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Okay. Thank you for taking my question. I have a quick question about the Tokyo Olympic Games. The Japanese government extended an invitation to President Biden for the Olympic Games. Is President Biden still considering a trip to Tokyo next month?
MS. PSAKI: The President is not planning to attend the Games. He will certainly be rooting for the athletes, as will I — I'm kind of obsessed with the Olympics. But that's not his — we will have a delegation from the United States, as we have historically had. But we will continue to also convey the public health guidelines and guidance that we've been — we've been delivering out there about only essential travel.
Q Thanks, Jen. I appreciate it. A couple of quick questions on Iraq again. So, first of all, in the past, even during the Soleimani strike, usually these strikes came in response to incidents where a U.S. servicemember or a U.S. military contractor was killed. So is this an indication that this administration is now pursuing a more aggressive policy on responding to Iran-backed militia attacks in Iraq?
And, secondly, was this — was this purely a retaliatory strike or was it meant to actually thwart imminent hostilities beyond the Saturday Erbil strike upcoming in the future?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that we — the United States selected these targets because Iran-backed militias used them to conduct at least five one-way UAV attacks against U.S. facilities in Iraq since April. So it was in direct response to those specific attacks.
And as I've noted before: Of course, the President did this in — aligned with national — with domestic law and international law as well. He has been clear — the President has been clear that there will be serious consequences if Iranian leaders continue to arm, fund, and train militia groups to attack our people.
And, obviously, we've seen — I wouldn't say — I mean, there's available information over the last — beyond the last few months — over the last year-plus as to what these attacks look like. This was the President's decision about how he would respond to them. I can't speak to the prior administration.
Q But did it thwart imminent hostilities though? I mean not looking back. Like, was it retaliatory or was there another attack in the works that these were intended to deter?
MS. PSAKI: It was — we selected these targets in response to those five attacks I just noted.
Q It wasn't preemptive?
MS. PSAKI: I just — I think I just conveyed this clearly, as the Department of Defense did.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, thanks, everyone. Have a good afternoon.
1:32 P.M. EDT
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