Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre En Route Boise, ID
September 13, 2021
12:39 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the President's first trip to the West Coast as President of the United States. As you all know, we're traveling to Boise, Idaho, where the President will receive a briefing from federal and state fire agency officials at the National Interagency Fire Center, the nation's hub coordinating all of our federal firefighting resources.
After, he will travel to Northern California to speak with emergency response personnel at Cal OE- — Cal OES, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. The President will also survey damage from the Caldor fire, one of a number of California fire — wildfires that have burned nearly 2 million acres and thousands of structures this year.
As one in three Americans are impacted by the increasing frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events, President Biden will reiterate the message he shared on the East Coast last week: The climate crisis is in code red.
The President will underscore how the investments he is proposing in the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the Build Back Better agenda will strengthen our nation's resilience to climate change and extreme weather events, advance environmental justice, and create good-paying jobs — union jobs.
And tomorrow, President Biden will travel to Denver, Colorado, to continue discussing how his agenda will help our country tackle the climate crisis, modernizing our infrastructure and make it more resilient, all while creating good jobs and growing the economy in the long term.
Okay, with that, Alex, can you kick us off?
Q Sure. Two questions. The first one foreign. Does the White House have a reaction to the North Korean missile launch over the weekend?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you have may seen, INDOPACOM put out a statement last night, and I refer you to that statement.
Q Okay. And then, domestic: Senator Joe Manchin again reiterated his opposition to the $3.5 trillion price tag on the reconciliation bill. Is the President still confident he'll eventually get Manchin to go along? Has he spoken with the Senator since those comments? And if he's not confident, would he be open to lowering that price tag?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me first say this: I don't have any calls to read out of a conversation that the President has had with Senator Manchin. As you know, he speaks regularly with leadership and congressional members on the Hill and Senate members.
Like I said recently, when I actually last did this gaggle, I'm not going to negotiate about the topline number from here. The President and his whole team — as you all know, we've said this many times — is proud and fighting for the substance of this Build Back agenda, which is paid for by asking big corporations and the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share, and by empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies so that we can ensure middle-class families who work hard and play by the rules can get higher-paying jobs, have their tax cuts and their paychecks to go farther. That's all done without — without — raising taxes by one cent on Americans earning under $400,000 a year.
So that is the focus. That's been the President's economic plan, economic policy, way before he became President.
But more importantly, it should be understood that that $3.5 trillion figure is not the price tag for this; this is not accurate and it's not how economic legislation is usually described. That is the amount that the Build Back Better plan would invest in creating jobs and cutting costs for American families as we work to build the middle class.
So we need to cut prescription drugs; as I mentioned, take on climate change. One of the reasons we're going out there: We'll see what the wildfires have done, sadly — on the West Coast — and help families afford childcare for older Americans, and education, and extend a historic middle-class tax cut.
Think all of the ways — these are all the ways that we'll cut costs for families. So that's what matters, and that's what he's going to be focusing on.
Q Regarding the recall election, why is the President's trip only coming now, just one day before polls close?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you — as you all know, one of the reasons the President is coming out here: He's not just — he's not just going to — you know, he's not just going to California, he's also going to be — he's also going to go to the Caldor fire, which is a top priority for the federal and California firefighting officials. It's burned through roughly 218,000 acres, and nearly 4,000 wildland firefighters are responding to the Caldor fire.
So the good news is the fire is 65 percent contained, and some of the evacuation orders have been downgraded to warnings.
And we also have the Dixie — the Dixie fire has burned approximately 953,696 acres with 62 percent containment, and more than 4,800 wildland firefighters are deployed.
And the Monument fire has also burned approximately 207,000 acres with 43 percent containment, and nearly 1,500 personnel are assigned.
So, elevated fire conditions are forecast today. Roughly 22,500 wildland firefighters are battling blazes right now.
And we do — and we do continue to monitor the 60 large uncontained fires that are burning across — that are burning across parts of the country. So that's also incredibly important and will be part of our trip and what we'll see.
You know, I'll leave all of the speculation and — about — about — you know, about our visit, and — with Governor Newsom, and so I'm not going to go into speculation about anything further than that.
As you know, we endorsed the governor — the Vice President and the President — and I'll leave it there.
Q But couldn't this have had more of an impact on that election if the President was to do this weeks ago rather than just today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, on the — like I said, he's going to go today. He's going to go to Sacramento. He's going to go to Idaho first — Boise, Idaho — as you know, to the — to go to see the wildfire center to see exactly — to assess and be given a tour about how — what's going on with these extreme temperatures, these wildfires that are now yearlong. And then he's going to go to Sacramento, and then he's going to go to Long Beach with Governor Newsom. And then tomorrow, he's going to go to Denver, Colorado.
This is what the President — you know, the President of the United States do: They — they do several things at the same time. But I'm not going to go into any reasoning why he's going now instead of two, three weeks ago.
Q Karine, you released some documents related to Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 events. Have you made any judgment on whether the Saudi government might have been involved in some of the plotting involved in 9/11?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you for your question, Steve. I'll say this, just to give everybody a little bit background: So, the President made a commitment to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law and to assist these families in their work to seek full accountability regarding the declassification of documents on September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America.
One important way he has honored that commitment is by issuing an executive order requiring the Department of Justice to undertake a declassification review of documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations September 11th investigations and requiring intelligence agencies to undertake similar declassification reviews of information they originated.
As those reviews are completed, documents will be released publicly with the minimum possible redactions. The executive order sets clear deadlines for the release of the documents in four categories.
The first category consists of a particular FBI investigative report from the — 2016 that the 9/11 families have identified as high priority. It was released on Saturday.
The next category of documents must be released within 60 days from the insurance [issuance] of the executive order, which was September 3rd. The third category within 120 days, and the fourth category within 180 days.
Information should not remain classified when the public's interest in disclosure outweighs any damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.
We must never forget the ending pain — the enduring pain of the families and loved ones of the two hundred — 2,977 innocent people who were killed during the worst terrorist attack on America in our history. For them, it was not only a national and international tragedy; it was a personal devastation.
For 20 years — for 20 years, children have grown up without parents, and parents have suffered without children; husbands and wives have had to find a way forward without their parents in life; brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, loved ones and friends have celebrated 20 years of birthdays, family gatherings, and also looking at an empty chair at home with a hole in their heart.
Our hearts are with the 9/11 survivors and families who are suffering. Members of the community will continue to have an open door at the top levels of the administration. That's all I have on that.
Q Karine, does the administration believe that the Ways and Means proposal goes far enough in taxing the wealthy, as the President had hoped?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as it — with the Ways and Means — look, since the campaign, President Biden outlined three basic principles for reforming the tax code. One was the middle class and working Americans already paying enough. And so that's why the Build Back Better plan lowers taxes for over 50 million families through the Child Tax Cred- — Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and dependent tax credits.
Two, we need to level the playing field for working families and small businesses so that profitable companies don't pay a lower tax bill than nurse — than a nurse or a teacher. And we'll do that in part by repealing the Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest households and most — and most profitable corporations.
And so, three — three, the President will not raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 per year.
That's the basic goal. And the Ways and Means proposal are critical steps toward accompanying that. So, we look forward to continue to work with our partners in Congress to reform the tax code so that the highest-income Americans and richest corporations pay their fair share.
And so that's — it's a first — we see that as a first step.
Q And one more legislative question, Karine. There's a report out that the President has told Senator — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Pelosi that he's ready to push for filibuster reform in order to get voting rights passed. Is that accurate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, Mario, we keep those personal conversations with congressional leadership private. That is something that we have said throughout these past several months.
Right now, the goal on voting rights legislation is for the Senate — for the Senate group working on this to come together and see if they can produce a compromise. The President is hopeful that they can — that this group can come together and do that. If they can do that, then they need to go line up the votes.
And so, passing the bill is a must-do piece of business for our democracy. We must pass a bill to protect our democracy.
So, as for the filibuster, when or if the President has something to say about it, you will hear it directly from him.
But just — I just wanted to add, you know, we've been very clear we're not just waiting for the legislation; we've done numerous — numerous amount of policies through the federal government, through the power of the White House to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to make it easier for people to vote, because this is so essential and so critical.
And so — and also, as you know, the Vice President has been leading this effort and has had several meetings on this on ways to really engage and make sure that we protect the right to vote.
Q Karine, you just said that the Ways and Means proposal sort of — you signaled some acceptance with that. That would suggest that the President is also willing to move off the $3.5 trillion to appease other Democrats, including Senator Manchin. Is that — isn't that not true?
Q No, that is — I said — what I said about the $3.5 trillion is: I'm not willing to negotiate from that. The most important thing is, as I mentioned, this is the President's Build Back Better agenda, which he has talked about for some time, making sure that middle-class families get a historic tax cut, making sure that we make healthcare more affordable, making sure that we make childcare more affordable. And so, that is the focus that the President is going to continue to work with Congress on.
And so, he's not going — I'm not going to negotiate from here, as we have said over and over again. And so, we're going to let the process go through — the process — the process goes through, as it does, in Congress on the Hill.
Q Secondly, is the White House concerned about some of the flare-up in Gaza? There's some — there's some renewed fighting there. And what is the White House — is the President going to make any calls on that front to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any calls to predict right — to — I don't have any calls to provide right now. I'm happy to go back and talk to the NSC team and to see if we have anything further to share on that. I don't have anything for you on that.
Q Aside from calls, does the White House have any — any statements or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at this time.
Q Karine, this weekend, Justice Breyer was asked about expanding the Court, and he said that if it were to happen, people would lose trust in the Court. One, what's the administration's response to that? And two, how much stock does the President take in his existing justices' opinion in that matter?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll just say this — and I'll leave it — I'll leave it as this. You know — and we've talked about this many times, and so, just to — just to kind of lay this out again for you all: You know, earlier this year the President issued an executive order forming the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States. The Commission will provide an analysis of the principal arguments for and against Supreme Court reform. The Commission is composed of a diverse group and a spectrum of views. It includes legal and other scholars, former federal judges, and proponents of the reform of democratic institution and of the administration of justice.
The expertise represented on the Commission includes constitutional law, history, and political science. And in hearings and commitments it has heard from others with relevant topics, experience, and expertise — including practitioners who have appeared before the Court, and, importantly, views from members of the public — the Commission is examining many questions regarding the Court, not just the number of justices, but a spectrum of issues. The President will wait for that process to complete and for their report before making any decisions.
So, this is just the beginning. This is — you know, this — there's many things that they're looking at. There are 30 members of this Court. As I mentioned, it's very diverse; you have conservative voices, you have progressive voices. And the President asked the Commission to put this commission together because he wanted to hear from a diverse group of voices again to come together and give him some suggestions on how to move forward.
Q Can you talk a little bit about what we'll hear from the President tonight in California? Democrats have tried to make this recall sort of a referendum on Trumpism, and I'm wondering if the message from the President tonight will be a preview of what we'll hear from Democrats in the midterms.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you can imagine, I can't speak for — about that from here, so I am going to just leave it as that. You'll — you guys will hear directly from the President himself later tonight.
Q Well, is that referendum on Trumpism a message that the White House sees as sort of potent, heading into the next election year?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, Alex, our focus is really making sure that we're doing the work of the people. That's what the President has said. And the President says himself he's the President for all, for everyone — for people who have voted for him and didn't vote for him. So that is the most important thing.
I mean, you all were asking me — we were talking about Build Back Better agenda. You know, we're about to go to Idaho — Boise, Idaho, as you all know. We're about to go to Sacramento. One of the things that the Build Back Better agenda will also kind of address is that climate — the climate change issue. That's real. What we're seeing, as I mentioned in my opening, is we're in code red right now. So that's — that's also going to be the focus of the President during this trip.
Q A couple of questions on the — going back to the FBI documents: Is there any sense from the White House that you can give? I know some of the 9/11 families have suggested they see a link now between Saudi Arabia and the hijackers. Is there any additional response from the President about that link specifically between Saudi Arabia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I'll just say the documents are all — are — are all from the FBI's investigations, as you all know, of the 9/11 attacks and related investigations. And I would send you their way for anything further. I don't have anything else to add.
Q I wanted to ask also just about the hearings this afternoon, with Secretary Blinken being on the Hill, about Afghanistan. Is there anything in particular that the White House and the administration wants to have come across in that? How concerned are you about him being put — I know some Republicans are eager to, you know, make this into a big show.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, thank you for the question. So, Secretary Blinken, as you just mentioned, Asma, is going to have an opportunity to speak to this — to this later this afternoon — right? — what's — what's — in the hearing. And I'll let him directly respond to any question members plan to ask him on anything specific on the hearing.
But what you can expect from the Secretary to detail is the situation we inherited in Afghanistan after the previous president signed a deal with the Taliban that temporarily halted attacks but released 5,000 of their fighters onto the battlefield and committed the U.S. to withdrawing this spring.
And you can expect that he'll detail the choice that faced the administration: whether we should leave Afghanistan after achieving our objectives at the cost of 20 years, $2 trillion in spending, and over 2,400 service members lost, or whether we should have re-escalated our presence there and put more soldiers in harm's way.
He'll also talk about the heroic work that's been done by State Department personnel, the armed forces, and across the U.S. government to execute on that withdrawal, including evacuating U.S. citizens and personnel throughout the spring and the summer as well, speeding up our issuance of Special Immigrant Visas tenfold as we drew down the process, all before one of the biggest airlifts in history with two hundred and — 124,000 people evacuated to safety.
And the Secretary will talk about our path forward in Afghanistan, especially our ongoing efforts to help any remaining Americans and Afghans if they choose to leave — any Americ- — any Americans who want to leave, if they choose to leave, in Afghanistan — in Afghanistan, if they want to leave, as well; in addition to our Afghanistan allies, as we did last week, through two chartered flights that departed Kabul and evacuations overland.
We're committed to continuing to work closely with Congress on Afghanistan matters, including with today and tomorrow's hearings.
Q Are those chartered flights still continuing? I know there was a measles outbreak that halted that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, those flights are still — are still being halted, just out of abundance of caution. As you all know, Jen spoke about this — Jen spoke about this yesterday — not yesterday — on Friday. Let me see if I have (inaudible) for you here about the measles.
And so, the Operation Allies Welcome flights into the United States remain paused at the request of the CDC for at least seven additional days — again, out of abundance of caution — because of recent diagnosed cases of measles among Afghans who recently arrived in the U.S.
Those individuals were being housed separately in accordance with public health guidance — guidelines, and the CDC has begun full contact tracing. All arriving Afghans are currently required to be vaccinated for measles as a condition of their humanitarian payrole [sic] — parole. And critical immunizations, including MMR, are being administered for Afghans at safe havens on military bases in the United States.
We will soon begin vaccinating Afghans for MMR while they are still overseas. So, that's the update there.
Q Can I ask you: So, seven days from when they were paused or seven days from today they are paused?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can get the more specifics for you. It just says the — for at least seven days — additional days. So, I'm assuming additional days from when —
Q From when they were initially paused.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. That's what it sounds like to me, but I'm happy to go back and get more specifics for you.
Q Karine, back on North Korea: Are you going to need to engage them diplomatically at some point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: North Korea?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, our position hasn't — has not changed when it comes to North Korea. We remain prepared to engage in diplomacy with DPRK toward our objective of a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So that hasn't changed.
Our policy calls for our calabrat- — calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with DPRK to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, our deployed forces. Our offer remains to meet anywhere, anytime without preconditions. So, that hasn't changed — our diplomatic efforts.
Q Karine, I know you said that the President, you know, is speaking to Senator Manchin and you don't want to go into those conversations, but what's the strategy for also House progressives right now, you know, on the Hill? Is the White House dispatching officials this week, given the crucial time, to speak to those members? Is there — is it just relying on, you know, Speaker Pelosi? What's the strategy there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, Zolan, as you know — thank you for the question. As you know, for the past several months, the President and White House officials has been engaged with members on the Hills [sic], with their — on the Hill, with their staffers. So, that has continued over the past several weeks, as well.
And so, that's going to continue as we — as we move forward. And so, that doesn't — that doesn't end. We've been very engaged with the Hill, with, like you mentioned, Speaker Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and everyone that's been kind of all-hands-on-deck, making this happen (inaudible).
Q Are we going to see that ramp up in the days ahead, though? I mean, can we expect certain officials to go there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I would say this: Like, we are — we are dedicated and committed to making sure that the President's Build Back agenda and this — the bipartisan infrastructure deal moves forward.
As the President has said, he wants to sign both — both pieces of those legislation because it's important to the American people.
Q Back on Afghanistan and on Capitol Hill: The White House has said, since this started, that there'll be time for reflection on what perhaps went wrong. That's what a lot of Republicans are going to be focusing on today. Does the White House — is the administration now, with some time to reflect on this, concede that anything went wrong in the end there? Because people aren't really criticizing the withdrawal, they're criticizing execution of that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, like I said, I'm going to let Secretary Blinken speak to that. You just mentioned that Republicans are focused on that. There's a hearing happening today and tomorrow. Secretary Blinken will speak to that, I'm sure, so I'll let him just kind of address those questions directly with the hearing committee.
Q Okay. To be clear, it's not just Republicans; there are Democrats, as you know. So I'm kind of asking the White House's response.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. And there'll be — and they'll be — and there'll be Democrats and Republicans at the hearing. I'll let Secretary Blinken speak to that though.
Q Did you all have any response to or thoughts about President Bush's speech on Saturday in which he said "violent extremists" overseas and at home "are children of the same foul spirit"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, that's something that we have — you know, we've talked about: domestic extremists, extremism here in the country. The President has talked about that many times in the past several months, in the past year about that specifically.
Look, you know, I think one of the things that was really important about September 11th is — is that there — is that — is what came out of that is that sense of unity and coming together, which the President has talked about, which we heard from former President George Bush, and you saw former Presidents — President Obama, President Clinton — come together with Secretary Clinton and Mrs. Obama to show that unity. And I think that's really important.
You hear stories often about how people on that day felt. You can feel how folks came together to help each other out and to be there for one another, and I think that is really important as we remember those nearly 3,000 lives that were lost on that day.
Q Karine, you know that the President, during his call with President Xi of China last week, that climate change was brought up as an issue. Has the White House been given any assurances on any potential collaboration? Are they committing to any updates on the Belt and Road Initiative? Are there any other updates you can give us from that call?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don't — honestly, Zolan, I don't have anything more from the readout that we put out to say about that particular conversation.
As you can imagine, climate change — as I said, we're going out to the West Coast to see how the effects of these wildfires, how they become year- — yearlong. And so this is something that the President really truly cares about domestically and also working with his international partners, but I don't have anything more to read out from — from that call that he had with President Xi.
Q Jen said the other day at the briefing also that the President, on that call, brought up a lack of collaboration when it comes to investigating the origin of COVID as well. So, is there — what we didn't get in the briefing was any response from China when the President brought that up.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't — I don't have much more to say than what Jen has shared and what we put out in the readout. But I understand your question and appreciate the question.
Q There's a — there's a rally being planned for Washington on Saturday of supporters of President Trump who continue to raise questions about the election. How concerned, if at all, is the White House about any sort of violence or disruptions caused by that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, clearly, that is something that we do not want to see. You know, we want people to come in — to come in and, if you're going to protest, protest peacefully.
But just to go back on, you know, January 6th — because this is what this brings up for so many people — you know, the President has been very clear with the events of January 6th that they were an unprecedented assault on our democracy. And, you know — and so, he believes that we got to make sure that there's a full investigation on that.
But if people come together, they should come together peacefully. You know, people have the right to protest, but we should make sure that it's peaceful.
I don't have anything more.
Q Thank you.
1:07 P.M. EDT
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