Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 28, 2021
September 28, 2021
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:11 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Hi. Okay. Zeke, I know this is disappointing — I have nothing at the top for you, so let's just get into whatever you all have questions about. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. Well, why don't we start with testimony on Capitol Hill that's ongoing with General Milley and General McKenzie testifying that they believe that 2,500 U.S. troops were needed to sustain the Afghan government and hold off the Taliban. The President — that just seems to be the disconnect between that and how the President described the advice from his military advisors in that ABC interview six, or so, weeks ago when he said — he denied that the Pentagon wanted troop — to continue the American troop presence there. So, did the President mislead the American public about the advice of his military advisors?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a full — a couple of specifics from the actual transcript, because I know it's been shorthanded a bit. No malintent.
But the question asked by George Stephanopoulos was, "But your" mil- — "top military advisors warned against withdrawing on this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops." The President said, "No, they didn't. It was split. That wasn't true. That wasn't true." "It was split." I think that's a pretty key part of that phrasing there.
Later on, he — George Stephanopoulos said, "So, no one told — your military advisors did not tell you," quote, "'No, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It's been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that.'?" "No. No one said that to me that I can recall."
I would note today, in the testimony that was given by Secretary Austin, by General Milley, they made clear — Secretary Austin specifically said, "If you stayed there at a force posture of 2,500, certainly you'd be in a fight with the Taliban, and you'd have to reinforce…"
So, what should everybody take from that? There was a range of viewpoints, as was evidenced by their testimony today, that were presented to the President, that were presented to his national security team as would be expected, as he asked for. He asked for a clear — a clear-eyed — didn't — asked them not to sugarcoat it — what their recommendations were.
It was also clear — and clear to him — that that would not be a longstanding recommendation, that there would need to be an escalation, an increase in troop numbers. It would also need — it would also mean war with the Taliban, and it would also mean the potential loss of casualties. The President was just not willing to make that decision. He didn't think it was in our — the interest of the American people or the interest of our troops.
Q I'm sure some of my colleagues will have a couple of follow-ups on that. I just want to get to a couple of different topics.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q On the reconciliation negotiations, Senators Manchin and Sinema were — were over here. Are they still over here? And is there agreement on a topline number?
MS. PSAKI: So, first, Senator Sinema was here earlier today. Senator Manchin was still here, as of when I came out; he may have wrapped up the meeting, but he was going into the meeting a little while ago. And Senator Sinema had a meeting with the President earlier today. They had a constructive meeting, agreed that we are at a pivotal moment, need to continue to work to finalize the path forward.
He asked his team to follow up later this afternoon with her directly to continue the conversation and continue the discussions. I will leave it to them to convey where they are comfortable, in terms of topline numbers. But the President felt it was constructive, felt they moved the ball forward, felt there was an agreement that we're at a pivotal moment. It's important to continue to finalize the path forward to get the job done for the American people.
Q An agreement on a pivotal — a pivotal moment. But is there an agreement on the number?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I would point you to Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin to speak to their viewpoints on where they stand on the package at this point in time. I'm not going to speak on their behalf.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I'll come to you back — I'll come around to you in a little.
Q Back on Afghanistan. The President said his military commanders were "split." We now know that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley; the head of CENTCOM, General McKenzie; and the commander on the ground, General Miller, all recommended that the President keep 2,500 troops. So, who in his military advisors told him it'd be fine to pull everybody out?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I'm not going to get into specific details of who recommended what. But I can — I would reiterate a little bit of what I conveyed before, which is that there were recommendations made by a range of his advisors — something he welcomed, something he asked them to come to him clear-eyed about, to give him candid advice.
What is also clear though — and I'd also note, again, what Secretary Austin said today is that was not going to be a sustainable, over the long term, troop presence. We were always going to look at escalating the numbers, at potentially going back to war with the Taliban, at risking casualties. That was not a decision the President was going to make.
But, of course, he welcomes advice. He welcomed advice. Ultimately, it's up to the Commander-in-Chief to make a decision. He made a decision: It was time to end a 20-year war.
Q But you are saying here that military advisors to the President said it was okay to pull all the troops out, that it would be fine.
MS. PSAKI: That's not what I said. What I said was they recommended — and I think we should not dumb this down for anybody here. We're talking about the initial phase post-May 1. We're not talking about long-term recommendations. There was no one who said, "Five years from now we could have 2,500 troops and that would be sustainable." And I think that's important for people to know and to understand.
It's also important to note that the risks we were talking about here were the possibility, the likelihood of increasing a troop presence, which we now know to absolutely have been the reality, given it required 6,000 troops to just protect the airport — something we now know.
Q But the President pulled all U.S. troops out. You are saying that there were military commanders who advised him that that was a good idea — to pull all American troops out — and that General Milley, General McKenzie, General Miller, they said something else, but the President's top military advisors and others — who you won't name — told him, "Sure, we can pull everyone out."
MS. PSAKI: That's not how these conversations go. It's a risk assessment, for every President, about what is in the interest of the United States of America, our military, and our national interests.
And if we had kept 2,500 troops there, we would have increased the number of troops, we would have been at war with the Taliban, we would have had more U.S. casualties. That was a reality everybody was clear-eyed about.
There are some — as is evidenced by people testifying today — who felt we should have still done that. That is not the decision the President made. It's up to the Commander-in-Chief to make those decisions.
Q Jen, thanks. It might be helpful if you could just tell us what do you mean by "split." What were they split between?
MS. PSAKI: What's confusing about that?
Q Well, it's either, one, they were advising that 2,500 troops should remain on the ground, or, two, that someone was advising that it should be zero.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Weijia, I don't think — I think it's important for the American people to know that these conversations don't happen in black and white or like you're in the middle of a movie. These conversations are about a range of options, about what the risk assessments are about every decision. And, of course, there are individuals who come forward with a range of recommendations on what the right path forward looks like. I'm not going to detail those from here. They're private conversations and advice to the President of the United States.
Ultimately, regardless of the advice, it's his decision. He's the Commander-in-Chief. He's the President. He makes decisions about what's in the national interest. And he believed we should end the war.
Q More broadly, who — who does he consider to be his
top military advisors?
MS. PSAKI: He considers, of course, the Secretary of Defense; the Secretary — the Joint — the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; he considers a range of advice from his national security team; his Secretary of State; his national security advisor; and others who can give him — he asked for candid advice from.
Q Thanks. And, today, General Milley also testified that he spoke with several authors for their books about the former President. Does President Biden think that's appropriate?
MS. PSAKI: I don't — I'm not going to make an evaluation on that from here. Obviously, the Chairman makes his own decisions about that.
Q But does he though? Does the White House not have to sign off on any time an SAO — senior administration official — sorry — speaks to the press?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly give people advice on what people are writing about and whether it's constructive for them to engage with it, but individuals do make a range of decisions, Weijia.
Q So did you advise him before he spoke to authors?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything more for you, Weijia.
Q As we sit here today, does President Biden believe that his military advisors supported his decision to withdraw all of U.S. troops, based on their own judgments?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Kelly, I think what you heard them say during their testimony is that, about certain stages, they gave a variety of advice, which is accurate and something the President, of course, welcomes. He, ultimately, had to make the decision as the Commander-in-Chief about what is in our national interest.
You also heard Secretary Austin make clear about the commitment of delivering on what the President had decided and the fact that if we left troops in there past September 1st, we would have been at war with the Taliban.
So, I think what's important for people to take away from the testimony today is that it reiterated and confirms a lot of what we've been talking about over the past couple of months: about what the risks were of keeping troops on the ground, what the Taliban's intentions were, what the impact was of the deal that was struck by the prior administration directly with the Taliban that released 5,000 Taliban fighters into the — into Afghanistan without the engagement of the Afghan government. Those are all the repercussions and the impact.
And, yes, they gave their advice, as they should, and then they implemented the President's decision.
Q So, knowing that the President gets to make this decision, knowing he may have to make further decisions going down the line — so, not looking at the history — what I think the public wants to know: If the generals and military advisors give advice, how will the President use and process that, and how will he talk about it publicly? That matters to the public. Did the President convey accurately what these generals were saying to him?
MS. PSAKI: He conveyed — in the interview? In what aspect?
Q Well, in the interview and then going forward. Can they understand how the President will use that kind of information when we see there's a conflict between what the generals were saying and the President's public statements with respect to Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President made clear that the advice was split. He didn't outline what every individual conveyed to him in private advice, as I don't think anyone in the American public would expect.
Obviously, they're testifying before Congress today. They're answering questions accurately. They're providing more detail on their advice, as they should. That's how that process works, and as they should.
I think what the American people should know is the President is always going to welcome a range of advice. He asked for candor; he asked for directness. And in any scenario, he's not looking for a bunch of "yes" men and women. And what that means is that, ultimately, he's going to have to make the decision about what's in the best interest of the United States.
If there's conflicting advice given, by necessity, some people — some people's advice will not be taken.
Q So, what is the White House's reaction to some other aspects of General Milley's testimony? He said, among other things, that it was a mistake for two successive American Presidents to have a date-based or date-certain withdrawal, that it ought to be conditions-based. He also indicated in his testimony the idea of the — U.S. credibility would be damaged, would be a word that should be looked at. What's the White House's response to those aspects of his testimony today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that Secretary Austin spoke directly about our credibility in the world during the same testimony, and he said our credibility remains solid and "people place great trust and confidence" in America.
And what we also look at is the fact that the NATO Secretary-General has affirmed that our allies were consulted on the President's decisions. We communicated to the Afghans and to our allies. And since the time of the withdrawal, we worked to get 100 countries together to unite in an effort to make clear that the international community's expectations — what they are of the Taliban-led government. That shows the United States still has power, still has trust, still has partnerships in the world, even as it relates to Afghanistan.
What was the first part of your question?
Q Well, so, General Milley specifically said that he believed that it was a mistake for there to be date-certain withdrawals versus conditions-based. He said that was a lesson he learned. Does the President agree with that? Does this White House acknowledge that it was a mistake? And is there any — not to say second-guessing, but is there any thought that perhaps a mistake was made?
MS. PSAKI: In which piece? When did we set a deadline for withdrawal? You're talking about September 1st?
Q The general said that the two successive American Presidents made the mistake of setting dates. So, the President — this President had, first, September 11th, and then he adjusted to August 31st. General Milley indicated that that was a mistake.
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, we had a May 1st timeline with no plan — we had a deadline and no plan for withdrawal that we walked into when the President was inaugurated and took office.
The September 1st timeline was related to — was based on the recommendations of the military and on the timeline needed to operationally, effectively, and safely withdraw our troops once the President made the decision to withdraw our troops.
So, it's not the same thing.
Q I do want to ask you one more question. General Milley also said that he wasn't asked about whether to keep troops on the ground until August 25th. Is that true?
MS. PSAKI: Say that one more time.
Q Well, General Milley said he wasn't asked by the President whether to keep troops on the ground until August 25th.
MS. PSAKI: Past September 1st?
Q Past September 1st. I suppose that was the question. But can you confirm —
MS. PSAKI: Well, the context of that's pretty important, isn't it?
Q Sure. So, what more context can you add?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I'm saying that because when you say "August 25th," people would infer that to mean that he wasn't asked for his point of view on what our approach should be until then. That's not accurate.
There were ongoing daily discussions in the Situation Room where the President asked for advice, for viewpoints from the military, from his national security team about how we should proceed as it related to August 31st. That's no secret. We made that clear, certainly, at the time.
I'd also note that during the testimony, Sec- — General Milley also made clear that we would have gone to the war with the Taliban had we not withdrawn before September — by September 1st. That was also advice he gave privately.
Q Thank you, Jen. A quick question on the energy crisis. Oil prices have reached $80 a barrel — first time in three years. There is an energy crisis underway. China, UK, Europe — we understand, from the White House, that you're monitoring the situation. But what in the near term is the White House doing to ease pressure on the market? Are you — are there any conversations that you are having with OPEC or you're planning to have with OPEC that you can tell us a little bit more about?
And we also know that Jake Sullivan is in Saudi. He's planning to meet with MBS, although that is about Yemen. Does he plan to bring this up during that meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are in — we continue to speak to international partners, including OPEC, on the importance of competitive markets and setting prices and doing more to support the recovery.
We're obviously monitoring, as you've already alluded to. And I would note that, last month, our NEC Director, Brian Deese, also sent a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan, asking the FTC to use all of its available tools to monitor the U.S. gasoline market and address any illegal conduct that might be contributing to price increases. The FTC responded, committing to take specific actions to identify, deter, and investigate.
We also noted — I'd also note that Jake Sullivan also put out a statement at the time, which you referred to. The engagements he has in the Middle East and with the Saudis that — specifically the meetings with the Saudis — are really focused on Yemen. Our Yemen — our envoy is participating in a part of those conversations. That's really the focus. So I don't have a further readout beyond that at this point about how the conversations have gone.
Obviously, our national security advisor has been deeply engaged, but that's not the focus or the purpose of his trip.
Q And, specifically in terms of sort of regulatory action from the FTC, that is obviously going to take some time, but the pressure on the market is building up right now. I mean, are there perhaps any, again, conversations on, you know, reaching out to the emergency stockpile to, you know, ease some pressure on the market? Is there anything being done in the near term?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything in the near term to preview for you. Obviously, that's up to the FTC, in terms of their timeline. But I would assure you we're not only engaged with OPEC, we're looking at every means we have to lower gas prices. But I don't have — or address the cost of oil, I should say. But I don't have anything else to preview for you.
Q And a question, quickly, on Senator Warren's comment on the Fed chair. She said she will not support his reappointment. She said he's a "dangerous man" who's harmed the country's banking industry. Does the White House have a comment on that? And where is the President with his decision on reappointing a Fed chair?
MS. PSAKI: I understand the interest. I don't have anything on personnel announcements to make and nothing further on Senator Warren's comments.
Q One Milley question and then a couple on the agenda.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q General Milley was asked if he echoed the President's term, using "extraordinary success" for what transpired in August. And Milley said it was a "logistical success but a strategic failure…I think those are two different [things]." Is that kind of an accurate assessment, in your guys' view, of what transpired in August?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he later made clear and clarified that he was referring to the 20-year war as a strategic failure. And, of course, the President agrees we were there for far too long, we should have withdrawn sooner, and that it was a war that was long overdue to come to an end.
Q And a couple on the domestic agenda. I understand what you're saying about asking Senators Sinema and Manchin, but a lot of Democrats on the Hill want the President to press for that top line; they think that's crucial to the Thursday vote. Was that his intent today? Because that seemed to be the view on the Hill of what he was trying to do with these meetings today.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure you that when he has conversations, they're quite candid, they're direct. And he's had a long relationship, a good relationship with Senator Sinema, as he has had with Senator Manchin, who he has been meeting with. I'm not sure if the meeting has ended yet, but I'm going to keep those private.
And we're obviously in a very sensitive time right now in these discussions, a pivotal time in these discussions. And I understand the interest, but I'm going to try not to say anything that gets me fired today. I enjoy speaking with you all so much every day. (Laughter.)
Q And just one more — and I'm not trying to be clever here.
MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead.
Q Speaker Pelosi wrote a letter to — a "Dear Colleague" letter today. It says, "As I write this…negotiations are being led by President Biden to advance his" agenda. Is there — because it's an inflection point, are the roles changing in terms of who's leading things right now; what the role between the Speaker, the Leader, and the President are? Am I reading too much into that? How do you view the President's role right now?
MS. PSAKI: I would say the President is deeply engaged. I know we've read out some of the calls and meetings he's had. We haven't read all of them out in terms of the engagements and calls he's had. He's talked with a range of members across this political spectrum and the Democratic Party, I can assure you.
And — but I would say the way he sees it is that he's working together in lockstep with Speaker Pelosi, with Leader Schumer to get this done. They are all clear-headed — I know I said this yesterday, but it's worth repeating — about the challenge of what we're pressing to achieve this week.
As you all know, he spoke with them last night. He will continue to remain closely engaged with them. And so, he's working, I would say, in lockstep, in partnership with the Speaker and the Leader.
Q So, I'm going to try one more along those lines.
MS. PSAKI: Go to it.
Q And then — and then I have another reconciliation question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q Is there — is there a sense in which the President's posture in these discussions with Manchin, Sinema, and the rest has changed over the course of the last week? In other words, is he listening? Does he go into these meetings to listen, to hear what they're saying? Is he going into these meetings to tell them what he wants from them?
And has that dynamic changed, in the sense of him being more forceful about what he wants to achieve in these negotiations and discussions? Because we're coming up against that deadline this week.
MS. PSAKI: Again —
Q Wasn't that a better way to try to do that than Phil? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: That was good. That was good, Mike. You led — you led me down a rabbit hole there.
Look, I think these are a discussion — these meetings. The President, as you all know, was in the Senate for 36 years. He didn't want any President to tell him what to do; he's not going to tell anyone what to do.
He is going to have a discussion, have an engagement. Those can be direct. Those can be candid. Those can be straightforward.
And as I noted earlier on, this is clearly a pivotal moment. This is clearly a sensitive time. And there was agreement, which is a good sign, that we need to press forward and work to get these packages across the finish line. That's a good thing.
But I'm going to keep the tone and tenor and flow of how many — who had more words in the meetings private at this point in time.
Q Okay. One more. One more question on the reconciliation package. You guys have made — a lot of the administration officials have made a lot about the idea that the cost of the program is zero. And by that, I expect you mean net zero into the Treasury once you sort of take into account the money that's raised versus the money that's spent, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, it doesn't — I know none of us are mathematicians, otherwise we wouldn't be here. But yes, of the investments that were proposed, including tax cuts and the payfors, including making the tax system more fair — zero.
Q Okay. But do you guys acknowledge the sort of broader truth that it's not — that it does cost somebody? Right? That the cost of the investments that the President wants to make don't simply — they're not simply a free lunch, right? — whether they're going to cost people who smoke cigarettes or they're going to cost business people or they're going to cost companies or they're going to cost rich people. Like, the cost of what the President wants to do over the course of the next decade and beyond falls on somebody, right?
MS. PSAKI: But there's a clear difference between what we're talking about as it relates to taxpayer funds — right? — or funding that — or lead to our debt — right? — which I know a lot of Republicans are supposedly concerned about — and asking businesses — 50 of the top companies last year in 2020 paid not a dollar in taxes. A lot of high-income net — net high — or high-income individuals pay lower tax rates than nurses and teachers. Nobody thinks that's fair. Yes, they — we're asking them to pay more. Yes.
MS. PSAKI: So it will cost them more.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just a question on the debt limit. I wanted to see if you guys are raising the possibility of going — using reconciliation to raise the debt limit, particularly as this October 8th deadline — or, excuse me, October 18th date is fast approaching.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, so we obviously wanted to do this in a bipartisan fashion, as we've talked about quite a bit in here. It's a shared responsibility. It's been done 80 times in a bipartisan manner in the past. And now, Leader Schumer wants Democrats to be able to do it alone if Republicans refuse to help.
So, that's really what is being pursued at this point in time. In terms of the mechanisms of that, I'd certainly point you to Leader Schumer's office. It's also our hope that if Senator McConnell isn't going to help us avoid a default and a shutdown, at least he'll get out of the way and let Democrats do it alone so we can avoid a default. And right now, that question remains up in the air
Q Is one other option to get rid of the filibuster to do this? I mean, without a filibuster, it would be much easier for Democrats to do that.
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand the question and the interest. But the President's position has not changed on that.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a question about the not raising taxes on people who make over $400,000 — make under $400,000. Would a carbon tax violate that rule, or would there be some way — with a rebate, something like that — to make it okay with your criteria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, so on the carbon tax — first, let me just say that there are a lot of ideas being debated. The President has asked members to submit their own proposals, including on critical issues like how to address the crisis of climate change. So I just throw that out there because there's a lot of revenue raisers and a lot of options that are out there.
Obviously, the President put forward his own plan for addressing climate change that doesn't involve a corporate carbon fee. But as you can see from the corporate polluter fee embraced in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, polluter fees and corporations do not conflict with the $400,000 pledge.
So, in our view, that that would be one way. But again, there's a range of revenue raisers and options on the table. The President didn't propose this one. They're looking at a range of options. And obviously, we're at a pivotal moment, as we've said.
Go ahead, Jackie.
Q Thanks, Jen. On reconciliation, one more: Has the President given a topline number to members of Congress that he would accept that's less than $3.5 trillion?
MS. PSAKI: The President always knew it would be a compromise. That's why he's been engaging with and listening to a range of members on their points of view. Some have expressed publicly that they're not comfortable with 3.5, even though zero — costs zero dollars.
But I'm not going to speak on their behalf of what they're advocating or negotiating with each other. The President is just looking to unite the party to get across the finish line.
Q It sounds like he has given a number then.
MS. PSAKI: No, I wouldn't say that. I would say he is hearing from a range of members on what they're comfortable with. That's part of the discussions right now.
Q Okay. And then, President Obama said, on ABC, about the border —
MS. PSAKI: President Obama or President Biden?
Q President Obama.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q On ABC. He said, "Immigration is tough…" — this was an interview that aired on "Good Morning America."
MS. PSAKI: Got it. Yes.
Q "Immigration is tough. It has always been because, on one hand, I think we're naturally a people that wants to help others. At the same time, we're a nation-state. We have borders. The idea that we can just have open borders is something that…as a practical matter, is unsustainable."
Does President Biden agree with President Obama that open borders is "unsustainable"?
MS. PSAKI: We don't have open borders. So, yes, he agrees.
Q Okay. And then, did the White House have any discussions with ABC or President Obama about the content of that interview?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I'm aware of. Obviously, the current President, the former President are friends, and they engage on a regular basis. But I'm not aware of any conversations about it.
Q And then I wanted to ask about Secretary Mayorkas yesterday. He said that the administration is continuing to message to the diaspora community that migrants should not take the journey, but he also said in the same sentence that the now 13,000 who've been released into the U.S. is an appropriate figure and a function of our operational capacity.
How should migrants hear both of those messages at the same time and not think that they should come and expect the same treatment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, by the same treatment, these indi- — the 13,000 or 12,000 individuals we're talking about here are put into immigration proceedings, right? When they're put into immigration proceedings, it does not mean they get to stay in the United States.
There are some exceptions, as the Secretary spoke about when he was here on Friday, to Title 42, which we're still continuing to administer. That includes if you are, you know — if individuals have immediate health concerns, if they are expressing fear. You know, and these are considered and they are — as a part of our immigration proceedings and our immigration process.
But when they go into immigration proceedings, they are given a notice to appear, many are — have ankle bracelets, their biometric data is taken, and they are expected to appear back in immigration court.
So it is not accurate to suggest or for anyone who is contemplating coming to the border to think that they're going to come to the border and be allowed to stay long term in the United States. There's an immigration process, immigration proceedings. Of course, people get their day in court, but they are arbi- — or, they are — they go through that process.
Q But these cases are taking two and a half years on average. I mean, to people living in conditions that they're trying to flee, that is long term.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we are still applying Title 42. We are still sending people away at the border. And again, individuals who come who do meet any of those criteria go through an immigration process, immigration proceedings.
But, you know, some of those conditions are being in ICE detention facilities. Some of those conditions are being secured with ankle bracelets or give — again, giving their biometric data.
It's not an easy process or an easy system, and absolutely nothing is guaranteed. It has to go through our own immigration process. But again, our system is broken, needs to be fixed. That's what we'd love to work with Republicans on.
Q And is the administration doing anything to prepare for this second group that we're now expecting on the southern border within the next month or so? There have been reports that the numbers could be between 15- and 20,000 more migrants.
MS. PSAKI: We're continuing to apply Title 42 at the border. We are continuing to convey through a range of means, communicating directly with people through paid media and otherwise, this is not the time to come.
I would note that while there are a number of people who are in the immigration proceedings process, there are also thousands of people who went back across the border when they realized they could not stay here and could not stay in the camp and would not be able to stay in the United States.
So there are some deterrence mechanisms that have been put in place. Obviously, our Department of Homeland Security continues to prepare in any scenario as we look to migrants coming to approach the border.
Go ahead, Lynn.
Q Aptly, Obama gave that interview in connection with his being in Chicago today for the ceremonial groundbreaking of his presidential center, which goes back to your origin story that lands you here.
My question is about President Biden in Chicago tomorrow.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Sure.
Q I need some details that you haven't given out: what you want to do for the business vaccination event that you want to do. A source says to me you're also going to suburban Chicago. I need some more information on that.
And since you have so many options on where to go around the nation to promote your policies, why, in specifics, did you pick Chicago? And you know I don't want a general answer.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, Lynn. Always a pleasure to see you. (Laughter.) Lynn, so we will get you absolutely all the details on the business in intricate detail. And everyone here who wants that detail, we will give it to them as well.
He is going to Chicago because he wants to lift up and communicate not to just people of Chicago, but the people of the country about the effectiveness of vaccine mandates — how they can work for businesses, how they can make workplaces safer, and how they can be constructive to our economy.
This is a place where we've identified some options to do exactly that, so that's why he's headed to Chicago tomorrow.
Q But that doesn't tell me why he picked Chicago. There are other places that could maybe do that.
And then what about this — whatever he's going to do in this suburban stop a source tells me about?
MS. PSAKI: I promise you we will get you details. It will not be generic. We will get you details after the briefing. Even as we speak, check your email. We'll see if we can get you details while we're talking here.
Go ahead, Sabrina.
Q Thank you. Does the White House support Speaker Pelosi's decision to hold a vote on infrastructure without also doing reconciliation in tandem?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me be clear: The President is committed to getting both pieces of legislation passed and across the finish line, as is Speaker Pelosi, as is Leader Schumer. We are working in lockstep to get both of those pieces of legislation done. One is absolutely not being dropped. Anyone who thinks that, that's not true or accurate.
We certainly trust the Speaker. We trust Leader Schumer. And we're obviously — the President is playing his role on getting these pieces across the finish line.
Q What is President Biden's message to House progressives who are threatening to vote the infrastructure bill down on Thursday? And is he planning to speak directly with progressives this week?
MS. PSAKI: As I just noted, he's spoken with a range of Democrats from different parts of the party; he has and he'll continue to.
I'd also note that our team, senior members of the White House team have had even more conversations than the President — to be expected. In September, we had over — the White House senior staff or members of the legislative team had over 260 engagements on Build Back Better with members and their senior teams; over 50 with departments or — so they could provide specific policy expertise.
That's the level of detail and granularity we've been focused on over the past few mon- — month or so.
Q One question on a separate matter. The Journal published an investigation today revealing that more than 131 federal judges traded stock of companies that appeared in cases in their courtrooms. This comes after two Federal Reserve presidents resigned earlier this week over stockholding controversies. What is President Biden's position on federal judges, Federal Reserve officials, members of Congress, and other officials in the administration owning and trading shares of companies that could appear before them in official capacity?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, every scenario is different, but I will say that the President expects that everyone serving as a public servant should be held to the highest standards –ethical standards.
Obviously, we respect the independence of the Federal Reserve. They've made their own announcements there. Beyond that, that's certainly his expectation.
Q Does he support legislation to bar stock trading and stockholding by members of Congress?
MS. PSAKI: I'd have to look at — we'd have to look at specific legislation to see what it looks like.
Q Jen — Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, go ahead.
Q Jen, can you confirm that President Biden will be meeting with Pope Francis October 29th at the Vatican?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have anything about the trip to confirm at this point in time.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Two questions, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q First I —
MS. PSAKI: I — lots of people have different sources. I have nothing yet on the trip. As soon as we have it, I promise we'll share it with all of you.
Q Thank you so much. How important is getting the reconciliation package to the President's credibility as he goes into Glasgow? And if he doesn't get the deal made, will the U.S. be able to get other countries to believe our commitments and make serious ones of their own?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, Secretary — former Secretary Kerry, members of our climate team, members of our national security team have been working around the clock to secure commitments as we lead up to Glasgow.
I think the President's record and his commitment on climate is evident to the global community. He rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. He took steps himself, through his own executive authorities, to put in place climate-friendly actions, including as it relates to the auto industry. He's been an advocate and the author of — or I shouldn't — well, the author of the ideas — the bold ideas in the Build Back Better agenda.
So I can't speak to how other countries will assess, but I can convey that his record is clear. Addressing the climate crisis is top and front and center of his agenda. He conveys that to world leaders. And that's certainly something that Sec- — former Secretary Kerry — our climate envoy — and others are conveying in their conversations leading up to Glasgow.
Q And just one more question. Has President Biden been too passive in dealing with Congress on some key matters? You know, today, we saw Senator Warren turning against Powell. Some Democrats are criticizing him over not being involved enough in the debt ceiling and the infrastructure talks. Has the President thought about staying far enough ahead of these issues to keep them from blowing up among Democrats?
MS. PSAKI: I'm not sure that's a criticism, in terms of him not being engaged enough, that's actually coming from members. But you can tell me if you have members who have said that.
Q But Debbie Dingell said it yesterday on MSNBC.
MS. PSAKI: That he's not engaged in the — in getting the Build Back Better agenda passed?
Q She said that she wanted — she wanted him to take a more aggressive stance.
MS. PSAKI: In what way did she say it? I didn't see her comments.
Q I don't have the transcript in front of me.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Look, I would say, as I just conveyed: The President — or senior members of his White House team had over 260 — 50 engage- — 260, sorry, engagements on Build Back Better. We've done 50 briefings with different departments on policy components.
The President proposed the entirety of this agenda. These are based on his bold and ambitious ideas. And he has had a range of — hosted a range of meetings here, gone across the country and communicated about his agenda.
So I would say that he knows pretty well how to get legislation passed and through. Sometimes that means private conversations. Sometimes it means private meetings. Sometimes it means public speeches. And, obviously, the proof will be in the pudding if we get the legislation passed.
Q Hi, Jen. Just two questions about immigration. First, the state of Florida, as you're probably aware, announced a lawsuit today that it's filing. Governor DeSantis also issued an executive order in which he tells Florida agencies that they shouldn't be, quote, "aiding or abetting" the federal government when it comes to what they're saying is a violation of U.S. immigration policy. Does the White House have a response to that lawsuit?
MS. PSAKI: I haven't seen details of the lawsuit. It's about immigration, it sounds like.
Q It has to do with — they're saying that bor- — the rules at the border aren't being enforced, that the
MS. PSAKI: I haven't seen details of the lawsuit. What I will say is that any Republican or any member who wants to have a constructive conversation about solutions to addressing what we all agree is not a long-term, sustainable, operational, or moral approach to immigration, we're happy to have that conversation.
Q And then on a related point, Secretary Blinken met with the Dominican Foreign Minister today. Obviously, D.R. officials have been talking about their concerns about the international community needing to play a more active role in stabilizing Haiti. Does Secretary Blinken agree that there needs to be more international cooperation?
MS. PSAKI: I think the State Department is going to have the best readout of that meeting and more details than I would.
Simon, go ahead.
Q Thank you. I have a couple of questions on Ethiopia —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and then Zambia and Afghanistan.
On Ethiopia: It's been 11 days since the President authorized sanctions to be used against those undermining peace in Ethiopia, and nothing seems to have changed until now. Does the President have a deadline? Does he expect anything to happen for the sanctions to go into effect?
MS. PSAKI: So, for people who are not following this as closely — because we haven't talked about this a lot in here: So, on September 17th, President Biden signed an executive order establishing a new sanctions regime to help push for a resolution of the ongoing crisis in northern Ethiopia.
We're continuing to urge from our diplomats and, certainly, members of our team on the ground or nearby to — urging the parties to end ongoing hostilities, take steps to initiate discussions to achieve a negotiated ceasefire, and grant unimpeded humanitarian access.
The United Nations Secretary-General, African Union leaders, and a growing number of international actors have made clear there is no military solution. Unless the parties to the conflict make clear the cha- — make clear changes, the administration is prepared to take aggressive action under this executive order to impose targeted sanctions.
So, the sanctions authority — the executive order gives sanctions authority. This would be — imposing targeted sanctions would be the next step here. It gives us the authority to do exactly that.
I would also note that we are continuing to provide substantial humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, totaling over $1 billion this year alone, and we'll continue to support the people of Ethiopia with assistance throughout the country. And certainly, there — this issue deserves continued attention.
Q And last week, the White House was — hosted, for the first time, two African presidents — the President of Ghana — President Akufo-Addo — and the President of Zambia. Was anything achieved during those — you know, those meetings? And why were they not received by the President himself since he received the Prime Minister of India, Japan, and Australia?
MS. PSAKI: Why were they not received in the same way?
Q Why were they not received by the President himself? They were received by the Vice President.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. Look, first of all, I would say that, you know, the President is, you know, absolutely committed to our relationships with Africa and are — and calling out issues where we have concern, but also looking for places we can work together.
Having the Vice President of the United States have these high-level meetings shows the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to these relationships and to having open and constructive dialogues. And hopefully, the leaders who were here will take it as exactly that.
Q Jen —
MS. PSAKI: I just have to jump.
MS. PSAKI: I guess I — I'm sorry, I just got to jump around because I got to get more people.
Karen, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. According to the Labor Department, the childcare industry is down more than 125,000 workers nationwide, which is more than a 10 percent drop since before the pandemic. When the President is having these conversations with lawmakers right now about the reconciliation bill, how much of a priority is it for him to ensure that funding for childcare workers is included in that final bill?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, it was a part of his initial proposal, so that tells you that it's a priority. And certainly, he recognizes the role that childcare workers, many of whom also have challenges that are preventing them from — them from being in the workhorse — workforce. Maybe it's their own childcare needs, maybe it's elder care that they are affording and paying for.
And there are a range of impacts that all of these components have on the reduction of childcare workers, I would say. Also, a fear of COVID and fear of not being safe in workplaces.
So, I'm not going to prioritize from here as the bill — as discussions are ongoing, but certainly it was a priority to the President, given it was his initial proposal. And there are many advocates on Capitol Hill and in the American public for this as well.
Q In terms of impact, as you just said — just since June, there's been more than 10,000 childcare workers who've left the industry, and many are taking jobs that have higher, increasing wages. How quickly could the Build Back Better agenda have an impact? How quickly could funding potentially reverse this trend we're seeing?
MS. PSAKI: That's — it's a great question, Karen. I can check with our Labor Department and see if there's more specifics on projections. I would say that this is a 10-year plan. It's meant to address challenges over the long term; certainly something that would be implemented as soon as it's passed into law.
But in terms of the projections of the immediacy of the impact, I'd have to check with our economists in the Labor Department.
George, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. It's hard to find a good precedent for this morning's hearings. Given the importance of civilian control of the military, are you at all uncomfortable with the generals testifying so openly and candidly about their advice to the President or disagreements with the President?
MS. PSAKI: We aren't. And we feel this is a part of democracy. The President values the candid advice of the Secretary, of the Joint Chiefs, and of his military advisors, as well as members of his national security team. It doesn't mean he agrees always with every component and every element of his — of advice, but he welcomes the candor, he welcomes the debate. And that's the kind of President that he will continue to be.
Q Yeah, I wanted to follow up actually on this question. Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller, a Marine officer who questioned the withdrawal and questioned, essentially, the Commander-in-Chief, has been put in jail. Does President Biden believe that that is appropriate, given that President Biden called Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman "a hero" for speaking out against his Commander-in-Chief? He even testified on Capitol Hill while in uniform.
So, how is this different, especially since you just said the President welcomes the candor and the advice of his military advisors? Does the President also see Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller as a hero?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have all the details on these circumstances. I understand that's going to be frustrating to you, but we will work to get you an answer on it.
Q One more? One more?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Okay. I just wanted to follow up on a question from Friday. Could you comment on the report over the weekend that the U.S. government had planned to kidnap Julian Assange? How concerned is the White House about these reports? Is it going to going to investigate them?
And Edward Snowden tweeted about this, saying, "Maybe after…[the] story that the government literally plotted to murder Assange, this White House will finally stop stonewalling the press pool over the dubious charges against [Assange]—the… biggest" — "single biggest press freedom case in the United States." Can you respond?
MS. PSAKI: I would say I would point you to the Department of Justice about espionage charges, and I would point you to the CIA about the other report you asked about.
Q And with respect to press freedom?
MS. PSAKI: I think I spoke to that on Friday.
Q Thank you, Jen. The President has not shied away from the historical implications of leaving Afghanistan. He's noted that it was "time to end a 20-year war." He has said that he is not going to "pass this war on to a fifth President."
So, given that he understands the gravity and he has framed it in the historical context — I know that you said you're not going to detail private conversations, but can you give us a little bit more of an explanation as to why not? Don't the — you know, doesn't the American public — given the historical gravity of that decision, don't they deserve to know who was advising the President and who was on the other side of that argument about leaving troops in Afghanistan?
MS. PSAKI: I would say, first, that what the American public can know and understand is that the President will welcome and take and ask for and push for a range of opinions on every national security decision that he makes.
And we're not going to detail those private discussions, private decisions that happen in the Situation Room for the public.
What the President has also been very candid and clear about and will continue to be — and you outlined much of this — is why he made the decision that he made. And even as it relates to the recommendation on 2,500, it's also important for the American public to understand that was not going to be a sustainable number over the long term. And what the decision he was making was about was not sending their daughters, their sons, their grandchildren back to fight a war that the Afghans would not fight themselves. And it was about a phase, not a long-term recommendation.
Q And then two quick follow-ups. Yesterday, I asked you about the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — which sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support. Can you tell us where the President stands on that legislation?
And then, another follow-up. You mentioned the monitoring devices, such as ankle bracelets and biometrics, that some of these folks are being outfitted with as they await their court date. Is there a percentage that you can tell us about how many folks have, you know, been issued that biometric?
MS. PSAKI: That's part of the process.
Q But can you tell us how many have already been issued that, or is that happening later?
MS. PSAKI: Biometric that's required as it relates to putting people back into the immigration proceedings?
MS. PSAKI: The Department of Homeland Security can give you the rundown, but that's part of the standard process.
Q Okay. Gotcha. And then the Uyghur —
MS. PSAKI: Sure. So, we, of course — the President has, of course, expressed concern, as you know, in the past about the treatment of Uyghurs; has, of course, raised that, as it has been raised directly with the Chinese. As it relates to the legislation, we don't have a position at this point in time on this particular piece of legislation.
It does include — but I will note that we have implemented concrete measures to promote accountability for individuals and entities implicated in human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang. This includes steps we've taken on our own, I should say: visa restrictions, Global Magnitsky and financial sanctions, export controls, import restrictions, the release of a business advisory, and committed to taking action to ensure all global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor at the G7.
I know it's passed the Senate, but I don't think it has moved in the House at this point in time — the status.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, thanks, everyone. All right, have a great day. I'll see you tomorrow — or later this afternoon. Whenever.
2:58 P.M. EDT
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