Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 12, 2021

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:31 P.M. EST

MS. PSAKI: Today, we have two very special guests joining us who were just meeting with the President and Vice President, hence we delayed the briefing a few times today — I apologize for that — about the vital need to pass the American Rescue Plan.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was first elected in 2013 and reelected in 2017. He spent his career solving some of the most complex issues facing Detroiters, including crime, blight, and access to jobs.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was elected in 2017 after serving as Miami Commissioner for fi- — eight years, sorry; I cut off your amount of time served. He is a former chair of the U.S. Conference — you’re over here — of Mayors’ Environment Committee and vice chair of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization.

With that, I’m going to turn it over to you. Oh, I think I’m going turn it over to you, Mayor Suarez, sorry. And they are — they’ve been kind enough to take a few questions. And as usual, I will be the bad cop when they need to go.

Go ahead.

MAYOR SUAREZ: Don’t worry, every single one of those years were dog years. (Laughter.) It was a wonderfully productive meeting in the Oval Office. First of all, it was an honor to be invited with this select group of mayors and governors. It was an incredibly spirited conversation. I felt that it was a very bipartisan conversation. I think the President is very interested in having a bipartisan solution, obviously understanding the needs of the residents of America and certainly the needs of the residents of the city of Miami.

We are — and we expressed to the President and I expressed to the President our readiness to increase the ability to vaccinate our population. We would love to have those vaccinations given directly to us as a city.

We also talked about funding, of course. The city of Miami, during the first CARES Act, just barely missed the 500,000 population threshold. And so instead of the city getting approximately $80 million, which we would have received and is, sort of, correspondent to our population, we ended up getting $15 million. So we tried to put that money to good use to the most needy in our community — feeding people; helping them with mortgage assistance, with rental assistance, small-business loans and grants. And obviously the people of our city and of America are still hurting. I mean, we need this assistance to get through until the vaccine has gained wide acceptance.

So that’s what the conversation was based on. The President was extremely thoughtful; listened to every single one of the elected officials — both governors and mayors from both parties; listened to our comments and concerns. We had a reflective conversation back and forth, and I think he’s going to use our input to make the bill better and to hopefully get it passed for the benefit of the American people.

Thank you.

MAYOR DUGGAN: Good afternoon. I’m Mike Duggan. I’m the mayor of Detroit. And it was a special experience to sit in the Oval Office with four Republican governors and mayors, four Democratic governors and mayors, talking and sometimes debating with the President and the Vice President. Everybody just focused on how to solve the problem. And I really hope this is the way conversations are going to go.

But the biggest thing that we focused on is the need to pass America’s Rescue Plan. And probably, for a lot of folks in this country, the images of Detroit you remember were the ones that were portrayed nationally during the bankruptcy. But if you haven’t been to Detroit in the last seven years, there has been enormous progress. We had billions of dollars in investment from General Motors, from Ford, from Fiat Chrysler, which is now Stellantis. Huge numbers of jobs in the fintech industry, with Quicken. And the tech companies have finally discovered Detroit. We’ve been pleased to see Amazon and LinkedIn and Google move into the city.

And across the city, entrepreneurs have pulled down the plywood off of shuttered storefronts, and largely black and brown business owners have started to open up our commercial corridors.

And we did all this on a bipartisan basis. In Lansing, we’ve had Republicans and Democrats working together to support Detroit’s comeback because Detroit being an economic engine for the state is good for everybody.

And so, we know that we haven’t gotten to everybody; we’re not kidding ourselves. But here’s what I do know: The unemployment rate in Detroit, at the start of bankruptcy, was 21 percent, and a year ago, it was down to 7 percent. We had moved 80,000 people from poverty to the middle class — the largest reduction in poverty.

It was going the right direction; we certainly had a long way to go to make sure it included everybody. And then when COVID hit, we’re back up to 20 percent unemployment. And the question is: What do we do about it?

And so when we got hit in Michigan — and Michigan came right after New York last year, being hammered with COVID — we went from having no COVID to our hospitals overrun with patients on gurneys and in hallways. We were losing 50 people a day. But we did not, in Detroit, curl up. We fought back.

We quickly set up one of the largest testing centers in the country. We masked up, distanced ourselves. And for the last six months, the city of Detroit has had a lower infection rate than the rest of Michigan and the surrounding suburbs. Detroiters did what we were supposed to do. And if you go to the city now, you will see people masked up, distancing. The folks in Detroit did what we were supposed to do.

And now that the vaccines are out, we have a major center at our convention center where we’re vaccinating 15,000 a week in an indoor parking structure of the convention center. And we’re very anxious, as I told the President today, to get up to 25,000 a week, because that’s going to be the key.

But when we solve the health issues, there will still be other issues facing us. And this is where America’s Rescue Plan makes such a difference. The people who were working in Detroit a year ago — a lot of them, right now, are unemployed because businesses are shut down. They’re sheltering in their houses. And they are worried that, as the landlord-tenant courts open up, they may be facing eviction and have no place else to go. They’re looking for help.

Those businesses that opened up their storefronts with such optimism are now very afraid, if they don’t get help, that plywood is going back up and we’re going to have boarded commercial districts, as we did seven or eight years ago. And in the city of Detroit, we had an immediate $350 million hit to our budget. A thousand Detroit employees are still on partial layoff. And the problem is going to get worse in the summer.

So we have a national problem that needs national response. And the most interesting thing was: If I thought it was unique, what Mayor Suarez and I heard is every governor and every mayor is talking about exactly the same situation; that it took us seven years to get from 20 percent unemployment to 7 percent. Now we’re back at 20. Are we going to get our folks back to work in a matter of months, or is it going to take years?

And I think the one message we all had — and we loved the President’s leadership on this — is: We aren’t — we don’t kid ourselves about the atmosphere in Washington. We know it’s partisan. But we’re really hoping that for the next couple months, on this national issue, that they can set partisanship aside. And the President made it clear he really wants bipartisan support for America’s Rescue Plan. And I can tell you that all of us who were in that room were strongly supportive.

And with that, I guess we’ll turn it over to you for questions.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Go ahead, Zeke.

Q Mayor, I was hoping you could answer — the criticism we’ve heard from Republicans of late has been that states and cities have received several rounds of funding so far that they haven’t spent, so why do they need billions more from the taxpayers now. So what would be your response to that?

MAYOR SUAREZ: Well, my response, as a Republican mayor, is — first of all, for cities like Miami, we actually didn’t get a lot of the money from the first CARES Act. As I said, since we were under 500,000 — by the way, almost all cities were under 500,000. I think there’s only 30-something cities that got direct payments. Many of them had very, very bad experiences in terms of receiving the full allotment that they should have received based on their population. It was a big fight down in Miami. So our residents got a fraction of the help that they needed.

In terms of the budgetary issues going forward, we just don’t know. It’s uncertain as to what our budget is going to look like in this year. A lot of the things that affect local governments are lagging indicators, so we won’t know for sure. But certainly, we’re going to put the money to good use, and I think we’ve demonstrated that with the — with the funding that we did receive under the first CARES Act.

If I can just say a few things in Spanish. Is that okay?

MS. PSAKI: Of course. Please.

MAYOR SUAREZ: Yeah. (Speaks in Spanish.) (No translation provided.)

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

Q Could you talk to us about the variants in Florida, and specifically in Miami? Miami has been so open, but we’ve seen more and more cases of the variants. Is there — what’s the plan to prevent a surge with the variants popping up?

MAYOR SUAREZ: Well, you know, I’ve been a big proponent of masks in public rule in the city, and there is a pretty broad acceptance of that rule, whether it’s been able to be mandated or not. We have seen a decline — a significant decline, both in case — in cases, in percent positivity, and also in hospitalizations. Our hospitalizations during the summer were at a peak high of 2,300; they’re slightly under 1,000 at this particular juncture.

So we’re hopeful that — that those measures that we’ve taken, and sort of how we’ve inculcated the population to — you know, we’ve hammered home, you know, distancing, wearing masks, washing your hands. And those things will continue to drive the numbers down.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

Q Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go — did you want to say one more? Go ahead.

MAYOR DUGGAN: So, in — in Detroit, we have seen the first two cases of the B117, the British variant, and we’ve been just very honest with our residents. The evidence is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are effective against it, and we’ve used it to encourage folks. We have a very low infection rate in Detroit right now, so we’re taking it seriously. Now, when the other variants get there, it’s going to be a different issue, but I think it has actually encouraged an increase in vaccine rate.

Q Do you feel like you have enough visibility into exactly how many vaccines you’re getting each week, each month, at this point?

MAYOR DUGGAN: I have visibility into it. I don’t like the visibility I have. (Laughter.) But, you know, you have — you have a racial equity issue in this country. And if you just look at the way hospital distribution has worked: Even hospitals in urban areas, the folks who have access — the electronic health records — have been predominantly upscale individuals. And so, in Detroit, literally, we took the convention structure, and we are just moving thousands of folks through.

Jeff Zients was good enough to get us from 5,000 a week to 15,000 a week. I had to appeal directly to him to get to that. We really ought to be at 25,000 a week, and I raised that with the President today. And I think they are doing everything they possibly can. I know they shared numbers with us; by April, that will look good. We’re certainly hoping before the end of February it picks up. But I — with what Jeff Zients is doing, I just have complete confidence in this administration.

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