Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 9, 2021

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:50 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top.

First, we welcome the unanimous adoption today in the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate for a critical humanitarian aid lifeline to Syria. This agreement, which will directly impact the lives of millions of Syrians, was the result of hard work among the members of the Council and intensive diplomacy following a detailed discussion at the Geneva summit between President Biden and President Putin.

Today’s resolution, which renews the cross-border agreement that would have expired on July 10th, will provide further lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people of northwest Syria and is part of a broader humanitarian initiative led by the United Nations.

The two leaders, today, on their call — there was a readout that just went out that should be in your inboxes, you may have seen — commended the work of their respective teams following the summit and welcomed the unanimous vote in the Council.

There was a readout, I should note, that just went out, of a call that President Biden did with President Putin this morning. I’m sure we’ll talk more about that. But just to note for all of your inboxes.

Also, today, the President will sign an executive order that will direct a historic whole-of-government effort to promote competition in the American economy. This effort has three goals: lower prices for consumers, higher wages for workers, and more innovation and economic growth.

Lack of competition drives up prices for consumers. Barriers to competition also drive down wages for workers. When there are only a few employers in town, workers have less opportunity to bargain for a higher wage and to demand dignity and respect.

In total, higher prices and lower wages caused by lack of competition are now estimated to cost the median American household $5,000 per year, so we want to work to address that.

Competition is the engine of our economy. And this is just the beginning. We’ll be back, in the weeks ahead, to update you on the progress we’re making on this executive order and the concrete benefits we are delivering to the American people.

I also wanted to provide a quick update for you on our work in Haiti. The United States remains engaged and in close consultations with our Haitian and international partners to support the Haitian people in the aftermath of the assassination of the president.

In response to the Haitian government’s request for security and investigative assistance, we will be sending senior FBI and DHS officials to Port-au-Prince as soon as possible to assess the situation and how we may be able to assist.

I also wanted to note that in January of 2021, we announced a $75.5 million for a wide range of issues, including democratic governance, health, education, agricultural development, and strengthening of pre-election activities. Strengthening Haiti’s law enforcement capacity is a key U.S. priority — was before the assassination a few days ago, continues to be.

And the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs provides assistance directly to the Haitian National Police.

We are also providing $5 million to strengthen the Haitian National Police capacity to work with communities to resist gangs.

I also wanted to remind you all that, earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security re-designated Temporary Protected Status for Haiti for 18 months — something the Secretary announced in May and something we are working to implement.

And finally, Haiti is one of the countries that is — will be receiving vaccines from the United States. We will be prepared to deliver those, hopefully as early as next week. Part of that is assessing what the airport — what can happen with the airport and how we will be able to deliver these.

Sorry, one other — two other updates. One other update and the week ahead.

On global vaccines, today we are sending 3 million doses to Indonesia, 1.5 million doses to Nepal, 500,000 doses to Moldova, and 500,000 doses to Bhutan. With these shipments, in this week alone, we have sent nearly 15 million doses to countries including Guatemala, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.

On Indonesia, I also wanted to add that, in addition to the vaccines, we are also sending — we are also moving forward on plans to increase assistance for Indonesia’s broader COVID-19 response efforts. We recognize the difficult situation Indonesia currently finds itself in with a surge of COVID cases, and our thoughts are with all those in Indonesia who are affected.

Finally, let me get to the week ahead.

On Monday, the President will meet with local leaders — including law enforcement, elected officials, and a community violence intervention advocate — to discuss his administration’s comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crimes and other violent crimes. And that’s here at the White House.

On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks in Philadelphia — the birthplace of democracy — on his administration’s actions to protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote and the need to overcome anti-voter laws. He will make the moral case to the American people on why the right to vote is fundamental to who we are as a nation.

On Thursday, the President will deliver remarks to mark the day that tens of millions of families will get their first monthly tax relief payments thanks to the American Rescue Plan. The expanded Child Tax Credit provides working families $250 each month for every child 6 to 17 years old, and $300 each month for every child under 6 years old.

Also Thursday, the President will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House for an official working visit. Her visit will affirm the deep and enduring bilateral ties between the United States and Germany. This forward-looking visit will address our robust partnership on shared global challenges and identify areas to further strengthen cooperation in the months and years ahead.

And on Friday, the President will participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders Retreat — remotely, obviously — on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday afternoon, the President will travel to Camp David, where he will remain over the weekend.

Alex. That was a lot of information, hopefully. Go ahead.

Q It was. And we have new information about a call with President Putin. Can you tell us more about what prompted this? Was it decided in response to these recent randomware — ransomware attacks? What exactly did President Biden say? He reiterated that the United States will take any necessary action to defend its people. What threats, if any, did he make?

And then, I wanted to know — the top of readout suggests that it was partly, sort of, a pleasant call. The leaders commended their joint work. So can you explain why President Biden was at all pleasant in this call when it seems that there are all of these ransomware attacks coming from Russia that may have been government-approved?

MS. PSAKI: First, let me say that the President is a believer in face-to-face diplomacy when possible and leader-to-leader diplomacy when that’s not possible, and this is an example of that.

And this is the first time — even though ransomware attacks have been increasing over the past 18 months, if not longer — that there has been this level of engagement at this level. And certainly, the President knew, even when they met in Geneva, that there would be a need for ongoing discussions and engagements.

I would say the reason that they commended the work of their teams is: This is consistent with the President’s view that diplomacy includes working together where there is opportunity and agreement, and being clear and candid and forthright when there’s disagreement. And this call is an example of that.

So, because of their agreement and the discussion they had in Geneva, the U.N. Security Council is going to extend access for humanitarian corridors — providing assistance, humanitarian assistance to people in Syria. That’s something that is pivotal and that is going to save lives. That is something to be commended.

At the same time, the President made clear, as I think you could see in the readout, that — he underscored the need for President Putin to take action to disrupt these ransomware groups. While REvil, we know, operates in Russia and other countries around the world, and we don’t have additional or new information suggesting the Russian government directed these attacks, we also know and we also believe that they have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to take action.

And as you can see in the readout, the President also made clear that the United States will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure.

So, this was an example of leader-to-leader diplomacy — something the President feels is vital as he operates in the world.

Q And a quick note of clarification on the new CDC guidelines on schools —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q — because there seems to be a lot of confusion when these come out. Schools are now supposed to allow teachers and students that are vaccinated not to wear masks, but they’re not recommended to keep track of that. Is that recommendation enforceable? And if not, why even make the recommendation to begin with?

And then, going forward, as we’re seeing an increase in vaccinations — or increase in Delta — the Delta variant in some of these under-vaccinated clusters, is there a situation in which the administration would suggest returning to virtual learning at all?

MS. PSAKI: First, the CDC laid out ways, several months ago, that all schools can safely return to in-person learning. That applies to schools in areas where there are high levels of vaccination and areas where there are lower levels of vaccination.

And thanks to the American Rescue Plan — $122 billion in funding — schools can implement these mitigation measures that they may not have been able to prior.

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