Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 27, 2021

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:48 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Okay. So even as we are facing an inflection point, clearly, this week, I wanted to take the opportunity just to remind everyone, specifically in the public, of what we’re talking about in these packages and why the President is fighting so hard to get his agenda forward.

So, included in these packages that the President is fighting to move forward on with leadership, we are working to lower the excruciatingly high cost of prescription drugs, which, by the way, over 80 percent of the American public supports.

We’re also working to make historic investments in crumbling roads and bridges, which over 80 percent of Americans support.

We’re working to pass historic tax cuts for middle-class families. Fifty million Americans would get their taxes cut — four million small businesses.

We’re working to stop our children from drinking poisoned drinking water and get every American access to high-speed Internet — people in cities, in rural communities who haven’t had access over the past several years — which over 75 percent and 66 percent of Americans endorse, respectively.

We’re working to cut the skyrocketing cost of chils- — childcare, something that is preventing millions of women — or hundreds of thousands of women at least, perhaps, from going back into the workforce.

And we’re working to take on the devastating impacts of climate change that we’re already seeing do terrible damage to our economy and national security.

So, even as we’re having important debates about timelines and reconciliation processes and parliamentary processes, I just wanted to take a moment and remind everybody what this is all about.

But, Zeke, go ahead.

Q Thanks, Jen. You didn’t mention the — the end of the — it’s end of the fiscal year, the expiration of government funding, and —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q — as well as the debit limit. Is the President making calls to Republicans? Are White House aides reaching out to Republicans to encourage them to back that CR?

MS. PSAKI: We are certainly engaged with a broad range of members and their offices about moving every component forward.

And I — it was not an intentional oversight; I was trying to add the components of the reconciliation package and the infrastructure bill, which sometimes gets shorthanded. But I’m happy to talk about raising the debt ceiling as well or preventing government shutdown, if useful.

Q Just on a different topic. Was the White House involved in brokering the prisoner swap between China and Canada on Friday?

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t — are you —

Q Well — yeah. And then, also, I — you know, does this sort of deal incentivize China to sort of unjustly seize foreign nationals as, sort of, international, geopolitical leverage?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we’d not referred to it in those terms. We’d refer to it as, one, an action by the Department of Justice, which is an independent Department of Justice. This is a law enforcement matter, as it relates to specifically the Huawei official who was released. So, this is a legal matter.

I would note that the President and every member of our administration, national security officials who have contact — have had contacts with Chinese officials over the past nine months have made clear that they want to see the release of the two Michaels, and, of course, any American who is not able to leave China.

Q So the Huaw- — so was the White House involved in the freeing of the two Michaels?

MS. PSAKI: We make the case consistently at every level — and we have for some time now, including in the President’s call with President Xi — about the importance of these two individuals returning back to their home.

Q And the action here of deferring the charges linked to the release of the two Canadians, doesn’t that create sort of an incentive structure that would give China more reason to do this sort of thing again?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to note, and to be very clear about this: There is no link. It is not — it is a — we have an independent Justice Department. We can’t determine how the Chinese or others manage their business over there; it’s a little bit different. But we have an independent Justice Department that made independent decisions — law enforcement decisions.

At the same time, we have made no secret about our push to have the two Michaels released. That’s certainly positive news and good news.

Q And just on a different topic briefly. On the boosters — the President got his booster minutes ago: Are White House staffers getting boosters as well? Is the White House proper considered one of those high-risk settings, like healthcare and grocery stores and the like?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the CDC, as you all know, just released this information — or these recommendations, this guidance on Friday, and so there hasn’t been a determination made.

But I will note, since you gave me the opportunity, it’s pretty clear — this is one of the reasons the President conveyed this as well — exactly what this means: People who are 65 years and older, they can look at their vaccine cards — if it’s been more than six months and they had the Pfizer shot, they should go get another shot.

Long-term care residents and staff; people who are 18 years and older who have underlying medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes, obesity — there are others; and those who work and live in high-risk settings, including healthcare workers, teachers, grocery store workers who had the Pfizer shot — just look at your vaccine card — if it’s been more than six months, you should go get a shot.

Q And who’s going to make that determination about the White House complex? Is that a CDC decision? Is that a White House Medical office — a Medical Unit decision?

MS. PSAKI: We follow CDC guidelines. But, given the guidelines just came out on Friday, we’re still making a determination about how it would be applied.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you. Just to piggyback on Zeke for a minute about Huawei: I just wanted to ask how you would respond to allegations from congressional Republicans that the deferred prosecution agreement for the Huawei CFO amounts to capitulation and appeasement, and calls into question Biden’s ability to deal with the threat from China — that hostage-taking works with the United States, et cetera.

MS. PSAKI: It may feel foreign to them that the Department of Justice is independent, but it is independent under this administration. And this is a legal matter. It was an announcement made by the Department of Justice, and it’s inappropriate for me to weigh in on that further.

What I would note, though — because I think there was a lot wrapped up in their criticism there — is that our policy has not changed — our policy toward China. We’re not seeking conflict. We — it is a relationship of competition. And we’re going to continue to hold the PRC to account for its unfair economic practices, its coercive actions around the world, and its human rights abuses.

And we will continue to do that in partnership with our allies around the world.

We will also continue to engage with the PRC to keep channels of communication open to responsibly manage the competition and discuss potential areas of interest where those align.

So, there is absolutely zero impact. No one should read it as an impact on our substantive policy. This is a legal matter and a legal decision.

Q Just to quickly follow up: Did President Biden discuss Huawei on his recent call with President Xi?

MS. PSAKI: He raised the indiv- — the two individuals — the two Michaels, who have been released. Very positive news.

It should not come as a surprise that President Xi raised the Huawei official. But again, there was no negatiation [negotiation] on this call. This — these two leaders raised the cases of these individuals, but there was no negotiation about it. It was President Biden raising and pressing again for the release of these two Michaels, as is something that happens in every engagement we do with the Chinese — or had, up to this point in time.

Go ahead.

Q Jen, you opened by talking about how popular the President’s agenda is, as reflected in these bills — prescription drugs and childcare and climate change. If the President’s agenda is so popular with the American people, why can’t he find the votes to get it through Congress? And why hasn’t he rallied public support, really, to get this done?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, if public support is right around 80 percent for most of the initiatives, then public support has been rallied. As it —

Q But (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as it relates to the politics of Washington, which — sometimes the ZIP Code we’re all living in here operates disconnected from where the American public is; I think we can all evaluate that or have seen that happen over time.

I noted that because it’s important for people to understand: This is what the American people want. Roads, rails, bridges — they are not Republican or Democratic. They are — they are initiatives. They are improvements the American people want.

People want improvements to childcare. They want their costs cut. They want the tax system more fair. So, our ZIP Code here is sometimes a little out of whack with what the public wants. That’s why I noted those pieces.

I would also say, though, that what we’re trying to do is hard. The President knows that. Nothing is guaranteed. And we are working — as you just heard him say, he’s an optimist by nature, but he’s going to work this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow to do everything he can to engage with Democrats, with people with a range of positions to get this agenda forward — moved forward.

Q The Democrats are obviously in control of the government. So, it’s not the ZIP Code; it’s the party, and he’s the leader of the party.

What can’t he —

MS. PSAKI: Well, you ask — you asked me, first, about the popularity of these initiatives and why there weren’t more votes, broadly — which is a good question, but that’s what I was answering to you.

Look, I would again say that what we know is that, among Democrats, there is broad agreement about the need to cut costs for childcare, the need to invest in roads and rails and bridges, make us more competitive, make our tax system more fair, address the climate crisis. There are disagreements around what the size of this package looks like. We understand that. That’s what the discussion is, in part, about.

Again, he’s not naïve about how challenging this is. He’s been through a few of these rodeos before. And so, what we’re focused on right now is working in lockstep with leadership to move the agenda forward and get it over the finish line.

Q And just one question on the President’s booster and this — this display you have here. Is it partly a concern that, after all the back-and-forth on the advice and guidance from the government, people are confused about the booster and maybe even — now even more doubtful about it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say the reason we did this chart is because sometimes it’s self-perpetuating. If everybody here is saying it’s confusing, then people are going to think it’s confusing.

And so, what I’m trying to do is alleviate the confusion — right? — and explain: These are exactly the categories. Anyone who’s had a Pfizer shot six months ago, go get another shot. If you took Moderna and — or J&J — they’re still considering that data. Don’t get the shot yet. Not approved yet.

So, we want to do everything we can to alleviate any confusion, answer questions people have.

The President went and got his shot — his booster shot on camera to make clear: It’s safe, it’s effective, it’s something you should do if you’re in one of these categories.

Go ahead.

Q Has Senator Manchin or Senator Sinema made clear to the President what their specific demands are for this reconciliation package?

MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question, Kaitlan, but I’m not going to speak on their behalf about what they — where they stand at this point in time.

Q Have they told the President, though, what their price tag is in the —

MS. PSAKI: I will let them speak for what their — what their points of view are. There have been ongoing discussions. We’ve been in close contact with them, as well as a range of members, about the path forward.

Q Without saying what they are, you can’t just say if they’ve actually told the President, “Here is where we will — what we want”?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll let them speak for what conversations they’ve had privately. We’re not going to provide more detail from here.

Q Okay. And what is your understanding on what happens to the CDC and the FDA’s work on the pandemic if the government loses funding this week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say that it is never a good thing for the government to shut down, and that is why we are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening. Because a great deal of public health, if not all of it — most of the public health work would be exempted from a government shutdown, but it — that doesn’t change the fact that having services shut down, staffing cut in different agencies is not in the interests of addressing any crisis we face, including the pandemic.

Q So, will they continue to work at 100 percent when it comes to the pandemic response, or what is the preparation for that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course — as I — as I noted and confirmed last week, we had begun making contingency plans — as every government does, as every Office of Management and Budget does — to plan.

But, again, public health officials, for the most part, would be exempt.

But government shutdowns also are hugely costly. They would include the cutting of staff at a range of agencies; that’s not a positive thing, obviously.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. President Biden mentioned that this evening he’d be meeting with Democrats, as I’m sure he’ll be doing all week.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q Is there anything you can share about —

(Cell phones rings.) It’s not me this time.

MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. (Laughter.)

Q Anything you can share about —

MS. PSAKI: No one even remembered that until you brought it up. There you go. (Laughter.)

Q — about who he’s meeting with, whether those meetings will be in person or on the phone?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. I understand your interest. Let me just tell you that, one, we all ate our Wheaties this morning. I expect that’s going to be the breakfast all week. And things are constantly changing every day and certainly even every hour.

And we are evaluating if the President has some space in his schedule to make calls, to bring people down here. We’re not that far from the Hill.

So, we will keep you abreast as these details are finalized, but we’re working through that now. And I expect that will be the case for the coming days.

Q And then, publicly, progressives — like Congresswoman Jayapal, Senator Sanders — have said they are open to hearing what somebody wants to cut from the reconciliation package when asked about a figure lower than 3.5. Does the White House agree that something has to go, or can all of the proposals remain but at a smaller scale?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think this is exactly part of the discussion that’s being had between members of all — all part- — not — not of all parties, I should say — but many members in the Democratic Party right now. And there are a range of options, but I’m just not going to outline those or detail those from here.

Q And then just one more on the maccine [sic] — vaccine mandate.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q The President said he’s going to Chicago on Wednesday —

MS. PSAKI: Yep.

Q — to encourage more businesses. But the last I checked, the OSHA rule was still in the rulemaking process.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q Do you have any update on when that will be done so businesses can implement it, and when you think that will happen?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of businesses that have already implemented it, even before — already implemented, I should say, their own requirements, even before the OSHA rulemaking had happened, so — and some of those businesses are in Chicago. That — and United is an example, obviously. They implemented a vaccine mandate several weeks ago, and they now have — had a huge increase in the number of employees who’ve been vaccinated.

So, what the President is going to continue to do is lift up private sector companies and businesses that have already put in place mandates, even as the rulemaking process is ongoing.

Q So, there’s no update on a timeline?

MS. PSAKI: It’s up — I would add — I would point you to OSHA. We knew it would take a little bit of time, given there are some very understandable and good questions by the business community. And we want to ensure — they want to ensure there’s clarity when they put out the rules.

But businesses can employ it. It’s become more popular. It’s been very successful in the vast, vast majority of businesses that have implemented mandates.

Q Thanks, Jen.

Go ahead.

Q What leverage do you believe the President has — in political or in terms of specific pieces of the legislation, what leverage does the President have with Democrats?

MS. PSAKI: In terms of getting his — the agenda forward?

Well, I would say, one, it’s a hugely popular package. Each item in itself — that’s why I went through some of the specifics here — has broad support among the American public. But I would also say that if you talk to most Democrats who are in Congress, most certainly most Democrats in the country, there’s not disagreement about the fundamentals of what we’re trying to achieve. And there is agreement that we need to address the climate crisis; that we need to cut costs for childcare, for college; that we need to make it easier for women to rejoin the workforce; we need to rebuild and modernize our infrastructure. So, there’s not — there’s agreement on that.

There’s a basic discussion that needs to happen, or is ongoing — we’re right in the weeds of it now — on what the size of the package looks like.

But I will also note — and we’ve done this a little bit over the past couple days — but that this package — the reconciliation package would cost zero dollars.

So, what I’m saying — what I — what we are — the case we’re making here is that there needs to be agreement on the different components. There’s broad agreement on the goals. And then there needs to be agreement on what the revenue payfors are. There’s a range of options of revenue payfors. Clearly, the President has laid out the different areas that he would like to invest in, and all of that needs to come together. That’s where — and we’re in the weeds on now.

Q Is it a political problem for the President that he’s having difficulty bringing together his own party?

MS. PSAKI: I — first of all, the — we’re in the process now. The President, again, doesn’t underestimate how challenging getting all of these pieces of legislation forward is. We’re in the middle of it right now.

And there is broad agreement about the different components of his agenda. So, what he’s working to do now is unify the party around the path forward. That’s — that’s what we’re in the middle of. I don’t think — it’s a little too early to evaluate how it’s going to end.

Q He said it could go into next week. That’s your expectation?

MS. PSAKI: We’ll see.

Go ahead. I’ll come back to you, Jen.

Q Jen, there’s some reporting today that the White House and Democrats are considering or at least looking at means testing for some of the items in the reconciliation bill. Is that something that you would consider?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it depends on how you define what that exactly is, right? There are — there are inquom [sic] — income requirements for a range of different components of the President’s agenda. Right?

Q Well, for, say, a community college, for example. That was billed as something that would be available to all Americans.

MS. PSAKI: Right, but I — and I’m not going to negotiate all the specifics from here. I’m just going to give you just a broad un- — broad case understanding of how we’ve already approached things to date.

It depends on how you’re describing exactly what that is. Right? We don’t give the Child Tax Credit — every family is not eligible for the Child Tax Credit in the country. Every person is not eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. There are income requirements for a variety of components.

So, there are some who have proposed that. Obviously, the President — there are components, as you can see from his past agenda, where he has — there has been income tops on some components of his agenda, but beyond that there are ongoing discussions right now.

Q But you’re ruling out that could be added to some items that, as proposed, did not have income.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think you should look at the President’s past proposals and what he has supported in the past — where there has been prioritization in the past, in some areas, for components of his agenda that made it not elig- — made it have an income cap so that we could expand the scope of who could — who could get it, without it being to the highest income.

Q And just one more. As he sat down with Prime Minister Modi last week, the President said that the Indian press is “better behaved” than the U.S. press, and then he advised him not to take questions. Can you explain why the American President was criticizing U.S. reporters in that setting?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note, first, that he took questions on Friday and he took questions again today.

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