Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, October 18, 2021

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Okay, I have a update for all of you on some of the President’s outreach and engagement as it relates to Build Back Better and his legislative agenda.

He spent the weekend continuing his deep engagement on behalf of his economic growth agenda for the middle class, speaking with members who represent the full spectrum of views of Hill Democrats about the pathway forward on both his human infrastructure and physical infrastructure plans.

He spoke, as I think some of you reported, this morning with Representative Jayapal at the White House, and will have a number of additional conversations by phone with members of both chambers and — who also run the gamut in terms of their views — as we proceed through the course of the afternoon.

Tomorrow, he will host two different meetings with House members here at the White House: one with moderates and one with progressive members.

We’re encouraged at the accele- — by the accelerated pace of talks and are eager to get this done to meet the urgent needs of families who have been contending with high costs, outdated physical infrastructure, the increasingly devastating threat of climate change, and a tax system that gives special treatment to the rich and corporations at the expense of middle-class families no matter how hard they work.

As you also saw, we also announced this morning that, on Wednesday, the President will travel to Scranton, Pennsylvania — going back home, some might say — to continue to rally support for his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda.

There continues to be strong, broad agreement in Congress and among Americans of all stripes — political stripes — about the values at the core of the President’s agenda: ensuring our economy works for the middle class, not just those at the top.

Alex, why don’t you kick us off.

Q Two foreign and one on nominations. To start, can you update us on the status of the U.S. and Canadian missionaries that were kidnapped in Haiti over the weekend? What’s been the U.S. involvement in tracking them down? Has the President been briefed on this? And is there any update on, sort of, their status?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. The President has been briefed and is receiving regular updates on what the State Department and the FBI are doing to bring these individuals home safely.

The FBI is part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, we’re not going to go into too much detail on that, but can confirm their engagement.

And the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince is coordinating with local authorities and providing assistance to the families to resolve the situation.

We can’t get into too many — too many details, I should say, about the individuals and their identities because of Privacy Act waiver considerations.

Q And then, can you comment on reports that China tested at nuclear-capable hypersonic missile over the summer to the surprise of U.S. officials? Are these accurate? And do these raise concerns about China’s nuclear capabilities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know General — Secretary Austin, I should say, was asked this question this morning and addressed it, but I’m not going to comment on the specific report.

I can say and would echo what he said, which is, generally speaking, we’ve made clear our concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. And we have been consistent in our approach with China: We welcome stiff competition, but we not — we do not want that competition to veer into conflict. And that is certainly what we convey privately as well.

Q And then, on nominees, the Biden administration, at this point, has a smaller percentage of nominees confirmed than his recent predecessors. What do you make of this? Who is to blame? I mean, is this the fault of the Senate or is this in part because you have been focused on the COVID response and the Build Back Better Agenda? And is there a concern that this will affect government at this point?

MS. PSAKI: We are concerned about the obstruction of our nominees. And while we have made progress over the course of the last several months — back to the transition, even, of putting forward qualified nominees to serve in key and vital positions across government — there has been — there have been unprecedented delays, obstruction, holds on qualified individuals from Republicans in the Senate.

What is also true, if you look historically — and we can get you some numbers on this after the briefing to give you — to give this to you in more data specifics — is that many of our nominees — a huge number of our nominees pass with overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans. They can be voted through by unanimous consent; you don’t need to use all of the hours on the floor to get it done.

Yet, there has been, time after time, obstruction that has prevented qualified nominees from being in vital positions, whether it’s in the national security roles; in the Defense Department; the State Department, where we’ve seen ambassadors held for weeks and months, at times; or even our economic nominees, who are unquestionably qualified but have been unable to move forward and serve in these positions.

So, I would say the blame is clear. It is frustrating. It is something that we wish would move forward more quickly. And there is historical precedent, of course, of moving these forward through a more — a faster process.

Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Jen. I just want to see if you can elaborate a little bit on something you just said: that you’re encouraged by the accelerated pace of talks on infrastructure. What changed? Is there something that’s different now?

MS. PSAKI: The President is certainly feeling an urgency to move things forward, to get things done. I think you’ve seen that urgency echoed by members on the Hill who agree that time is not unending here. And we are eager to move forward with a unified path to deliver for the American people.

Q Does the sense of urgency have anything to do with the President’s trip coming up in just a matter of eight working days? Does he feel the need to get this wrapped before he leaves?

MS. PSAKI: The good news is that there are phones and video conference capabilities overseas for every President and individuals, so I’m not here to set new deadlines or timelines.

But it is also true that we have been at this for some time. The President proposed these plans back in the spring. We have been — he has participated in dozens and dozens of calls, of meetings, of engagements with members to hear their viewpoints, to understand where they’re coming from, to reach consensus.

And we are at a point where we feel an urgency to move things forward, and the pickup of meetings is a reflection of that.

Q Just quickly, on voting rights, I just wanted to get your reaction to the president of the NAACP, who’s on the record saying that the administration’s lack of urgency on this issue is, quote, “appalling.” He says that “the lack of priority on this issue… will be the undoing of the legacy for this President.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the lack of urgency in Congress, in the Senate among Republicans in protecting people’s fundamental right to vote is also frustrating to the President and to this administration.

The United States Senate needs to act to protect the sacred right to vote, which is under unrelenting assault — no question. We agree with leaders from the NAACP and other — other activists who have expressed that concern. It’s under unprecedented assault by proponents of the Big Lie and Republican legislatures — state legislatures across the country. It is urgent.

Senate Democrats have been working hard to draft legislation that, I would note, includes traditionally bipartisan provisions: protecting people’s fundamental right, making it easier and more accessible to vote.

I’d also note the President will be engaging with — in a couple of calls, in addition to these Build Back Better calls — with members, which we’ll provide a readout to all of you on this afternoon who — about the voting rights legislation that will be put forward.

But I would say that, right now, the question for us — and I bet you we share this view with a number of civil rights leaders — is for Senate Republicans and what kind of leaders they want to be. Are they going to play a role in making it easier and more accessible to vote? Are they going to protect this fundamental right? Or are they going to continue to be obstreperous — to use a word the President has used in the past — and put Democrats in a position where there’s no alternative but to find another path forward?

So, it’s really up to them. These are bipartisan proposals that have had bipartisan support. We’re talking about people’s fundamental rights.

Go ahead.

Q Does the President feel the need to mediate the current war of words between Senators Manchin and Sanders we’ve seen play out?

MS. PSAKI: To mediate the war of words? I would say the President has been in touch with both senators — not to mediate words, but to better understand the path forward and what is — what are priorities to each of them. And he will continue to play that role.

Q And then, two quick ones on policy. You know, Senator Manchin has been pretty clear about his position or opposition to a clean energy standard for a while now, publicly. Presumably, that’s given your team time to try and figure out workarounds to that. Does the President still believe he can meet his emissions goals if a Clean Energy Standard or CEPP is not in his final proposal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, President Biden has been clear about what he supports. A hundred percent clean power by 2035 is a goal he committed to over a year ago, as you all know — it’s why, I think, you’re asking about it — and he remains committed to it.

The good news is there are a range of good ideas and proposals out there from members of Congress about how this legislation can help meet that goal. And there’s no question in our minds there’s important debating right now happening about what the components of the climate proposals will be in these packages; that this — these packages will have a historic impact in addressing our climate crisis.

I’d also note —

Q (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI: Can I say one more thing?

Q Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I’d also note that the President also has not waited for legislation. He has led the shift toward electric vehicles — there are components in these packages that also will help move that forward; phased-out super pollutants like HFCs to greatly reduce emissions; made across-government investments in clean energy, like offshore wind and solar; made historic commitments to use every lever at his disposal to advance environmental justice and spur economic opportunity.

So, it is absolutely pivotal that these pieces of legislation have climate components — and they will — to address the climate crisis. But he has also not waited for that; he’s also taken actions of his own accord.

Q And then, one more. The — one of the critical payfors in the package is tax enforcement. And I know you’ve discussed this a couple times in the last couple weeks. But given the scale of the ramp-up we’ve seen from the banking industry and opposition to the proposal you’ve laid out, what’s the sense from the White House in terms of the pushback against that or if they’re concerned about the future of that proposal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it should not be lost on anyone that the latest opposition to these proposals and the biggest ad spending against them is from biggest banks who simply do not want to be bothered by additional reporting on inflows and outflows. That should not be lost.

We can certainly get you the numbers, or it’s publicly available out there, on how much money is being spent and how vocal this opposition is. I would note that the top 1 percent is responsible for $163 billion a year in owed but unpaid taxes.

So, this proposal we’re talking about is about preventing high-income individuals who are not typical wage earners, meaning they don’t get paid through standard payroll — W-2s.

The vast, vast majority — I think it’s something like 97 percent — of wage earners are paying the taxes they owe. We’re not talking about that here. We’re talking about the highest-income individuals — 1 percent — who are responsible for $163 billion a year in owed but unpaid taxes.

There are discussions — active discussions, I would note — with Senator Wyden and others in Congress about how to ensure this is absolutely targeted at those who evade tax obligations, including on the cap and potential exemptions.

But let’s be clear what this is about: It’s about big banks deciding to protect wealthiest Americans that get away with not paying the taxes they owe by fighting this commonsense solution, and we want to be clear about that.

Go ahead.

Q Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Moderna and the, kind of, (inaudible) that there — that exists on production levels. What is the Biden administration doing to sort of lean on this company? And I — you know, Kessler has talked about using the tools that are available. Are you going to use the Defense Production Act? And how soon could that happen, and how quickly could that get production going?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new actions to preview for you, but what I can — and I think what you were alluding to, but for others who didn’t see, Dr. Kensler [sic] did — Kessler did not mince words in his expression of what Moderna should be doing here, which is sharing their know-how with other parts of the world in order to increase capacity and production — something that we definitely support.

So, the process of technology transfers, as you know, involves teaching other — another company how to make a vaccine that takes specialized scientists and transferring intellectual property. We absolutely want that to happen, but my understanding is also that the U.S. government does not have the ability to compel Moderna to take certain actions. But it is something we support, we want to happen, and Dr. Kessler has been quite vocal about it as well.

Q Is the President going to get involved in this discussion in any way in terms of maybe reaching out to the CEO? You said conversations with other CEOs, of course.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview on that front. I think there had been some questions, which is why I said — I mentioned that we don’t have the legal ability to compel. That doesn’t change regardless of who’s having the conversation, but certainly we have not — we have been pretty crystal clear about what we’d like to see happen here.

Q And let me just follow up on that. The Defense Production Act does give you certain tools. Have you ruled out using it in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not here to announce, preview, or rule out anything, but just to convey that our position continues to be that we would like to see them share their know-how to address this global pandemic.

Q Can I just ask on the nominations question?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q You mentioned the economic nominees too.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q To what extent does it hurt you that you don’t have key Treasury nominees in place to help you as you’re addressing these questions that we’re discussing now in terms of the economic impact of the measures that are in the legislation?

MS. PSAKI: You mean in implementing measures when — once they’re passed into law?

Q Right. I mean, you know, you don’t have the assistant secretary for legisla- — you know, legislative affairs. You don’t —

MS. PSAKI: Right.

Q You know, there are certain people for — you know, for policy. You know, the sort of key policymakers at Treasury who would be advising Secretary Yellen are not in place. I mean, you know, is that — does it hurt you in your effort to move forward?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Andrea, I think there’s no question, first, that there are career employees in every agency, including the Department of Treasury, who have vast experience and play vital roles at this moment in time.

It is also true that the preference of any President is to have the individuals they’ve nominated — qualified individuals who have unquestionable credentials — serving in these roles. That is the preference. That does make things easier, and that is what we would like to see moving forward.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. There is a mask requirement inside D.C. restaurants, yet President Biden and the First Lady were not wearing masks while walking around a D.C. restaurant on Saturday. Why?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what you’re referring to is a photo of them walking out of a restaurant after they had eaten, masks in hand, where they had not yet put them back on yet.

So, I would say: Of course, there are moments when we all don’t put masks back on as quickly as we should, but I don’t think we should lose — miss — lose the forest through the trees here in that our objective here is to get more people vaccinated; make sure that schools and companies around the country can put in place requirements to save more lives and keep people safer; and, you know, not overly focus on moments in time that don’t reflect overarching policy.

Q It was not just exiting the restaurant, though. He was walking through the restaurant with no mask on. There is a carveout for people under two or people who are actively eating or drinking. So I’m just curious why the President was doing this.

MS. PSAKI: I think I just addressed it, Peter.

Q Okay. Why did the President break his promise not to enter into any decisions about what cases the Justice Department should bring and not bring?

MS. PSAKI: How did he break his promise?

Q Well, he was asked if the DOJ should prosecute people who defied January 6th committee subpoenas, and he did not say, “I will let the Justice Department decide.” He said, “Yes.”

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me reiterate — and I put out a statement also on Friday night to this — on this, where I conveyed clearly that, one, the President continues to believe that January 6th was one of the darkest days in our democracy. He also continues to believe that the Department of Justice has the purview and the independence to make decisions about prosecutions. And that is — continues to be his view, and that it continues to be how he is — he will govern.

Q You say that that is his view, but that is not what he said.

MS. PSAKI: I just conveyed what his view is, and that is also how he has operated, how he has governed, and how he will continue to govern. And I think that’s what’s important for people to watch.

Q So then what’s changed since last year when he said, “I will not do what this President” — former President Trump — “does and use the Justice Department as my vehicle to insist that something happened”?

MS. PSAKI: Well, since you give me the opportunity here, President — former President Trump used his office to incite an insurrection. He put political pressure on senior DOJ officials to propagate lies about the election to the point where they threatened to resign en masse. I think there’s hardly a comparison there.

Q But the — he said — President Biden said, “The Justice Department in my administration will be totally independent of me.” And he said he would not enter into any decision about what cases the agency would bring and not bring. How is that not exactly —

MS. PSAKI: And he — and he has not —

Q — what he’s doing?

MS. PSAKI: — and he will not. And criminal prosecutions —

Q Somebody asked him about prosecutions and he said —

MS. PSAKI: — are their sole purview.

Q — he wants it to happen.

MS. PSAKI: Criminal prosecutions are the sole purview of the Department of Justice. That is the President’s position. That is what he’ll — he nominated the Attorney General to operate under. That is exactly what the Attorney General is doing. And those are the actions that people can watch from this administration.

Q As the public reflects on the life of Colin Powell and his public service, people are also now aware that he had a breakthrough case of COVID in addition to cancer and had some vulnerabilities. Because he was fully vaccinated and got COVID that took his life, any concerns about how that will be interpreted publicly? Or how does that affect the message from the White House about the importance of vaccinations?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as people saw in the statement issued by the President — a very personal statement about his personal relationship — this is obviously a heartbreaking tragedy for the country and one the President is feeling personally.

There are extremely rare cases of deaths or hospitalizations among fully vaccinated individuals. That has been the case even before the death of Colin Powell, especially among people — older people over a certain age and people who have underlying health issues or people who are battling other diseases. That has been the case.

It is also the case — and this is important for people to know and understand — that there — who are concerned — that an unvaccinated person has a more than 10 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to a fully vaccinated person. So there’s no question that vaccination, that taking precautions can save lives. It is — and it is still true. And this raised that — certainly the death of Colin Powell — that underlying health issues, fighting other diseases is something that can lead to greater risk.

Q And the administration, on issue of the Texas abortion law, is seeking a redress from the U.S. Supreme Court. Can you speak to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve spoken to a few times, including in statements from the President, he continues to believe that Roe v. Wade is — should be — is the law of the land. He supports efforts to codify Roe v. Wade, and he is going to fight efforts — obviously, the Department of Justice will be in the lead on that — against efforts to prevent women from having access to fundamental rights that they should have to protect their own health and make decisions about their own health.

Go ahead, Weijia.

Q Thank you, Jen. Just a couple of follow-ups and then —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q — a couple of questions on Haiti. Is there anything you can share about the President’s last interaction with General Powell, whether they spoke on the phone, in person?

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. That’s a good question, Weijia. Let me — I — I didn’t — I should have asked that question; I haven’t. So let me see if I can get some more color for all of you on that.

Q Thank you. And then, to follow up on what Peter was asking: Just to be clear, does the President believe people who defy subpoenas should be criminally prosecuted or not?

MS. PSAKI: It’s up to the purview of the Department of Justice to make that decision.

Q Okay. When he was asked that very question on Friday, he said yes. Did he — does he stand by that answer?

MS. PSAKI: He believes it’s an independent decision that should be made by the Department of Justice, and they’ll make that decision.

Q Okay. And then, on Haiti, is the President considering sending in the U.S. military to help rescue the Americans who were kidnapped?

MS. PSAKI: I would really point you at the Department of Defense to speak to that and to my colleague over there, John Kirby.

But again, where our efforts right now are focused are with officials on the ground, including from the FBI, working closely with our diplomatic team and the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, who’s coordinating with local authorities, providing assistance to the families, and also working to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety.

But I don’t have any additional details at this point.

Q And then just —

MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.

Q — given the kidnappings, will the administration reconsider using Title 42 specifically to deport Haitians, given that it illustrates how dangerous the situation is there?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s a couple of things to unpack here that are very important for people to understand.

One, Title 42 is used — as you know, but just for everybody — across the board, no matter what country you’re coming from. There are about 90,000 people who — where Title 42 was applied in August. The vast, vast, vast overwhelming majority of those people were not from Haiti. But we apply Title 42, because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, across the board.

I would say that, in this case, one thing to note is that we know that the efforts to kidnap people, to seek ransom are prominent in places like Haiti — not the only place — but they are targeted toward U.S. citizens, people who are presumed to have the funding and ability to pay those ransoms.

That’s one of the reasons why we put out — the State Department put out a warning in August. It’s something we have seen rise since 2019. But that is a different issue than sending people of Haitian origin back to Haiti and something that’s evaluated at TPS — it’s not what you asked about — but something that’s evaluated by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.

Q Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

Q Thanks. I wanted to ask about another marker that Senator Manchin has kind of put out, which is that he wants to cap the Child Tax Credit to families making under $60,000 a year and add a work requirement.

I know that you’ve said previously that the White House is okay with some means testing of these programs and you don’t want to negotiate from the podium. That being said, this represents what would be a pretty dramatic scaling back of what’s been a signature part of the President’s legislative accomplishments so far and something that he and the Vice President have touted pretty publicly.

So, to echo Phil’s question on climate in some way: Is this within the realm of possibility? How do you guys react to Senator Manchin kind of throwing down this marker?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to react directly to Senator Manchin’s point of view because that’s not particularly advantageous at this point in the negotiations.

But I will say the President proposed an extension in the Child Tax Credit because he feels that it is something that can not only help families make ends meet, it can help bring more women back into the workforce, and it is a vital part of his proposed packages.

He has also, in the past, supported and continues to be open to supporting what can be called “means testing” or can be called “caps on income.” And there are ranges of — a range being discussed, but I’m not going to speak to it further than that.

Q OPEC failed to meet its output targets for September. You have sort of spoken about, with some amount of pride, that the White House was able to get those enhanced production levels, and now we’re seeing that they’re not hitting them. I know that you’re not a member of OPEC, but we also know —

MS. PSAKI: Not me personally and not the United States. Neither one.

Q Either. (Laughter.) Unless you have vast oil reserves that we’re not aware of. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: No. That would be a very interesting part of my bio. (Laughter.) I’m not.

Q But the U.S. obviously can exert —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q — sort of major influence here. So, with having missed this mark, are you trying to do more? Can you do more?

MS. PSAKI: We are continuing to press, through member countries — member countries of OPEC, even as we are not a member — to address the supply issue and work to address it here as well.

I would also note that what we’re also working to address is more of a logistics issue of how we are moving supply around the country, which means there are shortages in some places and not others, and that’s something that we are also working to address.

We are certainly well aware of the impact on any increase in gasoline prices or any costs on the American people, and we’re going to use — continue to use every lever at our disposal.

It is not a short-term option, of course, but I’d also remind everyone that we — that our NEC director sent a letter to the FTC about looking into price gouging, something that we will continue to press — or they’ve said they would take up and they will — they will, of course, be the lead on that, but that’s something we also watch closely.

Q And just a last quick one: Can you kind of flesh out the thinking behind the President’s travel schedule? I mean, not to dismiss the great state of Connecticut or even Scranton — a place that obviously holds some nostalgic value for the President — but you’ve been pretty clear that the sticking points at this point are West Virginia and Arizona. We saw it play out with Bernie Sanders that Joe Manchin doesn’t necessarily like people coming into West Virginia and telling them what they think that they should do.

But why doesn’t the President focus more of his attention on those states, particularly with his travels, as he tries to make the case for his agenda?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you’ve watched the President’s travel, what he’s trying to do — it is that we are in a national media environment, I would say; we do have a press pool made up of many of you, who come with us to Connecticut or Pennsylvania, who can raise and elevate the issues that the President is talking about and why they’re of importance to the American people, and raise questions, of course, as you want to raise them.

So, the President had planned, of course, to go to recognize the incredible service of his longtime friend, former Senator Chris Dodd, and the opening of a center at the University of Connecticut, and also felt it was an opportunity to elevate the issue of childcare and the issue of the shortage of childcare centers, the cost of childcare.

And that’s something — yes, it applies to people in Connecticut, where people are paying 25 percent of their income on childcare, a much higher percentage than people should be paying. But that is something that parents and communities can relate to across the country, whether or not it’s a swing state, or whether or not it’s a state where votes are questioned.

And Pennsylvania is certainly a state, as you know, close to the President’s heart, but one where he has the opportunity to elevate some components of his Build Back Better Agenda, of the infrastructure package, to explain to the public why these are important issues he’s fighting for.

So, it’s — I think it’s all through the prism of what’s most constructive, but we recognize people like what’s in there, they don’t know what’s in there, and he’s going to be out there doing more of it.

Go ahead.

Q Sort of a broad thematic question. You’ve spoken of the urgency the President feels toward his Build Back Better Agenda and voting rights. To people in the country who believe that the administration is not strongly enough pushing for immigration reform, what’s this White House’s message to those people who are now directing their criticism toward the President directly and saying he’s responsible for the fact that, nine months in, we haven’t seen action on these matters? And how does the President internalize that criticism? Does he feel it’s misdirected towards him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, look, the President knows that when you’re President of the United States and you’re sitting behind the — sitting in the Oval Office, behind the Resolute Desk or whatever desk you choose, that the buck stops with you.

He also knows, having served 36 years in the Senate, that you need partnership in Congress to get bills passed, and that’s the only way to make permanent change happen.

So, while he has taken action — executive actions — in a lot of these areas to put in place positive change — whether it’s voting rights, whether it’s doing more to have a more humane immigration system — in order to have fundamental change that is going to make people’s lives better, that is going to fix broken systems, you need Congress to act. That’s how our system is set up, historically.

We’ve seen on immigration, of course, two attempts to move things through the parliamentarian. The President’s support in legislation, support — has supported those efforts, and he’s going to continue to work with Congress to get that done.

And on voting rights — again, I’d reiterate what I said a few minutes ago: You know, the President is going to be engaged with Democrats and a range of members about the vote that’s happening this week. It is something he believes is a fundamental right. And his view is this question is really now on Republicans and what part — role they’re going to play in history. And that’s what he would tell people.

Q But I guess my question is: Does he feel that the criticism of him is unfair?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think he has the luxury of analyzing the fairness or unfairness of criticism.

Go ahead.

Q Thanks. I know that we mentioned climate earlier — talked about climate earlier. I was wondering, though, when it comes to the Clean Energy Performance Plan, if that is not in this — in the Build Back Better plan reconciliation bill — if that is not in there, how can the U.S. meet the climate goals that the President has set out?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to speculate what’s in or out as the negotiations are continuing. What I alluded to earlier is the fact that there are a range of climate ideas and proposals that are out there, both from what the President has proposed and also other ideas proposed by members of Congress — Democrats in Congress — about how to help address the climate crisis.

And there’s no question that whatever lands in the bill, it will be a historic — have a historic impact in addressing the climate crisis.

But I also touched on a number of the steps that he’s taken through his own executive actions and leadership to address the climate crisis. And we are — we remain confident about our ability to meet the goal.

Q And, I guess, so, this White House feels like — and I’m not — I understand you can’t say what’s in or out of the bill, but you feel like you can meet your climate goals without a clean energy plan for power. You feel like that is possible. And can you explain how that would be done?

MS. PSAKI: Again, there’s a range of proposals out there. As these proposals move forward, we’ll have — continue to have a discussion about this. But we are confident that this pa- — these packages will have an enormous impact on addressing the climate crisis.

There are a range of ideas out there that have a great deal of support in Congress to do exactly that, and there are also a range — but I’m not going to outline those from here while these negotiations are ongoing. But we remain confident in our ability to reach our goal.

Q Can I ask you just quickly, like when it comes to the idea of the means testing — you know, talking to a lot of experts on inequity and economic inequality, one of the concerns that they have with means testing is that you could lock in some of this inequality that the White House has said it is so concerned about, and that they feel like means testing really can lock out people who really need help and really not allow the changes that this White House has said are needed.

How does the White House respond to that when people say that means testing is not the way to deal with these type of economic inequalities and inequities?

MS. PSAKI: Well, means testing, I think, always has a bad connotation. And what we’re really talking about here is a cap on income. So, we’re talking about targeting and focusing the President’s proposals, in some areas, on people who need help the most, under a certain income, and not providing this aid, assistance — whatever it may be — to people who are in higher income brackets, who may not need that assistance.

So, it is actually about protecting, saving, ensuring that assistance and that tax cuts and that, you know, a little bit more breathing room is given to the people who need it and not the people who need it less.

Q But does that put more administrative burden on how these programs are implemented when you do means testing?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what you mean by that.

Q Administrative burden at — in that you have to prove —

MS. PSAKI: On whom?

Q People have to prove that they don’t make money or that they don’t make enough money, or they have to prove that they’re working, et cetera. So that puts a burden on those who people have to make those —

MS. PSAKI: But we’re talking about people filing taxes — and it’s based on what their income is typically. That’s something they would already do.

And they ben- — would benefit from a range of programs, as they already have since the President took office — whether it’s the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, other proposals that — we’re talking about targeting it at the people who need help the most — not additional proof, but targeting it at certain income levels.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. Just two quick questions. The first: You had alluded a minute ago to the press pool traveling with the President to Connecticut and, later this week, Scranton.

In a week and a half, he’s going to the Vatican. And I wonder if the White House can commit to that meeting with the Pope, which is a historic meeting, being public or that the press pool will have access to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that when we visit another country, often it is the conditions or the — of what that country or what that entity proposes. And we always work for more access. We always fight for more access as we travel around the world, as you know.

In terms of the specific press access for the Vatican, I don’t have any updates for you on that.

Q Okay. And secondly, there’s been a couple questions from my colleagues about Senator Manchin and markers that he has laid down, which he has done publicly.

Senator Sinema, who is also a crucial person in this dialogue, has done —

MS. PSAKI: All members are crucial, I think they’d argue.

Q Sure. She’s done a little bit less of that publicly.

There’s been some consternation as to what her wishes and demands are in this. Does the White House have a good understanding of that? And if so, is it sharing that with congressional Democrats?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of conversations happening behind the scenes. I’ll let these senators outline their proposals, what they support and don’t support, themselves.

Q But on the White House side, do you guys know what she’s wanting to be in or out of the bill?

MS. PSAKI: Again, we’ll let them all speak for themselves. I’m not going to confirm or give more details from here on their positions.

Q So, DHS announced that they’re bolstering their intelligence to better gather information to monitor and predict migrants coming from South America and Central America. Why is this happening now? And why wasn’t it in place already? It’s — you know, this is something —

MS. PSAKI: I’m not actually sure what you’re referring to. I’d have to dig into it further. Is it a specific program or —

Q Um, yeah — so, NBC News reported earlier today that, you know, they’re building an intelligence-gathering, sort of, cell, which DHS has confirmed to me as well that they are doing, and — you know, to help better monitor and predict migrants that are coming that could help DHS get resources to the border if they see migrants coming.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q You know, it could also help with messaging to combat whatever messaging that is happening in that country. I guess, what kind of spurred that? And what are the goals for that?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Department of Homeland Security would really have all the details on this. I’m happy to check with them or connect you with the right person over there for more details, but it’s really under their purview.

Q And one question —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q I guess, with this kind of bolstering of intelligence — especially, you know, in South America, where we saw many of the Haitian migrants coming from — I guess, how does this affect, you know, the White House, the Biden administration’s goal to address root causes, which has been mostly focused in Central America?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me take — let me get more details on this exact program, and we can talk more about it tomorrow or offline or what have you. And I can connect you to someone at DHS, too.

Q Okay. Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Karen.

Q Thanks, Jen. The President was asked Friday night by ABC if he supported term limits for the Supreme Court, and he said, “No.” He has said that before. He talked about that during the campaign season. But that appears to be the area in that draft report materials last week that has, you know, agreement — bipartisan agreement. Why is he ruling that out now before getting the final report in a couple weeks?

MS. PSAKI: As you know, he hasn’t reviewed the final report, which, again, is an assessment; it’s not recommendations. Obviously, you all have seen the draft out there, and there was a public — a public meeting on Friday to discuss.

So, I think it’s more a reflection that his position hasn’t changed; he hasn’t reviewed the report yet. And I’m sure when he does, we’ll have more to say.

Q But if he’s indicating publicly now that he doesn’t support — he said just, “No”; a one-word answer — that he doesn’t support the proposal that does have the most widespread and bipartisan support, as stated by that committee, is the takeaway now that any changes to the Court are not likely to happen?

MS. PSAKI: I think the takeaway should be he hasn’t reviewed the report or the assessment from the Supreme Court committee, and that is consistent with what his position has been in the past.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. Does the White House have any reaction to a report of two airstrikes today on Tigray in Northern Ethiopia?

And also, last week, the President received the first African leader at the White House: the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta. What was — what were the major achievements? And who is the next African to visit the White House?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know the President enjoyed his meeting with President Kenyatta. We made a significant announcement as it relates COVID vaccines that we are going to be donating to Africa and the African Union through the course of that meeting.

I don’t have anything to preview in terms of a next meeting.

Go ahead, Francesca.

Q Do you have any reaction to the airstrike on Ethiopia?

MS. PSAKI: I will get you something after the briefing.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. I have a couple for you.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q So, another comment the President made on Friday was that he was convinced that the spending legislation was going to get done, but they’re not going to get the $3.5 trillion. “We’ll get less than that, but we’re going to get it.” And then he said, “And we’re going to come back and get the rest.” End quote.

What did he mean by “we’re going to come back and get the rest”? Does he mean another reconciliation bill next year? What did he mean by that?

MS. PSAKI: He wasn’t giving a — predicting a legislative vehicle. I think what he was conveying is: We all know this is less than $3.5 [trillion]. There are discussions and negotiations in Congress about what that will look like. And things that are not included in here, he will continue to fight for in the future.

Q Okay. And you mentioned a bunch of meetings that the President is having —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q — virtual or calls.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

Q We saw him go up to Capitol Hill. Has he given any consideration to Terry McAuliffe’s recommendation that you just sit all of the leading lawmakers in a room and say, “You can’t leave until you get a deal done”?

MS. PSAKI: He’s — the President has been doing this a while — 36 years in the Senate — with all due respect for the recommendations of anyone outside. And he’s going to continue to work with Democratic leadership about having the kinds of meetings and engagements that will help move this across the finish line.

Q And lastly, on his schedule, do you expect that he will campaign in Virginia for Terry McAuliffe before he leaves for Europe this month?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any scheduling updates today.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. Two questions. Your administration has said multiple times that its commitment to Taiwan is rock solid.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q So, given this rock-solid commitment, what is the President’s stance on letting the Taiwan Mission here officially change its name to the Taiwan Representative Office?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the State Department.

Q And just one more. Rahm Emanuel’s confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan is Wednesday. If confirmed, what is the President hoping that Rahm Emanuel will bring to the table when it comes to strengthening U.S.-Japan ties?

MS. PSAKI: I think he’s hoping that he will bring his commitment to public service and broad experience in policymaking to have a strong position in Japan from the United States.

Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Jen. You were asked earlier in the briefing about whether this urgency to get to a deal was driven by the President’s travel schedule. I want to go at it from a different way —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

Q — because there is sort of one — at least one real deadline, October 31st, as it relates to the surface transportation bill that’s been a sort of informal marker for leadership.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

Q Can you rule out that the President would cancel or postpone the trip if it’s necessary to have — if there are votes scheduled around that time, in order to work the vote?

MS. PSAKI: I think you can all fully plan for the President to be traveling to Rome and Glasgow on his scheduled trip.

Q Has he given any direction to congressional leadership — because he would want to be, presumably, here for a vote — to schedule any votes accordingly to try get it done before his departure or to wait until afterward?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of ways to sign legislation into law even if the President is not here.

Q Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

1:57 P.M. EDT

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