Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, October 22, 2021

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:06 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. Okay. Just an overview of the week ahead for all of you: Throughout the week, President Biden will continue to meet and call members of Congress about his transformative Build Back Better Agenda and Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.

On Monday, he will travel to New Jersey, where he will visit a school and one of the busiest railroad bridges in the country to continue rallying support for both his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda.

Back in Washington, President Biden will meet with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and welcome the official delegation of the Orthodox Christian Church to the United States. I was about to use — lose my “Greek-American card” there for a second, but I think I sailed through.

On Tuesday, the President will campaign with former Governor Terry McAuliffe in Arlington, Virginia.

On Thursday, the President and First Lady will travel to Rome, Italy.

On Friday, the President will visit Vatican City and have an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis. They will discuss working together on efforts grounded in respect for fundamental human dignity, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.

On Saturday and Sunday, the President will participate in the G20 Leaders’ Summit. We will have more on individual bilateral engagements in the run-up to the summit.

And from Rome, the President will travel to Glasgow, United Kingdom, from November 1st through 2nd, to participate in the World Leader Summit at the start of the COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

I will note — a programming note for all of you: We will have Jake Sullivan in here next week — we’re working on finalizing the details — to preview the trip in advance of the President’s departure.

But, Zeke, why don’t you kick us off.

Q Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry, can I note one more thing? I apologize.

Today, the Vice President visited northeast — the Northeast Bronx YMCA in New York with HHS — HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Governor Kathy Hochul, and Congressman Jamaal Bowman. The Vice President will hear about the YMCA facility’s impact on the community and deliver remarks about how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the Build Back Better Agenda will benefit working families.

She’ll also highlight the importance of extending the Child Tax Credit, which is one of the largest-ever single tax cuts for families with children.

Okay. Zeke, go ahead.

Q Thanks. What’s the status of the negotiations over the President’s social spending bill? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested a deal could be today. Does the President expect that? And who is he speaking with right now?

MS. PSAKI: Well, he will continue to have calls throughout the course of the day and the weekend as he has over the last several days. We will provide you details on those as we can. We have a goal, as Speaker Pelosi conveyed. We have milestones. And we’re working on finalizing an agreement. That’s the status.

Our focus is on making significant progress on that. We’ve seen that happen over the last several days. We’re encouraged by the shared commitment to get this done and deliver for the American people. But I don’t have any new deadlines or timelines from here, nor have we set them from here over the last several days or weeks.

Q As that package that the President proposed initially at roughly $3.5 trillion has been — now looks to be cutting — being cut roughly in half, we’ve heard the President say he wants he come back and get things later — things like community college and some of the other — or extending the life of some of these programs that have been shortened.

Progressives have been saying that now is the moment to do — go big; there might not be another moment. Why does the President think, given how difficult things have been up to this point, that he’ll have another bite at the apple to sort of make these programs more enduring, or to include even things that couldn’t make it into this package somewhere down the line?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say, first, Zeke, that this is — this package is on track to be — to represent or to direct the most fundamental shift in supporting hardworking families over wealthy in modern American history.

So — and the President’s belief, as you heard him say last night, is that compromise is not a dirty word and that we will get nothing if we do not have 50 votes. The alternative is not a larger package. The alternative is nothing.

So his objective is to continue to press forward to bring the parties together to get a historic package done. And I will note that there’s a lot of history for this — and he talked about this a little bit last night — but there’s history in setting — putting in place a framework that puts in place positive, fundamental change.

Look at Social Security, look at the Affordable Care Act: These are all historic programs that have then been built on domestically.

And whatever the topline number is — which we’re still, obviously, working through and negotiating — this is on track to change millions of middle-class families who have been falling behind.

Let me give you just a couple of examples — and he talked about this last night — but where the package stands as of now:

  • the largest investment in childcare and early education ch- — childhood education in history, with the first national universal preschool program ever in history.
  • the largest investment in climate and clean energy in history, around six times the size of the climate and clean energy investment in the Recovery Act — the second largest climate bill in history.
  • the first national paid leave — paid family and medical leave program ever.
  • the largest expansion in healthcare coverage since the Affordable Care Act, leading 7 million people to gain new coverage.
  • perpetuating the largest one-year drop in child poverty in history by extending the Child Tax Credit.
  • and a new investment in housing that is greater than the entire current annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That is what we were talking about here. As we — even as we are talking about a package that’s being negotiated that is smaller than what he originally proposed.

Q But why does he think that a future Congress, or sometime later in this administration, he’ll have more luck going beyond where he’s at right now in getting more spending for some of those programs at the levels that he initially wanted and now he’s had to pare back?

MS. PSAKI: Well, two reasons, Zeke. One is what I referenced, related to the Social Security program in history or the Affordable Care Act, where these are programs that put in place the fundamental mechanisms in society to deliver on change and relief to people for decades to come.

And what we’re talking about here is instituting some programs that have never existed before: universal pre-K; we’re talking about paid family and medical leave; we’re building on, as an example, the Affordable Care Act by continuing to expand healthcare coverage, which is another example of building.

So the President’s belief is these changes are long overdue. These changes are changes the American people are — have been asking for, have been demanding, want to see government act on to make their lives better, and that this package — these packages will be the basis for building on in the future, during his administration as well.

Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Jen. The President was pretty clear last night that Senator Sinema does not support raising taxes on big corporations or the corporate tax hike. The White House says that you guys are looking for other ways to pay for this package. What exactly are those proposals? And can this package be paid for without a corporate tax increase?

MS. PSAKI: Yes, absolutely. But there are different corporate tax increases in here. So let me go through what a couple of the tax pieces are that are under consideration.

I would note that, as it relates to the President’s comments last night, he was answering a question. These town halls are conversations; that’s what’s so endearing and engaging about them. But he was retu- — referring to the challenge of having the votes to move forward on raising the corporate rate, not the ability to raise revenue through a range of other tax fairness proposals.

So let me give you a sense of a couple of those. So, some of the biggest corporations in America pay literally nothing in income taxes, as we know — as we’ve talked about in the past. A lot in here. Fifty-five of the biggest companies, they pay lower rates than wage-earning families. We can stop that by imposing a 15 percent minimum tax — a minimum corporate tax — to make sure large corporations pay their fair share.

We also believe, the President believes, a number of other members of Congress believe that we need to stop rewarding companies that offshore profits and American jobs. We’ll do that by creating a global minimum tax, something the United States has been the global leader in bringing together countries around the world. And that will help to make the United States more competitive and end the race to the bottom.

We can also close loopholes for high-income Americans, including a loophole that allows some taxpayers — like hedge fund managers — to escape a Medicare tax imposed on all high-end income — on all high income. That’s another proposal that’s out there still.

And we can crack down on wealthy tax cheats, who are taking advantage of every honest taxpayer, and invest in enforcement to stop 1 percent from evading $160 billion in taxes per year, something that Treasury Secretaries — Republican and Democrats — have expressed support for and feel this is a strong part of the proposal.

So, I list all of those because those are all ideas out there — all ideas that would move us forward toward a greater system of tax fairness and also can help pay for the full package.

Q One more follow-up on the Child Tax Credit. Speaker Pelosi told me yesterday that the President was looking at a one-year extension. According to the Census Bureau, 47 percent of families use that money to buy food. Will those children be left behind if there’s only a one-year extension on the Child Tax Credit?

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, the President proposed a longer extension. What the President is though looking to do is to extend the Child Tax Credit — something that he proposed himself earlier this year and, again, proposed extending it — because he thinks it does have such an important and dramatic impact on people across the country.

Many economists have credited it with cutting the childhood poverty rate in half. He absolutely thinks it should be a part of what American families can benefit from.

But it’s smaller because compromise is not a dirty word, and it is something that we still believe is a positive step forward to extend.

Go ahead.

Q What drove the shift in the President’s posture this week, in terms of he laid out a lot of details to rank-and-file members on Tuesday; he laid out a lot of details to the entire world last night? Something you guys haven’t been wanting to talk about over the course the last several months. Why now? Why has he moved in this direction?

MS. PSAKI: The charm of Anderson Cooper, I guess.

Q I get that. (Laughs.)

MS. PSAKI: I’m just kidding.

Look, I think, Phil, that we are at this point in the conversation and in the debate where we are getting into the nitty-gritty details, and the President is deeply engaged in those discussions.

I think what you saw last night — what the American people saw last night is that the President has rolled up his sleeves and he is deep in the details of spreadsheets and numbers and what the potential impact can be to help the American people.

And he’s — he was candid, and he was candid about where the negotiation stood and also wanted the American people to understand, as I just outlined earlier, that progress here is a historic package that will put in place systems and programs that have never existed in our society before.

So, I think what you’re seeing is that we’re getting closer, we’re into the nitty-gritty details, there is agreement about some fundamental investments in our society, and he loves having conversations with the American people about what he’s fighting for.

Q And then two more, just to follow up on last night. Can you clarify where discussions are, if they exist at all, in terms of the National Guard and the supply chain?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, can I clarify where things stand?

Q Yeah, I just — my understanding is it had been talked about but it wasn’t something you guys were moving toward. The President seemed to say differently last night.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, any President has the ability to use the National Guard from the federal level. Requesting the use of the National Guard at the state level, which is often how it’s done, is under the purview of governors. And we’re not actively asking them to do that, and we’re not actively pursuing the use of the National Guard on a federal level. But it is something that any President would have the capacity to do, the authority to do, but it is not something under active consideration.

Q And then, one more. The President was asked if the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if attacked by China, and he said, “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.” Is there a shift in U.S. policy as it relates to Taiwan and a defense agreement?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there has been no shift. The President was not announcing any change in our policy nor has he made a decision to change our policy. There is no change in our policy.

Our defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. Some of the principles of the Taiwan Relations Act that the United States will continue to abide by, of course, is assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability. Another principle is that the United States would regard any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific and of grave concern to the United States.

I would also note that Secretary Austin also spoke to this earlier today, and he said — as the Secretary of Defense, of course — “Nobody wants to see cross-Strait issues come to blows.” Certainly not President Biden. And there’s no reason that it should. And that is certainly emblematic of our approach as well.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q Just piggybacking on that question about Taiwan, the U.S. policy one of strategic ambiguity on this. He seemed pretty unambiguous with what he said last night. Was that intentional?

MS. PSAKI: What I can convey to you is that our policy has not changed. He was not intending to convey a change in policy nor has he made a decision to change our policy.

Q Okay. And moving back to the legislation: Is the President confident or is he hoping for a vote on this before he heads to Europe next week?

MS. PSAKI: Well, his preference would certainly be to get something done in the coming days, and obviously he will work closely with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer to do exactly that.

But I don’t have any new deadlines or timelines to set for you today.

Q Beyond citing the Rhodium report, if he arrives in Glasgow without this in hand, what does he — what is his message to world leaders on that world stage?

MS. PSAKI: His message is that he is a President who will bring the climate crisis back to the top of the priority list for the United States, and he has already taken steps to do exactly that — not just by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, but by taking steps, working with the leaders of the auto industry, to move towards electric vehicles and an electric vehicle future to reduce greenhouse gas emissions here in the United States, and that he has proposed the largest investment in addressing the climate crisis in American history.

And that is something we are on track to deliver on, even

with a smaller package.

Q And just lastly, does the President or the White House have a reaction to the Alec Baldwin shooting incident in New Mexico?

MS. PSAKI: Other than to say that it is obviously a tragedy — the loss of life and, as I understand it, the individual who is in the hospital. And so our thoughts and prayers go out to their family members.

But, no, beyond that, we don’t have an additional U.S. reaction.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. A follow on China and Taiwan. Just to be crystal clear: When the President says that the U.S. has a commitment to protect Taiwan, does that commitment include military intervention in the event of a Chinese attack?

MS. PSAKI: Again, as I said earlier, he wasn’t announcing a change in policy nor was he — nor have we changed our policy, which I think is the most important point here. And we are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, and I just outlined what some of those principles are, which is ensuring that we continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability, and that is something we remain committed to doing.

Q So, can you just remind us? That policy is, “No, there would not be military intervention,” right?

MS. PSAKI: Our policy is to be guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, which is — the specifics of that are that we are going to continue assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability. Another principle is that we regard any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means as a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific.

But as I noted earlier, our Secretary of Defense conveyed clearly what our policy and our view is, which is that no one wants to see cross-Strait issues come to blows; that is what we want to avoid. And that’s what the American people should understand is our focus. That’s the view of the President, that’s the view of the Secretary of Defense, and there’s no reason anyone should think otherwise.

Q And then a follow-up on all those tax options that you might have if the corporate tax is not raised and if there’s no hike in taxes on the wealthy. Will all of those still guarantee that this package will not be deficit spending?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

Q Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And none of that has been concluded. I think I gave all those additional components of tax options that are out there that — and Senator Sinema can obviously speak for herself, as I always convey from here, but she has been supportive of another — a number of these options, as have others. And those are all options that can help ensure we’re moving toward a more fair tax system but also pay for these investments.

Q Thanks. And just one more on the filibuster. What are some ways that the filibuster can be fundamentally altered without ending it altogether?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think the President will have more to say about this in the coming weeks. But I think what you heard him say last night is that we’re at an inflection point, and a range of it — on a range of issues, including — and this is often why it comes up — voting rights.

And he talked about this a little bit yesterday when he was at the 10th anniversary of the MLK Memorial. We know the right to vote and the rule of law are under unrelenting assault from Republican governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, state legislators, and legislators.

And time and time again, when offered the choice three times over the last several months, when a hand has been extended by Democrats to work together to protect the fundamental right, Republicans have not only recoiled, they have blocked the ability to make any semblance of progress.

So, what the President is referring to is the fact that that is unacceptable. The protection of a fundamental — the fundamental right to vote is something that has been bipartisan in the past. He spoke back in March about — about his concerns or how he would view it if the Republicans continue to be obstructionist around it. And we’ve seen that time and time again.

So he will discuss what that looks like, because not getting voting rights done is not an option.

Q So, is that frustration — does that frustration explain his evolution of thinking on the filibuster? In July, he said eliminating it would throw Congress into “chaos” and nothing would get done.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would also note that, back in March, he noted that if there was obstruction, that it was something that we would have to take a look at.

So, look, I think people — many of you have covered the President for some time, and you know that his view is that we should pursue ways to work in a bipartisan manner; that we should pursue paths forward that can get things done for the American people.

When he helped lead the effort to authorize the voting rights bill back when he was a senator, that was done in a bipartisan way. And he is frustrated, he is disappointed, he is sad that this is not something that Republicans seem willing to engage on, to work on.

And I think what you saw reflected last night is his view that, in light of the tax on our democracy, what we’ve seen across the country in states and by state legislators — that it is time to have a conversation about what this looks like moving forward.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you, Jen. The leader of the union representing FedEx, UPS, and DHL is saying that supply chain problems are going to get worse with labor shortages right before the holidays, unless the President postpones the requirement to get vaccinated by December 8th. So what is more important to this President: the vaccine mandates or fixing the supply chain as fast as possible?

MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I would say that that is not actually what we’ve seen at companies that have implemented these vaccine requirements that are not even part of federal law yet.

Q I understand. But just looking at —

MS. PSAKI: Let me just — let me just finish.

Q Okay.

MS. PSAKI: I’m going to let you talk. Don’t worry about it. I’m going to let you talk. Okay?

So, American and Southwest CEOs have made clear this will — their workers will not be — there won’t be a labor shortage. We’ve seen United Airlines implement this.

And as we’ve also said: As we work to implement these federal employee requirements, the first step is not firings; it’s actually education and counseling. So, we don’t actually anticipate these disruptions. What we’ve seen for companies who have implemented these requirements is an increase from 20 to 90 percent.

Last thing, and then I’ll let you ask your follow-up, is that the other piece of this is that COVID is an enormous labor disrupter — not only because it’s the number one cause of death in some industries, in some professions, including police forces across the country, but because people are out sick, people are worried about coming to work. This is one of the reasons that a lot of these companies have implemented these requirements.

Q Just so that I understand the position then, this union leader says that the looming December 8th mandate for having fully vaccinated workforces creates a significant supply chain problem. You say, “No, it does not.” Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: What I would point, Peter, is the evidence we’ve seen from companies — large companies, private-sector companies — that have implemented these requirements across the board.

Q Okay. Following up on something else the President said last night, why did President Biden say he has been to the border?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, as you may have seen, there’s been reporting that he did drive through the border when he was on the campaign trail in 2008. And he is certainly familiar with the fact — and it stuck with him — with the fact that in El Paso, the border goes right through the center of town.

But what the most important thing everyone should know and understand is that the President has worked on these issues throughout his entire career and is well versed in every aspect of our immigration system, including the border. That includes when he was Vice President. And he went to Mexico and Central America 10 times to address border issues and talk about what we can do to reduce the number of migrants who were coming to the border.

He worked in a bipartisan manner with senators like Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, John McCain, and others to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

He does not need a visit to the border to know what a mess was left by the last administration. That’s his view.

Q Does that count as a visit? He said, “I’ve been there before.” You’re saying he drove by for a few minutes. Does that count?

MS. PSAKI: What do you — what is the root cause — where are people coming from who are coming to the border, Peter?

Q The President said that he has been to the border —

MS. PSAKI: I’m asking you — I’m asking you a question, because I think people should understand the context.

Q No, you’re answering —

MS. PSAKI: Where do people —

Q — a question with a question.

MS. PSAKI: Where do people —

Q I’m asking you if that counts.

MS. PSAKI: Okay, I’ll answer it for you: People come from Central America and Mexico to go to the border. The President has been to those countries 10 times to talk about border issues.

There is a focus right now on a photo op. The President does not believe a photo op is the same as solutions.

Q But he said, “I…” —

MS. PSAKI: That may be a difference he has with Republicans.

Q But that’s not what he said either. He said, “I guess I should go down.” So, does he think that he needs a photo op? Is that what he’s saying? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: He doesn’t. And that’s a fundamental disagreement he has. I would say the former President went to the border at least once, maybe more — you may know the numbers.

Q But has anything changed —

MS. PSAKI: How did that immigration policy result, Peter? That immigration policy resulted in separating kids from their parents, building a border wall that’s feckless and that cost billions of dollars for taxpayers. The President fundamentally disagrees on how we need to approach the immigration issue.

Q Has anything changed at the border between 2008, when he drove by, and 2021?

MS. PSAKI: Aside from the fact that migrants are still coming to the border through the course of Democratic and Republican Presidents, and the — the immi- — the need to reform the immigration system is even farther long overdue? No. But we need to work with Democrats and Republicans to get that done.

I think we’re going to have to keep chugging along here.

Go ahead.

Q Let me ask you, if I can, about gas prices. The President was asked about that; a lot of Americans have been concerned about the cost to go to the pump these days.

He said, “I don’t see anything that’s going to happen in the meantime that’s going to significantly reduce gas prices.” He said, “I don’t have a near-term answer.” For Americans who are looking for an answer, what is the answer?

MS. PSAKI: Well, what is true — and I think the President as we — as I said earlier, was quite candid last night, as the American people should express from him — expect from him and from any president. And there are limitations to what any president can do, as it relates to gas prices.

Here’s what we have been doing: As we’ve said for some time, we are engaging broadly with OPEC on our concerns at a range of levels. And that is something we will continue to do.

As you know, Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor, recently met with leaders in Saudi Arabia and certainly raised this issue.

The President has also been concerned, as the administration has been, about what we have seen as rises in supply that have not been accompanied by drops in costs. That’s one of the reasons he’s asked the FTC to look into price gouging — something that is no doubt impacting, or we expect might be impacting, the cost of gas around the country.

So, we are working and using every single lever he can. But I think what people heard from him is some candor about what impacts we can have.

Q He mused that he could go into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and that could bring the cost down. He said it would still be above $3.00. Will he do that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview on that front at this point.

Q Let me ask you: Does the White House have any response to the Supreme Court today saying that it’s not going to block the Texas abortion ban, although it did grant an expedited review to take place, I think, by the start of November?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would naturally defer any particular questions about the Supreme Court decision and litigation to the Department of Justice. But what I can reiterate is that the President has been clear in his position that S.B. 8 is blatantly unconstitutional. It not only violates the right to safe and legal abortion established under Roe v. Wade, but it creates a scheme to allow private citizens to interfere with that right and to evade judicial review.

That is why he’s directed a whole-of-government response to it and why he will continue to stand side-by-side with women across the country to protect their rights.

But, in terms of any litigation steps, I would point you to the Department of Justice.

Q But contingencies if the Supreme Court is to uphold that present ban? What contingencies — what process takes place behind closed doors here at the White House to help look out for the women in that state?

MS. PSAKI: Again, as you know, the Gender Policy Council and leaders there are leading the effort to work and see what levers in government we can use to continue to protect women’s fundamental rights. We will see if there’s an update on that to provide to all of you.

Go ahead, Sabrina.

Q Afghanistan, please?

MS. PSAKI: I’ll come to you next.

Q Thank you.

Q The attack on a military outpost in southern Syria this week did not result in any American casualties, but the U.S. military considers it to be a serious but failed attempt to take American lives. Do you know who’s responsible? And what is the administration doing to prevent another attack or hold the perpetrators accountable?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any updates for you on the — on the responsibility. And, of course, what happened is something that is great concern to us. I have nothing to preview in terms of what additional steps will be.

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