Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Aboard Air Force One En Route Cincinnati, OH

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Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Aboard Air Force One En Route Cincinnati, OH

3:40 P.M. EDT MS. PSAKI:  Welcome to our trip to Cincinnati, Ohio — also known as the birthplace of my husband.  So, a special place in

3:40 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI:  Welcome to our trip to Cincinnati, Ohio — also known as the birthplace of my husband.  So, a special place in my heart.
 
A couple of announcements for you at the top:
 
Today, Treasury released new data on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which showed that more than $1.5 billion in assistance was delivered to eligible households in the month of June — more than what was provided in the previous three reporting periods combined.  The number of households served in June grew by about 85 percent over the previous month and nearly tripled since April.
 
The data demonstrates that the administration has heard from states and localities over the past months that ERA is helping develop a new national infrastructure for rental assistance and eviction prevention that did not previously exist.
 
I would also note that also today, as a part of this effort, the White House is hosting a second virtual convening on eviction prevention with over 2,000 participants from cities and states across the country, including the 46 cities that were the focus of the first summit on January 30th.  That is virtual; everyone can tune in.
 
Also, on August 25th, the President and members of his national security team and across the administration will hold a meeting with private sector leaders to discuss how we work together to collectively improve the nation’s cybersecurity.  So that is a continuation of his effort to work in close partnership with the private sector.
 
Finally, I also wanted to note that, according to a new report from Moody’s this morning, the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and Build Back Better agenda will add almost 2 million jobs per year, on average, across the whole decade while accelerating America’s path to full employment and increasing labor force participation.
 
The Moody’s report also confirms that the — what the President said on Monday: that these sorts of investments in making our economy more productive will keep prices stable and decrease inflationary pressure.
 
With that, where should we start?
 
Q    Two questions off the top, on the debt limit.  Mitch McConnell said today that Democrats should basically pass a hike in the debt limit on their own; that Republicans would not vote for that.  What’s the White House response? 
 
And does the White House believe that Democrats should pass a standalone debt limit hike and sort of leave it up to Republicans?  Or would you be open to including it in a reconciliation bill, or eliminating the debt limit altogether?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration.
 
As you all know, raising or suspending the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending; it merely allows Treasury to meet obligations that Congresses have already approved.
 
I would also note that Republicans raised the debt ceiling throughout the Trump administration, including after putting exorbitant deficit and debt — debt-hoaking [sic] tax breaks — debt-hiking — sorry — tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations on the country’s credit card.  So that’s what we expect them to do.
 
Q  To follow up on a part that Alex just asked about at the end: Would the administration be open to, whether now or in the coming weeks and months, talking about fully eliminating the debt ceiling so that we don’t have these crises — crisis moments every so often?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not making a projection of that.  We are fully expecting Congress will raise the debt ceiling as they have numerous times over the last couple of years.
 
Q    But you want it to continue to exist?
 
Q    Quick question on travel restrictions.  The airlines have been lobbying the administration to ease travel restrictions on European travel.  What’s the status of those conversations?  Are you moving closer to that point?
 
MS. PSAKI:  There are ongoing discussions between the working groups and, of course, updates and briefings with our health and medical experts about when it is safe to do that.  We will be guided by the science.  And I don’t have any prediction of what the timeline looks like.
 
Q    The President said a few days ago that he would have something more to say within a few days on the travel restrictions.  Can you at least give us a sense of the timing for when you think there may be some easing or loosening?  Or is it — is the upsurge in Delta variants, in cases involving Delta, pushing that off?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He gets regular updates from his COVID team; that’s what he was referring to.  But he is going to be guided by their recommendations on when we should ease travel restrictions, which are based on a range of criteria.
 
Q    Just on Nord Stream.  So, today there’s been announcements about an agreement reached with Germany.  There were lots of signals about this already last week.  There’s widespread criticism of this among Republican lawmakers who feel that the administration isn’t actually acting on the laws that they have passed — that have been passed by Congress.
 
Are you —
 
MS. PSAKI:  In what way?
 
Q    Because of the waiving of the sanctions.  But then there are other sanctions or other laws that haven’t — where sanctions haven’t been fully implemented.  Are you concerned that you may be sending a wrong signal to Russia about this pipeline?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, let me say on part of your question: We’re committed to following the law and continuing to examine entities that have engaged in potentially-sanctioning behavior, as would be abiding by the law.  That has not changed.
 
This announcement today follows, of course, the meeting the President had with Chancellor Merkel last week, where they said that they would be asking their teams to look at practical measures we could take together to address what our root issues are here, which we have voiced many times in the past.
 
So even though the pipeline was 90 percent built when the President took office, what our objective is, is to prevent or reduce the geopolitical impact that it was going to have. 
 
So I know these have been announced; I think a lot of you are following them.  But for the purpose of the full context, these measures, in our view, represent a significant impact by Germany, supported by the United States, to push back against the Kremlin’s harmful activities and to advance a more secure and sustainable energy future for Ukraine and other frontline NATO and EU countries.
 
So, yes, it was 90 percent built.  We feel confident about the impact of these measures.  And, of course, we’ll continue to abide by the law, which includes using sanction authority as needed.
 
Q    Can you say how much U.S. money will flow into this billion-dollar Green Fund for Ukraine energy independence?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question, Andrea.  Let me — it’s really a State Department announcement that we’re making today.  I’ll see if there’s more details I can get back to you.
 
Q    Quickly, I have a follow-up on Nord Stream.  Is the Zelenskyy visit a part of that deal in terms of, you know, giving them a visit as part of the concessions to Ukraine?
 
MS. PSAKI:  No.  No.  They’re unrelated.  We have long been in touch with the Ukrainians about scheduling a visit.
 
Q    And then, one other thing on the borders, please.  The reports today that DHS has extended the restrictions on the Canadian and the Mexican border: Can you give any explanation as to why, especially given the recent announcement from Canada about vaccinated travelers?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We rely on the health — the guidance of our health and medical experts, not on the actions of other countries.
 
Q    And does the White House — is there concern, though, about repercussions about, like, easing restrictions at one border and not the other?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We created these working groups so that we could have an open line of communication about what the criteria looked like, what measures needed to be met.  Those are ongoing, and, of course, we are continuing to be briefed internally as well.
 
Q    Could you say something about infrastructure and, sort of, the progress on the Hill and —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yep.
 
Q    — you know, the Republicans, potentially this group of 10 or 11 lawmakers, supporting a vote next week to move forward on the bill?  
 
And then, kind of related to that, on reconciliation: It seems like the Democrats in the Senate are still a far way off from a real agreement on that.  Would you be concerned if that gets pushed later into August, into September, and this whole process continues to drag on?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, the President is enormously grateful to the work of Republican senators who have poured so much good work — and Democratic senators, of course — and vision into the bipartisan infrastructure deal; is eager to deliver these economic benefits that Americans in red states and blue states have deserved for so long.
 
So, we certainly — we were encouraged to see the comments of Senator Romney this morning, and we understand this is a legislative process, and it’s ongoing.
 
In terms of the reconciliation process, of course, we’re working in close coordination with Leader Schumer.  We are grateful to his efforts.  He has conveyed his interest in moving this forward in July, and we’re — we’re looking forward to supporting that effort.
 
Q    On the infrastructure, what — to the Republicans’ criticism about the shell bill vote that’s being held today: Essentially, what is the harm in waiting until Monday, like the GOP negotiators on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework wish to do?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would first note that this is just a vote on a motion to proceed, so a motion to debate.  This is not a vote on a final package.  And this is the same procedure that the Senate used as it related to the AAPI Hate Crimes bill and as it related to a number of pieces of legislation already this Congress. 
 
So, it is par for the course and normal operations up there on the Senate side.  This is merely a motion to proceed, and certainly we were encouraged, again, by Senator Romney’s comments this morning.
 
Q    And sticking with some Congress news here, the select committee for January 6: The White House statement that was released just before we took off — among the things that was listed in this statement was that they’re confident in Speaker Pelosi’s ability to proceed with an investigation that is full, investigative, and transparent.  The word “bipartisan” was not included in there.  And I’m wondering, is the White House disappointed that Speaker Pelosi’s investigation, as it will proceed, will be technically bipartisan because of Liz Cheney’s involvement, but not truly bipartisan?
 
MS. PSAKI:  First, we stated at the time our disappointment that there wasn’t bipartisan support for a select committee when there was an opportunity to vote for that.  And we also have long stated our support for Speaker Pelosi in getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6 — a dark day in our democracy — and we support her efforts for moving forward on that initiative.
 
Q    And, Jen, are you concerned that no matter what product comes from Speaker Pelosi’s investigation or Leader McCarthy’s separate investigation — that no matter what comes of it, the result is always going to be perceived as partisan, based on what happened today?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think many Americans across the country, regardless of their political affiliation, look at the events of January 6 as a dark day in our democracy.  The President strongly supports taking steps to get to the bottom of what happened so we can prevent it from happening in the future.
 
Q    Jen, on the visit to Ohio today, the White House put out a comprehensive list of what it says it’s going to be doing for the people of Ohio, but notable in the absence in that list was anything about fentanyl, the opioid epidemic.  Has that been deprioritized?  Where — is it still a priority?  And what do you say to the people of Ohio and the country with — there’s still a plateau and tens of thousands of people dying?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely, it’s a top priority, and there’s no question it is an issue that has impacted people across Ohio and continues to.  Any health expert will tell you that the most important thing we could do is make sure people have access to healthcare coverage.  That’s something the President has taken a number of steps to ensure more people have access to, including opening up the Special Enrollment Period, including pushing for tax cuts to incentivize more people to get access to healthcare.  That is the best way, but certainly this remains a priority and will continue to be and he may even talk about it today in the town hall.  We’ll see what questions come up.
 
Q    Another question on behalf of the radio pool: Are you encouraged by the shift in messaging by Republicans and Fox News now overtly talking positively about vaccines?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to — I’m not going to designate it around one individual or one network or one social media platform.  I will say that our view is that we are at war with the virus; we are not at war with a social media platform or with a network.  And so anyone who goes out there and shares accurate information about the effectiveness of the vaccine, about the fact that it can save lives, is a positive step in our view, and hopefully it continues.
 
Q    Jen, can I ask you another question on inflation?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    The signs seem to be — there was a — there was a hope, I think, that the prices would peak over the summer months.  Now it looks like that may continue and slip into the fall.  Are you concerned by this sort of sustained, you know, increase in prices and this sort of — like the fact that it’s not coming down, or there are no indications yet?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, we take inflation very seriously.  Obviously, it’s the purview of the Federal Reserve, and I would point you to their projections about inflation coming down in 2022.  That’s also in line with a number of outside economists.  But we do take it incredibly seriously.
 
I would also note that there are a number of impacts, including the economy turning back on; steps that we’re taking in addition to getting more money in the hands of the American people, including the Child Tax Credit that just started going out a few weeks ago, to make sure they have extra assistance in this time, even as we’re seeing prices go back up, some to pre-pandemic levels.  But we’re also working to get important initiatives across the finish line. 
 
I would, again, return to where I started, which was the Moody’s analysis that conveyed that this would help address inflation in the future by providing more supply out there.
 
Q    A COVID question, Jen.  If Axios hadn’t learned about the positive case at the White House, would the White House have informed the public about it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me give you a little bit of an update here.  One moment.  I just want to do this completely accurately.  Sorry.
 
Q    And sort of related to that, just — you know, is — are there any discussions happening within the White House about potentially, you know, direct- — or encouraging, if not requiring, mask wearing again on the White House grounds or anything like that?  We’ve seen — I think people are, on the Hill and at the White House, are wearing masks a little bit more today than they might have been a week ago. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say on that: We abide by public health guidance by the CDC.  The CDC guidelines currently are: If you are vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask.  If you are not vaccinated, you should wear a mask.  That’s the guidelines we continue to give to members of the White House staff. 
 
Now, if individuals decide to wear masks for whatever reason, we support that, and that’s their personal choice — and individuals do for a variety of reasons. 
 
So, let me just give you a little bit of an update to some of the questions that were asked yesterday.  There are approximately 2,000 people on the White House campus each day.  So, statistically speaking, COVID cases among vaccinated people will occur, just like they occur across the country.  They have occurred; they will continue to occur.  We’re prepared for that.
 
So, as the instance yesterday shows, cases in vaccinated individuals are typically mild or asymptomatic.  There’s — this is more — this is one more reminder of the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalization.
 
Because of our commitment to transparency, what we’re going to be providing are up- — moving forward — are updates on any White House official who tests positive for COVID-19 that the White House medical unit deems as having had close contact with the President, Vice President, First Lady, or Second Gentleman.  That will up to — be up to the White House medical unit, based on the criteria of the CDC.  And this criteria, again, is up to the CDC. 
 
At no point has the President been required to change his behavior or self-quarantine due to a close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID. 
 
I’d also note that, today, an email from our COVID-19 operations protocol team has been sent to White House staff informing them of the official policy that if you are in close contact with a principal and test positive for COVID-19, your case will be disclosed to press, along with any other relevant details, and that we will share the name of the staffer if that individual agrees to do so.  Of course, we respect their privacy. 
 
So, that is our policy moving forward.
 
Q    Can I ask one follow-up on that?  For July 4th, anyone coming to the White House lawn who was not vaccinated was asked to wear a mask.  Should we take that policy to mean that the athletes who were unmasked at the White House yesterday were all vaccinated?  Was that confirmed?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The policy that we continue to convey with public events is the CDC policy: If you are vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask.  If you are not vaccinated, you should wear a mask.
 
Q    Is that the same for outdoors, though?  You’re saying, outdoors, if you are unvaccinated, you need to be wearing a mask if you’re at the White House?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It is — we — our guidelines are not different from what CDC guidelines are.
 
Q    What guidance is the First Lady following as she heads to Tokyo for the Olympics?  And is there still confidence that she’ll be kept safe, as we’re seeing some breakout infections?
 
MS. PSAKI:   Yeah — so, I would say: One, we have consulted.  The First Lady is on her way — proceeding to Tokyo — and that has been done in consultation with, of course, our White House medical unit, with staff about what protocols she and the delegation should abide by. 
 
I would note that while she is leading this delegation — because it was important to the President and the First Lady that we cheer on our athletes and show support for the United States at the highest level — it is a delegation of two, and usually it is a much larger delegation.  They will have limited public interaction, and they will be taking every precaution throughout the course of their trip.
 
Q    Can you say another word about this cybersecurity meeting that you’re hosting —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    — or that the President will host on August 25th?  Can you say what private-sector leaders are going to be participating, and whether —
 
MS. PSAKI:  We’re not quite there yet.  Yeah,
I mean, it’s more than a month away.
 
Q    No, I understand.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    But you — you know, you’ve had a focal point on ransomware.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    You’ve been having regular meetings on ransomware.  Is that going to be a big focus for that meeting — ransomware?  Or is it, you know, cybersecurity writ large?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  I think we’re not quite there on the agenda for the meeting.  What I would note is that the President felt it was important to use the White House as a forum for bringing together private sector leaders to have a discussion about both how we can work together and also what best practices are, which is including them taking — hardening their own cybersecurity protections and also what the U.S. government can do. 
 
And, as you know, there have been ongoing considerations, from a policy perspective, of what we can stake [sic] — take — what steps we can take. 
 
As you also know from covering this closely, ransomware attacks have increased over the last 18 months.  There’s no question it’s a big issue and factor for private sector companies.  I think there’s no question it will be a part of the agenda at this meeting, but in terms of what the day looks like, we’re not quite there yet. 
 
Q    Will the Milwaukee Bucks come to the White House?  Has the President invited them?
 
MS. PSAKI:  He did tweet about them today —
 
Q    Yeah, I saw (inaudible).
 
MS. PSAKI:  — congratulating them.  I’m sure we will invite them to the White House.  We don’t have a scheduled meeting quite yet.  I’m sure they’re celebrating on their own today.
 
Q    About Iraq, if I may: When the Prime Minister comes to the White House, should we expect announcements regarding U.S. troops or maybe a timeline, anything?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to get ah- — quite ahead of the meeting.  Obviously, it’s an important meeting to discuss our relationship with Iraq and with the Prime Minister, and certainly our presence on the ground and their role moving forward.
 
Q    Jen, the State Department officials who were briefing earlier on the Nord Stream deal made the point that getting this issue off the table with Ukraine will allow a broader discussion of security issues with Ukraine.  There’s been a lot of interest, of course, in terms of supporting Ukraine vis-à-vis Russia and its aggression.  Are you — are there any new initiatives that you can talk about in terms of bolstering Ukraine security or the security of the Eastern Flank allies?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s a couple of things that were in the package that, I think, will benefit Ukraine, so let me highlight some of those.  Germany will help to preserve gas transit revenues for Ukraine and buy time for Ukraine to eliminate its dependence on Russian gas and transit fees, as it has long sought to do, including with U.S. support.  Germany will do this by committing to appoint a special envoy to use all its available leverage to negotiate an extension to Ukraine’s gas transit agreement with Russia.
 
There’s no question that the impact, in what we’re trying to address here, is the impact on the Eastern Flank countries of this pipeline.  And so that is part of our effort as we, you know, work to finalize the deal announced today.
 
Q    So, I mean, the President of Ukraine will be coming here to visit with the President —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — at the White House.  What — you know, what is your vision at this point — I realize it’s still a month off — but for that meeting?  I mean, what do you hope to get out of that meeting?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we’re in a position to preview it quite yet.  We will, as I — as we get closer to the meeting.
 
Q    Should the Ukrainians feel a little disappointed about the Nord Stream final decision going through?  And they’ve been kind of bracing for it since May, when the U.S. said they would waive sanctions.  But given the announcement today of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit later, based on the decision that’s coming, do they have a right to feel a little disappointed?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think, again, part of the objective here, as the President said last week, was to work to address the geopolitical impact of this pipeline — a pipeline that was 90 percent built when the President took office.  And Ukraine and the impact on their energy security is certainly part of that, and there are initiatives in this that help to address that.
 
Q    Just something quickly on —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — on the statement that came in from the bipartisan group of lawmakers working on the infrastructure deal: They say that they’ve made significant progress and are close to a final agreement.  I don’t know if you were aware of that before you came back here, or if there’s anything else, sort of, on the progress here beyond what you said before.
 
MS. PSAKI:  That certainly is a positive sign.  I will check more on that and see if there’s more to report from our end.  But we’ve been encouraged and grateful — encouraged by the progress and grateful to the work of both the Democrats and Republicans involved.
 
Okay.  Thanks, everyone.
 
Q    Is there going to be ice cream in Cincinnati?
 
Q    Graeter’s ice cream?  Raspberry chip?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I — I don’t think so, but we’ll have to — I don’t know.
 
(Laughter.)
 
Q    Now I really want —
 
Q    I’m sure he’s aware of it.
 
4:03 P.M. EDT