Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 10, 2021

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 10, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 3:02 P.M. EDTMS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Thank you for your patience.  I know you’re all thrilled to

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:02 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Thank you for your patience.  I know you’re all thrilled to be sitting here at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon, but here we are together.

Okay, so I have two items for all of you at the top.  Today, the White House Competition Council, which includes eight Cabinet Secretaries and the Chairs of seven independent agencies,  held its inaugural meeting here in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

The Council’s first meeting focused on the actions agencies have already taken to promote competition and help lower costs for American families in just the two months since the President issued the competition executive order.  The members of the Competition Council have met every deadline in the executive order so far and delivered even more than what was required ahead of schedule. 

The agencies’ actions cover a broad range of industries and are aimed at reducing the prices people pay when they shop at the grocery store, when they travel to visit their loved ones, when they’re choosing an Internet plan, and when they purchase the prescription drugs they need.  

During the meeting, several agencies, including HHS, DOT, USDA, DOJ, and FTC — and the FTC, briefed the other councilmembers on the important work they’ve done. 

This includes a major effort by the Department of Transportation to get refunds for thousands of travelers whose flights were cancelled due to COVID-19.  DOT published a new report highlighting how it is helping secure refunds for thousands of those passengers, including by investigating the refund practices of 18 airlines, filing a formal complaint against Air Canada for refund delays, and getting 9 airlines to change their refund policies so that passengers can get refunded more quickly.

This is just the beginning; obviously more work ahead.

A quick preview of the week ahead:

You know a lot of this already, but tomorrow, the President and First Lady will honor and memorialize the lives lost with travel to all three sites of the 9/11 attacks, visiting New York City; Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and the Pentagon. 

On Monday, the President will travel to Boise, Idaho, where he will visit the National Interagency Fire Center.  He will also head to Sacramento, California, to survey wildfire damage that has affected the region.  Then the President will head to Long Beach, California, to participate in an event with Governor Gavin Newsom. 

On Tuesday, he will travel to Denver, Colorado, to participate in a Build Back Better infrastructure event.  We’ll have more details, I expect, over the coming days.  More to come in the schedule for the week ahead. 

With that, Alex, go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I was hoping you could comment on some new reporting from my colleague that health concerns have halted U.S.-bound flights of Afghan evacuees from two key countries.  What was behind that?  Is it COVID related?  Do you know how many Afghan refugees are affected?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me give you the information we have at this point.  Operation All- — or I have, I should say, at this point.  Operation Allies Welcome flights into the United States have been temporarily paused at the request of the CDC and out of an abundance of caution because of four diagnosed cases of measles among Afghans who recently arrived in the United States. 

These individuals are being quarantined in accordance with public health guidelines, and the CDC has begun full contact tracing.  All arriving Afghans are currently required to be vaccinated for measles as a condition of entry into the United States.  And critical immunizations including MNR [MMR] are being administered for Afghans at military bases in the United States.  And we are also — MMR, sorry.  We are also exploring measures to vaccinate people while they are still overseas, so that’s something we’re looking into.  But it was, again, a step recommended by the CDC out of an abundance of caution, given four measles cases.

Q    And then I wanted to ask about a change in tone from the administration when it comes to blaming the unvaccinated.  In July, you were actually asked about when Governor Ivey said “it’s time to start blaming” unvaccinated folks.  And you said, quote — you didn’t — you didn’t think it was, quote, “our role…to place blame,” and it was, quote, “not the role of the federal government” to blame.  But that’s pretty much what President Biden did yesterday.  So what has shifted, you know, in these months that you’ve decided to take a more aggressive tone?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t think it will surprise you I wouldn’t characterize his speech in exactly those words or that terminology.  What you heard the President convey yesterday is the next steps that he is taking using every lever of government to reduce sicknesses, to reduce hospitalizations, to protect more people, and save more lives. 

I will say that he was channeli- — channeling the frustration that millions of people across this country are feeling who are vaccinated, that many governors and elected officials have also shared their frustration over. 

And as is the case — I mean, it is also true that there has also been a growing frustration among people.  So if you look at the trends over the last couple of months — you know, we didn’t anticipate, I will say, that when there was a vaccine approved by — under a Republican President, that the Republican President took, that there would be such hesitation, opposition — vehement opposition, in some cases — from so many people of his own party in this country.  We didn’t anticipate that. 

It’s also true that there are many people in this country who weren’t vaccinated who said, “I’m just waiting for the FDA to approve the vaccine.”  That happened several weeks ago.  There’s still 80 million people who are unvaccinated. 

And we’ve also seen, during this time, the Delta variant — a transmissible variant — pose greater risk, put more people in hospitals, including kids.

So that is why people across the country are frustrated, who are vaccinated, and certainly the President was channeling that yesterday.

Q    And then one more quick one on OSHA.  Can you talk about enforcement of the vaccine mandate for businesses?  We’ve already seen a lot of evidence that OSHA is overtasked.  There was an IG report that suggested, even though there’s been more OSHA complaints, that there’s been fewer investigations.  So will the administration be providing more resources to OSHA to help them to implement this mandate?  How will it work?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s a great question, Alex.  Obviously, the President just announced the steps yesterday.  Those be — there’ll be a rulemaking process that’s going to take a little bit of time.  And certainly, whatever resources they need, I’m sure the President will want them to have.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi.  Just a follow-up on the enforcement of that.  Realistically, I mean, how long could it take?  Some experts say it could take months, and the effects of this new rule, especially for companies, may not be felt in time for the Delta wave.  Do you have an estimation on how long it could take?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have an estimation for you today, but there’s clearly an urgency here, and we want to ensure that rulemaking proceeds rapidly, as quickly as possible. 

I’ll also note, though, that there are a number of companies that have already put requirements in place: United Airlines, Tyson Foods, Southwest, Houston Methodist.  The huge hospital system was one of the biggest ones that did this early.  They had a varying number of days for implementation, but certainly we’re going to put every resource in the federal government to get this going rapidly.

We’ve also seen announcements.  Southwest Airlines announced today it was taking the next steps toward full compliance.  Business Roundtable issued a statement welcoming the President’s announcement. 

Certainly this will be up to a number of private sector companies.  Our expectation and hope is they will take these steps on their own, and then we will continue to implement for those who are not complying.

Q    Another question on the Republicans that have come out obviously criticizing the new requirements.  Nineteen Republican governors have said that they plan to fight this.  Has the White House been in contact with any of those governors who have criticized this since the President made this announcement yesterday?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any engagements or calls to read out for you.  We are in touch with a range of governors — Democratic and Republican — every week, if not more frequently, about a range of topics, including our efforts to address the pandemic. 

We’re also in touch with health officials, up and down the lines in these states, who are often implementing these plans and policies.

Q    One last question for you.  Just — an appeals
court just ruled in favor of Governor Ron DeSantis and his administration, saying the state can now enforce a ban on strict mask mandates.  Just a response to that.  Are you concerned that this is going to put more children at risk in that state?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, one of the steps the President announced yesterday is that we have the funding, the resources, and the intention of having the back of leaders in school districts — superintendents and others — who do the right thing by students, and that includes putting in place mask requirements and other requirements that will keep them safe.

Q    Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Jen, with the 9/11 commemorations, can you tell me what you are doing to sort of go back and address the huge, massive wave of hate crimes that we saw against Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and those who were taken to be either Arab or Muslim?  So what is the White House’s plan to address that component of the history of the aftermath of the attacks?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that ensuring that we are advocating for equity, that we are speaking out, that we are taking actions against hate crimes — verbal abuse of any kind against any group — is certainly central to what we in this administration and what the President believes in. 

I’d note that the President — you’ll — we’ll be releasing a video from him shortly later this afternoon, and one of the messages that he’s going to convey is about the importance of unity.

And as we reflect back on 9/11 and look back to that time 20 years ago — and the President was talking about this the other day with some of us and conveying that, you know, he remembers that day, being on the train on the way to Washington.  The first thing he wanted to do was to go to the floor of the Capitol and convey to the American people that this is a time to come together.  And so that will certainly be central to his message.

It’s not just words — I’m not suggesting that — but that is certainly what you will hear him say in this video and what we will continue to convey. 

I would say, though, that there will continue to be efforts and actions by the Department of Justice, by agencies across government to fight hate crimes, to speak out against them, and to take any actions in our power to do that.

Q    Can I just follow up on that, just in terms of the unity question?  So, I tried to ask the President today at the event at the school whether he’s concerned that his actions — you know, we’ve seen the backlash from Republicans and others in terms of the vaccination mandates. 

Is he concerned that, you know, what’s happening now is actually driving the country further apart both in terms of the vaccinations?  There’s a lot of controversy and divisiveness also about Afghanistan and how that was handled.  Do you know — are you worried that, at this point, the country is getting further apart and, you know, all the political ramifications that has in terms of getting your agenda through on the Build Back Better?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s a lot unpack — to unpack there, so let me do my best. 

Look, I think the President believes that the reason he made the — took the steps he did yesterday is because he believes that, beyond politics, that the role of the President of the United States is to protect people and save their lives.

It wasn’t that we didn’t anticipate there would be strong reactions — and there were.  But ultimately, 75 percent of adults who are eligible in this country are vaccinated.  Eighty million people — or 25 percent of people who are eligible — are not. 

This is not intended to be a dividing issue; it’s intended to actually — or a political issue.  What his objective is to deliver on what he thinks he promised the American people, which is to save their lives. 

Ultimately, there are a range of components of his agenda that are moving forward because there’s broad support for them across the country — whether that is making sure we have more roads, rails, and bridges that are fixed, or making sure that we do more to save money to reduce costs for middle-class and working-class families.

So, yes, we do see some loud, vocal opponents of what the President announced yesterday; that’s not a surprise.  It’s unfortunate, it’s disappointing, it’s sad, because, ultimately, these steps will save lives.  But we remain confident in our ability to move the agenda forward.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Why include the option to test out in this new Labor Department rule?

MS. PSAKI:  For businesses you mean?  You mean instead of just requiring businesses vaccinate?  Ultimately, businesses are going to make those decisions, and this is a way to implement the OSHA regulations that, by the way, are part of what has been federal law for more than 50 years.  That’s why we have the capacity and the ability to do this.  And we think it’s going to have a huge impact. 

Many businesses may choose the option of allowing for testing as an option.  Many may choose that they should just make vaccines the requirement.  But it leaves it up to them to make that decision. 

Q    And if they do testing, who pays for the testing?  Is it the business or the employee? 

MS. PSAKI:  I would believe it’s probably per business make that decision, but I would bet that most would be the businesses that pay for that.

Q    And the President has said, previously, he did not want to mandate the vaccine.  So can you explain why his thinking on this has changed?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, first, I know he said that back in December or January — so, eight, nine months ago.  And I’ve touched on a couple of the components that we feel have changed a bit. 

One is that we didn’t anticipate, once the vaccine was readily, widely available and free to the public across the country — anyone who wants a vaccine has been able to get one for months — that there would be such opposition to it, especially given it was approved under the former president, a Republican president.

You know, the second piece of this is that we also anticipated — or maybe we didn’t anticipate, but we knew that a number of people were waiting for FDA approval to get the vaccine; that they said that once it’s approved by the FDA, that’s what I’m really waiting for.  There were more people who were vaccinated in August than July, but there are still 80 million people who are not vaccinated. 

And the third piece is, again, the vulnerability of children, of immunocompromised, and others to the transmissible — given the transmissibility of the Delta variant.  We’ve always been open to and taking steps that were going to save more lives, protect more people, and that’s exactly what yesterday’s announcement is a reflection of.

Q    Last question.  Is he now considering mandating vaccinations to fly domestically? 

MS. PSAKI:  We are always looking at more we can do to protect and save lives.  Obviously, he made a significant and bold announcement yesterday, so I don’t have anything to preview — predict or preview for you, but we’ll continue to look for ways to save more lives.

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, thank you, Jen.  So, just to clarify, is the thing that was preventing the President from issuing these mandates earlier the FDA approval?  Is that what the White House was waiting for before announcing these mandates?

MS. PSAKI:  There’s nothing preventing, but I would say, obviously, our preference would be that the 80 million people who are not vaccinated got the vaccine when it was available; they didn’t.  So it’s our role and it’s the President’s role as the President of United States to continue to take steps to protect the American people and save lives.  That’s what it’s a reflection of.

Q    The follow-up would be: If these mandates are necessary — given the risk of the Delta variant, given hospitalizations, and ultimately to save lives, as you were saying — why not do this earlier?  Why not do it a month ago when hospitalizations were on the rise?  You know, this has been a concern for a while. 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, this has actually been building on the steps that we have been taking.  So, we mandated — mandated or testing in the federal government.  We took, obviously, an additional step yesterday.  There were a number of private sector companies, many we encouraged, who came out and put in place mandates and requirements. 

This is building on the steps we had taken.  But again, there are a range of factors that have happened over the last several months, and it’s only natural that we continue to look for more ways to save lives given we’re at the point where, clearly, we’re in the most vaccine-resistant population.  

And we’ve also seen — let me just say, we’ve also seen it works.  We’ve seen companies put in place vaccine requirements.  We’ve seen the impact of those and the number of people at United Airlines, at other companies get vaccinated within the timeline that is required.  And, you know, that’s something that made sense.

Q    And is the administration considering offering federal funding to states who mandate this at the state level as well?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything else to preview or predict for you in terms of additional next steps.  Obviously, we made a big, bold announcement yesterday, so I don’t have anything new to preview for you. 

Go ahead.

Q    Considering the critical role of the FDA, why has President Biden not yet nominated an FDA director?

MS. PSAKI:  He’s eager to find the right person to fill that role.  I would note that, just like any agency, there are hundreds of people who are career employees — the backbone of the federal government who are working every day to get the job done.  And these agencies certainly continue to function at a high level, even without a director, even if his preference, of course, would be to have a confirmed director in place.

Q    And on another topic: Does the White House want to see a debt limit increase in the continuing resolution to fund the government later this month?

MS. PSAKI:  The White House — we continue to believe that Democrats and Republicans should do what they have done 80 times, which is to raise the debt limit, and that is what we are working toward.  But I’m not going to get into what vehicle it may look like.  That certainly is something we’ll have discussions with about — with Congress and congressional leaders and — but we’ll leave that to them.

Go ahead. 

Q    Drilling down on the legal implications or the legal underpinnings of this decision for this OSHA regulation, can you talk about what type of legal analysis happened before the announcement yesterday?  Was that done out of the White House, the White House Office of Counsel?  Or was that done in the Labor Department?  And also, is part of the reason why there’s a testing opt-out is that because there was a thought that that would allow this rule to be better able to stand up to legal scrutiny?

MS. PSAKI:  So we don’t actually anticipate — I mean, this is a law.  So, Congress passed a law in 1970 — the Occupational Safety and Health Act.  And the reason the Department of Labor and OSHA is able to take the strong step to protect Americans from COVID is that Congress passed that law.  Yesterday’s announcement by the Department of Labor is proceeding under that law.  And the law basically requires the Department of Labor take action when it finds grave risk to workers.  And certainly a pandemic that killed more than 600,000 people qualifies as “grave risk to workers.” 

And so, if the Secretary determines workers are in grave danger, he has an obligation to issue an emergency temporary standard.  That’s exactly what he did.

Q    And so was that — was there an official analysis done to — or was it just a decision the Department of Labor said, “Look, this is a pandemic…” —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, clearly, everything we do we, obviously, review legally.  Everything — every bill we — every bill we support, every announc- — policy announcement we make.  But I think that’s pretty clear.  It doesn’t even take a legal degree to understand that.

Q    And just on another topic: the call with President Xi of China.  How long was that?  And also, did they discuss meeting in person at the G20?

MS. PSAKI:  It was about 90 minutes, the call.  The President has spent a lot of time with President Xi in the past, as he’s talked about publicly, and he drew on that shared experience in this call.  So the call was very familiar.  It was candid.  He didn’t avoid areas of disagreement, but the tone was not lecturing, nor was it condescending; it was respectful.  It was 90 minutes. 

I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of future meetings.  I would note that this call was about keeping the channels of communication open.  And what we’ve seen is that the importance here is about engaging Xi directly at the leader level, due to the centralization of power and the power that’s in his hands, hence that was the importance of the call.  It covered a range of topics. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  After the rule is implemented, do you know how long companies will have to comply?

MS. PSAKI:  That will be, I believe, part of the rulemaking process.  So I expect we’ll have more on that once that’s completed.

Q    And then, do you have anything to share about how you landed on employers with 100 employees or more?  Why not the entire workforce?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it was an assessment made by the Department of Labor and the Secretary of Labor.

I will say it obviously impacts a huge number of people, so we think it will have an enormous impact on businesses, on companies, on communities and the workforce.  But, you know, it was a determination made by the Labor Department.

Q    And then, can you talk about the enforcement body — how robust that’s going to be?  Since we’re talking about a huge number of businesses, how are you going to make sure they’re complying?  And I know Jeff Zients said the fine could be up to $14,000 per violation.  What is a “violation”?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, these are all good questions.  This has to be included in the rulemaking process.  It’s about up to — to be specific — $13,600 per violation.  But this is all a part of what would be determined in the coming weeks.

Q    And one more, on masks.  Public health experts, including the former Surgeon General today, Jerome Adams, have said it’s not just about vaccinations; that —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — that the moves to end masking back in May were premature.  Do you have a response to that? 

And also, in light of that, are there any efforts coming up to talk about masks again?  Because the last we heard, it was — you know, it was kind of confusing that you only need to do it sometimes if it’s high transmissibility, which is now the case, I think, nationwide.  So do you —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President —

Q    — have a response to —

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have a response to the former Surgeon General.  I will say that, factually, back in May, when we made that announcement, the Delta variant was about 1 percent of cases.  Obviously, things have changed since that period of time.  It’s incredibly transmissible.  And obviously, as we’ve noted, even as vaccines became widely available to the country, there are still today 80 million people who are not vaccinated. 

So, our responsibility is to continue to take steps that will protect people and save lives.  And that’s what we’re focused on.

The President did talk about masks yesterday and fines on airplanes, and what would be required in that regard.  Also masking as it relates to school certainly protects children and kids from transmissibility and the spread of the virus.

And what I would say is: We do agree — it’s not just about vaccines, it’s — (phone sounds).  Whoa.  It’s — (laughter) — okay.  I know what’s happening.  (Laughs.)

Q    My phone has something to say about that.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  It’s okay.  No worries. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  I didn’t know if that was a video game or an alarm, or if we should evacuate.

Q    I’ve never heard that sound before.

MS. PSAKI:  Okay. 

Q    (Inaudible.)  Thank you.  (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, great.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  To follow up on the call with President Xi last night, exactly two weeks ago, when the intel community came up empty trying to figure out the origins of COVID, the President said “critical information” about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China.  When he talked to the President of China last night, did he press him like he said he was going to?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not going to go into a list — (alarm sounds) — of every topic discussed.  That was a very dramatic entry to that answer, but I’ll start again. 

I’m not going to go into every list of every topic discussed.  They did discuss a range of transnational issues, including COVID-19.  And understanding its origins is, of course, a primary concern for this administration.  We continue to support phase two of the WHO’s investigation in China, and call on China to allow further studies of COVID-19 origins in China. 

I will also note that, you know, one of the topics the presidents also discussed is the importance of being able to have private discussions between the two leaders.  This is in contrast to some of the other interactions we’ve had at lower levels with the PRC.  And so, yes, it was a topic raised, but I’m not going to go into further detail.

     Q    So we should understand that to mean that the President did ask him to let international investigators in to get this information that he says China has?

MS. PSAKI:  We’ve conveyed that many times publicly.  I
think they know that that’s our position and view.

Q    But not publicly.  On this 90-minute phone call, did they talk about —

MS. PSAKI:  Again, Peter, this is a topic that we have said — conveyed many times, at many levels.  I’m just not going to have more in the call to read out for you.

Q    Okay.  And then why is it that you’re trying to require anybody with a job or anybody who goes to school to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but you’re not requiring that of migrants that continue walking across the southern border into the country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, our objective is to get as many people vaccinated across the country as humanly possible.  And so the President’s announcement yesterday was an effort to empower businesses, to give businesses the tools to protect their workforces.  That’s exactly what we did. 

But certainly we want everybody to get vaccinated.  And more people who are vaccinated, whether they are migrants or whether they are workers, protects more people in the United States.

Q    But it’s a requirement for people at a business with more than 100 people, but it’s not a requirement for migrants at the southern border.  Why?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s correct.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, we know that, with enforcement, employers who refuse to implement the vaccine rules are subject to fines. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    But what about employees who refuse to comply with the requirements?  Will federal contractors or the employees be fired?  And is that the recommendation for private sector employees who don’t comply?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, there needs to be rulemaking.  That will take place as it relates to the OSHA requirements, and that is the one that applies to private sector companies of individuals 100 people and over.

We have our own rules in the federal government, which are applied through different statutes.  So, yes, you’re right — there will be coun- — there would be counseling.  We are certainly going to take every step to convey the safety and the efficacy of these vaccines to federal employees.  But certainly, vaccination is required for contractors and employees, and the President was pretty clear about that yesterday.

Q    And so, ultimately, people could get fired (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

Q    And then on another topic: rapid testing.  In Europe, rapid tests are cheap, pretty widely available.  In the U.S., it still can be expensive and hard to find one.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Why is that?  And why hasn’t administration been able to address some of those issues before this latest plan rolled out?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say we just started to address some of those big issues yesterday because we recognized, as you said, that this was a hindrance for many people.

Now, we did take steps to include funding for testing in the American Rescue Plan that has been applied in schools and communities across the country.

But what we’ve seen is an increased interest in rapid tests and at-home tests, and we’re being responsive to that as well.

And this kind of goes back to the comments of Jerome Adams. I mean, testing is also a component that probably we don’t talk about enough — or the world doesn’t talk about enough, because it is important, and it’s a way to make sure people have — are protected. 

We know the demand for rapid tests has more than doubled in recent weeks, and so we’re also being responsive to that.  So this is a nearly $2 billion investment in rapid at-home tests — 280 million tests at home.  We’re also going to send 25 million free at-home rapid tests to the 1,400 community health centers, and top retailers are going to be selling them.  So we tried to take a number of steps — bold steps from the federal government and working with the private sector to make them more rapidly available.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, what does the White House say to those businesses — some business groups are expressing this concern that this requirement that they either have their employees be vaccinated or that they be tested is ultimately a burden on the businesses?  So, what does the White House say about that burden?  Because it’s certainly a costly liability some say.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the vaccines are free and available to everyone in the country.  So that shouldn’t be costly or avail– or —

Q    They were given an opt-out.  So, in other words, if they say they want to do the weekly tests — you couldn’t say earlier who would pay for that test.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    Businesses are saying, “How do we get these tests to our employees?  What if our employees don’t want to pay for it themselves?  Do we have to pay for it?  And what does that cost us at the end of the day?”  Given that they have the right to opt out.

MS. PSAKI:  They have to make that decision themselves.  It’s certainly more cost-effective to require vaccines.  They may not decide to do that.  That’s up to them to decide to do.

Q    So, ultimately, the burden is on that business to make that decision or just swallow the cost?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  Most of these businesses can absolutely afford it.  And what we’re talking about here is saving people’s lives and protecting them.

I’d also say there are a number of companies that have already applied this — have already put requirements in place. It makes for safer workplaces; it makes people want to come back to the workplace; it makes for healthier and happier employees who know that they are safe when they go to work.  And that’s a cost as well.

Q    Obviously, testing is cheaper for a place like United. They can afford it more easily than a business that’s only 100 people big.  That’s why I ask.

MS. PSAKI:  I understand.

Q    Can I ask about —

MS. PSAKI:  But again, vaccines: free, available everywhere in the country.  Requiring that is a way — is — is not — is free and shouldn’t cost businesses any money.

Q    Understood.  Religious exemptions right now — can you give us a better understanding?  How does that — how will that work?  I know how you said there’ll be religious exemptions that would exist for federal workers and the like.  How about for mega churches, other religious organizations in this country that have more than 100 employees?  What right do they have under these yet-to-be-created rules?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, the rules are being created, but we have obviously had religious exemptions even for federal employees.  I’m sure that will be a factor taken into consideration.  But I don’t — I can’t make a prediction of what the final rules will look like.

Q    But the intention is, I presume, that if you’re a religious organization, you say, “Hey, we don’t want to have to do this in our organization” —

MS. PSAKI:  Again, this is going to be for OSHA to determine as they’re doing the rulemaking, and Department of Labor, so I will not get ahead of that process.

Q    Let me ask you about 9/11, if I can.  The President — you said his remarks are going to be coming out in some form — his reflections will be coming out in some form over the course of this day.  Can you sort of pull back the curtain a bit for us about his preparations in advance of tomorrow as best you can?  What conversations, phone calls he’s had with those who may have lost loved ones, with past presidents, with foreign leaders, just as he prepares for his reflections? 

And then, separately, why will he not be delivering remarks of some kind tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say first, on the second question, the President felt it was important to visit each of these three sites to commemorate the lives lost, the sacrifices made on a day that has impacted millions of people across the country but certainly many people in those communities.

In order to do that, he’s attending a ceremony where several other former presidents and prominent officials are going to be hearing the names of the — those lives that were lost around that period of time — is in a moment where there’s a lengthy speaking program.  And then he’s going to be laying wreaths to commemorate the lives and honor those whose lives have lost. 

We’re releasing the video today because we want you to hear from him, and he wants the American people to hear from him directly on what 9/11 means to him 20 years later, and so that’s why we’re doing it in advance of his trip tomorrow.

Q    And then, to the first part of that question: For conversations he’s had with — has he had conversations with Delawareans, with other Americans who lost loved ones?  What — what has — what have these days leading up to 9/11 looked like for him as he’s prepared for these reflections?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m happy to check if there’s been any conversations that fall into that category.  Absolutely.

Go ahead.

Q    So we’ve reported that some members of the Cabinet will be meeting to discuss trade issues, including a new probe on allegedly illegal subsidies.  Can you confirm that?  And how does that meeting dovetail with the call with Xi last night, in which the two leaders talked about preventing competition from turning into conflict?  Would a new trade probe be an escalation of hostilities?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that certainly economic topics are — were a part of the discussion last night, but they were not a major part of the 90-minute call that the President had with President Xi.  And it wasn’t a call that was intended to produce final outcomes or deliver final outcomes.

There are — I can’t even tell you how many meetings among high-level policy officials and Cabinet members on a daily basis.  We typically don’t confirm those, but that is not out of the normal, nor is it an indication of anything other than people in the government doing their work.

Q    And can I ask about debt ceiling?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    Democrats in Congress can raise the debt ceiling without any votes from Republicans.  Has the President asked them to do that, and, if not, why not?

MS. PSAKI:  The President believes that Democrats and Republicans in Congress should do what they’ve done 80 times in the past and raise the debt ceiling.  It shouldn’t be a political issue.  It’s something that is about the full faith and — the faith and credit of the United States government; something that most of them — most of the Republicans voted to do three times under the last administration, even after $2 trillion in tax cuts that certainly added to the debt, did not — did not subtract from the debt, were passed by the same members.  So that continues to be his call.

Q    And just one more question on Afghans.  There are 30,000 Afghans at foreign bases in third countries with varying immigration status.  Has the administration advised or pressured any of those refugees to accept asylum in countries other than the U.S.?  If they want to relocate here and aren’t disqualified for visa programs, will they be able to?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there is a process that has been underway for some time.  We’re very grateful to these countries who have been — served as “lily pads,” as we’ve called them, to have refugees who are trying to leave Afghanistan and we couldn’t hesitate in getting these individuals who had fought by our side and played a pivotal role over the last 20 years.

Some of them — many of them will come to the United States.  Some of them will go to other third countries.  That is part of the process.  I don’t think that’s a pressure, but that’s always been part of the plan that we’ve discussed.  There will be — many of them will be eligible for programs in the United States.  Some of them may end up in other countries, and that’s always been part of the plan.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  A couple of questions on the President’s announcement yesterday.  Business owners are already voicing concerns they aren’t able to find applicants for jobs.  There are a record 10.9 million job openings.  Is the administration at all concerned that this new vaccine mandate that applies to businesses with 100 or more employees will cause further staffing shortages for businesses?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, look, I think, one, there are a number of businesses across the country who have already applied these requirements.  And they could be a model, some of them.  I understand you may be asking about smaller businesses, but it’s for employees of 100 or more.

And certainly, when the President made the decision to put in place these policies and to announce them yesterday, he made it based on his number-one objective, which is to protect people in this country and save more lives.

And he also announced yesterday additional assistance for small businesses.  That was a part of his plan to ensure they have the assistance they need.  But 75 percent of people in this country have been vaccinated — who are eligible have been vaccinated; 25 percent have not.

So, that’s what our target is.  That’s what our objective is.  No, our goal is not to place undue burden; our goal is to save lives — and that’s what we hope this will do.

Q    And then to go off a colleague’s earlier question —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — about rapid tests, which the President mentioned yesterday.  He’s going to be using the Defense Production Act to add —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — roughly 280 million of these have rapid at-home tests.  But, of course, that’s only — or at least kits — that’s only less than one kit per person in the country.  So what else can be done to ramp up those tests and to bring down the potentially prohibitive costs of these tests if they’re going to be used on a regular basis for (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, one of the steps we took was to work with big private sector retailers to make these tests available.  And certainly that’s — that is planned for the next three months, where we expect there will be a great need.  But we will continue to look, as there are needs, to make sure people in the country have the resources they need.  This is not the end, but this was certainly a significant announcement yesterday. 

Go ahead.

Q    Sure.  And is there a goal for how many at-home rapid tests should be available, beyond the 280 million?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I think announcing the two — the numbers we had yesterday is pretty significant.  I don’t have anything more to preview for you about additional tests.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  On China, maybe — I understand you don’t want to provide too many details about the phone calls, but were human rights part of the conversation?  And also, did the President get the impression that China is willing to play an active role at the upcoming COP summit about climate? 

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to speak for what their intentions are at the COP summit.  Of course, I would note that, of course, climate around — as well as a number of topics were discussed, and the COP summit is the next big moment for the international community on that front.  And certainly, human rights were a part of the discussion, and the President did raise them, as he always does in these engagements.

Go ahead.

Q    A question about wildfires.  The President is traveling to Idaho and California to survey wildfire damage.  When he had this meeting with the western governors earlier this year, Governor Newsom and others voiced frustration with the U.S. Forest Service, accused them of having a wait-and-see culture.  Is the President announcing any policy changes, any new developments on strategy to wildfires when he’s out there?

MS. PSAKI:  You’ll have to wait and see. 

Q    And a question on just the backlash from a state attorneys general.  Can you expand on why the 1970 law does cover specifically these requirements for businesses?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Let me try it again.  So, the 1970 law, which has now been in place — to do the math for all of you — for 51 years — it’s a law that requi- — let me to give you the exact statement of it here. 

It requires the Department of Labor to take action when it finds grave risk to workers.  And certainly, a pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 people, where 25 percent of eligible people who are — have not yet been vaccinated poses a grave risk. 

And so this — what Department of Labor was proceeding under that duly enacted law.  It actually determines — the Secretary is required — has an obligation, I should say — to issue an emergency temporary standard when it meets that bar. 

So that is the background on that, or the information on that.

Go ahead.

Q    Will the administration consider revisiting federal emergency unemployment benefits as Delta continues to impact the job market?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve talked about this a little bit in here in the past.  And just to note: About half of the states that had been implementing these benefits ended the benefits several months ago.  So we’re really talking about 26 states.  In those 26 states, the unemployment rate is between 3 and 7 percent — quite a range.  So the point is they have different needs. 

And what we’ve been doing is been working with leaders in these states, governors, other leaders to figure out how funding from the American Rescue Plan, state and local funding, and other funding can be used to apply for specific categories of benefits should they feel those benefits are needed.

But we haven’t seen actually the issue in the economy, which still has issues that we’re still recovering from, to be an employment issue.  There are other issues that we’re working to address in the economy.

Q    But in the states — in the majority of the states that did stop the aid early, there wasn’t any sign that it actually impacted employment rates.  So, I mean, is there no additional steps that the White House wants to take?  Do they want to see Congress take action on that?  Or — I mean, how else do you expect to maybe help governors who — or push governors who decide that they don’t want to use that aid that’s been provided federally for unemployment benefits?

MS. PSAKI:  That is aid that’s available, and as governors decide — as we work with governors to determine how to help people in the states who still need help — which is imperative and one of the reasons why the American Rescue Plan was designed in the way it was — was so that the Child Tax Credit and other programs are going out in the months ahead and into next year.

So the point is that there is state and local funding that can be used.  We’re working with these states to implement that funding.  If your unemployment rate is 3 percent, you have different needs than if your unemployment rate is 7 or 8 percent.  So that’s the point I was making as it relates to how we apply these programs.

Go ahead.

Q    The administration obviously believes that more requirements are necessary to get more people vaccinated.  But of the 80 million people who have not yet gotten their first shot, what amount does the administration assess are still persuadable?  And what amount do you think actually need the force of government to make them do it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well that’s a hard — that’s a hard question to assess from here.

Q    Obviously, it’s a (inaudible) — it’s a range.  But —

MS. PSAKI:  I will say, clearly, we felt that putting in place additional steps and requirements was essential to get more of the 80 million people vaccinated.  I can’t tell you how many of them — it’s not really about being persuadable if it’s going to be a requirement at many workplaces across the country.

Q    Yeah.  So, most people at this point need a requirement.  There’s not a lot of people left to persuade at this point.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, at this point — it’s really hard to give a number on that, right?  And I don’t want to irresponsibly guess at that from here.  But at this point, the vaccines have been widely available across the country for months — in communities across the country for months.  We have mobile clinics.  We have — we’ve done it in many different ways in communities.  So we’re assessing that some of these requirements are the next lever needed to get more people vaccinated and ultimately protect more people in the country.

Q    And just to clarify something you said earlier: The President is not making remarks tomorrow.  He’s releasing a video ahead of time — is what you’re saying.

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

Q    So he’s not giving a speech at any of the three locations?

MS. PSAKI:  Right.  Exactly.

Patsy, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  A couple of foreign policy questions.  The first one: The Taliban and the Qataris are insisting that flights out of Afghanistan are no longer evacuations but kind of business as usual for travelers with documentation. 

I’ve noticed that Emily Horne’s statement on the flights that came out today, as well as yesterday, did also not use the word “evacuation.”  So can you confirm whether the administration is still considering and treating these flights out of Afghanistan as evacuations?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re considering them people departing who want to depart Afghanistan.  I’m not sure that the word matters.

Q    Okay.  The second one is on the Israeli Prime Minister who is calling on the international community to act quickly and immediately against Iran, following an IAEA report that Tehran has dramatically increased production of uranium — highly enriched uranium — in recent months.  Do you have a comment on that? 

MS. PSAKI:  I will get you a comment from our national security team.

Q    Okay.  And one last one on Taiwan.  Is the administration seriously considering a request from Taiwan to change the name of its mission in Washington from “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office” to “Taiwan Representative Office”?

MS. PSAKI:  I have — I would have to check with our team on this issue. 

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, two questions — one on Afghanistan and one on the vaccinations, if I could.  On Afghanistan, I’m curious if there’s been any offers of resignation from anyone in the chain of command or anyone involved in the decisions with the evacuation.

MS. PSAKI:  No.

Q    So, the President still has confidence in those —

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    On the vaccinations: The President talked about the importance of boosters last night.  The President’s second shot was in January.  If you follow that logic, eight months afterwards you’re supposed to get the booster.  That would have been last month for the President.  Has the President gotten the booster?  Is he going to get the booster?  When?

MS. PSAKI:  He will.  He has not gotten it yet.  We’ll wait until it’s widely available, which we expect to be soon.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, I’m hearing that the Bureau of Prisons issued a memo today telling approximately about 1,000 drug offenders how to apply for clemency.  Have you — do you have anything on that?

MS. PSAKI:  I would certainly point you to the Department of Justice.  I would say that the President has been clear about his openness to using clemency powers, but I don’t — I wouldn’t say that’s an assessment of decisions made — and certainly targeting those toward nonviolent drug offenders.  But I’d point you to the Department of Justice for any further details.

Q    A follow-up on the mandates.  Would companies, like Delta, now having a $200 premium that they’re going to — $200 that they’re going to add to the insurance premiums, how does the President feel about companies trying to persuade people to get vaccines by doing that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there are a range of ways we’ve recommended companies try to incentivize people get vaccinated, including mandating them, including putting in place requirements, and many have taken creative steps.  So there’s a range of ways to look at.  That’s not one we’ve advocated for, but obviously different companies will make different choices.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Not to try to shame any vaccine skeptics — in Africa, people are looking for vaccine but they can’t find them.  In the U.S., there’s an abundance of vaccine, but up to 80 million people have refused to receive them.  And 1,500 people are dying every day.  Would you say that too much privilege is sending so many Americans to their early grave?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not sure what your question is.

Q    Is too much privilege sending many people to their early grave?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, first, that the United States wants to be an arsenal of vaccine distribution to the global community, and we have provided, donated more than every other country in the world combined.

We also know — and it is a responsibility of the President to protect and save lives in the United States as well.  That’s why we announced the steps that we announced yesterday.  We need to do both.

Q    Yeah.  No — so, I was asking: Is too much privilege killing people in the U.S.?  Like, there’s so much vaccine available here, but people are refusing to take them.  While in Africa, people don’t even have access to vaccine and they want to have them.  Are we too privileged here to the extent that we are ready to die instead of taking the vaccine?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think that’s a hard question.  I don’t know that I have a comment on that from the U.S. government.  I would say that our objective here is to convey to people — not in a political way, whenever we can avoid it — that vaccines will save your life; that everybody should go get one; and they’ll save your neighbors, your friends, your grandparents.  And that’s our objective.

Q    Can I —

MS. PSAKI:  Okay.  I think I got to keep going here.

Q    — ask one last one on China?

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, no, I got to keep going. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Could you confirm that there’s going to be an in-person Quad Summit in Washington, D.C., on September 24th?

MS. PSAKI:  An in-person — I’m sorry?

Q    Quad Summit.

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, sorry.  I couldn’t — the masks are hard sometimes, and they’re important.

I will have more details.  I don’t have anything to announce at this point in time.

Q    And was there any mention of Taiwan during the phone call with President Xi Jinping?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not — I’d have to check, but I don’t have anything on that in the readout.

Go ahead, Mike.

Q    Jen, obviously Congress has a lot on its plate next week, but we’re also going to see the beginning of oversight hearings.  Secretary of State Tony Blinken will be the first up as part of the different committees looking into the Afghanistan decision and fallout.  What role is the White House playing in terms of preparations for these hearings?  And might we expect any White House officials to be part of public hearings on Capitol Hill?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we have been cooperating, working with Congress, briefing them regularly throughout the course of the last several weeks, and that will continue.  And we’ll certainly continue to provide officials as appropriate, moving forward.

As it relates to preparations, I’d certainly point you to the State Department.

Q    And then, we’re still a week away, but there are — Capitol Police is reinstalling some of the perimeter fencing around the Capitol in advance of these Justice for J6 protest demonstrations that are expected.  How closely is the White House monitoring these, not just in Washington, but across the country?  And have any White House officials expressed interest or concern about maybe reinstalling some of the fencing we saw around the White House grounds in January?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re always going to assess what security measures need to be put in place, but we typically don’t preview them, and I’m not going to do that from here.

Obviously, the Capitol and leadership in Congress takes their own steps, and we certainly trust them to make decisions about how to protect the members of their caucuses.

Shelby.

Q    Thanks.  Just two quick ones for you.  Does the administration consider this latest vaccine mandate for private sector companies to be a workaround for the federal government to require vaccines?

MS. PSAKI:  Meaning to require them for the American people?

Q    Yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, this is a tool, a step that, again, there’s legal authority for based on a 50-year old law, and one that we took action on because the President wanted to use every lever at his disposal to protect more people and save more lives. 

But, no, it’s not — we don’t have the ability to tell every American, “You have to be vaccinated.”  There’s a means of encouraging it, of mandating it through certain — through certain pathways, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

All right, thanks everyone.

3:51 P.M. EDT