Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, October 19, 2021

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, October 19, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 1:07 P.M. EDT MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  All right, a couple of items for all of you at the top. &nb

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:07 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  All right, a couple of items for all of you at the top.  With the pandemic taking a toll on so many young people, today we released a comprehensive overview of actions in the administration that we’re taking to improve access and care for youth mental health and substance use conditions, including new resources to address youth mental health challenges. 

These actions include:

Investing in direct service programs.  The American Rescue Plan provided historic funding levels to expanded services that link children and youth to needed services in their communities.  This includes efforts like the Pediatric Mental har- — Health Care Ac- — Access program and expanding Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.

Increasing school-based behavioral health supports through relief funding to help schools hire school psychologists, counselors, social workers, and other health professionals to address the mental health needs of students.

The Department of Education also released this morning the most comprehensive resource on mental health it has ever published, with real-world examples and strategies for how schools can address these needs.

HHS and MTV have also just announced that they’ll be hosting a youth mental health forum early next year, which will engage young people directly in identifying solutions to drive mental health action.

This is just the beginning of our efforts.

Also, today — the President’s executive order on competition called for improving the affordability and accessibility of hearing aids, and today the FDA took the next important step towards making them available over the counter at pharmacies and other regular retail stores without needing a prescription, a medical exam, or a fitting.

Building on bipartisan legislation led by Secretary Grassley and Senator — Senator Grassley — sorry — and Senator Warren, the rules issued today will help millions of Americans with mild to moderate hearing loss get cheaper and more convenient access to hearing aids. 

About 37.5 million American adults have trouble hearing, but just one fifth of them use hearing aids, in part because they’re so expensive and inconvenient to get.

The goal is to cut the red tape and allow more companies to compete to sell hearing aids.  We’re hopeful that the rules will be finalized next year.  And with increased competition, expect hearing aids to cost hundreds instead of thousands of dollars.

Finally, just wanted to give you a brief preview of the President’s trip tomorrow.  Tomorrow he’s traveling to his hometown — or one of his hometowns, I guess — of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to highlight the need for his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda.

He will talk about growing up in Scranton and the way his experience there influenced his values, and his belief that we need an economy that works for working people, like those in Scranton, instead of the wealthiest Americans on Wall Street.

The President will explain how these values are represented in his Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and Build Back Better Agenda, which will invest in our physical and human infrastructure and help working families like those he grew up with in Scranton.

He will also emphasize, as you heard him do in Michigan last week, how his agenda makes the United States more competitive with China and around the world, and can help America lead again on infrastructure — roads, highways, bridges, ports, and airports — and people, including education, research and development, and childcare.

The President’s infrastructure bill helps us rebuild our country, replace lead water pipes, expand access to high-speed Internet, invest in climate resilience, and create good-paying union jobs

One other item — sorry.  Last one.  Lots of things going on today.  Some good news on the supply chain front.  Union Pacific Railroad just announced its facility serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will now operate 24/7 to help move containers out of LA and Long Beach. 

And just yesterday, the Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said that we have already cut in half the amount of cargo that is sitting on their docks for 13 days or longer.  That is serious progress.

And this commitment from the railroad is just the latest step towards a 24/7 supply chain, and the result of important partnership between business, laborshi- — labor, and the port leadership. 

And also, welcome back to Kristen Welker, back as a fierce —

Q    Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  — momma journalist.  And we’re waving a hello to your beautiful daughter, too.  (Applause.)

Q    Thank you. 

MS. PSAKI:  Welcome back.

Q    Thank you so much. 

MS. PSAKI:  She’s not old enough to watch yet, but — (laughter) — hopefully. 

Q    She’s napping.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, she’s napping. 

Okay.  And, Darlene, why don’t you kick us off?

Q    Thank you.  Just a few questions about Rahm Emanuel’s confirmation hearing tomorrow.  How much weight did the President place on Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald police murder — involved murder before offering him the ambassadorship of Japan?

MS. PSAKI:  The President nominated Rahm Emanuel to serve as ambassador to Japan because he’s somebody who has a record of public service, both in Congress, serving as a public official in the White House, and certainly also as the mayor of Chicago.  And he felt he was somebody who could best represent the United States in Japan.

Q    How does the White House respond to some of the criticism of the nomination?  Specifically, from — there are some liberal House members who are unhappy about it.  And I know House members don’t have a role in the confirmation hearing tomorrow. 

There’s the NAACP.  There are activists in Chicago.  They’re all saying that the nomination is out of step with the values of the President, who has called for a comprehensive and meaningful police report.  So, how do you square those two?

MS. PSAKI:  The President’s record, commitment to police reform speaks for itself.  It is something he would like to get done; he would like to sign it into law.  It is far overdue, and it is a priority for him in his administration. 

At the same time, he selects and has nominated a range of ambassadors to serve the United States overseas because of their qualifications, whether it’s from business, public service, or other reasons that would make them qualify for these positions.

Q    And then lastly on that: Presumably, the President would have spoken with Rahm Emanuel at some point during the process.  Did they talk about the McDonald case?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any record of him speaking with him necessarily through the process; he didn’t speak with every ambassadorial nominee.  Obviously, he’s somebody who he was familiar with, he knew his record longstanding prior to the nomination.

And the President has made his own comments about that case, which I would point everyone to.

Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I just want to follow up on — on the supply chain that you just said was — you’re seeing some serious progress on that front.  So a couple questions —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — there.  So, the Port of Long Beach yesterday saw this new record broken: 100 vessels at anchor are waiting to enter.  Normally, pre-COVID, they’re seeing 17 ships, give or take, at anchor.

Is the President satisfied today on where things stand?

MS. PSAKI:  The President is satisfied that progress continues to be made.  And one of the reasons that there has been so much traffic in a lot of these ports is because there are more goods that are being ordered by people across the country — people who have more money, expendable resources.  Their wages are up.  More people are working than they were a year ago. 

And if you — and, port to port, it’s different.  But statistically, some of those ports have 20 percent, 30 percent increased volume as a result of that.

Q    The President had said in his remarks last week that “if federal support is needed,” he would direct appropriate action.  So, what’s the bar for that?  What’s the mark for directing additional, perhaps, federal appropriate action where you can?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, clearly, we just announced a number of steps just last week in order to increase capacity.  I just announced a step today, just a few minutes ago — or “highlighted,” I guess I should say.  And we’re going to continue to evaluate steps that need to be taken in order to move toward a 24/7 global supply chain.

Q    The trade group that represents building manufacturers yesterday called on the administration to do more, basically.  And they’re asking, perhaps, that the — the Navy or the National Guard be called up to help unload cargo, drive trucks — do a number of things.  Are those options?  Is that an option?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not here to take options off the table.  But I will say we have made a great deal of progress already by working with labor leaders, by working with individuals running these ports and companies running these ports, by working with private sector companies to make progress — expedite the move — moving of goods, as is evidenced by the progress made by some of the port leaders over the course of the last couple days.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  You said yesterday that, beyond the Clean Energy Performance Plan, there is more on the table as far as what you could do legislatively on climate.

Senator Manchin today said that the carbon tax is not one of the things that has come up in discussions that the White House has had with him.  Is that something that the White House has taken off the table?  And if so, why?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not taking any options on or off the table.  This is an ongoing negotiation.  And obviously, each of the senators or members who are part of the negotiations can speak for themselves on what they are for or against at this point in the — in the process. 

I think what it’s important to note and what I would just point out today is that there was a report from the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, reintroduce — reinforced the fact that the United States has multiple pathways to meet President Biden’s pledge to reduce emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels in 2030.

There’s no question that, as we work to get the infrastructure bill passed, as we work to get the Build Back Better Agenda passed, that there are components in both of those bills that would help — have an enormous impact on moving things forward.

And I just highlighted a couple — I wanted to highlight a couple of these things because sometimes we shorthand, in the infrastructure bill, “roads, rails, and bridges.”  These are key components that we don’t talk about a lot, that people out there in the country don’t always know all about these components as we shorthand them “roads, roads, and bridges.”

And some of these are cli- — are climate pieces, including making the largest federal investment in history to expand public transit.  That’s going to help a range of lower-income communities.  It’s also a step that is a positive step forward for the climate — remediating environmental harms and addressing the legacy pollution that harms the public health of communities by cleaning up superfund sites, building out a first-ever national network of EV charging stations in the United States.

What I would note — just to go back to this Rhodium report again, which we can share with all of you if you haven’t seen it — is that while we continue to work with our colleagues in Congress on a Clean Energy Performance Program, this independent analysis lays out a path to the President’s climate goal without the CEPP in place.  No one policy, in our view, makes or breaks our chances.  It’s clear that we need to pursue bold efforts in all of the economic sectors that release harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re working with Congress to do exactly that.

So, I mentioned, of course, the different components in the package and the President’s budget proposal.  We also expect policies like the Clean Energy Accelerator, tax credits for clean energy and clean cars, investments in agriculture and forestry — all of these will be major drivers in emissions cuts, and all are part of both discussions with Congress and discussions of what the President can do independently.

Q    And what about the carbon tax?  Is that a part of those discussions as well?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s an idea that — not one the President proposed, but one that has been put forward by a range of members of Congress.

Q    Got it.  Okay.  And then the President spoke yesterday with Senators Padilla and Warnock —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — about voting rights.  Both of those senators have said that the filibuster should not get in the way at all of voting rights legislation, even that — if that means it needs to be done away with, reformed, whatever.  Did the President share with those senators yesterday why he disagrees with them?

MS. PSAKI:  The President called both Senators Warnock and Padilla yesterday to convey his commitment to getting passed — to getting must-pass legislation through that will protect Americans’ constitutional rights from the systematic assault that Republicans have been mounting in state legislatures across the country based on the Big Lie. 

I’d also note that the Vice President also spoke with Senators King, Klobuchar, and Ossoff and delivered the same message: our commitment to absolutely getting this done. 

They also reiterated and — what I said yesterday, which is that Senate Democrats — we know Senate Democrats, including members they spoke with yesterday, have worked hard to draft legislation that includes traditionally bipartisan provisions. 

It’s something that should get support from Republicans and Democrats across the spectrum, and that if Republicans cannot come forward and stop standing in the way, if they can’t support strengthening, protecting the fundamental right to vote, then Democrats are going to have to determine an alternative path forward. 

But right now, he wanted to call — the Vice President wanted to call to express support and express interest in working together to get this done.

Q    And you said — you talked about Republicans coming forward to support that.  I think it was Representative Kinzinger who said over the weekend that he would be willing to support a narrower initiative that was not like an omnibus voting rights bill but dealt with narrower issues.  Is that something that you’re open to considering?

MS. PSAKI:  Look we’re — we are interested in protecting people’s fundamental rights.  I don’t know what he’s proposing, but right now we’re focused on the vote that’s going to happen in Congress this week. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Is the goal of these meetings with lawmakers today to come to an agreement on a topline number by today?

MS. PSAKI:  Our goal is to continue to make progress.  And based on the morning meetings and our expectation of the afternoon meetings, we expect they will do exactly that. 

Q    They’ll come to an agreement on a topline number or they’ll make progress?

MS. PSAKI:  They’ll make progress.

Q    Okay.  And what is the thinking in having these meetings separately?  Because he’s meeting with a group of progressives; he’s meeting with a group of moderate Democrats. Those are the two groups who disagree with each other.  So why would they not meet together?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, these are serious policy discussions, often on nitty-gritty details, and they aren’t duels between factions of the party.  There’s broad agreement, actually, about the vast majority of issues here. 

So, the President is basing this approach on five decades of Washington, which is a pretty good guide for how to get things done, and he felt these were the appropriate groups to come together and bring to the White House today.

Q    But he wanted to keep them separate?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think it’s important for people to understand it’s not as if these members don’t talk to each other in Congress or don’t have their own meetings with each other.

So, this was just his approach — the President’s approach today — again, based on five decades in Washington — about how to get into the nitty-gritty details, which is often what these meetings are about, to make progress and move things forward.

Q    And can you confirm he also met with Senator Manchin here this morning?

MS. PSAKI:  He did.  He met with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema this morning.  And I think we’ve put out the list of members he’s meeting with this afternoon.

Q    My last question is one on the lawsuit filed by the former President yesterday —

MS. PSAKI:  Yep.

Q    — going after the National Archives and the January 6th committee for seeking documents.  He said in the lawsuit — he and his attorney said it is “a political ploy” by this President “to accommodate his partisan allies” by not asserting privilege over the documents that the former President wants privilege asserted over.  What’s the President’s response?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our view and I think the view of the vast majority of Americans is that former President Trump abused the office of the presidency in attempt to subvert a peaceful transfer of power — something that had happened between Democratic and Republican presidencies for decades and decades throughout history.

The former President’s actions represented a unique and existential threat to our democracy that we don’t feel can be swept under the rug.  And as President Biden determined and as we have provided updates to all of you as we’ve made — as our legal team has made evaluations, the constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  I have a carbon tax question and a voting rights question.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    On carbon tax, does — I know you said it isn’t his idea, but does he believe it’s possible to design a carbon tax that would not violate his “$400,000 and below” — no taxes on people who earn (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  I think you and I have had this conversation before.  I’m having a flashback.  He does.  While it wasn’t his idea, he does and there’s ample precedent for that in terms of what’s in the infrastructure bill.

Q    Okay.  My second question is: Does he know whether Joe Manchin would support a carbon tax?

MS. PSAKI:  We will let Senator Joe Manchin speak for himself on what he would and would not support.

Q    Okay.  And on voting rights, you said if Republicans won’t step forward, Democrats will have to come up with an “alternative path forward.”  It’s been known for some time that Republicans are not going to come forward and you don’t have the votes in the states or in Congress, and — unless Joe Manchin agrees to a carveout for the filibuster.  How far along are you on figuring out what that alternative path forward would be?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it’s a discussion that we would have with leaders and members in Congress as we — and right now, what our focus is on is on the vote tomorrow.  Republicans still have an opportunity to do the right thing to protect people’s fundamental right to vote.

Go ahead.

Q    So just a question on the timing on the supply chain issue —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — actions that the President has taken.  It was clear in March of 2020, when COVID hit, that the supply chains across the world had been disrupted.  Even as the sort of work to fight back against COVID proceeded, people — it was crystal clear that things were not improving on supply chain.  People couldn’t get dishwashers and furniture and treadmills delivered on time, not to mention all sorts of other things.  So why is it —

MS. PSAKI:  The tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed.

Q    Right, the tread — the problem.  But serious — the serious point is: Why didn’t the President act sooner in a more aggressive way?  I know there was a task force announced at some time this — earlier this summer, but essentially, the President waited until, you know, now — right before the holiday season — to take these series of actions. 

Why didn’t the President act sooner?  And is that a reflection of the fact that his administration has failed to kind of anticipate and is much more reactive to these kinds of things rather than getting ahead of them, as they should?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s not actually true.  The President formed of task force at the very beginning of the administration.  And what we know from the global supply chain issues is that they are multifaceted. 

Right now, we’ve been focusing on the ports and issues at the ports.  And what leaders at these ports will tell you is that they’ve seen an increase in volume dramatically, as it relates to last year — a year ago — 20 percent, 30 percent increase in volume.

But there are other issues that have impacted the global supply chain that we’ve been working to address through our task force from the beginning.  One of them is the fact that manufacturing sites around the world have been shut down because of COVID. 

We’ve been working to be the largest supplier of COVID vaccines to countries around the world for a range of reasons: It’s morally right, but also to help address those global supply chain issues and the impact that manufacturing and the slowdown in manufacturing can have on the global supply chain.

Another issue that people will tell you and you’ve done some reporting on — many of you — is the shortage of drivers that we’ve — we have seen.  And there’s been some reporting on it recently, but this has been an issue throughout the course of the year.  The DMV, as they — has expedited their approval of commercial driver’s licenses.  In 2021, an average of 50,000 commercial driver’s licenses and learning permits have been issued each month, 60 percent higher than 2021 numbers. 

We’ve also been working with unions to help address the shortages of workers, whether they are at — they are at ports or whether they are driving issues or other components that impact the supply chain. 

So, I think the important thing to understand here is that there are multiple issues that are impacting the supply chain.  And some of that is that, as the economy has turned back on, more people had expendable income — wages — to buy more goods.  More people are buying more goods.  People have started to also buy more things online than going into stores.  And so that is also impacting the volume, and there’s a need for more.

So, we’ve been working on this since February, and we’ve seen the uptick perhaps related to the fact that, this season, sometimes people are buying even more goods.  But we’ve been working on it since February.

Q    Jen —

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, I have a follow-up on that (inaudible) question. 

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll come back to you, Emerald. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  As the President meets with lawmakers today, in his view, are there any non-negotiables in this package?  Do any of his signature programs have to remain?

MS. PSAKI:  His red line continues to be that he will not raise taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 a year.

And what we think about here is what we want to achieve, which is historic impact on how we address childcare and care issues that families across the country are having, making sure we’re doing something to address the climate crisis, and making sure we’re more competitive and putting people back to work.  

There are a lot of ways to get there.  But that’s why the President proposed his packages.  But, really, the $400,000 taxes is his primary red line.

Q    And you’ve talked a lot about urgency in passing the bill.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    Yesterday, you said, “Time is not unending.”  When does the clock run out for the White House?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to set a new deadline today.  I will just point you to the fact that today he is spending virtually nearly every minute of his day meeting with members of Congress, and I think that’s a reflection of how urgent he feels moving things forward, coming to an agreed-upon path forward, and moving towards delivering to the American people is.

Q    And then just a question on North Korea. 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    This morning, it tested a ballistic missile launch from a submarine.  First, do you have a response to that?  And then, secondly, can you point to any actions that the administration is taking right now to achieve its ultimate goal of complete denuclearization?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, I know INDOPACOM and the State Department have spoken to this overnight, and I’d point you to them.  As they’ve said, we condemn the DPRK’s ballistic missile launch.  These launches violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and are a threat to the region.  We call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantive dialogue.  And our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.

These launches also underscore the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy.  Our offer remains to meet anywhere, any time, without preconditions.  We’re also closely consulting with allies in this; in fact — on this.  In fact, this morning, Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim met with his Japanese and ROK counterparts to discuss how to engage the DPRK.  So, we remain prepared to engage in diplomacy with the DPRK and also, of course, to work closely with our allies and partners on addressing this as it proceeds.

Q    Just to be clear, you said that on October 4 — that they hadn’t responded yet.  So, they still haven’t?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

Q    Okay.  Thanks.

MS. PSAKI:  Yep.  Go ahead, Peter.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Why is the administration flying

thousands of migrants from the border to Florida and New York in the middle of the night?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m not sure that’s in the middle of the night, but let me tell you what’s happening here.

Q    2:13 a.m., 4:29 a.m. — very early in the morning then.  Pre-dawn.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, here — here we are talking about early flights — earlier than you might like to take a flight.

It is our legal responsibility to safely care for unaccompanied children until they swiftly — can be swiftly unified with a parent or a vetted sponsor.  And that’s something we take seriously; we have a moral ri- — obligation to come to do that and deliver on that.

As a part of the unification process, our Office of Refugee Resettlement facilitates travel for children in its custody to their families or sponsors across the country.  So, in recent weeks, unaccompanied children passed through the Westchester airport, which I think is what you’re referring to, en route to their final destination to be unified with their parents or a vetted sponsor.

It’s no surprise that kids can be seen traveling through states, not just New York.  It’s something that we’re also working to unite children with their family members or vetted sponsors in other parts of the country as well.

Q    Okay.  To follow up on some of the tax talk, there’s this new proposal by Democrats in Congress and the Treasury Secretary to start monitoring every bank account that has $10,000 of cash flow per year.  So, is the plan to catch billionaire tax cheats by snooping on accounts that just have $10,000 in them?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s not exactly an accurate description, so let me help you with an accurate description of what is actually happening here.  And there was a statement by the Secretary of Treasury on exactly this, where she said in this statement — just to reiterate — that she deeply appreciates “the work of Chairman Wyden and Chairman Neal’s leadership on reconciliation and, in particular, the need to close the tax gap.”

At the core of a discrepancy in the ways types of income are reported to the IRS are opaque income sources frequently which avoid — frequently avoid scrutiny, while wages and federal benefits are typically subject to full compliance.  So people who get W-2s — whether they are teachers, firefighters, employees at Fox News, anywhere where they may be getting a W-2 — that’s not what we’re talking about here; they’re already reporting their income.

We’re talking about high-net-worth individuals who are not paying the taxes they owe, and that’s what this policy would propose to address.

Q    But in the statement that you just cited, it says, “Many top earners avoid paying billions in the taxes that they owe by exploiting the system.” 

So, what — why is it that you need to start looking at accounts that just have $10,000 in it?  Maybe somebody doesn’t get a W-2.

MS. PSAKI:  That is — that is not exactly what it does. The $10,000 is the — anything under that would not be applicable, nor would people who received W-2s, Peter.  What we’re talking about here are people who are high-net-worth individuals who are not paying the taxes they owe — something we think everybody believes should happen and can help pay for in a range of important investments to make us more competitive.

Q    Okay.  And then just one on vaccine requirements.  If the whole point of a vaccine mandate is to make people safer, but a vaccine mandate also means tons of police and military may walk off the job, then, at the end of the day, does a vaccine mandate make people safer?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, where are tons of police and military walking off the job?

Q    Well, the Washington Post says that hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members remain unvaccinated, which is leading to questions about possible military readiness.  The L.A. County Sheriff says that 5 to 10 percent of their workforce could walk off the job.  And so, considering the — I mean, is there any concern about that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say what we point to, or what I would point you to, is evidence with a range of companies, organizations.  Frankly, the Department of Defense can also give you the up-to-date statistics on members of the military; I believe it’s over 90 percent, but I would point you to them for statistics.

Q    In certain branches.  But there are other problems in the world than COVID-19: international terror, gang violence, murder, arson, drug-dealing. 

MS. PSAKI:  What was —

Q    Is there any concern about dealing with these things?

MS. PSAKI:  What was the highe- — what was the number-one cause of death among police officers last year?  Do you know?  COVID-19.  So that’s something that we’re working to address and police departments are working to address. 

If you look at Seattle, as an example — which I know has been in some of the reporting — 92 percent of the police force is vaccinated, as are 93 percent of firefighters; 99 percent of Seattle’s 11,000 employees have submitted vaccine verification or an exemption request.

Q    My question is about public safety, though.  All these other problems — terror, murder, robberies, kidnappings — is there any concern that if police forces shrink or if the size of the ready military force shrinks that the United States or localities may not be equipped properly to deal with that or to respond?

MS. PSAKI:  Peter, more than 700,000 people have died of COVID.  Again, it was the number-one cause of death among police departments and police officers.  It’s something that we should take seriously.  Departments are trying to save people in their departments, people who work for them.  We support that effort, and there’s been success across the country in that regard.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  Given that you have two separate meetings with moderates and progressives today, is this White House confident that it will reach a deal on reconciliation by Democratic leadership’s self-imposed October 31st deadline?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s not a deadline that we have proposed.  The timeline for that is the surface transportation bill expiring, which is, of course, important — something we need to renew and save the jobs of thousands of employees who could be furloughed. 

But what our effort is and our focus is on is continuing to make progress, and we are getting closer to an agreement on a path forward to deliver for the American people.  The President believes in the value of meeting face-to-face, hence the meetings today and his full day of meetings today.  And we believe his view of the urgency here is reflected in the views of a lot of these members he’s meeting with as well.

Q    So, I hear you saying essentially that it’s unlikely that you will reach — and I understand that’s not your deadline, but, still, it’s the deadline set by Democratic leadership.  I hear you indicating it’s unlikely you’ll have an agreement by October 31st.

MS. PSAKI:  That’s not what I — no, that’s actually not what I’m indicating.  I’m indicating that we’re continuing to make progress.  We’re getting close to the final stages here.  We’re working to get agreement on a path forward.  We’re making progress on that. 

Q    Will it happen by the October 31st?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to set new deadlines.  I understand why you guys want them; they’re not particularly constructive otherwise.  So —

Q    Let me ask you about what Senator Manchin said.  He said, “I don’t know how that would happen.”  He went further than you are going.  How can the President press for urgency in these talks when one of the top negotiators clearly doesn’t think that this is imminent — a deal is imminent?

MS. PSAKI:  I think the President’s view, which is shared by the vast majority of the Democratic Caucus, is that he proposed these plans months ago.  We’ve had months to discuss, consider, debate, litigate the nitty-gritty details.  We’re continuing to do that today, and it will come time soon to move forward and deliver for the American people.  And that’s something that the vast majority of the caucus agrees on.

Q    Let me just ask you about the Child Tax Credit —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — because there’s been some discussion — a push by moderates for those tax credits to be limited to families making less than $60,000.  Would the President agree to a final deal that only applied to those — that didn’t apply to those making less than $60,000?

And what would you say to families who say they just missed the cut and they need those benefits?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there’s a lot of proposals that are out there.  I’m not going to speak to every single one of them. 

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. PSAKI:  We’re going to look at a final package.  The President proposed an extension of the Child Tax Credit.  He has also supported, at times, as you know, income caps for a range of his proposals, including the Child Tax Credit.

But again, I’m not going to speak to individual proposals at this point in time.

Q    Can I ask you about Haiti —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — Jen, quickly?  There are reports that the gang that kidnapped the 17 American and Canadian missionaries is asking for $17 million for their release — a million dollars per person.  What is the administration’s response to that, particularly in light of the policy that the U.S. does not negotiate with those holding hostages?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that remains our policy, and I can’t get into too many details operationally here because that’s never — has never been in the interest of bringing people home who are being held for ransom.

What I can reiterate, Kristen, is that the FBI is a part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety; also, that the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince is coordinating with local authorities and providing assistance to the families to resolve the situation.

I’d also note that we’ve had a travel advisory for Haiti, which is at a Level 4, conveying do not travel due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and, of course, COVID-19.  But kidnapping is widespread and victims regularly include U.S. citizens.  We know these groups target U.S. citizens who they assume have the resources and finances to pay ransoms, even if that is not the case.  So, that is also something that is — remains a concern to us, but I can’t get into more operational details.

Go ahead.

Q    Does the President still believe that Build Back Better will not add a dime to the national debt?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  It won’t.

Q    Why would he — why should Americans believe that?

MS. PSAKI:  Because it won’t.

Go ahead.

Q    What if taxes that — he says he wants to get more taxes in — what if it doesn’t happen?  What if the economy goes sour?  Lots of things could happen.  What do you — you’re going to tell, from up there, future generations — not even born yet — that they’re not on the hook for this?  Is that right?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s right.  And hopefully, you’ll report accurate information yourself.  Go ahead.

Q    I will do that.

Q    Just to put a fine point on it: Any particular reason why Senators Manchin and Sinema are not involved or included in the afternoon meeting with the bicameral moderates?

MS. PSAKI:  You know, the President just felt that this was the right approach to have these one-on-one meetings with them, work through nitty-gritty details, and then have broader meetings with these members later this afternoon. 

But I would note — and some of this has been reported — different members have been meeting with each other outside of the White House; they’re allowed to do that as well, and we expect that will continue.

Q    I want to follow up on a question that both Peter and Weijia asked you yesterday about —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — how this President views the Justice Department as independent.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    There have been a number of instances where the President has said publicly that he’s either instructed or asked or directed the Justice Department to do different things.  Is it — where do you draw the line when you say the Justice Department is making independent decisions?

MS. PSAKI:  Investigations?  That’s where they make independent decisions.  There is policymaking, where there can be discussion.  But investigations, which historically — prior to the last administration — the Department of Justice has always had independent purview of.  That is what the President expects, what the Attorney General expects, and what we will continue to deliver on.

Q    The President said on October 7th he instructed “the Justice Department to make sure that we deal with the violence on aircraft.”  He issued an executive order on July 9th having to do with antitrust, encouraging — all but directing — the Attorney General to vigorously enforce it.  He said on July 13th the Justice Department will double its enforcement on the Voting Rights Act.  Are you describing these things as policy determinations?

MS. PSAKI:  I — well, look, Steve, I think the important thing also to convey accurately to people who listen to you is when announcements were made by the Department of Justice — and sometimes the President comments on them after those announcements were made, which I think was the case in at least one of those examples you gave. 

And, yes, there are criminal investigations or investigations that are under the independent purview of the Justice Department — something that will continue to be under the independent purview of the Justice Department under this administration, and that is different from what was done over the last four years.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Jen, the White House vigorously defended Secretary Buttigieg’s right to parental leave amid Republican criticism last week.  There are reports that paid family leave could either be removed or greatly curtailed in the reconciliation package.  So, is the White House committed to ensuring that 12 weeks of leave for all Americans will be in the final bill?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s what the President proposed, but I’m not going to negotiate what’s in the package from here.

Q    Okay.  And why has the President not named a nominee to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when General Hyten, who currently occupies the role, is due to retire by law next month?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of personnel announcements.  Obviously, he wants to find the right person to serve in such an important role.

Q    Lastly, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is poised to sign a bill that bars transgender youth from participating on school sports teams that align with their gender identity.  What is the White House’s view of that legislation?  And would the administration challenge it once it becomes law?

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll leave that to the Department of Justice to determine if they are going to challenge that.  But, again, our view, the President’s view is that transgender rights are human rights, whether for adults, for kids.  And that continues to be our policy.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen —

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead, Nancy.

Q    Is the administration speaking with Europe at all about whether the travel policy will be amended so that the U.S. will let people in who had COVID and just one shot?

MS. PSAKI:  So we, of course, base our guidance on the CDC and our public health experts here in the United States.  We’re always looking at evaluating how to apply that based on public health guidance.  So, nothing has changed at this moment, but we continue to review that, as has been the case since the beginning of the administration.

Q    And just one more question on Haiti.  Is there any other information you can give us about what the administration is doing to free the Americans who were kidnapped?  The FBI and

DOJ are referring questions to the White House today.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the reason we don’t get into operational details is because our objective is to bring them home.  And the — it is typically not advantageous to get into more specific details publicly during that process.  But hopefully we’ll have more to share it when we successfully bring them home.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  You mentioned the Manchin and Sinema meetings this morning.  You’ve said that they were about getting into some of the nitty gritty, but can you elaborate a little bit more on what these meetings are producing and why the White House feels confident that there is progress taking place through these meetings?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, what we’re looking to achieve is a unified path forward on a package that will address the climate crisis; that will address the care challenges for families, whether they are eldercare or the cost of childcare; community college; universal pre-K.  And we’re working to make sure we’re competitive around the world by putting people back to work.

We’re talking about how — what that final package looks like and what can get the most votes to get it across the finish line.  And in those conversations, we’re making progress and coming closer toward a path forward.  So that’s what we mean by “making progress.”

Q    And you mentioned earlier — or seemed reluctant to talk about — to say that the topline figure — coming to a topline figure was the goal for today.  Is there any way to define progress for today, if it’s not to create a topline figure?

MS. PSAKI:  We’re going to make progress behind the scenes in order to move these things forward, but I’m not going to set new deadlines or timelines for you from here.

Q    And just lastly, Secretary Yellen is participating in these meetings this afternoon.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Can you talk a little bit about her role, what that signifies, her participation in those meetings?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Secretary Yellen is clearly one of the President’s top economic advisors and someone who has extensive experience and expertise in tax policy — something that is central to the President’s plan to make our economy more fair, to ask higher-income Americans and companies to pay more.  And she’s also somebody who understands the impact that a lot of these proposals the President has put forward can have on our economy over the long term.  So, she’s just a wise and experienced voice to have in the room with members.

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah.  Thanks, Jen.  Back to voting rights, real quickly: When you said Democrats will have to find the, quote, “alternative path forward” if the Freedom to Vote Act fails tomorrow, do you mean a new alternative legislatively in Congress, or an alternative path besides legislation?  What are possible alternatives in this case?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ll have to discuss that when — once the vote concludes.  But the President, as you know, has taken a number of steps of his own accord, including a historic executive order on voting rights; including additional funding, referenced earlier, to help protect people’s fundamental right to vote; including asking the Vice President — or agreeing with the Vice President that she would serve and lead this effort around the country. 

So this is an issue we’re committed to, and we’ll continue to be in conversation with leaders in Congress on how to get it done.

Q    Yeah, and I know you’ve been asked about the filibuster a lot over the last year, but would the President reconsider his position on the filibuster if Senate Republicans do block the Freedom Act — the Freedom to Vote Act tomorrow?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I have nothing other to preview for you than the President is committed to getting voting rights done.  He had a range of conversations I prev- — I just outlined for all of you.

(Object drops to floor.)  Whoa.  Okay.  Hopefully everyone is okay.

That I just outlined for all of you.  It remains a commitment of the President, and he’s going to continue to work to get it done.

Q    But those meetings were just with people — lawmakers who already support the Freedom to Vote Act, so what — what came out of those meetings productive to help get this passed?

MS. PSAKI:  Conversations about the path forward and the conversations about the President’s commitment to getting — making sure voting rights become law — protecting voting rights.

Q    Jen —

Q    Jen, following up —

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll go to you next, Emerald.

Go ahead.

Q    Following up on voting rights, you have about 25 people out there in a standoff getting ready to get arrested — some high-name people — and they are concerned the President is not dealing with the issue of the filibuster correctly.  That’s one question on voting rights.  What can the President do to move this forward if he does not want to deal with the filibuster?  What can he do?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, April, what you’ve seen him do to date is take every step possible under his purview — whether it’s signing historic executive actions into law; whether it is ensuring that there is funding that is provided to protect people’s fundamental rights; whether it’s giving major speeches on voting rights and conveying to people, including activists who are proudly standing up and defending people’s fundamental rights, that this is something he’s committed to do.

Right now, there’s going to be a vote tomorrow.  We’re going to keep working with leaders in Congress to get this done.

Q    So, with that said, you said just a few minutes ago the President has five decades in Washington.  With that five decades comes relationship.  He said before he’s had a relationship with Mitch McConnell.  Is this the time that he talks to Mitch McConnell about voting rights — to lean in, to get Republicans to stand and support it?  Because this is not just a Black issue, it’s an everyone issue.

MS. PSAKI:  Agreed.  It is an everyone issue, and it’s a fundamental threat to our democracy.  And it’s a priority for the President to get this done.

I don’t have any calls with Senator McConnell to preview for you.  But certainly the President is going to use every relationship, every lever, every bully pulpit opportunity he has to move this forward.

Q    And the last Black agenda item: policing executive orders.  We understand that you are trying to move expeditiously on this. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    What can you tell us about these executive orders that you are eyeing right now?  Because there are some who used to be in justice — in the Justice Department who said there’s not much you can do.  But what can you do with new executive orders as it relates to policing in this nation?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as you know, April, from covering this closely, we didn’t take — put in place or sign executive orders — the President didn’t — during the time where the police reform negotiations were ongoing, at the ask of many outside groups.  So that’s something that we have — now taking a fresh look at to see what can be done through executive action.

I can’t preview that at this point while it’s in the process, but we’re going to see — look and see what levers we have to pull to put in additional protections, even as — even as police reform is not moving through Congress currently.

Q    Is there going to be more police accountability?  Because we understand he was not for removing qualified immunity.  Is there going to be something that can give teeth to prevent police officers from deadly force?

MS. PSAKI:  As you know, April, police reform — something he talked about in his speech last weekend even — is something the President is committed to getting done.  I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point on what those might look like. 

Q    Jen?

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 

Q    Jen, you said you’d call on me next.

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, sorry.  Go ahead, Emerald.  And then I’ll come back.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Thanks.  I have follow-ups on a couple of topics.  First off, Secretary Buttigieg: Given the seriousness of the — the supply chain crisis and the multiple issues that you outlined, wouldn’t it be wise for the Secretary to get back on the bicycle, so to speak, and come back to work?  A new poll found that 65 percent of voters think that given what’s going on, he should come back to work. 

MS. PSAKI:  He’s at work. 

Q    He’s on paternity leave.

MS. PSAKI:  I was on a conference call with him this morning.

Q    So, he’s back?  He’s in — he’s in the department now, every day?

MS. PSAKI:  Listen, Emerald, I think what you’re getting at here is this question about whether men, parents, women should have paternity and maternity leave.  And the answer is absolutely yes, in our view. 

That is the policy of this administration.  That is what we’re pressing to make law so it’s a reality for women, parents, fathers across the country.  And we’re not going to back away from that.

Q    Well, this is a little different job than a lot of — and as one of my colleagues noted, we knew the supply chain issues were coming. 

On a different —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Emerald, just to be clear, we are quite confident in the capabilities, the talents of the civil servants, the leadership at the Department of Transportation, just are — as we are at companies across the country where women, men take maternity and paternity leave.

I took 12 weeks of maternity leave when I was the White House Communications Director, and I’m grateful to former President Obama for that and for leadership at the time for that. 

This is something men, women should have.  They should have this time to bond with their children.  Not going to apologize from that — for that from here.  And, certainly, we are able to get the job done for the American people in the interim.

Q    And one last on that topic: Who was the point person?  Who was the main person in charge in his paternity leave?

MS. PSAKI:  There are a range of officials leading different components at the Department of Transportation, including the Chief of Staff, the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, a range of officials who keep that place humming, functioning every single day.

Q    I have one more, though, on the vaccine mandates.

Q    Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  I think we’re going to keep going along.  Go ahead.

Q    I just want to (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    — though, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Emerald, I think we’ve spent —

Q    Why is the Biden administration —

MS. PSAKI:  — plenty of time with you today. 

Q    You spend more —

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    — with other people.  Why is the Biden administration —

MS. PSAKI:  Emerald, wh- —

Q    — setting aside compensation for —

MS. PSAKI:  Let’s give some other people more time here, okay?

Q    I will —

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you.  Go ahead.

Q    — but you give a little — a lot more questions to other people, Jen.

Q    Thanks.  On reconciliation — and then a question on the climate change summit next week — does the White House view this current reconciliation bill as the last chance to pass measures within it, or do you think that whatever you can’t tackle now you might be able to get on or come back to in future bills?

MS. PSAKI:  We do.  We think that whatever we cannot tackle now we will be able to tackle in future bills.  The components of this are too important not to keep fighting for all of these pieces to become law.

Q    And then on the climate change summit: The leaders of the three other largest energy-consuming countries — China, Russia, and India — have not said whether or not they’re going to be attending the summit next week.  And there’s been reports that President Xi will not attend.  I’m curious what kind of message the White House thinks that sends if some of these leaders don’t show up in Scotland next week.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we know — and I can’t speak to every leader, obviously, and I know they’ll have their own explanations — COVID is still a major issue in many countries around the world, and some of them have referenced that as the reason for not traveling at this point in time. 

In terms of the arrangements at the summit, I would point you to those leading the summit.  We have had a range of constructive and productive meetings with leaders via video conference, via phone call.  That’s something we’ve had to do over the last couple of years because of COVID, but it is also a moment for a range of leaders — business leaders, executives, leaders from agencies around the world — to come together and work to address the climate crisis. 

I know we didn’t get to everyone, but I think we’ve got to go.  Thanks, everyone, so much.  Have a good day.

1:53 P.M. EDT