Thu. Oct 14th, 2021

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:52 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI:  Hi everyone.
 
Q    Hello, Jen.  Good to see you. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Good to see you.  Happy Pride.  Celebrating here today.
 
Okay.  I’m just going to give you a quick overview of the week ahead: On Monday, the President will welcome Israeli President Rivlin to the White House.  President Rivlin’s visit will highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel and the deep ties between our governments and our people.  As President Rivlin approaches the end of his term, the visit will honor the dedication he has shown to strengthening the friendship between the two countries over the course of many years.
 
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Southwest Wisconsin with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to talk about growing agriculture — growing agriculture and rural economies.
 
On Wednesday, he will convene Cabinet officials, governors from western states, and private sector partners to discuss the devastating intersection of drought, heat, and wildfires in the Western United States, and strengthening prevention, preparedness, and response efforts for this wildfire season, which is already outpacing last season alone — outpacing last season alone — sorry — the 2020 wildfire season alone burned over 10 million acres across the United States, resulting in the loss of dozens of lives and tens of billions of dollars in economic damage.  This meeting will focus on how the federal government can most effectively protect public safety and deliver assistance to our people in times of urgent need.
 
And, on Friday, the President will also deliver remarks on the June jobs report.
 
Next week, even while all of this is going on — a busy week — the President will also continue to work and engage closely with members of Congress about moving his agenda forward, whether it’s the bipartisan infrastructure agreement just announced yesterday or the budget reconciliation process that’s also moving forward. 
 
And he will continue to — on his work to protect the sacred right to vote.  You’ll hear from him next week on that.  We’re still finalizing the details, and he’s been engaged in that work through his career, so you’ll hear more from him on that next week.
 
I’d also note, so I don’t forget: Today is Jerome’s last day in the White House Briefing Room as a White House correspondent.  So thank you — to your service to the public over the last several years.  (Applause.)
 
All right.   Why don’t we kick it off, Darlene.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  Is the infrastructure agreement already stuck in a pothole?  (Laughter.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  You worked hard on that. 
 
Q    No, I didn’t.  I didn’t.  (Laughter.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  I like it.
 
Absolutely not, in our view.  The President is continuing to, as I said — as he said yesterday, there’s work ahead.  There’s no question about that.
 
But yesterday was a significant moment when you saw Democrats and Republicans and the President of the United States stand outside together and say, “We’ve come to agreement to pa- — to work for — toward passing a historic investment in infrastructure, one that would have…” — I just have this handy chart up here; I thought someone might ask about this — “…would have key components that would help communities across the country.”
 
And I talked with him about this, this morning: what he was most excited about, what he’s going to continue, what his message is going to be as he continues to advocate for this bill moving forward.
 
One is the significant economic impact.  It’s going to help create millions of good-paying union jobs that will also have a huge impact on low-income communities, on communities of color. 
 
It will eliminate lead pipes to stop kids from drinking poisoned water.  Flint, Michigan, should not be so far away that we don’t remember the impact on that community.  This is a — part of this package will help prevent that from ever happening again. 
 
It includes the single-largest investment in environmental remediation in history.  What does that mean?  A lot of people at home don’t know what that means, so I’m going to explain it.  And it’s 100 percent of what he asked for.  It means cleaning up pollution in communities that have disproportionately borne the brunt of environmental pollution.  It’s a capping — it also means capping wells where big oil companies left wells uncapped with methane pouring out.  It means putting people back to work to do the work we need to do to help create a clean energy economy for the long term. 
 
And it has the largest investment in public transit in our nation’s history.  We know this will also have an enormous impact on low-income communities — many communities of color. 
 
I’ll also note: There are huge components of this package that will help address the climate crisis.  One is the first-ever — first-ever network — first time we’ve ever invested –sorry — in a network of EV charging stations across the country.  So electric vehicles — I don’t currently own one; maybe I will in the future.  Who knows. 
 
It will make it easier — there will be more charging stations so people can use them across the country.  It will have the largest investment in history in a clean energy transmission grid — something that will also help us take a huge step forward. 
 
And this bill also will help us — and this the piece he talked about yesterday, but he is particularly excited about — make us more competitive in the world.  And a specific example there is making sure we are building our battery industry here in the United States to compete globally.
 
So that’s the case he’s making, he’s going to continue to make.  There’s no question there’s work ahead, and he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and work like hell to get it done.
 
Q    But we’re hearing from the Hill, from a lot of senators, that — unhappiness over the President’s decision to want to do both these packages at the same time — the pairing, moving them in tandem.  When senators agreed to this deal, was the White House upfront with them that this was the way the President wanted to proceed?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, you all have heard the President say multiple times, publicly, that he wanted to — he was going to move these bills forward — wanted to move them forward in parallel paths.  And that’s exactly what’s happening. 
 
That hasn’t been a secret.  He hasn’t said it quietly.  He hasn’t even whispered it.  He said it very much out loud to all of you, as we have said many times from here.
 
I will say that the President’s view is that the public — the American people — elected him to not lead on process, but to get things done.  The House and Senate are going to determine – the Leaders in the House and Senate are going to determine the sequencing, the timeline.  And he looks forward to signing both pieces of legislation. 
 
Q    One other quick one.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    What is the plan for what — will we get a statement from the President after the —  Derek Chauvin is sentenced?  Do you expect the President will call George Floyd’s family — be in touch with them after the sentence is announced?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question, Darlene.  I don’t — I don’t have any anticipat- — I don’t have anything to preview for you.  I guess I should say, at this point, we’ll wait for the sentencing to come out. 
 
As you know, he has a close personal connection with the Floyd family, and certainly I know they and we are all watching this closely.
 
Go ahead. 
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  Does the President have any plans to visit Surfside to see the devastation for himself?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, first, that any decision along those lines would be done in coordination and cooperation with local authorities.
 
As you know — and you all have been covering this closely — right now, we’re in a rescue-and-recovery phase of this, and there have been frequent updates from local authorities on the ground.
 
So I don’t have any trip to preview or predict for you at this point in time.
 
Q    How did the Vice President choose El Paso as the location for her first trip to the border as Vice President?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a great question.  I was — I was interested in that as well, so we looked into it. 
 
I would say that El Paso has an interesting history, as you may know, because it was the place where the former President, kind of — it was a base place of where he put in place some of his immigration policies that we felt were so problematic.
 
And so, it’s a — it’s a place that has a little bit of historical connection in that regard, and it’s an opportunity to draw a bit of a contrast with what we’re trying to accomplish.
 
Q    And then, can you give us any details about the three staffers in the Vice President’s office who are leaving?  And what should we take from the fact that you have several key staffers who are leaving this early in the administration?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I just don’t have any more details on the circumstances of their departure.  As you may know, these are sometimes high — high-stress jobs, tiring jobs, exhausting jobs.  And — but I don’t have anything more specific on their decisions.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Following up on Surfside, if I can, very quickly: Obviously, no details about whether he plans to travel there.  Has the President now spoken to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis about the circumstances there?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We’re working to set up a call between the President and the governor.  That should be happening this afternoon, and we’ll give you all a readout of that when it happens.
 
Q    We’ll wait for that readout when it happens.
 
The President, yesterday, spoke about voting rights and what he would be doing.  He said, “I’ll be going around the country, making the case.”  So he announced it.  What specifically is he doing?  Where is he going?  And what is that going to look like?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Stay tuned.  I don’t have any specific visits to announce for you yet, but this is going to be a fight of his presidency.  He believes that voting is a fundamental right for the American people.  He’s going to use every lever at his disposal to — to advocate for that.  You’ll hear more from him next week as well.
 
Q    The DOJ announcement today — that they would be filing this lawsuit against Georgia given what’s going on with their election law there — did the White House play a role in that?  Did the President consult anybody?  Does he have any thought on it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We did not.  That was a — that was an announcement they made on their own.  But it certainly is consistent with the President’s commitment to the administration and the guidance he’s given, publicly and directly, to use every lever at our disposal to ensure we are protecting the fundamental right to vote across the country.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    So, on the timing of when the President is going to get out and advocate for voting rights — I mean, how soon can we see this?  We’re hearing everyone from the Department of Justice to activists saying that this is really urgent issue.  So how soon can we expect this?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, the President is going to speak to all of you and to the public next week about his continuing commitment to voting rights, expanding access to voting rights — something that he’s worked on for decades, through his public career.  And I expect he’ll have more to say then.
 
Q    And then you could just follow up and maybe clarify: When the President is talking about doing these two pieces of legislation in tandem, is he going to wait for both of them to land on his desk?  What — what exactly is the timeline here?  How does this play out?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, he believes the American people elected him to lead on getting results to put out bold ideas to the public.  That’s exactly what he’s done. 
 
And we’re going to leave it to leaders in Congress to determine the sequencing and the timeline for those pieces moving forward.  But he’s going to use every lever at his disposal, he’s going to be involved, he’s going to roll up his sleeves, he’s going to work like hell to get these — both of these pieces of legislation done.
 
Q    But what does that really look like?  Because he says that if one doesn’t come to him, he’s not going to sign the other.  So is he going to wait for both of them to land on his desk before signing the bipartisan package, waiting for the reconciliation package to come through? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  He fully expects, hopes, plans to sign both into law.  And he will leave it to leaders in Congress to determine the timeline and the sequencing.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Just to follow up on both on that and Darlene’s question.  The issue Republicans seem to be having is on that specific issue: “I won’t sign it if the other one isn’t on my desk.”  And I think that’s what has them — “frazzled,” perhaps, would be the word right now — an eloquent one.
 
So, digging in on that, if leadership decides to send you the bipartisan bill, but the reconciliation bill is not done yet, the President said yesterday, “I won’t sign it.”  And that is the White House position on it?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me just take a step back here, because I think the American people are quite focused on how we’re getting work done on their behalf — less focused on the mechanics of the process. 
 
Now, it is up to Republicans — many of whom are the ones who have conveyed that, I think — if I’m accurate here — to decide if they are going to vote against a historic investment in infrastructure that’s going to rebuild roads and railways and bridges in their communities simply because they don’t like the mechanics of the process.  That’s a pretty absurd argument for them to make.  Good luck on the political front on that argument. 
 
So, the President is going to continue to advocate, educate, convey to everyone directly why this needs to move forward.  And he stands — he plans to stand exactly by the commitment he made yesterday to them, and he expects they’ll do the same.
 
Q    And just two more quick ones.  You guys just released a readout with a call with Senator Sinema, who was one of the lead negotiators.  In that readout, the President was reiterating pretty much all of the things he said when he was standing with the senators.  Was there a need for the President to reassure Senator Sinema or was that just a normal scheduled call?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think it’s just a reflection of the President’s commitment to stay very engaged.  Yesterday was not the end.  I know none of you thought that, but just to be clear: There is work ahead.  Senator Sinema is a — was an important leader and partner on this effort to get this bipartisan bill passed. 
 
He also reiterated, in that call, his desire and his commitment and interest in getting a reconciliation bill passed.  That has a lot of his key priorities, whether it’s extending the Child Tax Credit, making universal pre-K a reality, or community college a reality for kids across the country.
 
So it’s ongoing engagement.  He’s looking forward to signing both bills into law.
 
Q    And can I just follow up on the — can I follow up —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Are Republicans expected to be so enamored with the idea of sending perhaps billions of dollars into the hinterland that they’re going to be willing — you need five more Republicans, obviously — that they’re going to be willing to accept this two-track approach and, sort of, look the other way when the express train comes through on the reconciliation idea?
 
Are they — you — you’re sounding as though you expect at least five more Republicans to be so enamored with the idea of sending out these billions of dollars to their — the constituencies, if you will.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Well, that’s exactly what they’re doing.  This bill would, again, be a historic investment on our nation’s infrastructure: the largest investment in public transit in history, the largest in — since the founding of Amtrak.  And as I’ve noted, it would expand broadband access.  That’s not exactly a partisan issue.  It would rebuild roads and railways and bridges in people’s communities, including Republicans.
 
So, yes, we fully expect the American people to support this.  We fully expect and hope we’ll have the votes to get it forward.
 
Q    At least five?
 
MS. PSAKI:  At least five. 
 
Q    (Inaudible.)  Okay.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, five stood — stood there yesterday and announced their support for it.  And it is now the job of the Democratic Caucus and the Republican Caucus to vo- — go back and make the case to their — their other colleagues.  Exactly.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.  House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said he doesn’t think it’s realistic to fully pay for this broader reconciliation package that contains some of the President’s other domestic priorities that you just laid out.
 
Senator Manchin also said he doesn’t think the country can take on that much more debt.  So does the White House still believe that both the infrastructure compromise and this other reconciliation package need to be fully paid for?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The President had proposed a number of ways to pay for these packages.  Obviously, there was agreement already on the payfors for the infrastructure bipartisan deal, which was agreed to by the five Democrats and the five Republicans who stood outside with the President just yesterday.
 
And the President also believes that raising the corporate rate back to where it was the first year of the George W. Bush administration; making — asking individuals, the top 1 percent of Americans to pay more — to pay for these historic investments, to pay for an extension of the Child Tax Credit, to make sure kids have access to universal pre-K — is something that we should do because it’s right — the right policy.  It will also — it’s also going to help move our country forward. 
 
Q    And just one quick question on Afghanistan.  Can the President declare a true end to the war if the U.S. is planning to keep 650 troops in the country to provide diplomatic security as well as several hundred additional troops to maintain security at the Kabul airport?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I would say: The President was clear from the beginning that we anticipated and planned to have a diplomatic presence on the ground.  And so he’s doing exactly that. 
 
Q    Can I follow up on that, Jen?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    On Afghanistan — and then I have a follow-up on something else.  But on Afghanistan: If we’re keeping people there, what’s the contingency if in fact the Taliban takes over the country?  Do you have a contingency — does the administration have a contingency for that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  In what regard?  
 
Q    Well, what will you do?
 
MS. PSAKI:  For the safety of our — of our men and women serving —
 
Q    No, I understand the safety, but —
 
MS. PSAKI:  — in Kabul, or —
 
Q    I understand the safety of our people, but what about the safety of the country?  We’ve been there for X amount of years.  Are we going to reinvest more people if that’s the case?  Will there be boots on the ground?  What exactly are — is this administration looking at if that country falls to the Taliban?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, here’s, I think, what’s important to note, Brian: When the President made this announcement, he was very clear that if we did not pull our troops — withdraw our troops from — from Afghanistan — something that he has long talked about having an interest and a desire to do — the Taliban would have been shooting at U.S. troops again on May 1st.
 
Q    I understand.
 
MS. PSAKI:  That’s a decision he had to make as President.  So the withdrawal deadline negotiated — because of the withdrawal deadline negotiated, I should say, by the prior administration.  So his fundamental belief is that after 20 years, it’s time to bring our troops home.
 
We’re doing that in a timely and orderly fashion, led by the Department of Defense.  And we had to make sure we were taking steps — if we had left our troops there, they would be in harm’s way.  That was a step we had to take. 
 
Q    And so, if the Taliban takes over, what would we do?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, we have — I’m not going to get ahead of or anticipate.  We are — we have a range of capacities, including over-the-horizon capacities and capabilities that we will maintain in place.  The President announced that at the beginning of his announcement.
 
Q    And then a follow-up — another quick follow-up.  The other question is: Is this administration prepared for — we’ve heard rumblings from the former President and his supporters about August and the inevitability of him being reinstated.  Is this administration prepared to meet the challenge if, in fact, they press that issue in August?  I mean, we’ve already seen an insurrection.  What would this administration’s actions be —
 
MS. PSAKI:  The —
 
Q    — if that — if that is pressed in August?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The President is going — is prepared to continue to govern and lead the United States of America.  And, of course, should there be an elevation, an escalation, you know, that is something we would certainly monitor and track as well.
 
Go ahead, Jacqui.
 
Q  On reconciliation: Before the President made this statement yesterday, had there been any understanding between the President and the GOP senators who were negotiating that these two deals would come in tandem?  Had the Republican senators expressed an understanding to the President that that would happen?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, Jacqui, I think the point I was trying to make earlier is that it’s something the President stated publicly many times.  And certainly, he was consistent with that case, made privately, as were our negotiating team — that he expected, anticipated these — these initiatives would move forward on a dual track. 
 
And I would also note that when we say “budget reconciliation” — just to make it like in “human speak” — what we’re talking about here is a budget process that includes the American Families Plan, which is the President’s idea he proposed.  I don’t think anyone expects that he was going to walk away from his own proposals.
 
Q    And the Republicans had expressed an understanding — a level of understanding that that would happen?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to let — I’ll let them speak for themselves.  But, again, the President said this, as we did, multiple times publicly.
 
Q    And then, on reconciliation —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    What are the red lines and the must haves?  And is the same team working with Congress — Ricchetti, Terrell, Deese — about the next steps in the reconciliation package?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, earlier this week — today’s Friday; I think it was Wednesday — we did have a number of those individuals you mentioned, as well as Susan Rice was a part of the team, and there may have been one or two other people, who went up to the Hill to talk about the budget reconciliation process. 
 
We’re obviously at the early stages of that.  There’s lots to discuss and negotiate, including among Democrats.  So we’ll let that proceed in the coming weeks. 
 
Q    And then with the DOJ suing Georgia: Is this the beginning of more lawsuits against similar efforts in other states?  Has the White House expressed any concern areas as they take on voting rights and initiatives like that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’ll let the — the Attorney General and the Department of Justice speak to that and what their plans are.  They probably won’t preview them, I would expect.
 
But I think it’s just a reflection of the fact that the President has conveyed his priority is using every lever at his disposal to protect the fundamental right of people in this country to vote.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Jen, what’s your timeline for these two pieces of legislation?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have a new timeline to predict for you here, Steve.  Again, we — Speaker Pelosi has been doing this a while; I don’t know that there’s anyone better.  And we’re going to work with her, Leader Schumer, and others to make sure we get these bills signed into law.
 
Q    And on the Afghanistan meeting, is the President going to talk about a negotiated political settlement?  Is that still possible in Afghanistan?
 
MS. PSAKI:  There — a political path forward is certainly one that we continue to support.  We have a negotiator, as you well know, who, you know, is a — is monitoring and closely engaged in that process.  And so that is certainly ongoing and will be a part of the agenda.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Jen, thank you.  On Afghanistan, in terms of SIV applicants —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    — the President said yesterday, this would be a topic in the meeting today.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    Can you provide clarity on what neutral locations these applicants will be moved towards?
 
And then also, will that withdrawal include those who have already fled Afghanistan, because of a fear of retaliation, to places like Jordan or Egypt?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, so let me give you information on where we are.  And it’s unfortunately not going to answer every single question.  Some of this we’re not going to be able to outline for security reasons.  But we have identified a group of SIV applicants — Special Immigrant Visa applicants — who have served as interpreters and translators, as well as other at-risk categories, who have assisted us. 
 
They will be relocated to a location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown, by September, in order to complete the visa application process.  So they will do it from another location. 
 
The additional details of that I’m just not going to be able to speak to from here.
 
Q    Did you say a number though on — on how —
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have a number to outline for you.  And it’s unlikely we will, because we are going to — those are the categories that we are prioritizing. 
 
I’d also note that these are individuals who are already in the SIV pipeline, and so we’d under — under — and of course we’d under — undertake any relocation in full compliance with U.S. law. 
 
Q    And just one — just a follow-up.  I know I’ve asked about this a good amount, but for my colleagues as well.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    We reported yesterday that the administration would lift Title 42 in a phased approach this summer.  Does this summer look likely? 
 
And here’s a new addition to that question: What will be the administration’s plan once that policy is lifted?  Will it be centered on deterrence?  Will it be prioritizing restoring the asylum system?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say, on the second part, that, of course, we want to restore the asylum system and we want to make it more operational.  We want to make it more humane.  And there’s a lot of work we can — we need to do after the disaster of the last four years on this front. 
 
In terms of the timeline of Title 42 — I know I keep saying this to you, and I apologize it’s the same answer — but that is a decision that will be made by the CDC.  I have nothing to preview for you in terms of the timeline.
 
Go ahead, Karen.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Jen, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp today accused the President and his allies of weaponizing the Justice Department to undermine election integrity.  What’s the White House reaction to that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would say: If you have such a fear of making it easier and more accessible for people to vote, then I would ask you what you’re so afraid of.
 
Q    Does the White House see the Justice Department as its only real way of going on offense against some of these sweeping efforts across the country to implement voting restrictions?  That, as opposed to legislation right now?
 
MS. PSAKI:  No, we don’t.  It’s a good question.  I mean, it is an area where, of course, the Attorney General and some of the — as you know, Kristen Clarke, Vanita Gupta — some of the highest-ranking officials in the Justice Department — the President nominated and pushed for their confirmation — have long records of advocacy, effectiveness, and work on these issues.  So, he certainly entrusts them with the work they’re going to continue to do on this front. 
 
We are going to continue to fight for, battle for, work toward federal legislation.  I know it does not seem easy at this time.  Hard things — we do hard things; that’s what we do here. 
 
But we’re also going to continue to engage — and this is a — as it relates to an earlier question — with local activists, with local legislators.  You’ve seen the Vice President do a bit of this — engage with and work with them. 
 
We’re going to — to fight this fight on many fronts.  And certainly not — the role that the Attorney General and the Justice Department may decide to take is one, but there are a l- — a number of other ways the President, the Vice President, and our administration will be continuing to fight for voting rights.
 
Go ahead.  Go ahead, right in the middle. 
 
Q  Today, on the anniversary of Shelby v. Holder, you have over 25 buses coming in between today and tomorrow on these Freedom Rides, being led by Black Voters Matter.  Has anyone from the administration spoken with them?  I know that they’re going to be holding a news conference later on today.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    But have you reached out to them? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  That’s a great question.  I’ll have to talk to our outreach team and some other senior members of the team to see if they had been engaged directly with them.  I don’t know off the —
 
Q    And also, when it comes to the President trying to lower crime rate in the midst of this spike, there have been many reports showing that putting money — adding more money to police departments does not necessarily correlate with lowering crime.  Why did the President decide to do that in — or instead of attaching it within the order to having the police departments do — have some type of system where they have to do something in order to receive that type of money?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that the President — and we saw some positive steps forward just yesterday on police reform in the negotiations; that’s certainly a positive step.  The President believes we need to do both.  And many — most people in most communities across the country where there’s rising crime agree. 
 
And what the President announced just a couple of days ago, was a — primarily, a plan to reduce gun violence, which he feels is a big driver of violence across the country.  But I would say, community policing and — is something that we’ve seen as effective, rebuilding trust in communities, ensuring that law enforcement are working on behalf of communities — that’s what he was proposing funding to go towards.  That is different than a step — as it relates to the criminal justice system.
 
Q    Is he going to talk back about creating a police oversight commission?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think a number of activists have conveyed that that is not their pri- — their preference for the path forward.  They want to see this legislation move forward.  We’ve seen some progress on that front, so that’s where we’re going to put ba- — the basket we’re going to put our eggs.
 
Go ahead, in the middle. 
 
Q    Yeah.  Now that Vice President Harris is visiting the border —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yes.
 
Q    — as we speak, when will President Biden visit?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to predict for you or preview for you.  As the President has said — the Vice President said back in March, she’d be open to visiting the border.  And if it’s constructive and moves the ball forward for the President to visit it, I’m sure he may.  But we come with a bunch of people, as you all know.
 
Q    On voting — on voting rights, I just — I just want to be clear: Are you saying that the White House had no contact with the Justice Department about this decision to move forward in Georgia?  Is the Justice Department completely independent on this or is —
 
MS. PSAKI:  No, I’m not —
 
Q    — part of a White House agenda?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a — it’s a priority to the President.  But — and, yes, of course we are wel- — allowed to know.  But it is — I was not meaning to convey that.  But it is a decision made by the Justice Department to move forward. 
 
But, clearly, a priority of the President to take action wherever we can in government to make it more accessible to vote for people across the country.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Jen —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Let me go to her first, then I’ll go to you.
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  When you talk about engaging at the state level — voting rights —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    — what does that look like?  Aside from travel, how will the administration be scrutinizing new laws going into place or —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, you saw the Department of Justice take an action today, that’s an example.  But you’ve also seen the Vice President meet with legislators and work — and talk with them about the path forward and how we can work together to fight back against vote- — efforts to suppress the vote across the country. 
 
So those are two examples.  But, also, engaging with activists.  I will say, there are a lot of people in this building who know a lot about how to engage, educate, empower people to know what their rights are.  We want to work with states and local authorities to do exactly that. 
 
But the President will be talking about this more next week. 
 
Q    Does the administration believe that’s making a difference in Republican-controlled state legislatures?
 
MS. PSAKI:  We’ll have to see. 
 
Go ahead. 
 
Q    The President of Angola, President João Lourenço, was at the United Nations this week, and his main goal there — or his main focus was to — advocating to end the arms embargo that is going on on the Central — in the Central African Republic. 
 
And President Lourenço is now the acting President of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.  So he know the area.  He have done a lot of work to bring peace and security in this region; that’s why he advocated strongly to end the embargo. 
 
But the United States wants to continue the embargo.  Do you know what is the main reason?  Or what — what is the interest of the United States to keep the embargo on the Central African Republic?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I’d really point you to our U.N. Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield; or the State Department for that question. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    I just have one more —
 
MS. PSAKI:  I think we have to move on. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Is there any situation in which the President would sign the bipartisan infrastructure deal without an accompanying reconciliation bill?
 
MS. PSAKI:  The President fully expects and plans to sign both pieces of legislation into law.
 
Q    One other question —
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead.
 
Q    The end of the Supreme Court term is next week.  Does the President or the White House expect any retirements?  And what would the message from the President be to a Justice who might be thinking about hanging up the robe?
 
MS. PSAKI:  It’s a decision for them to make as an individual.  And he would support whatever decision they make.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    President Biden met with financial regulators earlier this week.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q    I’m wondering if there was any discussion about buy-now-pay-later companies — so like Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay.  These are becoming very popular in the U.S. in retail transactions.  And Europe recently made moves a few months back to regulate them.  Is there anything you could tell me about that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  You know, we’ve provided a readout of the meeting and what the focus of the meeting is — was — which was to provide an update on the state of the financial markets, to talk about how they can work to make credit more accessible.  I just don’t have anything more to read out for you.
 
Q    So no discussion —
 
MS. PSAKI:  You could certainly — you could certainly reach out to any of the regulators if they want to speak about anything they raised.  But I don’t have more of a readout from here.
 
Q    Okay.  But no discussion from the White House then — on that then? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would point you to the regulators.  I don’t have any more to read out from here. 
 
Go ahead. 
 
Q    Thanks, Jen.  The President is meeting shortly with President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah.  They met yesterday with the Senate’s Minority Leader.  And after that meeting, he called for a reversal of course by this administration to avoid a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, contending that will give rise to renewed terrorism threats to the U.S. homeland. What is your response to Senator McConnell on that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would first say it’s important to take a step back and remember what we inherited.  One, the lowest number of U.S. and partner forces in Afghanistan since the early days of the war.  Two, an agreement between the United States and the Taliban to draw down all U.S. troops by May 1st, just three months after Inauguration Day — a very short timeline.  And three, a military stalemate between the Taliban and Afghan forces. 
 
That’s the hand we were dealt.  The President made a decision — which is consistent with his view that this was not a winnable war — to bring the U.S. troops home, some- — after 20 years of fighting this war.  And a big part of that decision was also around the fact that if we left our troops there, our troops would be at risk because the Taliban would be shooting at them by May 1st. 
 
That’s the basis of it.  Are there challenges to it?  Of course.  Will we continue to be engaged — as — as today is an — is evidence of — with the government about how we can continue to provide humanitarian security support?  Yes, we will.  Will we have a presence on the ground?  Yes, we will. 
 
But that was a decision the President made with all of those factors involved.
 
Go ahead. 
 
Q    Thank you.  Good to see you again. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Oh, hello, Goyal, how are you? 
 
Q    Thank you.  Good to see you again.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Good to see you.
 
Q    Quick two questions, please.  One on U.S.-India relations, of course: Prime Minister Modi has spoken with President Biden a number of times.  And have they — at the level of moving forward U.S.-India relations now between the two of them and where vaccine is concerned — where do we stand? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, Goyal, that the — India is an incredibly important partner to the United States in the region and globally.  And we work with India on a range of issues, as you well know — economic, strategic, security.  And the United States certainly took a range of steps, as India was at the early stages of dealing with a rise in the pandemic, to help provide a range of assistance, and we will continue to do that moving forward. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.  I’m sorry, Goyal.  We got to — we got — we’re going to run out of time, so I just want to get to as many people as possible.
 
Q    One more on the border thing.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure.
 
Q    Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a statement saying that he would have preferred the Vice President went to the Del Rio sector or the Rio Grande area.  Any response to that?
 
And secondly, was there any communication between the Vice President’s office that you can tell us about with the governor’s office about a potential meeting? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  A meeting with the governor?
 
Q    With the Vice — between the Vice President and the governor. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  I am happy to check with them and see if there was or if that was ever a part of — of the plans.  And I’ll get back to you on that.
 
Q    Any response to his criticism about where she went today? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say the purpose of the Vice President’s visit — as we’ve outlined — was to — she’s long said she would be open to visiting the border; she’s doing that with Secretary Mayorkas, who oversees the border and has helped lead a range of progress there that we’ve seen over the last couple of months. 
 
And there certainly is a connection between the important work the Vice President is doing in the Northern Triangle, where we’ve also seen a reduction in migration of unaccompanied children since March and since April. 
 
So that’s the purpose of their visit.  In terms of direct consultation with the governor, I’m happy to check and see if there’s more I can read out for you.
 
Go ahead in the middle, in the back. 
 
Q    Thanks.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, go ahead.  Go ahead.  And then I’ll go to you, right in front of him.
 
Q    On the governor’s meeting with western governors next week: Can you tell us anything about which governors are invited, what we can expect to come out of that meeting?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure. 
 
Q    And then, specifically, the President mentioned he was surprised at just how little federal wildland firefighters were paid.  What would the administration do about that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, one, we could pass a federal minimum wage, which would represent a higher wage than it seems the firefighters are getting.  But, certainly, he will continue to advocate for additional support and assistance for the men and women serving as firefighters around the country.
 
Let me give you a sense of the governors coming.  So the meeting, first, will focus on how the federal government can improve wildfire preparedness and response efforts, protect public safety, and deliver assistance to our people in times of urgent need.
 
As a former local elected official himself — maybe he will always feel that way in his heart, I think.  He feels it’s really important to engage directly, sit with people — as you can, either remotely or in person — to really discuss what the holdups are, what the challenges are, how can we help be better partners from the federal government.  So this is an example of that. 
 
Governor Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon; Governor of California, Gavin Newsom; Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham; Governor of Wyoming, Mark Gordon; Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis; Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox; and Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, will be the governors who will be in attendance. 
 
Q    Could I just confirm that Governor Little and Governor Gianforte are not invited?  And Governor Inslee?
 
MS. PSAKI:  That’s the list of attendees I have.  I can certainly check if there’s more on who or — was or wasn’t invited.  Oh, go ahead.  I said I would go to right next.  We’ll — we’ll make sure we get to you.  I promise.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Can you offer more specifics about what the President and the White House will do over the next week to continue to boost support for this infrastructure bill?  Can we expect him to be on the phone with Republicans that have expressed concerns about his comments yesterday?  Or —
 
MS. PSAKI:  You can expect, as is evidenced by the fact that he called Senator — he had a conversation with Senema- — Senator Simina — Sinema?  (Laughter.)  Ugh, Friday.  That’s a hard one.  Senator Sinema this morning that he, of course, be on the phone, and he will be engaging directly with members of both parties about moving his priorities forward. 
 
You know, sometimes that’s scheduled or planned a day in advance or the day before, so I don’t have more specifics for you.  But as they happen, we’ll read them out for you. 
 
Q    Can I just follow up on that, please?
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 
 
Q    Has he called any of the Republican senators today?  Obviously, you were mentioning earlier that he’s talked about this publicly, what his stance was.  There are Republican senators that are surprised by what he said yesterday and are upset, as has been reported.  So has he talked to them today?  And what is he doing to sort of keep this deal intact? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I think what he’s doing, Anita, is continuing to convey and provide details to the public — who care deeply about whether he’s delivering for them, less about the mechanics of the process — about why this should be a package that’s supported broadly by Democrats and Republicans across Congress. 
 
So that’s what I did, certainly, at the beginning, and that’s the case he’s going to continue to make.
 
Q    Did he call any of those senators today though?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any additional calls to read out. 
 
I think — let’s see — go ahead.  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks so much, Jen.  First, just following up on an earlier question.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Sure. 
 
Q    The Special Immigrant Visa population from Afghanistan: Does the United States plan to protect those translators and people who worked for Americans who have already fled Afghanistan and are in different countries currently? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, they’re individuals who are already in the SIV pipeline.  I suppose some of them might not be.  I can certainly — might not be still there.  I can certainly check and see if they’re — if they’ve already departed Afghanistan, how that would apply. 
 
Q    And then I have another question about the manatee population in Florida.  They are dying —
 
MS. PSAKI:  That was not on my bingo card today — (laughter) — but I’m happy to answer it.  Okay. 
 
Q    Well, the Wall Street Journal had a good article about them this week.  They are dying at a record pace. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.
 
Q  Eight hundred of them died in the last year.  And I wanted to see if the administration believes that these animals should be relisted as endangered, and also whether anything in Biden’s infrastructure deal that he struck yesterday would continue on to help with — part of the problem is that they’re — the Florida waters are not clean.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.
 
Q    And it’s sort of hurting their habitat. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, I will say, in in all seriousness — I mean, certainly, it’s an important question, an important issue.  I don’t want the — the pro-manatee —
 
Q    (Inaudible.)
 
MS. PSAKI:  — people to not think I feel that. 
 
But I will say that, yes, there are components of his — of his package.  I mean, a part of this package — a big part of this package is a down payment on climate resilience, on ensuring that we are cleaning up some of the polluted areas in our country — something that is impacting a lot of communities proportionally more than others. 
 
So that is — I would have to check on sort of what that means for the Florida coast — I think you said, specifically there. 
 
In terms of relisting them — it’s a great question.  I just have to talk to the — the folks —
 
Q    One more about Afghanistan, please.
 
MS. PSAKI:  — who would be more specific about that. 
 
Go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you.  Nazira Karimi, Afghan journalist.  There are many protestors — Afghan protestors — outside the White House.  They are waiting and they have a high expectations from today’s two Presidents meeting.  Do you have any message for them?  Because as soon as I leave here, I go to see them and get their opinion. 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that the — the meeting today is an opportunity to convey, from the President, that we have an ongoing commitment — we are committed to supporting the Afghan people and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, even as we continue to undertake a security transition.
 
The President is also going to emphasize, during this meeting, the need for unity, cohesion, and for the Afghan government to focus on the key challenges Afghanistan faces. 
 
And so, as you noted, we’ll welcome both President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah.  And one of the most important messages he will stress is that they need to have a united front as Afghanistan continues to address security and other challenges.
 
And finally, he will emphasize our continuing diplomatic support for the peace process and for all Afghan parties to engage in good faith in that process. 
 
So the bottom line that you can convey is that he’s going to discuss our enduring United States support, including through security assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, development and humanitarian assistance to support the Afghan people, and diplomatic engagement in support of peace. 
 
Q    Thank you, Jen.
 
MS. PSAKI:  Thank you, guys.  I’m sorry.  You’ve got a — you’ve got to gather.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Chris.  Chris.  Chris.  And then I want to go to Amna because it’s her first time too, so okay.  Okay.  Go ahead.
 
Q    All right.  Happy Pride.  I know we’re running short on time,  I’m just going to smush my multiple inquiries today on the LGBT developments into one, and that is — (laughter). 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Take your time; it’s okay.  (Laughter.)  People can leave if they need to gather.  No one is rushing you out of here. 
 
Q    The initiatives today: How do they place in the President’s both domestic and foreign policy agenda?  And don’t they fall short of the President signing the Equality Act into law? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, on the — well, let me start with the first one because I think that’s an important question, because what we do here and the values that we advocate for in the United States do send an important message around the world, and sometimes we forget that. 
 
So, during his remarks today, the President will outline, of course, the historic step his — his administration has taken, but he will also renew his calls on the Senate to swiftly pass the Equality Act and provide overdue, explicit civil rights protections to LGBTQ people and families across the country. 
 
He will also speak directly to the proliferation of state-level anti-LGBTQ bill- — plus — bills, denouncing them as un-American and legislation disguised as bullying.  And he will commend the community for their courage and bravery pushing progress forward. 
 
Finally, he will announce his appointment of Jessica Stern as the U.S. envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQ persons at the Department of State, a role — just to make the connection here — that will be critical to advancing his agenda overseas and around the world, as well. 
 
Q    Any plans for the President to visit the soon-to-be Pulse Memorial?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have anything to preview in terms of travel beyond next week.  Maybe — we don’t work too far ahead in planning around these parts, but certainly the fact that he’s signing this legislation today sends a clear message about, you know, his commitment to the LGBTQ+ community, and to commemorating what was a tragedy in our nation’s history. 
 
Amna.  Okay, last one.  And then everybody can gather.
 
Q    Two quick ones on — the NewsHour has been in touch with Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.  Ran by him the reports of hundreds of additional U.S. forces staying beyond the withdrawal.  This is his response: He says, “It’s a violation of the commitment and the agreement made by the U.S.  It jeopardizes the peace process and could pave the way for continued prolonged war.”  So what’s the White House response to that?
 
MS. PSAKI:  I would say, first, that we have been very clear — and the President was when he made his announcement about his plans to withdraw troops — that we plan to have a diplomatic presence on the ground, including — including a security presence to protect our diplomatic presence on the ground.  And that’s something that has been a part of the discussion from the beginning.
 
And beyond that, I certainly would have to talk to our national security team if there’s more. 
 
Q    Just one more quick one: The family of Mark Frerichs — a U.S. Navy veteran who is still held hostage in Afghanistan — is worried that as U.S. troops continue to leave, you’ve lost all leverage in any efforts to free him.  So what’s the President’s message to his family? 
 
MS. PSAKI:  The President’s message is that he will continue to fight every day of his presidency to bring Americans home who are detained overseas in — whether it’s in Afghanistan or any other country around the world. 
 
Again, we will have a diplomatic presence on the ground.  We will continue to work closely with the government, with security support, humanitarian support.  And there needs to be continued — continued political process, ongoing negotiations.  That will be part of the President’s message today when he meets with the leaders.
 
Thanks, everyone, so much.  Happy Friday.

1:35 P.M. EDT