Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, November 15, 2021
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. I just have one item for all of you at the top.
Obviously, an exciting day here at the White House, but I also wanted to note that the President — which we announced, of course — but signed an executive order this morning on the implementation of the infrastructure bill, which laid out six main priorities to guide implementation, including:
Investing public dollars effectively — efficiently, effectively — of course, avoiding waste and focusing on measurable outcomes for the American people.
Buying American and increasing the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, including through implementing the act’s Made in America requirements, and bolstering domestic manufacturing and manufacturing supply chains.
Creating good-paying job opportunities for millions of Americans by focusing on high labor standards for these jobs, including prevailing wages and the free and fair chance to join a union.
Investing public dollars equitably, including through the Justice40 Initiative, which is a government-wide effort toward a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy flow to disadvantaged communities.
Building resilient infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of climate change, that helps combat the climate crisis.
And finally, coordinating with state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments in implementing these critical investments.
We also announced yesterday that former Lieutenant Governor and former Mayor Mitch Landrieu will be leading this effort. And the executive order also started a task force that will include — that will be co-chaired by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and, of course, our new implementation coordinator, Mitch Landrieu, and will include a number of members of our Cabinet.
With that, Colleen, welcome. I don’t think I’ve engaged with you in the briefing yet.
MS. PSAKI: So, welcome to the briefing room.
Q Thank you. It’s nice to be here. So, the bill is being signed, and now we’re going to spend the money. So I wanted to ask a little bit about if the President has been in touch with governors about how the funds are going to be spent. And I wanted to know if you could talk a little bit more about the potential oversight mechanisms in place for how the public is going to be able to know how the money is being spent.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, I would note — and I know you are all eager to have a list of exactly who is attending today, and I expect someone will ask me that question. We are still getting attendees lists and people who are still RSVPing. Believe it or not, this is sometimes how it works. It is open press; you will see the group.
But let me just note — I know this wasn’t your question, but since this is a popular one, some of the people who will be attending today — you reminded me of it when you asked about governors: Governor Kate Brown of Oregon; Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland; Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana; Mayor David Holt of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina. Again, this is not everyone but just to give you a sense of the bipartisan group who will be attending.
Also, members of Congress, as you know, because we put out, I think, the list of people who will be speaking. Of course, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer will be in attendance. Other members of leadership — Senator Cassidy, Senator Collins, Senator Portman, Congressman Reed, Congressman Young, and others, as well as a number of business leaders, union leaders, and others.
So I would say that Mitch Landrieu is starting his job today. He’s going to be in attendance at the ceremony today. He’ll be traveling with the President tomorrow. And then he will be getting to work right away.
And as our executive order is an indication of, the President is very focused — they call him “Sheriff Joe” for a reason — on the implementation of this, making sure we keep waste, fraud, and abuse — we prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, and that we are working directly for hours a day, which is what Mitch Landrieu will be doing, with governors, local officials, and others.
I expect we will have more to say on how that will work, what that work will look like as Mitch Landrieu gets his role underway.
Q Can you talk a little bit about how the President’s message is going to be to voters as he (inaudible) this week? You know, how is he going to explain to the voters how this spending plan is going to help deal with inflation and supply chain issues?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me give you — I know he’s going to speak in about an hour and a half, depending on how long the preprogram is — but a little bit of a preview of what you’ll hear from him today. And I think that will also be an indication of how he’ll talk about some of these plans when he’s out in the country.
One, you’ll hear him convey today that he’s also frustrated by the negativity and by the infighting that we’ve seen in Washington over the last couple of months. He’s tired of it too, and that he knows that what the American people expect is that leaders are going to be talking about issues that matter to them — the issues that they’re talking about at their kitchen tables, in their communities, in community centers, at their kids’ soccer games, or whatever it may be.
How can I get a good-paying job? How can I make sure my kid will succeed? What are we doing to make sure that we are setting up the next generation for success in the future?
And so, what you’ll hear him talk about today is how this bill, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan, will impact people’s everyday lives. You’ll hear him convey that America is moving and life is going to get better for people across the country, and that this is part of his effort to finish the job — part of it — in getting the pandemic under control, making sure we are addressing rising costs, bringing costs down for the American people, and making us more competitive.
So what you can expect to hear from him today is what I’ve just outlined. And as he goes around the country, he’s really going to want to — he’s going to dig into how these issues — how the benefits of these packages will impact people’s everyday lives and what they talk about at their kitchen tables.
Q Thanks, Jen. We’ve got the meeting later on today between President Biden and President Xi.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q We’ve been told that there won’t be a huge emphasis on trade. I wonder, though, given the fact that the U.S.-China trade agreement is nearing an end, China is still very short — falling very short of its pledges to buy more goods and services. I’m wondering why that isn’t going to be a bigger factor in that discussion.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Andrea, I know we did a preview call last night, but let me reiterate a couple of the highlights of what will be the focus of the meeting, which we expect to run for a couple of hours later this evening virtually.
One, the meeting, in our view, is an opportunity to set the terms of the competition with China in a way that reflects our interests and values, insists that the PRC play by the rules of the road.
So, there are areas, of course, of concern as it relates to the economy where the President will certainly express his concern, express his view that China should be playing by the rules that the rest of the global community expects, raise our concerns with a number of their actions, and discuss areas where our interests align.
As you know, Ambassador Tai gave a speech just a few weeks ago outlining our role in the — where we are in the phase one — in phase one. She is running point, and the President entrusts her to lead these negotiations and discussions around trade tariff reviews.
That’s why there’s a lot to discuss in this discussion. We’ll give you — there’ll be a call late tonight — have your coffee now — to read out this call. And there could be a range of topics discussed.
But it’s really under her purview. He entrusts her to do that. He’s regularly briefed. And that’s why there’s a lot of other topics that will be discussed.
Q Is he going to foot stomp, though, his insistence that China make good on those promises?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly the President will express areas where he feels China should be taking additional action, should be behaving in a different manner that is more aligned with the rules of the road and the expectations of the United States and the global community. So, you can certainly expect that coming out of the meeting.
Q Can I just ask one more on oil and gas? So, we just saw President Biden take action now in terms of the — protecting oil and gas development on Native lands and Tribal lands. But later this week, the U.S. government will open up for auction many, many acres — an area larger than several states, actually — to oil and gas leasing because of this legal situation.
So there are critics who say that you should have done more to avert this action. And I wonder if you can just say, you know, what action could potentially be done. Is there — are there any last-minute steps that could be taken to prevent those auctions from going forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know, the President did — as you know, Andrea, but just to get others up to speed — issue an executive order pausing oil and gas leasing on public lands and in offshore waters to facilitate the identification and implementation of long-needed permitting and leasing reforms.
Shortly thereafter, the Interior Department cancelled the pending offshore oil and gas lease in the Gulf of Mexico known as Lease Sale 257.
So, what you’re referring to, I believe, is the fact that, in June, a federal district court in Louisiana stopped the President’s leasing pause and ruled that the Interior Department is legally required to go through with the sale of the Lease Sale 257, which is what you’re refer- — what Andrea is referring to in terms of putting up a bunch of lease sales — oil and gas lease sales.
We believe the decision is wrong, and the Justice Department is appealing it. So it’s in the courts; it’s in a legal process. We’re required to comply with the injunction. It’s a legal case and legal process, but it’s important for advocates and other people out there who are following this to understand that it’s not aligned with our view, the President’s policies, or the executive order that he signed.
Q So there’s no more la- — so, you can’t take any last-minute action to prevent that from going forward?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the Justice Department. They, of course, are appealing this, and I would point you to them for any legal action or what their options are.
Q Just following up — at least tangentially related to China and trade: When you guys look at tariffs right now, do you view them purely through the prism of the administration’s China strategy, or do you consider them as part of a potential tool in the tool belt, as it relates to increased prices?
I ask because the Treasury Secretary this weekend said, to pull off tariffs, it probably “would make some difference” in the price increases. You have business groups sent a letter, in the last couple days, asking the administration to consider easing them.
Is that something you’re viewing through the lens of the price increases, or is it purely separate and only along the lines of the China strategy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it is part of the China strategy, but it is also something that — you know, even while we have been pursuing phase one enforcement, which is what Ambassador Tai gave a speech about a couple of weeks ago, we’ve restarted our domestic tariff exclusions process to mitigate the effects of certain tariffs because, as you said, there are certain industries that are impacted, and there are areas where they don’t generate strategic benefit but they raise costs on Americans.
So that is all a part of the review. And certainly part of the review is our China — our China relationship is the backdrop for it but also the impact on Americans, how we’re strengthening the middle class, is the priority and the focus for the President.
I will say, just on the China meeting — you know, one of the things to — as you look at this meeting and where it’s falling: The President and the national security team feel that the President is coming into this meeting really from a position of strength, if you look at where we were 9, 10 months ago.
And if you look at how we outlined our approach to China many months ago, we talked about the importance of rebuilding our alliances, our relationships, coordinating with Europeans and other key partners in the world on how we’re approaching this relationship. We have made enormous strides in building those relationships, including on the President’s trip just two weeks ago where he had a range of conversations.
In addition, the President has also emphasized the need to come to this relationship, one, through the prism of competition from a position of strength as it relates to what we’re doing at home.
Today, he is signing this infrastructure bill. And this infrastructure bill is essential and important for many reasons, but one of which is: For the first time in 20 years, we will be investing more [faster] in infrastructure than China. And that is going to strengthen our competition at home in addition to putting millions of people to work.
Q And one more on the economy. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey came in at the lowest level since November of 2011. If you look at the story that you guys have made clear you believe you have on what the President has accomplished in the last 10 months, you’re also seeing all of your own numbers. What do you attribute that to? Is it just inflation? Is it coverage? What does the White House think is driving consumer sentiment to be at that low level?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, without being an economist, we look at most of these data points through the prism of COVID, and we know that we were in this place we are in now because of COVID, because of the impact of the pandemic. That has led to inflation; that has led to supply chain issues. And we know that even on a fundamental human level, people are tired of the pandemic.
And so it’s hard to get into the psychological mind, which this is a measure of, of course — different than some other data — but we see that consistently across, you know, a range of data and a range of economic analysis and even polling as it relates to how the current state of play in the country is impacting the American people.
Q Thanks, Jen. In that same vein, can you just expand on that as it relates to the poll that came out this weekend? You know, you’ve got the President’s popularity down to 41 percent approval; on his handling of the economy, down to 39 percent. And then you see the response to his legislation, which is pretty popular.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Where’s the disconnect there, in that his legislation right now — infrastructure, particularly — is more — significantly more popular than he is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we see this as is an opportunity, because we know that the President’s agenda is quite popular, as you noted and as you can see in the poll. The American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure deal are some of the most popular major pieces of legislation in the last 20 years. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the Build Back Better Agenda are very popular.
And on COVID, polling shows there is support for our vaccine requirements.
We know also — and I’ve been doing press and communications for some time — I will tell you that you don’t design a communication strategy around infighting within the Democratic Party in Washington. That is not how you typically design it. That has been a necessity in order to get this legislation done.
And looking back, the President would have done the same thing because he wants to deliver for the American people. But now is an opportunity for the President, the Vice President, I’ll note — and he’ll mention this today — our Cabinet to be out in the country connecting the agenda, the impacts on people’s lives, moving beyond the legislative process to talk about how this is going to help them. And we’re hoping that’s going to have an impact.
Q But you don’t see the infighting in Washington within the Democrats’ own party as the reason for the President’s approval rating as where it is, do you?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we think, one, there’s a couple factors. One is people are still — there’s a fatigue from COVID. We see that in poll after poll — in your poll and many other polls that have come out around the country. People are sick and tired of COVID and the impacts on the economy. We understand that; we’re tired of it too. That’s why this is the number-one priority — continues to be — getting COVID under control.
I was just noting the fact that how we have spent our time and how our time has been consumed here is by getting this bill across the finish line. There’s absolutely no regrets across — about that. This is going to get America — continue America moving again, make a fundamental difference in people’s lives.
But it hasn’t allowed for all of the time we would typically be out there talking about the benefits, as the bill was not finalized — it wasn’t finished. We’re looking forward and eager to do that.
Q And just quickly on infrastructure: You said at the top that the President’s message is going to be that it’s going to get better, how this is — you’re just going to lay out how this is going to impact their lives. What is the timeline on this, particularly what he is signing today? When will Americans start to see this in their communities in a very real way?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are some components that we are going to see rather quickly and some that will take a little bit more time. And part of what our focus is on, as you saw the President — and I announced at the top: sign the executive order on implementation, creating this task force, name somebody who’s going to oversee it. And we’re going to get components of this done as quickly as possible.
I would note, though, that this is designed to be — this is not designed to be a stimulus bill; this is designed to be something that is spent out over time.
What the President feels this bill is going to help do is have an impact over the short, medium, and long term by putting people — more people back to work, by investing in our infrastructure, by making sure people know that there are industries of the future that we are investing in, and we’re creating good-paying jobs for the long term as well.
So, I would just note this is not — you know, sometimes it’s — I’m not saying you’re doing this, but sometimes people compare this to the Recovery Act of 2009. It is not that. We are not in the middle of an economic — a historic economic crisis right now.
This is an opportunity to build our country back better, build our industries back better, and that’s what we are going to work to do as we implement this bill.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple more China questions in advance of tonight’s meeting. Has the President been briefed on China’s hypersonic test this summer? And does the President intend to bring up that hypersonic test in this meeting?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into classified intelligence briefings with the President from here. Obviously, the President receives a Presidential Daily Brief every single day, and certainly he is up to speed on anything our intelligence community is reviewing.
And I know there will be — you know there will be a readout later this evening where they will talk in more detail about the topics that are discussed at this meeting. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to preview.
Q That test has been described by analysts as China’s “Sputnik moment” or the start of a new arms race between China and the U.S. Does the President see it that way?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to speak to it beyond what I’ve said.
Q And the President, this summer, told Peter here that he does not consider President Xi an “old friend.” How would you describe — (laughter) — how would you describe their relationship going into this meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — I think — I can confirm, Peter, he still does not consider him an “old friend,” so that remains consistent.
You’ve heard the President note in the past that he is — President Xi is somebody he has spent time with, he’s had face-to-face conversations with. And because of that, the President feels that he’s able to have candid discussions with President Xi — someone where he can raise — whom — with whom he can raise directly areas where we have concern, whether it’s security issues, whether it’s economic issues, whether it is human rights issues. And he will certainly do that this evening during the call. But he will also look for areas where we can work together and where there are areas where there is cohesion of opportunity moving forward.
So, he — it gives him the opportunity — it gives him the ability, I should say, to approach this multi-hour meeting with a level of candor, to be direct and not to hold back, and to continue that moving forward.
I’ll note that because of the — kind of the condensing of power in China, that this relationship, these ongoing discussions between President Biden and President Xi, we feel, is a key part of having intense diplomacy with a country that it’s important to do that at this stage.
So — but the long history helps enable him to do that effectively.
Q Thank you. Ahead of this meeting with President Xi, is President Biden considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics this winter?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know you’re asking this because there have been reports out there or questions, I should say, about whether or not President Xi will raise the question of the Beijing Olympics. We don’t know if he will or will not, and we’ll leave that to them to preview. But I don’t have anything beyond that for you.
I’ve outlined for you what the President will talk about and discuss in his meeting, and that’s what our focus is on from this end.
Q Okay. There are a few reports from over the weekend that the Vice President is unhappy. Can she expect the President’s automatic endorsement if she decides to run herself in either 2024 or 2028?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, the President selected the Vice President because — to serve as his running mate because he felt she was exactly the person he wanted to have by his side to govern the country. She’s a key partner. She’s a bold leader. And she is somebody who has taken on incredibly important assignments, whether it is addressing the root causes of migration at the Northern Triangle or taking on a core cause of democracy in voting rights.
So that is who the President selected. I don’t have any predictions of whether she will run, when she will run; I will leave that to her. But I can tell you that there’s been a lot of reports out there, and they don’t reflect his view or our experience with the Vice President.
Q And so you guys have not heard that the Vice President or key members of her staff are unhappy?
MS. PSAKI: Here’s what I know, Peter: I know that the President relies on the Vice President for her advice, for her counsel. She’s somebody who is not only taking on issues that are challenging. She’s not looking for a cushy role here — no Vice President is, no President is — and that she’s somebody that is a valuable member of the team.
And he expects to also — you can all expect to be out there, out in the country — on the infrastructure bill, and he’s looking forward to having her out there too.
Q And then just something tied to an ongoing court case. Why did President Biden suggest that Kyle Rittenhouse, on trial in Kenosha, is a white supremacist?
MS. PSAKI: So, Peter, what I — I’m not going to speak to right now is anything about an ongoing trial nor the President’s past comments.
What I can reiterate for you is the President’s view that we shouldn’t have, broadly speaking, vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons. We shouldn’t have opportunists corrupting peaceful protests by rioting and burning down the communities they claim to represent anywhere in the country.
As you know, closing arguments in this particular case — which I’m not speaking to; I’m just making broad comments about his own view — there’s an ongoing trial. We’re awaiting a verdict. Beyond that, I’m not going to speak to any individuals or this case.
Q But the President has spoken to it already. And his mom now — Kyle Rittenhouse’s mom came out saying that the President defamed her son and that claims — she claims that when the President suggested her son is a white supremacist, he was doing that to win votes. Is that what happened?
MS. PSAKI: I just have nothing more to speak to an ongoing case where the closing arguments were just made.
Q Given the National Guard is on standby though in Wisconsin right now, Jen, does the White House or the President have any message to those who may stir up trouble, regardless of the outcome at the end of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can give you a little bit of an update that we’re in contact — the White House is in contact with state officials at the request of community leaders. The Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service has provided trainings and deescalation and contingency planning to local community organizations, and they’re prepared to provide any further assistance that is needed.
But, you know, our message, I would say, is that, you know, President Biden ran on a promise to bring Americans together and to turn down the temperature on the angry, divisive rhetoric and actions we saw over the past four years. That’s his overarching objective.
It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand — of course he does — when emotions are high, when passions are high. We’re here to provide support. And obviously, we’re going to wait for any verdict to come out. And beyond that, certainly we, you know, are hopeful that any protests will be peaceful.
Q And then, broadly, on the state of America right now: inflation, obviously, at a 31-year high right now. Americans are seeing their dollars, their paychecks stretched right now. Why should Americans not be concerned that injecting another $1.75 trillion or more would further raise inflation?
MS. PSAKI: Because no economist out there is projecting that this will have a negative impact on inflation. And actually, what it will help do is it will help increase economic productivity. It’s — it will help economic growth in this country. That and the Build Back Better Agenda will help reduce inflation, will help cut costs for the American people over the long term.
Q But as you acknowledged, that’s over the long term. So, I guess, for those Americans who are really struggling with the bottom line right now, what is the President doing now, like immediately, to try to directly impact the rising costs that are Americans are witnessing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the number one thing that the President can do is help get COVID under control. That, we know, is the root cause of inflation and the price increases we’re seeing for a range of reasons. That is the best step that he can take, that the administration can take to help get it under control.
I’d also note though, in his — many of his proposals, but his Build Back Better Agenda that is currently working its way through Congress and we’re eager for the House to pass this week, there are a number of key components in there that will lower costs next year for the American people: cutting childcare costs in half; making preschool free for families starting in 2022, saving families $8,600; leading to the construction of additional housing units. We’re seeing housing and the cost of rent as a major driver of costs for families across the country. And even on issues like negotiating prescription drugs. There are people across the country that are paying a lot of money out of pocket infl- — for insulin. It will cap the cost at $35.
The President has a plan for lowering costs for American — the American people. No one is denying that inflation and any element of rising costs is an issue for the American people. The question is: What are the solutions? We’re proposing solutions. In the short term, we have to continue to get COVID under control. In the medium and long term, we want to pass this agenda, which economists will tell you, including Nobel laureates, this will help address inflationary issues over the long term.
Q Thanks, Jen. We’re seeing some reports that Russia carried out an antisatellite weapons test over the weekend and it potentially created some kind of debris in space. I’m wondering if the President has been briefed on that at all and if the White House has a response beyond what we heard from —
MS. PSAKI: I have seen these reports. I know that the State Department was going to bi- — issue a statement about it, so let me refer to them on any commentary on it at this point.
Q And then American journalist Danny Fenster has been freed from prison in Myanmar. I’m wondering if the U.S. was involved — the U.S. government was involved at all in his release.
MS. PSAKI: I would again point you to the State Department. They would have the negotiating team that would have been engaged with any officials or others there playing a role in getting him released. I would point you to them for any more details.
Q I’ve got to ask this: Does the President intend to announce his pick for Fed chair this week? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. I have nothing to preview for you quite yet. I understand the interest.
Q And can you just confirm again that we’re expecting to have a press conference with the heads of Mexico and Canada (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I have not. I know I said that last week. I have not. The schedule is constantly changing, so let me just take another fresh look at it and we will confirm any details for you after the briefing.
Go ahead, Shelby.
Q Thanks. There’s been reporting indicating that there’s a lower vaccination rate in some of the intelligence agencies. Congressman Chris Stewart had said that some are up as high as 40 percent unvaccinated.
There’s also been similar reporting on vaccine holdouts at key military bases. RealClearPolitics said there’s around 10 percent of highly educated and trained personnel refusing the vaccine at one of their top weapons testing base.
So with the vaccine deadlines looming, is the administration concerned about the impact on national security if some of these percentages remain high? And secondly, is there any sort of contingency plan in place in the event that we see a number of personnel taken off because of this mandate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first point you to the Department of Defense. Their uptick numbers of people who are getting vaccinated are quite high, so that’s not consistent with what I have heard, and they can give you more specific details.
And I don’t know if this is applicable to the agencies that you have mentioned, but we know, in some components of the federal government, we’re in a little bit of a delay in people entering the information and data for their vaccination status. And that’s something that we’re encouraging people and workers to update as needed as we lead up to the timeline.
So that does not sound consistent with the data that I understand to be accurate, but I would point you to any agency on the specific percentages within their agencies.
Q So there’s no –- there’s no concern about a number of personnel in any of these agencies having to leave the workforce because they’re not vaccinated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, those numbers are not consistent with what I understand to be accurate. So I would point you to the agencies on the numbers and the specific percentages per agency.
Q Thanks, Jen. One on China and one on infrastructure. You just mentioned again, as part of your broader China strategy, working with allies, coordinating with them. In anticipation of tonight’s meeting, have you briefed partners in Asia and Europe on sort of what you hope to achieve from this meeting? And do you plan to give them a readout after — how it went — where you might have to coordinate with them?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we are in regular contact. The President saw a number of allies and partners just two weeks ago. Our State Department officials, our national security team are in regular touch, and I’m sure there will be continued coordination after the meeting.
Q Great. And then one more on Mitch Landrieu. In his new role, is he expected to be involved in the effort to promote the infrastructure package around the country, traveling like other Cabinet members are going to be doing? Is that part of his role?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see. You know, I think he will be traveling, as I noted, with the President tomorrow. But I expect, at least for the early stages, that his focus will be keeping his head down and getting this — the implementation off the ground. He is a very effective communicator, a former mayor, a former lieutenant governor, so I’m sure we will utilize him to be out there explaining the implementation plan as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. On Belarus — the situation in Belarus: Is there anything specific that you can share that the White House is doing or can do to help in that situation, such as the President considering a call with Putin, as some other leaders have?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview on that front for you. We continue to work in close contact — or stay in close contact, I should say, with our EU partners and other allies who are working to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its ongoing attack and that includes preparing follow-up sanctions in close coordination with them.
So, we are working to continue coordination with them on these efforts. I don’t have anything in terms of a Putin call to preview.
Q Any indication that Russia is involved indirectly/directly in any fashion or form?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that from here.
Q On — and one other question: Can you share some details about tomorrow? You know, it’s a swing state. Why New Hampshire, and why this particular bridge?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me just say one thing on the last piece, just so I note it: While I don’t have anything to convey in terms of engagement, I can tell you that we are still calling on Russia and encouraging them directly to use its influence to press the Lukashenko regime to cease its callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people. There’s no question they have that relationship and that ability to impact.
Okay. To go to your New Hampshire question, quickly switching topics: The President is going there because there is a broken-down bridge that needs to be repaired. And he is — it’s an opportunity to highlight how this infrastructure bill can help communities, help people who are taking their kids to school, help people who are holding their breath as they’re going across bridges worrying about the safety and security of how they’re traveling, to do exactly that.
So, that’s why he’s headed to New Hampshire tomorrow to highlight that, highlight this bridge that is decrepit and needs to be rebuilt, and show people visually what the impact will be so they can understand how it will help impact their lives.
Q You just talked about how the infrastructure bill is one of the reasons why the White House thinks President Biden is coming into this meeting tonight with President Xi with a position of strength. But legislation in Congress that would actually address boosting competitiveness against China — the USICA, or the formerly known “Endless Frontiers Act” — is pending in Congress.
MS. PSAKI: So many names.
Q I know. (Laughs.) So, I’m wondering if the White House is doing anything to advance that bill in the House and to dislodge it, or do they prefer this other version that House Democrats are working on.
MS. PSAKI: So, the President is certainly eager to see USICA pass, and he believes it is an important — would be an important step forward, an important opportunity, perhaps in a bipartisan manner, to send the message about our commitment to, you know, helping industries and make us more competitive here in the United States.
I would say, though, that the reason why the infrastructure bill is such an important component of our competition is because we are at the point now where we are about 13th in the world in terms of our infrastructure around the country. And we’re seeing even as it relates to supply chain issues, that we need to do a lot more to ensure that goods and services can move across our country. China has done more to invest.
So, it is a very key and pivotal component of our — of the President’s commitment to, you know, approaching the relationship from a position of strength.
But we are eager to see it pass. We’re engaged with members and leadership on the Hill. I don’t have anything from here in terms of the particular components of it, but we would like to see the bill passed, yes.
Q On that front, is the President — is there any hope in the White House that this bill that he’s signing today will not be a one-off and will, in fact, be like a turning point for future bipartisan agreements like USICA or others? Like, what’s your assessment of whether he can turn this into political momentum?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think today what we’re focused on is the fact that there hasn’t been a big, historic, impactful, bipartisan bill signing at the White House in some time. I guess there’s a lot of ways to view that. But — and we are — the President is grateful, and he will note this in his remarks for the support of everyone from Mitch McConnell to a range of members in both sides — both houses who supported this legislation because they think it’s the right thing for the American people and the right thing for their states.
The President will continue to — the door of the Oval Office will continue to be open to working in a bipartisan fashion. And the President’s view is there are many ways that we can do exactly that. And that’s what the American people expect. They expect and hope for us to be able to work across the aisle.
He’ll also note that he is a President who is going — who believes that consensus is a good thing, that compromise is a good thing, and that that is how you get things done in this town and that we can’t be so, you know, stiff in what we believe and “our way or the highway” in order to get things done. And he’s hopeful that that sends a message that he is open to and eager to have opportunities to continue to work together.
But he can’t determine how everybody is going to vote in Congress. We know that. But he does — he is somebody who wants to govern for all people, pursue opportunities to work in a bipartisan way. Today is a great example of that, and we’ll continue to look for ways to do it, moving forward.
Q And to follow up: Does he have any expectation that, out in the country, this success, this ceremony will translate into an improvement in his poll numbers, his handling of the economy — any of that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I said a little bit earlier, you know, there’s no question that being able to go out there and talk about and sell a package that actually exists, and we know the details of, is easier than the alternative.
And the President will be out there tomorrow; he’ll be out there Wednesday. The Vice President will be out there around the country. Cabinet members will be out there talking about how these packages benefit the American people and the direct impact they’re going to have on their lives.
We can’t predict for you what that will mean two months, six months from now, but there’s no question that, you know, that will — that is a more positive means of communicating from here than litigating every up and down of the sausage-making in Congress.
Q Yeah. Is it the White House’s expectation that the House will take action — take up a vote on the Build Back Better plan before the Thanksgiving break? Where are you seeing things right now in terms of timing on that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note for you that when a number of House moderates, you know, put out a statement a couple of weeks ago.
MS. PSAKI: They conveyed that this was the week that they felt was the time to move forward on this legislation. We agree. They’ve been waiting for justifica- — you know, validation, I would say, of the White House projections on the payfors in the legislation. We’ve seen that every component of information the CBO has put out has been consistent with our projections. There have been a number of other outside economists and experts who’ve also conveyed that — you know, the nature of this legislation.
So, we’re hopeful that we will be — continue to move forward toward getting this bill passed this week, as has been the plan for some time now.
Q Would you view it as a setback if there’s not a vote this week on this?
MS. PSAKI: We plan to move forward. We’re not going to call bill votes from here; we’ll leave that to the Speaker. But we’re moving forward.
Q Thanks, Jen. To follow up on what you’ve said about bipartisanship: By our count, there’s just 6 of the 32 Republicans in the House and Senate who voted for the bipartisan bill that will actually be there at the signing ceremony today. Is the President frustrated that more Republicans aren’t coming so he can highlight, like, actually with everybody around him the bipartisan work that went into this bill?
MS. PSAKI: The President believes that today is an opportunity to celebrate a bipartisan success that will have a huge impact on the American people. He invited everybody who supported it because he felt that was the right thing to do. Whether people come or not, that’s their choice. The President will still be elevating, talking about the impact of this package as a bipartisan package that will help the American people.
I would also note that one of the other things he’ll highlight is that we’re going to work with governors and mayors — and he’ll continue to highlight in the days ahead, I should say — to implement this moving forward.
And we don’t do that through the prism of somebody’s political affiliation. He’s going to work with and Mitch Landrieu will be working with Democratic governors, Republican governors; Democratic mayors, Republican governors — mayors. And, really, what is most important to the American people is what we do from here and how it’s going to impact them and make their lives better, less than the attendance at a bill signing.
Q And that gets into my next question. The New York governor said today that there will be no MTA fare hike because of the funding that’s coming from this infrastructure bill. Do you have other examples of immediate impact just like that? Like, what can we see in the next couple of days?
MS. PSAKI: We will. Look, I think the President is signing this bill today. The implementation coordinator is starting his job today. We will certainly have more updates, in terms of immediate impact, in the days and the weeks ahead.
Obviously, some governors and mayors can anticipate roads that will be rebuilt, big bridges that will be rebuilt that are long overdue; how this will help replace lead pipes that are in schools, in people’s homes across the country; making sure families — and the President will talk about this today — who have been sitting in, you know, McDonald’s or Walmart parking lots to get their kid broadband access, moving forward, soon, they won’t need to do that anymore.
So, you will see mayors and governors talk about that in the weeks and — days, weeks, and months ahead. But we’re just at the beginning of implementation, and we’re eager to get it started as quickly as possible.
George, go ahead.
Q Yeah. In your answer to Colleen, you talked about the short-term campaign. Let me ask you about longer term. You were here in 2010 when President Obama signed the ACA, gave a couple of speeches, and then moved on. Is this going to be longer-term selling? Are we going to see him a year from now at the bridges and so on? Or is this —
MS. PSAKI: A year from now is an eternity away — (laughter) — I will note.
The President wants to spend some sustained time out there communicating with the country. There’s a lot of ways to do that. Certainly, he loves getting out in the country. No one loves a bridge or rail more than President Biden. So, you will certainly see him out there. You’ll see the Vice President out there quite a bit over the coming weeks as well. You’ll see Cabinet members out there, as well, fanning across the country and talking about the direct impacts on people’s lives.
So, I can certainly — you can certainly anticipate, George, that a couple of weeks, months from now we will have a whole bevy of events and photos and interviews that — that the team here will have done, including the President, to go out there and communicate directly with the American people.
Q Thanks. Oh, sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Oh —
Q No? Go ahead. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: One more. One more. And then we’ll go. Yeah, one more. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. I want to ask you, even though you said earlier you’re not going to comment necessarily on the trial that’s happening: But when we look at the case — the Ahmaud Arbery trial — and we’re seeing what’s happening on the outside of this trial, and then you have one where — just a pastor, Reverend Jesse Jackson, coming into a courtroom and seen as threatening, and then 100 pastors coming this Thursday to pray outside of the courtroom, what was the President’s response to that?
Even though the judge, you know, reprimanded the lawyers — however, it still speaks to what’s happening in our criminal justice system, the unfairness — even in the Rittenhouse trial — how race has really still taken precedence over in both cases. And people are wondering what’s happening next.
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your question. And I just want to be clear that what I’m trying — I don’t want to comment on from here is ongoing trials where there are — you know, where the cases are being heard, where the jury is still making decisions. And that’s just a responsibility we have from here — or I have as the spokesperson — right? — for the White House.
I will note that, of course, the President has watched and you’ve heard him talk about the impacts that — what he has seen across the country: protests, the emotions, racial injustice, whether it’s in our legal system or it’s in policing and the reforms that need to happen. And that is something where there’s not one event, of course. There are many events that have deeply impacted him and made this a priority for him and this White House.
I know, as there are verdicts and as there are — we will have more to say. But I just am limited in what I can convey beyond that from here.
Okay, thank you, everybody. Thank you, everyone.