September 16, 2021

Alexandra Beer House

The Real Estate Experts

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, September 9, 2021

Brady Press Briefing Room

1:39 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Okay, I know it’s a packed day, and we’re going to work to try to get you out of here at about 10 after 2:00, given we’re going to do a preview call for the speech this eve- — that is happening later this evening. 

A couple of items for all of you.  On Monday, President Biden will travel to Boise, Idaho, where he will visit the National Interagency Fire Center; and Sacramento, California, to survey wildfire damage; Long Beach, California to participate in an event with Governor Gavin Newsom — starting on Monday, I should say — it’s over two days — and Denver, Colorado, where he will participate in a Build Back Better event.

The President will highlight how wildfire season is now a year-round event because of climate change, that no one is immune to climate change, and how one in three Americans have been impacted by severe weather events in recent months — about 100 million Americans.

He will also speak about the economic impacts of extreme weather and the urgent need for key investments to fight climate change and in resilient infrastructure — critical investments included in his Build Back Better agenda.

In Colorado, the President will speak directly to the importance of the Build Back Better agenda and the impacts that would be felt throughout local communities in Colorado and across the country. 

The Build Back Better agenda will lead to more economic and job growth, more Americans participating in the labor force, and will level the playing field for working families.

I also wanted to highlight, this afternoon, the Vice President will meet in her Ceremonial Office with abortion and reproductive health providers and patients to discuss the impact of Texas Senate Bill 8 and other restrictions on reproductive care.  The Vice President will emphasize that this issue is a critical priority for the administration, and she will thank the providers and activists who are fighting to protect reproductive choice in their states.

I also wanted to note one more scheduling item for all of you.  Tomorrow, the President, the First Lady, and the Secretary of Education will visit a local school in Washington, D.C.  They will — the President and First Lady will deliver remarks about how the administration is helping to keep students safe in classrooms and highlight some of the announcements the President is making later today on COVID. 

I do have one last item.  Today, HHS Secretary Becerra released a comprehensive plan to lower prescription drug price — lower drug prices for millions of Americans.  Right now, Americans pay too much for prescription drugs — more than $1,500 per person — and far more than people in comparable nations.  Lack of competition is a key factor.  That’s why President Biden’s executive order on promoting competition requested that HHS develop a plan to address these high drug costs. 

This report is guided by the administration’s principles for equitable drug pricing reform through improved competition, price negotiation, and innovation.  Our healthcare experts make the case that the number one thing we can do to help Americans pay less for critical medications is to pass legislation.  That includes allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, enacting Medicare Part D reform, and speeding the entry of generic drugs that will compete with expensive brand-name drugs.  And Secretary Becerra will present the report at the inaugural meeting of the White House Competition Council tomorrow. 

I know we’ve also sent a slew of statements into your inboxes, which all of you should have seen.  One was from Emily Horne on the arrival of a Qatar Airways charter.  A second one was on David Chipman.  I just wanted to highlight those in case you haven’t seen them yet.  And we had a UI one this morning. 

But, Zeke, go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  On that statement from Emily regarding the Qatar charter flight: How many Americans were on that flight and how many permanent residents?  And then, what’s the updated assessment of how many Americans are still in Afghanistan?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, as we noted in the statement, the plane just landed.  And what we want to do is check all of the manifests on the ground and ensure we have the accurate number for all of you.  We’ll have that number out from the State Department shortly this afternoon.

Q    And then, her statement says that the Taliban was “cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents.”  It doesn’t say that about SIV applicants and others who have assisted the United States.  Should we read in that the Taliban has not been cooperative in getting those out?

MS. PSAKI:  And Afghans who worked for us.  So, that — that would be applicable. 

Q    So they’ve been cooperative in getting Afghans who worked for the United States out of the country?  They’ve been cooperative? 

MS. PSAKI:  That’s what the statement conveys, yes.

Q    And then on a different topic — the President’s speech this afternoon.  The President is going to sign an executive order.  Has he signed yet the executive order on — for mandating vaccinations for the federal workforce?

MS. PSAKI:  I would have to check on that, Zeke.  That is the one piece of news that has been fully confirmed out there, which I can give a little bit more detail on and I can check whether he had signed it this morning or whether he’s planning to sign it after the speech.

Q    And are there going to be exceptions for people who have religious objections or medical reasons not to get the vaccine?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  There will be limited exceptions for legally recognized reasons, such as disability or religious objections.  I know you have all seen the reporting on this, but let me just give you a few top lines of it.

So, how this will work is the task force — the interagency task force will provide a ramp-up period, and we expect federal employees will have about 75 days to be fully vaccinated.  That gives people more than enough time, in our view, to start and complete their vaccination series. 

If a federal worker fails to comply, they will go through the standard HR process, which includes counseling, and face disciplinary action — face progressive disciplinary action.  Each agency is going to work with employees to make sure they understand the benefits of vaccination and how the vaccines are free, easy, and widely accessible.  But it will start to be applied once the executive order is signed.

Q    And any other previews you can give of what the President will announce this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you’ll have a preview call in just about 30 minutes.  But let me — let me just give you kind of some top lines here.  I know we put out to all of you kind of the six prongs of what he will be announcing this afternoon. 

The overarching objective here is for the President to lay out the next steps to build on the steps we’ve taken since he took office and a number of steps we announced over the summer.  And the federal mandate for workers is an example of that. 

We obviously had done that with a series of agencies — the VA, DOD, NIH.  We had announced steps on attestation.  This is the next step in that process.  But our overarching objective here is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans.  There are, of course, 80 million unvaccinated Americans at this point in time.  We want to reduce that number, decrease hospitalizations and deaths, and allow our children to go to school safely, and of course, keep our economy strong. 

So what you’ll hear him lay out is a series of additional requirements — some of them have been out there — additional ways he’s going to expand access to testing, which is a key way that we can ensure we reduce the spread of COVID; and ways that we’re going to work with states and communities to implement these proposals.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The original mandate for federal workers that included an option for testing — regular testing — just went into effect a little over a month ago.  So why are you making this change so soon after that?  What changed between then and now?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve seen over the past couple of months not only the threat of Delta, but the importance of taking additional bold and ambitious steps to get more people vaccinated.  And obviously, the federal workforce is one of the largest in the country, and we would like to be a model to what we think other businesses and organizations should do around the country. 

Q    So was it an increase?  I’m just trying understand, because the Delta was already surging —

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Weijia, when we announced our steps a couple of months ago, we said at the time that this would be the first of a series of steps.  So, this is the next in that series of steps.

Q    And do you have any numbers to illustrate how many federal workers have not been vaccinated yet, or how many have?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that’s been the attestation process that’s been happening agency to agency.  They really keep track of those numbers.  Obviously, our objective is to get to — close to 100 percent.  There will be exemptions, as Zeke, of course, asked about.  And as we have numbers to provide, we’ll provide them to all of you. 

Q    And just one more.  Is there any reason why you’re not requiring proof of vaccination and just allowing attestation — someone to, you know, verbally say, for example, that they got vaccinated? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, each agency will do it differently.  Some agencies are — will have standards — do have standards already of proof of vaccination, but different agencies will do it differently.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  The President said in July we were “closer than ever” to declaring independence from COVID-19.  We heard from Dr. Fauci; he said the U.S. doesn’t have “modestly good control” over the virus.  Was the President overconfident in July?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what we’ve said from the beginning here — and you all have covered — is that this is an evolving virus, a smart virus that has produced additional variants — variants that have been incredibly — that can spread very quickly, like the Delta variant.  But there are other variants, of course. 

When we announced the mask mandate, for example, in May, only 1 percent of cases were the Delta variant.  So, obviously, information, data evolves, and the steps we need to take to address — to get the virus under control, to help people return to normal has to evolve as well. 

Q    But did that give Americans a false sense?  I mean, the title of the speech was, “Celebrating Independence Day and Independence from COVID-19.”  The President said, “We’ve gained the upper hand” against the virus in July.  Was that premature?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the reason we’re here is because people have not gotten vaccinated — 80 million of them — not because of any other reason: not because of a speech, not because of CDC guidance, not because of any other reason.

And so, what our objective is from the federal government is to continue to take bold and ambitious steps to get more people vaccinated and protect more people.  That’s what our focus is on. 

Go ahead.

Q    Do you have a better sense, Jen, of the — of that workforce that includes about 4 million people?  Are we correct in believing that it’s not the congressional branch or the judicial branches of government, it’s just the federal —

MS. PSAKI:  For the requirements? 

Q    Right.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, it’s the federal — it’s the federal branch of government, yes.

Q    Okay.  And that workforce is about 4 million people?

MS. PSAKI:  I believe that’s correct.  I can double check the numbers for you.

Q    Do you have any sense of just a ballpark of how many of those people remain unvaccinated?  What are we talking about here?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s an understandable question.  But what we’ve been doing and been implementing over the past several weeks is this attestation process, which is still underway.  So we’re still implementing that, and we’ll have a better sense once we begin to implement the vaccination requirements.

Q    What is the frustration level from the President that he’s giving yet another speech urging Americans to get vaccinated?  He has said there are limitations in what his speeches can do.  Why is there any hope that this will change anything at all?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the speech isn’t just words.  He’s announcing — and I would argue that the bully pulpit, for any President, can be quite powerful.  But what the President is announcing is a series of bold and ambitious steps to address COVID, to save more lives, to protect more people.  And that’s what the American people can expect to hear from him today.

What he will also acknowledge — and I don’t know if you were touching on this or attempting touch on this — is the frustration that tens of millions of Americans are feeling across the country.  We’ve heard governors, we’ve heard leaders voice that.  We’ve heard many Americans in the streets that you all have interviewed voice that expression of frustration — people who are vaccinated, who are frustrated that they can’t go back to normal, that they’re fearful about sending their kids to school when there aren’t necessary requirements.

And the President’s speech today is going to hopefully take steps forward to help ease those fears and address that concern. 

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, for the people who don’t choose to be vaccinated
and don’t fall into one of those limited exceptions, what are the consequences?  Is it be vaccinated or be let go?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, there are limited exceptions.  But, yeah, the expectation is that if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated, unless you are eligible for one of the exemptions.

Q    Okay.  Can you tell us about Mr. Chipman?  Will he be getting a different position in the administration?  And does President Biden have someone else in mind for that position? 

MS. PSAKI:  Absolutely.  Well, I know the statement went out, but let me reiterate some of the key pieces that were in the statement.

Mr. Chipman spent — David Chipman — it feels very formal to call him “Mister,” or maybe I should.  But he “spent 25 years in distinguished service to our country as an ATF agent.  He’s a gun owner himself and someone who [had] the backing of law enforcement groups.”  “He would have been an exemplary Director of the ATF and would have redoubled…efforts to crack down on illegal firearms traffickers and help keep our communities safe from gun violence.”

So, to answer your question, Jeff: One, we always knew this would be challenging.  There hasn’t been an ATF — a confirmed ATF director in six years, and only one confirmed director in its entire history.  We knew it would be challenging.

Obviously, he has exemplary credentials.  He’s someone the President has a great deal of respect for.  And we’re in active discussions with him about what role might be of interest to him in the federal government.

Q    And just lastly, Jen, can you walk us through, quickly, what President Biden is doing on September 11th?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  I know we’ve done an announcement or put out an advisory on that, but let me give you some highlights. He’ll be traveling to New York, where he will be attending an event there commemorating 9/11, the lives that were lost, the heroes who saved lives as well.  There will be a number of other former presidents in attendance.  I know they have announced the details of that as well.

Then he will be traveling to Pennsylvania, where he will be laying a wreath to remember and commemorate the families who lost loved ones on the flight that — on that day, on Flight 93.

And then he will be traveling to the Defense Department, where he will also lay a wreath to commemorate lives lost that day. 

The President felt it was important to — especially on the 20th anniversary — to remember to visit all three places that have significant meaning to many Americans, especially in those communities and to the family members of people who lost their lives, families who are still mourning loved ones.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  First, on COVID origins.  You’ve said from that podium that under no circumstance would President Biden ever fire Dr. Fauci.  Is that still the case since Fauci told Congress the NIH never funded gain-of-function research for coronaviruses in Wuhan, but documents published by the Intercept suggest that is not true, which would mean that he misled Congress?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first, I would say that NIH has refuted that reporting, and I would point you to that.

But let me give you some highlights of that.  NIH has never approved any research that would make a coronavirus more dangerous to humans — a reminder that there are previous and different coronaviruses than the existing one we’re battling.  And the body of science produced by this research demonstrates that the bat coronavirus sequences published from that work NIH supported were not COVID — the strain, COVID-2 strain.  So, what he said was correct. 

Q    So his job is safe?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

Q    Okay.  Moving on.  Can you explain a little bit more about why the White House, in a statement, is calling the Taliban “businesslike and professional”?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would note that in that statement, what we were announcing was the fact that a Qatari airlines flight successfully landed in Qatar with American citizens, legal permanent residents, and Afghans on board who joined us in our fight over the last several years. 

We wanted to note that the Taliban was cooperative in facilitating the departure of these American citizens and legal permanent presidents from HKIA.

We promised we would get American citizens out.  We promised we would get legal permanent residents out.  We promised we would get our Afghan partners out.  And we promised we’d press the Taliban to get them out.  And that’s exactly what we did.

Q    But you’re saying the Taliban is “businesslike and professional.”  Their Interior Minister has an FBI Wanted poster.  He’s got a $10 million bounty on his head.  That’s — what’s the business?

MS. PSAKI:  We are here to celebrate the return of American citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan, of legal permanent residents, of Afghans who fought by our side, to Qatar — successfully on a Qatari airlines flight. 

And in order to get those people out, we had to work with some members of the Taliban to press them and to work in a businesslike manner to get them out.  That is what we were stating in the statement.

Q    And in that statement, it says, “This is a positive first step.”  Towards what?

MS. PSAKI:  Towards getting additional people out who want to leave Afghanistan. 

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, does the vaccine mandate include every business that gets a government contract?

MS. PSAKI:  There are going to be additional details that will be briefed to you in about 20 minutes.  And I would encourage you to wait for all of those specifics.

Q    So, for clarity at least, the information that has been confirmed by people who work in said building has been that the federal government for nearly all — obviously, it doesn’t include the judiciary, the federal branch, or the congressional employees.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    But in — and they said contractors as well?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes —

Q    But you can’t say whether —

MS. PSAKI:  — that is true. 

Q    — the contractors —

MS. PSAKI:  Contractors: Yes.

Q    So, contractors.  But, obviously, there are a lot of companies that have contracts with the government, where some of those people in the firm work with the U.S. government, others
do not. 

MS. PSAKI:  There is more to come on private sector requirements that will apply to many of these companies you are referring to.

Q    Fine.  We’ll wait for that clarity coming up shortly after this. 

Just to clear up one thing that was asked by Jeff earlier: Disciplinary action could include termination, correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

Q    Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.  Our role is, of course, to convey to federal employees the safety, the effectiveness, the availability of vaccines, which are readily available across the government — country.

Q    And is “fully vaccinated” for those employees and contractors two shots or three shots?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, at this point, I think we’re working towards two shots.  I’ll check on that for you.  Obviously, the boosters are not yet available.  So, in terms of the implementation, we’re working at this stage right now.

Q    As the White House knows well, the President’s poll numbers have dropped, according to polls from a variety of different outlets right now.  Do you acknowledge that the public now has some doubts about the President’s handling of the virus?  And is today’s announcement, in some ways, an effort to try to right that?

MS. PSAKI:  This is not a political speech, and it’s certainly not about poll numbers.  What we can acknowledge — and you’ve seen in a lot of these polls — is that the number-one issue, number-two issue, number-three issue for many Americans is COVID and what we’re doing.

And we have done a lot of work over the last couple of months, even as we’ve had conversations and talked about a range of other issues — whether it’s Afghanistan or Build Back Better or other issues — in this room and in many forms of media we engage with.  So it’s an acknowledgement of that.

I’ll also note that in all of these polls, support for the President’s handling of coronavirus continues to be the majority of the American public, and that hasn’t changed.

Go ahead.

Q    The American Federation of Government Employees says it encourages its members to get vaccinated but suggests that there should be a mandatory subject of bargaining with the federal government.  Why did the White House decide to move forward without consulting with that large public employee union?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we have a range of consultations with labor unions, including that one, and that has been the case for several weeks and months as we have worked to implement additional steps.

But, look, our objective here is to continue to save lives, continue to protect more people from coronavirus, and continue to stop the spread of coronavirus across the country.  We understand there will be objections, there will be concerns, there will be criticisms, but our role here is to save lives.  And we welcome — we welcome feedback and engagement, but we’re going to stay true to our goal.

Q    Can I ask you about the exemption on religious objections?

MS. PSAKI:  Yep.

Q    Will there be any kind of scrutiny applied?  To what extent will a religious objection be questioned, if at all, by the federal government?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m sure there’ll be requirements as to what — how somebody would convey what their request for an exemption would be.  And I’m sure we can get you some more specifics on that.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, could we get any details on the lawsuit the administration is planning to file against Texas over the abortion law there?  When is that coming?  On what grounds are you suing? 

MS. PSAKI:  I understand the interest.  I know it’s been reported on overnight.  And I would note that, just a couple of days ago, the President asked the Justice Department, asked the Department of Health and Human Services to urgently take any steps to look into what steps they have the authority to take to protect women’s access to healthcare. 

So, we’ll let the Department of Justice announce any steps that they might take.  Hopefully we’ll hear more from them soon on that.  But beyond that, the reports are entirely consistent with what the President has been calling for.

MS. PSAKI:  And one other topic.  Are you concerned at all about Rahm Emanuel’s nomination to serve as Ambassador to Japan, given the recent statements from progressives and activists?  And what do you say to the criticisms that his handling of the police killing of Laquan McDonald is disqualifying?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, the reason the President nominated Rahm Emanuel to serve as Ambassador to Japan is that he has a record of extensive experience as a public servant, as somebody who was elected in Congress, and he thinks he would be somebody who would represent the U.S. interests in Japan.  So, that’s the reason he nominated him.

Go ahead.

Q    Any comment on the police killing or (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any further comment related to the nomination.

Go ahead.

Q    A couple of questions on the vaccine.  I wanted to clarify, first, that agency by agency is how essentially vaccine mandates will be determined.  So, some could have a proof of vaccination card, some may have a verbal attestation.  It’s determined by agency, correct?

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.

Q    Okay.  The other thing I wanted to ask you about is — a couple months back, July 23rd, I’d asked you if there was a mandate for folks working here in the White House, and at that time you had said “no.”  Can you clarify for us what has changed in the White House’s thinking about mandates?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve always said that this would be a progression, that we would take steps and we would build upon them.  So, at the time, there were steps we announced about attestation and individuals needing to attest that they’d been vaccinated or be tested.  This is building upon that.  Now there’s a requirement.

Q    But this is — this dates back to when there was no vaccine mandate here at the White House.

MS. PSAKI:  Correct.  I think I’m answering your question.

Q    But at that time, I guess, there was no attestation even, right, because there was no mandate here at the White House?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, in the last few weeks, we have announced — I don’t remember the exact date — requirement of attestation, which is that individuals would have to attest either they’re vaccinated or be tested.  So this is the next step building on that process.

Q    One more question.  Does the White House support the idea of states, governors — individual states requiring COVID vaccines in schools — obviously, for older children — much the same way that they require polio, MMR — a whole list of other vaccines?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s always going to be up to local school districts and states and localities to make those determinations.  But we certainly do think that mandates and places and communities where they have put mandates in place is a positive step forward.

Go ahead.

Q    I just wanted to follow up on the earlier question about the American Federation of Government Employees.

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    They also said in their statement that they want to be able to bargain over that mandate and want to be able to do that before this requirement would be implemented.  Do you expect that there will be lags with hundreds of thousands of federal workers who might extend beyond the 75-day deadline?  Will they take up bargaining this issue as, like, a bargaining issue?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any anticipation of that — or I can’t anticipate what that looks like.  That would be, obviously, up to them on what steps they may want to take.  But the President has every intention of signing this executive order, getting the clock running on the timeline for these requirements. 

And his view and our view is this will serve as a model to the rest of the country on the need to get more people vaccinated in order to save more lives.

Q    And does the administration have any plans this month for the President to announce a nominee for Fed chair?  And if not, are you worried about getting someone confirmed by February?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any timeline to predict for you on what that looks like.

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, following up on a previous question about David Chipman —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    — does the White House plan to nominate a new ATF director?  And what’s the timeline, do you think, on that?

MS. PSAKI:  We certainly would at an appropriate time.  I don’t have a timeline on that at this point in time.  Obviously, we’re just announcing today the next steps on David Chipman. 

Q    And one other question.  You said Biden — the President will be going to Long Beach on Monday to campaign for Governor Newsom.  There’s a lot going on right now.  Obviously, he’s giving a big speech tonight about the COVID pandemic and new restrictions on that.  Why does he think it’s important to go to California to campaign for the governor at this point?

MS. PSAKI:  Because the election is Tuesday.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Well, why is it an important election for the — why is it important for the President that Governor Newsom continue on?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say that the President remains quite popular in California, as he does in Virginia and other states where there are competitive elections this year.  And certainly we don’t go campaign in states where we aren’t wanted, but hopefully this will be helpful to the efforts of the governor. 

Go ahead.

Q    Can I clarify on the September 11th plans?  So, are there plans on the day of for President Biden to actually deliver remarks on the anniversary?

MS. PSAKI:  The — it’s a good question.  The events are not set up that way.  We — because he’s attending an event with several other former presidents and, of course, former prominent officials in the morning in New York — in order to get to all of the events, it just doesn’t work that way.

You will hear from him in the form of a video in advance or that will be available that day, I should say.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi, Jen.  The administration has asked states and local governments to use federal funds to extend unemployment benefits, stave off evictions, even implement COVID testing in schools, yet little to no states have done so.  So, is this a question of accountability, or is the administration doing enough to convince states who may necessarily not agree with your policies to work together?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s not true.  I mean, you’re saying states have not implemented using COVID funds to make updates in schools?

Q    I’m just saying that states have not taken advantage of the federal programs to extend benefits, stave off evictions.  There’s still billions of dollars left in — available that states haven’t used. 

MS. PSAKI:  You’re right.  But just — just to be very careful here, we can’t combine all those things because that is not all accurate.

Q    (Inaudible) funds.

MS. PSAKI:  We have said, a number of times from here, that it is imperative that states take advantage of the funding that is available to stave off evictions.  Absolutely.  And they have the funding needed to implement a version of a federal eviction program, even as the Supreme Court ruled as they have, and ease — and even as there are not enough votes in Congress.  That is absolutely true.

And we have done and taken a number of steps in the federal government reducing red tape, changing the requirements to make it easier for people who are trying to stay in their homes, to provide documentation that’s a little — requires a little bit less red tape.  We’ve been in touch with governors, with leaders, pressing them to get this money out to landlords and to tenants.

We’ve seen some success in certain states and certain communities who have benefitted from a reduction of the red tape and benefitted from our engagement, and we’re going to continue to press forward on that in the days ahead.

I would say that the money from the American Rescue Plan — as it relates to schools and testing that has been used in school districts around the country; benefits that have helped keep police and firefighters — state and local funding has been used in states across the country.  Every state is different, but I would say that funding has been applied, and we’ll continue to work to states to get it out. 

Q    And also, the Capitol fence — that’s going up again ahead of the planned rally for the jailed insurrectionists.  Obviously, it’s only been down for — two months that we haven’t seen that fence up; it’s going back now.  Is the White House prepared?  And should Americans expect this fence to go up every time there’s a new First Amendment demonstration? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, first, that the leaders on Capitol Hill, they take steps to ensure that their members are safe.  And obviously, the events on January 6th — a terrible day in our democracy — are still fresh in their minds.  So, of course, they’re going to take those steps.  They rely on their own safety and security guidance, and we certainly defer to them on that step.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  To use your word, how bold is the President willing to be as far as the private sector is concerned in the vaccine — the mandate area?  Even if they don’t have federal contracts, can the Department of Labor or anybody else compel major employers, large employers to force the vaccine mandates on their employees?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.  Stay tuned.  More to come this afternoon. 

Go ahead.

Q    Hi, Jen.  The Qatari envoy, Al-Qahtani, said that there may be another flight coming out tomorrow from the Kabul airport.  Can you confirm this? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, Patsy, one thing to note, and this was in the statement we put out through Emily — and I understand the interest in this — is that we’re not, as a policy, going to confirm flights in advance; we’re going to wait until these flights are safely on the ground, and then when they are, we’ll provide updates. 

So, I can’t give a prediction to you, but I can promise you that as we have information that is safe to confirm, where people are on the ground, we’ll confirm moving forward. 

Q    And then one more on former President Ghani.  He has — again, yesterday, he denied allegations of corruptions of the hundreds of millions of dollars that U.S. taxpayers’ money has given to the Afghan people.  And he said that he’d welcome an official audit or financial investigation under U.N. auspices.  Does the administration have a position on what should be done in regards to President Ghani and allegations of corruption?

MS. PSAKI:  We’d defer to the U.N. on that.  I don’t have any further comment from here.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  This morning, you noted that the current count is that there’s about 100 Americans in Afghanistan.  My colleague, Susan Crabtree, is hearing from sources with direct knowledge who say that it’s about 143 U.S. citizens and then also permanent legal residents there at the airport.  Did the number that you were referring to this morning on “Morning Joe,” did include permanent legal residents?  Does the administration have a count of how many might be there? 

And then, I guess, how hopeful are you that a lot of these folks are clustered there at the airport and can get out?

MS. PSAKI:  We do have counts, and the State Department is the best source to give accurate information about all of these numbers.  And, of course, we account for legal permanent residents as well. 

The reason I said — and to give just a little bit more context to what I said, because I know that this feels confusing to people — not anyone in this room — but as that — the number can range. 

I mean, one of the important pieces of context to understand is that even as we work to get American citizens — and we’ll get you the number later this afternoon when it’s confirmed out — there were individuals who didn’t show up today for a range of reasons.  We know that will happen.  We will continue to remain engaged with these individuals about when they may need to leave.  And there are days where people aren’t ready to leave; that may change next week. 

So, it’s around 100.  The State Department will have the most up-to-date numbers. 

Q    And then the Wall Street Journal is reporting that about 200 folks have been cleared by the Taliban.  Just to clarify, are you saying that the Taliban is cooperating and getting Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan right now? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there was a — I don’t know if it requires me saying that; it was in the statement.  But we just had a plane land in Qatar that is evidence that we are working with — in a — to coordinate to get American citizens, to get Afghan partners, and to get legal permanent residents out.  And we’re hopeful and working to ensure their additional flights, to Patsy’s earlier question. 

Q    Thank you, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead. 

Q    Hi, Jen, just a few questions about the Western trip.  In addition to California, he’s going to Idaho.  That’s a state that’s really grappling — while the focus is wildfires, that’s a state that’s really grappling with the COVID pandemic where hospitals are enacting crisis standards of cares.  What is — what is the President’s reaction to the situation in Idaho with COVID, and is he going to address that during the trip?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’m sure he’ll have a range of conversations with elected officials and others while he’s on the ground.  And, certainly, COVID and the threat of COVID is impacting communities across the country, including in Idaho.  No question about that.

I announced he was going to speak to the wildfires because, obviously, that is an issue that is impacting communities across Idaho as well, and the threat of extreme weather is something that has impacted about 100 million Americans in the last couple of months.

But, you know, his view — and you’ll hear him give a speech in just a couple of hours — is that there’s additional steps that we need to take together to get more people vaccinated. 

We know how to return to normal.  We know how to keep people safe in schools.  We know how to be able to go back to sporting events and do it safely, to go back to concerts and do it safely.  And I’m sure he’ll welcome an opportunity to talk about his six pow- — point plan when he’s in Idaho next week.

I think we have to wrap this up.

Q    And then on California — just following up on the previous question — you obviously mentioned the President is popular in California, but he’s also dealing with quite a bit from COVID, from Afghanistan.  Why is it a priority to make a stop for an election event with a political ally? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly he supports Governor Newsom remaining governor.  But also while he’s on this trip, as I noted, he’ll have an opportunity to take his first trip to the West Coast to talk about issues that are impacting people across the country: extreme weather, wildfires in the West, and also talk about COVID and talk about his Build Back Better agenda and how it’s going to help people across the country.

So, you have to do a range of things as president. 

All right.  Thanks, everyone.

2:13 P.M. EDT