White House Washington D.C. February 16 12:17 P.M. EST
Happy Tuesday. All right. I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. A lot of you have asked — maybe not in this room, but in general: What's next? What are we focused on next? And the answer is the President is going to continue working on getting the American Rescue Plan passed. That is his top priority. He is traveling to Wisconsin later this evening, as you know, to have a conversation, engage with the American people about his plans to get the pandemic under control, to put people back to work. And Congress is continuing to do their job. Over the course of the coming weeks, we're looking forward to making progress.
There was also news out this morning about a foreclosure moratorium extension. Some of you may have seen. The COVID crisis has triggered a housing affordability crisis, with more than 10 million homeowners behind on mortgage payments and communities of color at even greater risk of eviction and foreclosure.
Today, the administration is taking another step to bring urgent action — relief to the American fam- — American families struggling to keep a roof over their heads. So, something the President talked about on day one, we talked about on day one. But today, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture announced they will extend and expand the foreclosure relief programs, building on the steps President Biden spoke about a couple of weeks ago.
These critical protections were due to expire in March. But as part of today's announcement, the foreclosure moratorium and the mortgage forbearance enrollment window will be extended through June 30th. The administration will also provide up to six months of additional mortgage payments to — forbearance for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30th, 2020.
These actions will bring needed relief to most of the 2.7 million homeowners currently in forbearance and extend forbearance options for nearly 11 million homeowners with government-backed mortgages across the country. It's critical — it remains critical that Congress pass the American Rescue Plan to deliver more aid to struggling homeowners.
As we speak, or maybe a little earlier, depending on when the call wrapped, Jeff Zients had a regular call with a number of governors — our COVID Response Coordinator, of course — providing them with key updates on our pandemic response, as well as hearing from them about the work they're doing on the ground.
As a part of that call, he announced that we're increasing the vaccine supply to 13.5 million doses per week that will go out to states. This is a 57 percent increase from the amount states received when the President was inaugurated. So since then, obviously, we have announced a couple of increases over the course of time.
We're also announcing that we're doubling the supply to our pharmacy program. When we announced that, we said it would be — it would be building over time. So this — today's announcement amounts to 2 million doses going to local pharmacies this week, and this program will expand access in neighborhoods across the country so that people can call and make an appointment and get their shot conveniently and quickly.
Eventually, as supply increases, more than 40,000 pharmacy locations nationwide will be providing COVID-19 vaccines through this program. This is a critical, critical part of our plan.
Last — or, sorry, second to last item. Last but certainly — or second to last, but certainly not least, we opened Healthcare.gov as planned and as we had announced for special enrollment period until May 15th to provide all Americans the opportunity to sign up for health insurance. They can go to Healthcare.gov. Nearly 9 million Americans are eligible for free or subsidized health insurance.
Finally, as you know, a brutal Arctic mass impacted the central United States this weekend, bringing freezing rain, sleet, and snow from Texas to the Mid-Atlantic. On Saturday night, Texas Governor Greg Abbott requested a federal emergency declaration due to the severe weather storm. Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall called Governor Abbott on Sunday to let him know that the President had immediately granted his request to help meet the state's mass care and shelter needs.
Yesterday, Liz additionally called the other governors in the storm's path on behalf of the President, including Governor Ivey of Alabama, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Governor Laura Kelly of Kansas, Governor Reeves of Mississippi, and Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma. She expressed the President's strong commitment to ensuring that the federal government proactively does everything it can to support state and local officials in preparing for and responding to the events that impact our citizens. We will, of course, continue to monitor the storm's updates in the days ahead.
With that, Zeke, go ahead.
First, Jen, the President's schedule didn't have a whole lot of official events before he leaves this afternoon. Can you give us a sense of what he's been doing today?
And then, does he plan to reach out to those specific governors from those affected states — Governor Abbott and others — who have been affected by the storm?
I expect — so let me take the second, first. The President has been kept abreast, as I noted, of the events and been provided updates — regular updates on the storm and the progress and, of course, the emergency declaration. I don't have any calls to read out, but I expect he will be involved personally. And if we have calls that he's making himself, we will provide that information to all of you.
In terms of what he's spending his day doing, he's continuing to have meetings with his policy teams and experts about his plans to bring relief to the American people and public. And, you know, he's remained — he's remained focused on that today behind the scenes before he travels to Wisconsin for a town hall later this evening.
And then, just on this vaccine announcement: Is there any discussion of this winter weather affecting the vaccine distribution? And what steps is the federal government taking to ensure that there's no spoilage of those vaccines, which have to be kept in those very cold temperatures during shipping, and (inaudible) delays?
You're right that we monitor, obviously, weather. Mother Nature and the weather can sometimes impact and requires contingency planning, which is something our team is quite focused on. Our COVID-19 response team is also in close touch with state and local governments across the country. We're monitoring the situation in Texas very closely. Obviously, FEMA is running point on a number of the operational pieces. But while I don't have an update now, it's something we're very mindful of, and we contingency-plan to ensure people are getting the doses they need at an appropriate timeline.
And just one quick one on a different topic. Congressman Bennie Thompson filed a civil suit against former President Trump — part of what we expect to be sort of a slew of civil suits against the former President and others involved in the January 6th insurrection. Does President Biden have any response to that? And does he support efforts like that to use the civil courts to hold President Trump accountable?
You know, he certainly supports the rights of individuals — members of Congress and otherwise — to take steps through the judicial process, but I don't think we have a further comment on it than that.
Go ahead. Oh sorry, Trevor, let me go to you. I promised. Go ahead.
I'll come to you next, Mary.
So, just on — two on foreign policy for you. First, there was a rocket attack in Iraq yesterday, and Iraqi officials have said that the group that took responsibility for that attack has ties to Iran. My question is: One, whether you've made that determination as well. And, two, what kind of retaliation would be considered (inaudible)?
Sure. Appreciate the question. We're still working through attribution with our Iraqi partners to determine precise attribution for this attack. Obviously, that's a priority.
I will convey that we are outraged by last night's rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Initial reports indicate that the attacks killed one civilian contractor and injured several members of the coalition, including one American service member and several American contractors. And we offer our condolences to the loved ones of the civilian contractor killed. The Iraqi people have certainly suffered for far too long from this kind of violence and violation of their sovereignty.
I will also note — and I think the State Department provided this update, but just for all of you — Secretary Blinken has reached out to the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Barzani. And Secretary Austin is speaking with his counterpart to offer assistance with the investigation and to help hold accountable those responsible for this attack. But we have not determined attribution at this point.
And do you expect that there would be retaliation if — once that declaration is made?
Well, as always, the President of the United States and the administration reserves the right to respond in the time and the manner of our choosing, but we'll wait for the attribution to be concluded first before we take any additional steps or obviously have any additional announcements.
I will convey to you that obviously diplomacy is a priority with this administration and something that is front and center to our engagement with our global partners around the world. And certainly, these calls are evidence of that, but that will always be a part of our strategy as well.
And to the point of diplomacy, one thing that Germany has asked for is some relief, as far as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. And I'm just curious if you have an update on that, whether Biden will consider waiving the ability to do sanctions on (inaudible).
Well, our position on Nord Stream 2 has been very clear, and it remains unchanged. President Biden has made clear that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It's a bad deal because it divides Europe, it exposes Ukraine and Central Europe to Russia — Russian manipulation, and because it goes against Europe's own stated energy and security goals.
We're continuing to monitor activity to complete or to certify the pipeline. And if such activity takes place, we'll make a determination of the applicability of sanctions. Importantly, sanctions are only one among many important tools to ensure energy security. And we'll — of course, we'll do this all in partnership with our allies and partners, but our position has not changed on the — on the deal.
Read the full transcript HERE
You can visit a collection of all White House posts by clicking HERE.