James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. July 8 12:42 P.M. EDT
Happy Thursday. (Laughter.) Is it Thursday?
(Inaudible) "Happy Birthday"?
I said, "Happy Thursday." Well, I was going to say — I did hear it was Steve Holland's 29th birthday. (Laughter.) So, happy 29th birthday. I am a terrible singer, but I am willing to lead a song here if you are all game. (Laughter.)
Is this a good day to ask for an interview with the President? (Laughter.)
It may be. It may be.
You got to at least give him the first question.
Who's with me? Someone here has a good voice.
("Happy Birthday" is sung to Steve Holland.) (Applause.)
All right. I will also note: Brian Karem, excellent voice. I don't know what you do with that, but that's one thing I learned today. (Laughter.)
Okay, a couple of items for you. Today, as you all know, the President and Vice President will meet with Black leaders from top civil rights organizations. We are about to put out the list of these names if they are not already in your inbox. But that is happening this afternoon. We'll have a readout. We also expect a number of them will go out to the stakeout after the meeting.
Later today, Vice President Harris will also deliver remarks at Howard University on how the Democratic National Committee is expanding their "I Will Vote" campaign, for which the DNC can give you additional specifics.
As the President has been emphatic since taking of- — before taking office, our constitutional rights are on the line because state legislatures have forced through a wave of anti-voter laws based on the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to an assault on our nation's Capitol in one of the darkest days in the history of American democracy.
So the meeting today, the Vice President's event are a part of our ongoing effort to elevate this issue, to work with every lever of the federal government.
I also wanted to note, as you may have noticed, we've been doing kind of a daily announcement about our competition executive order. So the new announcement that went out today will — focuses on saving American businesses money on shipping costs. In turn, that will lower prices for American consumers.
A lot of American companies rely on railroads to ship their goods domestically and ocean carriers to ship their goods internationally. Both of these industries have grown more concentrated over time. Many freight routes are monopolized because they're served by a single railroad. Three foreign-owned shipping alliances now control more than 80 percent of the market. I did not know that. I'm learning something new every day with the competition EOs, which I appreciate.
That concentration has contributed to a spike in shipping costs and fees during the pandemic. For example, the index price to ship one container has gone up eightfold. And shipping container companies have charged companies massive fees while their goods sit at ports.
So, this executive order takes several steps to address these problems. On international shipping, the executive order calls on the Federal Maritime Commission to crack down on unjust and unreasonable fees and work with the Justice Department to investigate and punish anticompetitive conduct.
And on domestic freight railroad, the executive order urges the Surface Transportation Board to allow more shippers — allow shippers to more easily challenge inflated rates when there is no competition between routes.
Finally, today we also have more doses that are going out to the world. We will ship 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Uruguay and 1.4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Afghanistan. In the coming days, we will complete the entire 3 million shipment of J&J doses to Afghanistan — something the President will also mention in his remarks today.
Zeke, why don't you kick us off.
Thanks, Jen. Yesterday, the President said he would know more today about what he would do in response to Russian ransomware attacks on U.S. entities. What does he plan on doing?
Well, first, Zeke, I think what he intended to convey is that he's continuing to be updated by his team on a regular and near-daily basis. And certainly, when they have new information to provide, they provide that to him.
So, we are continuing to gather details on if this incident occurred with the knowledge or approval of the Russian government. That's what we're really digging into at this point in time.
And while the intelligence community has not yet attributed the attack and we still don't have new information on the attribution as of today, the cyber community — security community agrees that the criminal group, REvil, that we've talked about a bit in here, operates out of Russia with affiliates around the world.
We've been in touch at a high level, as you all know, with Russian — high-level Russian authorities — counterparts, I should say — regarding this incident. And we've continued to send a clear message: If the Russian government cannot or will not act against criminal actors residing in Russia, we will act.
In terms of what we will do, I'm not in a position, of course, to discuss operations. That's not in our interest to preview those. But the President sent a clear message to President Putin; we're continuing to send that clear message in our engagements as well.
And, on Afghanistan, on the SIV process, any updates on the administration's efforts to find a third country to host processing of those visas, as well as can you confirm the administration is adding additional staff to help vet those applicants? And how long will that take, and how is the administration going to address security concerns among those who are applying for visas here?
Sure. Well, one of the areas the President will talk about in his remarks this afternoon is certainly ensuring that we are taking care of Afghan nationals who worked side by side with U.S. forces, and the SIV applicants, as you noted, including interpreters and translators.
So we have already dramatically accelerated the processing time for Special Immigrant Visas to bring them to the United States. We're working closely with Congress — we're continuing to work closely with Congress to change the authorizing legislation so that we can streamline the process for approving visas, even when they are in a third country. And we have stood up an operation to physically relocate thousands of these Afghans and their families before the U.S. military mission concludes so that they can wait safely outside of Afghanistan.
That operation has identified U.S. facilities outside of the continental United States, as well as third countries. Because of security reasons, we're not going to outline in detail at this point where those are. But I can confirm that we will be conducting flights of our Afghan allies to these locations in August, so, of course, in advance of the timeline of bringing our troops home.
And then, we're going to hear from the President later, but is it an acceptable outcome to the President if Kabul were to fall to the Taliban? I mean, that's widely been predicted by experts, including in the U.S. mil- — in the U.S. government as a potential outcome here of the U.S. withdrawal. Is that an acceptable outcome to the President?
Well, first, Zeke, let me say what — the reason the President is speaking to all of you and the American public today is because he views this as an opportunity to once again communicate to the American people the security challenges he inherited in Afghanistan and affirm why he made the decision he made in April to withdraw our troops and end our involvement in the war.
And the question fundamentally facing him was: After 20 years, was he going to commit more American troops to a civil war in Afghanistan? And if we look back 20 years ago, which many people in this room covered when Steve was 9 years old — I'll just — by math — (laughter) — we — we did what we wanted to do, which was we got the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, we delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, we degraded al Qaeda's capacity to the point they did not present an active threat to our homeland.
He made the decision after a clear-eyed assessment, in part because he's never seen there to be a military end to this war, and also because, as we came into office, we had an agreed-to timeline. After May 1st, the uptick in violence was coming this summer; the status quo was not sustainable.
And we are still continuing to support diplomatically — through security assistance, humanitarian assistance — the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, including a political negotiation process that's ongoing that we expect the ambassador to continue to return to.
So, we have always anticipated, Zeke — and the President was very clear about this when he made his speech in April — that there would be an uptick in violence, that there would be an uptick in turmoil on the ground. We knew that, and we knew the security situation would become more difficult.
But he made the decision in part because, if you look back at recent history: In 2011, the NATO Allies and partners agreed that we would end our combat mission by 2014. In 2014, some argued for more — for one more year. So we kept fighting, kept taking casualties.
If we did not make the decision we did, there would have been severe consequences. That's why he made it.
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