James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. July 12 12:52 P.M. EDT
Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. Okay, just two items for all of you at the top.
This afternoon, the President will be joined by Attorney General Garland, as well as law enforcement leaders, elected officials, and a community violence intervention expert to discuss his comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and violent crime. During the meeting, the President will discuss his crime reduction stragedy [sic] — strategy, which gives cities and states historic funding through the American Rescue Plan and a range of tools they can use to improve public safety in co- — their communities, including support for community violence intervention programs, summer employment opportunities, and other proven methods to reduce crime.
The President will also highlight his strong support for and partnership with local leaders to work to reduce gun crime in their communities, like the ones joining him today, and he'll underscore his commitment to ensuring their state and law enfor- — local law enforcement have the resources and support they need to hire more police officers and invest in effective and accountable community policing.
And the President will discuss the work the federal government is doing to stem the flow of guns used in crimes, including the administration's zero-tolerance policy for dealers who willfully sell guns illegally; the Department of Justice's gun trafficking strike forces; as well as previous steps the White House has announced, like cracking down on "ghost guns," which are increasingly used in violent crimes.
One other update: In COVID news, we want to make sure we are lifting up some of the innowative [sic] — innovative ways that Americans across the country are meeting their communities where they are with the vaccine. We all have a duty to continue making the case for the vaccine to our friends and family. Companies, media, and individuals all can play a special role as trusted messengers to an unvaccinated person by sharing the facts that the vaccines are safe, effective, accessible, and free. Across the country we're seeing Americans step up.
So I want to create some updates — I'll give you some updates and lift up some of the innovative ways we are working with — to reach Americans with the shot.
So, today, I'm starting with the first example: truck stops. In the last few months, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Iowa all set up vaccine sites for truckers, with the goal of literally meeting these Americans where they are at, in their trucks or out of their trucks. Since then, more than 9,000 truckers have received a vaccine at these pop-up sites. We'll provide more updates in the days and weeks ahead.
Go ahead, Jonathan.
Thanks, Jen. Two matters, both overseas. A couple of questions on Haiti first. The delegation that was sent down there — has anyone remained in Haiti to continue to oversee what's happening? Or have — has there been any commitment to provide security forces to Haiti? And has the U.S. taken any steps to organize, perhaps, emissaries or troops from other countries to help safeguard the situation?
So, as we announced last week, an interagency delegation, as you noted, was on the ground in Port-au-Prince yesterday and returned home. I'm not aware of anyone staying from that delegation on the ground. I will check that important detail for you after the briefing.
But while they were there, as we announced in our readout, they worked to get a better understanding of their request for assistance and to offer assistance to law enforcement forces — the law enforcement process, I should say, on the ground. They met with both the acting prime minister and prime minister-designate, as — both of those individuals. And they did receive requests while they were there on the ground for additional assistance.
They did also brief the President this morning. He will receive regular briefings, as he does from his national security team, on the events in Haiti, the requests coming in, and how we can help.
What was clear from their visit, also, what that was — I should say, "what was not clear" is what the future of political leadership looks like in the country. And it was a reminder how vital it is for Haiti's leaders to come together to chart a united path forward.
So, while we will continue to — this is just the beginning of our conversations. And we will remain in close touch with law enforcement, with individuals in Haiti, with a range of leaders in Haiti about how we can assist and provide assistance moving forward. I don't have any announcements to portray — to convey to all of you about assistance — additional assistance today.
So, just to clarify, as of right now, the U.S. is not committing to having any sort of presence on the ground in Haiti?
Well, that's not what I conveyed. We had a delegation that went down yesterday; they came back yesterday. They briefed the President this morning, as — as was — as we committed to. But I don't have any — what was clear from their trip is that there is a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership. That's an important step that the people of Haiti, the different governing leaders of Haiti need to work together to determine a united path forward. And we will remain deeply engaged, as we have been for months prior to the assassination, with individuals in Haiti to provide assistance moving forward. But I don't have any new assistance to announce for you at this point in time.
And the other matter for me is on Cuba. The President — we saw the President's statement today about the demonstrations there on the island yesterday. Two questions on that. But why hasn't President Biden taken steps to undo some of the things that his predecessor, Donald Trump, did to overturn the overtures made by President Obama?
And then, secondly, we heard there's a — obviously, a great cry yesterday — or during these protests for vaccines. Has Cuba — on the list to get vaccines from the United States?
Well, first, let me say that we have actually provided, over the course of the last several months, a great deal of assistance to Cuba. I just want to note this because I think it's important for people to understand. Since, FY- — since 2009, which is quite some time ago, Congress has directed $20 million in democracy assistance annually.
But even if you look at last year: Last year alone, the U.S. exported $176 million of goods to Cuba. In the first six months of 2021, Cuba imported $123 million worth of chicken from the United States — just as an example. Obviously, one of the issues that the ind- — that protesters are justifiably out there in the streets protesting about is hunger, is lack of access to vaccines, et cetera. But we are continuing to provide a range of assistance, which we will continue to do.
I will say, on vaccines, one of the challenges, Jonathan, which you may be familiar with, is that Cuba has not joined COVAX and has indicated they intend to vaccinate their population using the Abdala vaccine, which they're — the Pan American Health Organization has been out there urging Cuban scientists to publish their — their results in the peer-reviewed literature on this vaccine.
So, in terms of — COVAX would be a mechanism that we have provided, as you all know, vaccines to a range of countries in the world. We certainly recognize and understand that access to vaccines is one of the issues that a number of individuals in the streets is voicing concern about, but we have to determine what the mechanism would be to work with the Cuban people to get vaccines to them. That's something we're working through.
Okay. Go ahead, Jeff.
Jen, just to follow up on Cuba: Can you give us a sense of where the President's policy review on Cuba is right now? Do you anticipate making any changes, as Jonathan asked? And where do you see it going from here?
Well, I will say first — and I meant to say this in response to Jonathan — but there's every indication that yesterday's protests were spontaneous expressions of people who are exhausted with the Cuban government's economic mismanagement and repression. And those — these are protests inspired by the harsh reality of everyday life in Cuba, not people in another country. I'm saying that because I think there have been a range of accusations out there, as you well know, Jeff.
In terms of our assessment of a future — our current pol- — our policy, I should say, it continues to be — our approach continues to be governed by two principles: First, support for democracy and human rights — which is going to continue to be at the core of our efforts — through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. Second, Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba.
I don't have anything to predict for you in terms of any policy shift. Obviously, given the protests were just happening over the last 24 to 48 hours, we're assessing how we can be helpful directly to the people of Cuba in these circumstances.
You hinted at this, but the President of Cuba did directly accuse the United States of basically fomenting these protests because of the embargo and that leading to a lack of medicine and the other things. Do you have a specific response to him?
Well, I'd first say that the U.S. embargo allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba. We exidite [sic] — expedite any request to export humanitarian or med- — medical supplies to Cuba. That continues to be the case.
And the United States regularly authorizes the export of agricultural products, medicine, medical equipment, and humanitarian goods to Cuba — and, since 1992, has authorized the export of billions of dollars of those goods to Cuba.
So that's simply inaccurate in terms of the facts that are stated. But, again, I would restate what I said a little bit earlier in response, which is that there's every indication that yesterday's protests were reactions of the people in Cuba to exhaustion of the governance of the — of the leaders in the state, the economic mismanagement, and the repression that we're seeing take place against the people of the country.
Lastly, there seems to be a disagreement between Pfizer and the U.S. government on the need for booster shots. Do you anticipate getting any clarity on that in this afternoon's meeting? And can you just give us a sense of what is at the crux of that disagreement?
Well, first, this meeting is a meeting that HHS is overseeing, and certainly I would refer you to them for a specific readout of the meeting. But I would say that we don't see it as a disagreement per se, but we provide public health information and make determinations based on a large swath of data, and that relates to boosters — booster shots as well. And some of that information that the FDA and the CDC look at — and this was in their statement last week — does include some private-sector data, and that can be part of how they assess what recommendations will be, but it's a much broader swath of information and data than that.
Now, data — we continue to analyze. Science evolves. And we've long said that we will reserve options — optionality, including how we're purchasing doses of sa- — vaccines to ensure we have maximum optionality for our own — the American public. But any assessment would be made by the CDC and the FDA. And we made clear, last week, that wasn't a recommendation being made at this time.
I'd also point to something that Dr. Fauci said yesterday — when he was out there on some of your networks — when he conveyed that there could be assessments made about certain swaths of the population as well.
It may not be all or nothing, but that's something that our scientists will continue to assess. And if they make a conclusion that booster shots are recommended, they will provide that information publicly and it would be based on a large range of data and information.
Go ahead, Karen.
Thanks, Jen. I just want to point out that HHS is not commenting on that meeting that's taking place today with Pfizer. There's nothing else you could share ahead of that of how seriously the administration is considering the possibility of booster shots?
Well, not to minimize the meeting, but I would say that we regularly meet with and engage with health and medical — our health and medical experts do, I should say — regularly work and meet with companies to understand the latest data, and that would certainly be a part of an assessment of recommendations moving forward.
The point I was making, in response to Jeff's question, was that it's not based on, solely, the information or data from one company, which hasn't been concluded or hasn't been fully published publicly either. So, you know — but our health and medical experts will look at the data around the vaccine holistically, will use any further data as a consideration moving forward.
But I wouldn't see this meeting today — I'm not surprised that there's not a big readout from HHS, I should say.
[ ... ]
Read the full trancript HERE.
You can visit a collection of all White House posts by clicking HERE.