James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. July 14 12:43 P.M. EDT
Hi, everyone. All right. So I have a special guest with me today. Joining us in the briefing room is actress and multiplatinum recording singer/songwriter, Olivia Rodrigo, who traversed red lights and stop signs to see us. If you know her music, you'll get that dad joke there. And we just want to thank you for using your platform and your voice for elevating the important issue of young people getting vaccinated.
She's here today to meet with the President and Dr. Fauci later this afternoon, but she agreed to come say a quick hello to all of you first.
With that, I'll turn it over to you, Olivia.
Hi. First, I want to say I am beyond honored and humbled to be here today to help spread the message about the importance of youth vaccination. I'm in awe of the work President Biden and Dr. Fauci have done, and was happy to help lend my support to this important initiative.
It's important to have conversations with friends and family members, encouraging all communities to get vaccinated, and actually get to a vaccination site, which you can do more easily than ever before, given how many sites we have and how easy it is to find them at Vaccines.gov.
Thank you, Jen, for having me today. And thank you all for helping share this important message. It's so appreciated it. Thank you.
Okay. Thank you, Olivia, so much for joining us. Good luck with your great day.
Okay. A couple of other items — a little less exciting, also very important — for all of you. This afternoon, the President will be joined by a bipartisan group of governors and mayors from around the country, representing communities from Vermont to Arizona, to discuss the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and his Build Back Better agenda.
The framework has received support from across the political spectrum, including, yesterday, from a bipartisan group of 369 mayors from all 50 states and a letter organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the bipartisan leadership of the National Governors Association, and a coalition of 20 leading business and labor groups — labor groups.
During the meeting, the President will underscore the broad, bipartisan sup- — public support for generational investments in our economy and middle class that will create millions of jobs and help us outcompete the rest of the world in the 21st century.
He'll also note some of the areas where Democrats and Republicans were able to come together in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, including money to remove lead pipes, expand universal access to high-speed Internet, boost transit options, and rebuild roads and bridges.
He'll also thank the leaders for their work on a range of important issues across the country and reiterate his commitment to being a partner to them moving forward.
Today — this is a separate announcement — we'll begin shipping 1.5 million doses of Moderna to Sri Lanka — our first doses to this country. We'll be shipping more doses throughout the week. And as always, I will share updates with you as those are available.
We announced this in our week ahead, but just to give you guys a little bit more context on the APEC meeting that the President will be participating in remotely on Friday: He will be participating in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation — or APEC — Leaders' Virtual Retreat, where leaders will discuss ending the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting the global economic recovery, hosted by the Prime Minister — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand.
His participation demonstrates U.S. leadership in the Indo -Pacific region and his commitment — the United States' commitment to multilateral institutions. As the President's first engagement with many of the APEC leaders, particularly those in Southeast Asia, he will also emphasize the importance he places on the region, as well as his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. And he'll provide an update to leaders on what the United States is doing to serve as an arsenal of vaccines for the region and to support all those suffering from COVID.
Finally, he'll also advance an economic agenda that promotes our shared prosperity, leverages the economic potential in the region, and builds inclusive and resilient economies.
Last piece for all of you: Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that more than 2 million people have signed up for health coverage during the Biden-Harris administration's special enrollment period, which opened on February 15th. Americans have until August 15th to go to Healthcare.gov, sign up for coverage, and take advantage of the lower premiums made possible by the American Rescue Plan.
Today's announcement demonstrates the need to expand access to affordable healthcare, which is why the President is proposing to extend the Rescue Plan's premium subsidies and lower the cost of healthcare for Americans across the country.
With that, Zeke.
Thanks, Jen. On the topic of youth vaccinations: Tennessee's former top vaccination official says the state has stopped all outreach to minors on vaccinations — not just COVID-19 vaccinations — because of the political pressure. Does the White House, the President have a response to that? And is there something the White House can do to fill the gap there?
First of all, thank you for the question, Zeke. We, of course, have seen the reporting and coverage of this iss- — this issue. We're not going to comment specifically on a personnel step.
But let me take it — this opportunity to say that the Delta variant poses a threat to Americans of all ages. We continue to see young people hit by the virus as we vaccinated so many of the — our elderly and most vulnerable. And we've been crystal clear that we stand against any effort that would politicize our country's pandemic response and recovery from COVID-19.
So even as we've seen, unfortunately, personnel decisions made in other parts of the country as well over the past several months along these lines, we're going to continue to work with partners in states like Tennessee and in states across the country to ensure that we are pushing back against misinformation; that we are conveying accurately that the vast majority — 99.5 percent of people — who are going to hospitals are not vaccinated; and ensuring we're using every tool at our disposal.
I'll also note for you that, this week, the th- — our Surgeon General — tomorrow, actually — he's going to come to the briefing room tomorrow to talk about — he will discuss health and misinformation in the United States, as well as our efforts to work with communities and get out information about COVID-19 vaccines.
On a different subject: We've seen the Taliban continue make gains in Afghanistan. And we saw the administration announced earlier about SIV visas. How large is the pop- — the universe of people who would qualify for these visas? And does the White House believe that there's enough in — within the statutory cap right now in that program for all those who helped the United States in Afghanistan to come to the U.S? Does Congress need to do more to lift that cap? What is the timetable for, sort of, getting everyone in Afghanistan who wants to leave and come to the U.S. out of Afghanistan?
Sure. Well, you had a couple of questions in there, so let me try to address all of them. First, we're working closely with Congress to change the authorization legislation so that we can streamline the process of approving these visas. Obviously, we have a number of authorities. We want to make sure we're working to expedite and work as efficiently as possible.
What we announced today also is that we are launching what we are calling "Operation Allies Refuge" to support relocation flights for interested and eligible Afghan nationals and their families who have supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan, and are in the SIV application pipeline.
In terms of the specific numbers, I'm not going to be able to provide those to you for operational and security reasons, but I can confirm that flights out of Afghanistan for SIV applicants who are already in the pipeline will begin in the last week of July and will continue. And our objective is to get individuals who are eligible relocated out of the country in advance of the removal — of the withdrawal of troops at the end of August.
And just on a different topic: An American journalist, Danny Fenster, has been in prison in Myanmar for months now. His family has raised considerable alarm about his health situation — that he's showing signs of a potential COVID-19 exposure and is not getting treatment there. Has the President been briefed on his condition? And what has the White House engagement been to try to get him free and returned to United States?
Well, first, we take the detainment of individuals — Americans and journalists — around the world very seriously, and we work through a range of channels to raise concerns. Obviously, the situation on the ground in Myanmar is quite concerning and quite challenging. But we do work with international partners to raise issues, including these, through every channel that we have at our disposal.
I would say the — the most appropriate channel to raise specific issues and to move forward on action is through the State Department, given their diplomatic role in the world. But in terms of the President's awareness, he certainly is kept abreast of the detainment of individuals around the world. I don't have any update on his awareness of this particular case.
The compromise — the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Is the President satisfied with the level of funding? Is he happy with it? Is he — does it fund his priorities?
So, Steve, I would say first that, last night, when the agreement was announced by the Budget Committee — which, again, we acknowledge is just a step in the process. Now it needs to move forward and obviously needs support of all Democrats in order to move it forward.
That's one of the reasons that the President is up on Capitol Hill as we speak — or headed up to Capitol Hill if he hasn't departed yet, I should say — as we speak. Because we recognize that that's the next natural step in the process in moving his agenda forward.
But as Senator Sanders said last night, "This is the most significant piece of legislation passed since the Great Depression. I'm delighted to be a part of helping to put it together." We agree with that.
What we've seen come out as the current framework is reflective of the President's priorities, both what was in his budget, what was in his American Families Plan, and also what was what — what were the components that were left out of — out of the bipartisan agreement that was in the American Jobs Plan.
We certainly recognize there are additional steps to come, as we said. That's why he's up on the Hill. And we feel this is working exactly as it should: The President of the United States proposes a bold agenda, as he did back in March; Congress works out a path forward, works out an agreement on where things look. That's what's happening now.
Now he's going to engage, he's going to advocate with members, he's going to advocate with the American people and communicate and sell the package about why it needs to move forward. So that's exactly what's happening.
And then, secondly, on Cuba: What is the status of the review of the Trump-era policy?
Sure. So, I would say, Steve, that — and you and others who've covered this certainly know that, one, first, I will confirm, of course, we're still reviewing our Cuba policy with an eye toward its impact on the political and economic wellbeing of the Cuban people. The nature of the kinds of changes that were made by the previous administration, like redesignated — redesignating Cuba as a state sponsor of terror, carries significant statutory restrictions. We've been running a thorough policy process on these and other issues with support for democracy and human rights always at the core of our work.
Now there's no question that the protests over the weekend and the events of the last several days are significant event — significant events. And it was the largest protest we've seen in Cuba in a long time. That will obviously have an impact on how we proceed. So, we will see how things develop in the days ahead and develop our policy responses accordingly. We don't want to do it as one-offs. We want to look at it, as we have been, with a comprehensive approach in mind.
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