James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. July 20 12:14 P.M. EDT
Hi, everyone. Good morning. All right. Exciting day today. Oh, afternoon — sorry. We're a little — a little delayed, given all of the events.
A couple of items for all of you at the top. Today marks six months under President Biden's — since President Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States. Time flies when we're having fun. Right, everyone? (Laughter.) Okay.
And this afternoon, he'll be holding his second meeting with the full Cabinet. This meeting will be the first to take place in the Cabinet Room, and the President will discuss several important topics with Cabinet members, including COVID-19, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and the Build Back Better agenda, climate, and a national security update following up from the Europe trip, and our latest cybersecurity efforts. So, a robust agenda.
Since taking office, the President has acted to get America back on track by addressing the crises facing this nation: vaccinating America to beat the pandemic, delivering much needed help to American families, making transformative investments to rescue and rebuild our economy, and fundamentally showing that government can deliver for the American people. Of course, he'll discuss a range of topics at the meeting.
Also today, top CEOs representing some of the most dynamic American companies across our economy called for support and passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. The CEOs from GM, Delta Airlines, Nike, Walmart, Bank of America, and more make up Build Together's CEO working group, which recognizes the need to invest in our national infrastructure and the positive impact the BIF would have on our economy for decades to come.
Today, we also wish all those observing and celebrating Eid a safe and wonderful holiday. As many know, the Eid and Hajj rituals are a reminder of the importance of providing for those less fortunate, particularly during challenges times, and Islam's commitment to equality and the common roots of the world's Abrahamic faiths.
As mentioned in the President's statement today, the United States is committed to working with the international community to emerge stronger from the pandemic. And thousands of Muslim Americans are among those eager to perform the pilgrimage next year.
Finally, I just wanted to note: We support — there's been, of course, some activity on the Hill I'm sure we'll talk about — we support Senator Schumer's efforts to move forward on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and very much appreciate the hard work until late in the night, including last night, by both Democratic and Republican senators to resolve open issues.
Progress is continuing to be made thanks to all of the hard work, and we back Senator Schumer's effort to get this to the floor as quickly as possible.
Aamer, why don't you kick us off?
Thank you. Eid Mubarak to you. An aide to Speaker Pelosi tested positive for COVID after having contact with the Texas delegation that's been around. Can you confirm that a White House official has also tested positive?
And I'm wondering, what does that mean for the prospects of the Texas delegation being able to sit down with the President at some point in the White House?
Sure. Well, first, let me confirm that, yesterday, a fully vaccinated White House official tested positive for COVID-19 off campus. In accordance with our rigorous COVID-19 protocols, the official remains off campus as they wait for a confirmatory PCR test. The White House Medical Unit has conducted contact tracing interviews and determined no close contacts among White House principals or staff or the President. The individual has mild symptoms.
We know that there will be breakthrough cases. But as this instance shows, cases in vaccinated individuals are typically mild. The White House is prepared for breakthrough cases with regular testing. This is another reminder of the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalizations. And, of course, we wish our colleague a speedy recovery.
In terms of a meeting, there has not been a meeting planned and there hasn't been change to that, so I wouldn't say it has an impact on that.
And a quick follow-up on something that you touched on yesterday.
Vaccination rates in Europe are pretty similar to what they are in the United States, but travel is one-way right now. I was wondering: Does the President believe it's safe for Americans to travel to Europe, but it's not safe for Europeans to travel here? If you could, there seems to be a little bit of mixed messaging that some may perceive, if you could —
Sure. Well, as you know, we regularly — the CDC regular — regularly updates our travel guid- — guidelines for international travel — I think they even did an update today — and they provide guidance to whether it is safe to travel to certain countries or parts of the world. And, of course, American citizens make their own decisions.
As it relates to travel restrictions for the — for here — to come to the United States, any decisions about reopening international travel will be guided by our own public health and medical experts.
As we said, we've launched our interagency working groups with partner countries. We are continuing — those are continuing to have discussions. They — those decisions will be made based on public health guidelines.
We don't see it as a conflict. We give American citizens guidelines. They make their own decisions about whether they travel to certain countries around the world, and we will continue to be guided by public health guidelines on how we reopen travel to — within our borders.
If I may ask just one brief more —
Yesterday's meeting with the King of Jordan: The topic of the suspect in the 2001 Sbarro bombing that's still living in Jordan freely — did a call for extradition come up?
It's a great question. I — beyond the readout that we put out, I have not had a further discussion with our national security team. I'm happy to ask them and see if there's more we can provide to all of you.
Okay. Kelly, go ahead.
Have there been any other cases of breakthrough COVID among the White House staff, and would you commit to publicly confirming cases if others occur in the future?
There have been. I will say that we, according to an agreement we made during the transition to be transparent and make information available, we committed that we would release information proactively if it is commissioned officers. We continue to abide by that commitment.
Does this give you any sense of changing protocols related to the President, the Vice President, other senior staff based on this set of facts — given the fact you've always said, vaccinations, while very helpful, are not foolproof? So should there be a different posture for the President?
Well, our protocols are in alignment with the highest standards and the guidance of our public health experts.
So, let me just remind you all, because I'm sure you don't have it handy, to what those protocols are that remain in place: regular testing of those surrounding and meeting with the President; for those who have closer proximity, they are tested more regularly than those who have less proximity; ensuring those interacting with the President are following CDC guidance regarding mask wearing and distancing; actively monitoring the health of our campus and the larger community in collaboration with public health and medical experts.
We have a robust infrastructure to ensure compliance with these protocols, and we're asking staff to also monitor themselves for symptoms and stay off campus if they develop symptoms.
So, the news today is — is that, while breakthrough cases will happen, the vaccines are effective and prevent against serious illness and death. We've seen that statistically across the country with 99.5 percent of cases in hospitals being for individuals who are not vaccinated, and we will continue to abide by CDC guidelines.
Briefly, you did say there were others. Can you quantify? What number are we talking about? How many breakthrough cases have you had?
I don't have more details on that. I will see if there's more we can provide.
You also talk about setting ambitious goals and assessments for a whole range of things on your agenda. Since it is at the six-month point, how would you assess where the President's agenda is and how much has he accomplished in his first six months? And where are you concerned about perhaps being behind on some of his agenda items?
Yeah. Well, first, when the President took office, he knew that his number-one priority would be getting the pandemic under control. When he took office, there were more than 190,000 COVID cases and 3,000 deaths per day. Now we're at about 27,000 cases and 220 deaths per day. Is there more work to be do — to be done? Absolutely. And we are continuing — we're still at it and fighting the pandemic. But that was his number-one priority since he took — when he took office.
His number-two priority — or they're both — they're related, I should say — was getting the economy jumpstarted. And that was why he focused so much attention and effort and blood, sweat, and tears on getting the American Rescue Plan passed, getting that assistance out to the American public.
We've seen great progress. Millions of people are working today who were not working the day he took office. We would say that is a step forward.
He identified, when he took office, four big priorities or crises — crises of his presidency: health; the pandemic; climate, which we've made some progress on — there's a great deal of progress that will be made in the BIF and also the Bipartisan — I mean, I'm sorry, in the reconciliation package; and addressing racial injustice.
Those are — those are crises and those are challenges he will continue to spend his time working toward and making progress on.
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