James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. July 27 12:51 P.M. EDT
Hi, everyone. Okay, I have a couple of notes for you at the top.
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, awarded $121 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support the work of trusted community-based efforts to increase vaccinations in underserved communities.
This is the second round of funding for community-based groups. Back in June, HHS awarded $125 million to similar groups for these efforts.
And these groups will undertake efforts such as mobilizing community outreach workers to educate and assist individuals in accessing and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, organize pop-up or mobile vaccine locations, and assist in making vaccine appointments or arranging transportation and childcare assistance for vaccine appointments.
One grantee in Jacksonville, Florida — one of the states where there, as you know, has been the highest transmission rates — one of the highest transmission rates — will use the funding to establish a sustainable community-based workforce and infrastructure to maximize COVID-19 vaccine uptake, minimize disparities, and advance health equities in vulnerable populations.
Another grantee in Oklahoma will reach rural communities, including Hispanic community members, and will recruit and train community health workers.
I also wanted to give you a small preview of the President's visit to ODNI this afternoon. As we announced earlier — last week, I guess it was — he will visit the Office of the Director of National Intelligence later this afternoon to meet with leaders of the Intelligence Community and to thank all of our intelligence professionals for their service to our nation.
After the meeting — after meeting with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the President will tour the National Counterterrorism Center Operations Center with NCTC Director Christy Abizaid to see firsthand how we remain ever vigilant in fighting threats to our country.
He's particularly proud of Director Haines and Director Abizaid, who are both the first Senate-confirmed women to hold these positions.
He will then address the intelligence community workforce to express his admiration and appreciation for their service. In his remarks, he will highlight the integral role our public servants play in shaping national security decision-making and protecting the American people. He will also underscore the importance of intelligence collection and analysis that is free from political interference or pressure.
And I think many of you have been on these trips with him. He's visited a number of national security agencies, and it's part of his effort to support the workforce.
Another item for you: The Justice Department has successfully blocked a merger between two of the three largest insurance brokers in the world — I know this had been reported on — Aon and Willis Tower Watson.
These companies provide insurance brokerage services to thousands of American businesses and charge billions a year for their services.
The merger would have raised prices for a wide swath of American businesses that need to use a broker to obtain insurance and benefit packages for their employers — employees, sorry.
Those higher insurance costs would ultimately have led Americans to pay more for all kinds of products and services, such as banking services, hospital care, cars, and trucks.
And the proposed merger, as the Justice Department explained in its complaint, was a clear and presumptive violation of the antitrust laws under established law.
So, these actions, which I'm — the reason I'm lifting them up — are very much in line with the Presi- — what the President was talking about when he called for more robust enforcement of the antitrust laws in his executive order to promote competition.
Last piece, I think, here — second to last piece, but hopefully useful: Tomorrow, the President will travel to Lehigh Valley, in Pennsylvania, where he will be emphasizing the importance of American manufacturing, buying products made in America, and supporting good-paying jobs for American workers during a trip to the Lehigh Valley Operations facility for Mack Trucks. The President will take a tour of the Mack Trucks facility and meet with local union members. More than 85 percent of the 2,500 employees at the Mack Trucks location are UAW members.
And a little bit about Mack Trucks, as you're preparing for tomorrow: The company has been making vehicles for the military since at least World War One. There are more than 1,500 Mack Trucks in the federal fleets used by both military and civilian agencies.
He'll also receive a briefing on the Mack Trucks electrical refuse truck. The company is currently piloting their electric dump trucks in New York City and North Carolina. And this is all a part of his effort to lift up and talk about his "Buy American" agenda as well as the infrastructure package.
Finally, I just wanted to note that, after additional engagement with a bipartisan group yesterday, we're enthusiastic about getting the bipartisan infrastructure plan across the finish line and confident we'll be there soon.
We were encouraged this morning by positive comments by Senator Romney. Our team remains hard at work, as do a number of the supporters on the Hill.
With that, go ahead, Alex.
Thank you, Jen. I have a few questions on the CDC's revised masking guidance —
— that some vaccinated Americans should wear masks indoors where there's risk of high transmission or currently high transmission. That covers, according to the CDC, about 63 percent of the country right now, which has significant or high transmission. So how will the White House get Americans to start wearing masks when they've gone for more than two months without them? Will we see President speak more about this? I mean, how exactly do you plan to push this publicly?
And then, along those same lines, on July 4th, the President gave his, sort of, "independence from the virus" speech. He declared, quote, "We are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus" and, quote, "we've gained the upper hand on the virus." Was that declaring premature victory? And are you at all concerned that those statements will make it tougher for you guys to implement this revised guidance now?
Sure. Well, first, I know this is slightly awkward timing, but — and I know there's a lot of reporting out there about the CDC guidance. It is not only appropriate for them to make the decisions, it's also appropriate for them to officially announce their own guidance.
I will say, though, that how we view this, as you asked about, Alex — implementation of their guidelines that they'll outline on a call with all of you later this afternoon — that we are still in the midst of a once-in-a-generation pandemic battling an ever-evolving virus.
We have said since the beginning of June that the Delta variant — a rising variant that had increasing — was clear from the beginning had great — a great deal of transmissibility — was a threat to people who were unvaccinated. We did more than a hundred interviews with officials conveying exactly that.
And the reality is: We are dealing with a much different strain of this virus than we were even earlier in the spring, back in May, when the masking guidance was done — provided by the CDC at that time.
That is their job. Their job is to look at evolving information, evolving data, an evolving historic pandemic, and provide guidance to the American public. That's exactly what they will do and what they will provide specific details on later this afternoon.
With respect to the President's comments, though, do you, in retrospect, regret those comments? Do you think that that was wise at the time, considering, you know, they could make it tougher for Americans to take this seriously?
Well, first, I would say that, in the President's remarks, he also made clear — and I'm quoting him — that today, "while the virus hasn't been vanquished," we — you know, he made clear that it was not over; that those who were unvaccinated were still at risk.
He made clear that you were protected from serious illness, disea- — or hospitalization if you were vaccinated. That remains the case. And he encouraged people who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated.
But, again, the role of the federal government and our public health officials is to continue to look at evolving data, evolving threats of a historic virus, provide that public health guidance to the American people to protect more people and save more lives. That's what they're doing.
One quick one on infrastructure.
The President met with Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Can you tell us anything about how that meeting went? And does he have other meetings planned with any of the primary negotiators or Democratic leadership on the bill as it gets to the — potentially, the finish line?
Well, I would expect — yes, the President saw Senator Sinema this morning. They are very much aligned on the path forward. Both feel optimistic about the path forward.
And clearly, both understand, having lived through many iterations of legislating and negotiating before, that it is always at the tail end when you have, you know, some of the trickiest discussions.
So — but they, again, remain quite positive about the forward momentum and the path we see the infrastructure package on at this point in time.
I don't have any additional meetings to preview for you, but I will tell you that the President is somebody who just picks up the phone when somebody tells him it's going to be constructive. That certainly, I think, will continue to happen as we work to get this across the finish line.
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