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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, October 18, 2021

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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT
 
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Okay, I have a update for all of you on some of the President’s outreach and engagement as it relates to Build Back Better and his legislative agenda.
 
He spent the weekend continuing his deep engagement on behalf of his economic growth agenda for the middle class, speaking with members who represent the full spectrum of views of Hill Democrats about the pathway forward on both his human infrastructure and physical infrastructure plans.
 
He spoke, as I think some of you reported, this morning with Representative Jayapal at the White House, and will have a number of additional conversations by phone with members of both chambers and — who also run the gamut in terms of their views — as we proceed through the course of the afternoon.
 
Tomorrow, he will host two different meetings with House members here at the White House: one with moderates and one with progressive members.
 
We’re encouraged at the accele- — by the accelerated pace of talks and are eager to get this done to meet the urgent needs of families who have been contending with high costs, outdated physical infrastructure, the increasingly devastating threat of climate change, and a tax system that gives special treatment to the rich and corporations at the expense of middle-class families no matter how hard they work.
 
As you also saw, we also announced this morning that, on Wednesday, the President will travel to Scranton, Pennsylvania — going back home, some might say — to continue to rally support for his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda.
 
There continues to be strong, broad agreement in Congress and among Americans of all stripes — political stripes — about the values at the core of the President’s agenda: ensuring our economy works for the middle class, not just those at the top.
 
Alex, why don’t you kick us off.
 
Q  Two foreign and one on nominations. To start, can you update us on the status of the U.S. and Canadian missionaries that were kidnapped in Haiti over the weekend? What’s been the U.S. involvement in tracking them down? Has the President been briefed on this? And is there any update on, sort of, their status?
 
MS. PSAKI: Sure. The President has been briefed and is receiving regular updates on what the State Department and the FBI are doing to bring these individuals home safely.
 
The FBI is part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, we’re not going to go into too much detail on that, but can confirm their engagement.
 
And the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince is coordinating with local authorities and providing assistance to the families to resolve the situation.
 
We can’t get into too many — too many details, I should say, about the individuals and their identities because of Privacy Act waiver considerations.
 
Q  And then, can you comment on reports that China tested at nuclear-capable hypersonic missile over the summer to the surprise of U.S. officials? Are these accurate? And do these raise concerns about China’s nuclear capabilities?
 
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know General — Secretary Austin, I should say, was asked this question this morning and addressed it, but I’m not going to comment on the specific report.
 
I can say and would echo what he said, which is, generally speaking, we’ve made clear our concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. And we have been consistent in our approach with China: We welcome stiff competition, but we not — we do not want that competition to veer into conflict. And that is certainly what we convey privately as well.
 
Q  And then, on nominees, the Biden administration, at this point, has a smaller percentage of nominees confirmed than his recent predecessors. What do you make of this? Who is to blame? I mean, is this the fault of the Senate or is this in part because you have been focused on the COVID response and the Build Back Better Agenda? And is there a concern that this will affect government at this point?
 
MS. PSAKI: We are concerned about the obstruction of our nominees. And while we have made progress over the course of the last several months — back to the transition, even, of putting forward qualified nominees to serve in key and vital positions across government — there has been — there have been unprecedented delays, obstruction, holds on qualified individuals from Republicans in the Senate.
 
What is also true, if you look historically — and we can get you some numbers on this after the briefing to give you — to give this to you in more data specifics — is that many of our nominees — a huge number of our nominees pass with overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans. They can be voted through by unanimous consent; you don’t need to use all of the hours on the floor to get it done.
 
Yet, there has been, time after time, obstruction that has prevented qualified nominees from being in vital positions, whether it’s in the national security roles; in the Defense Department; the State Department, where we’ve seen ambassadors held for weeks and months, at times; or even our economic nominees, who are unquestionably qualified but have been unable to move forward and serve in these positions.
 
So, I would say the blame is clear. It is frustrating. It is something that we wish would move forward more quickly. And there is historical precedent, of course, of moving these forward through a more — a faster process.
 
Go ahead.
 
Q  Thanks, Jen. I just want to see if you can elaborate a little bit on something you just said: that you’re encouraged by the accelerated pace of talks on infrastructure. What changed? Is there something that’s different now?
 
MS. PSAKI: The President is certainly feeling an urgency to move things forward, to get things done. I think you’ve seen that urgency echoed by members on the Hill who agree that time is not unending here. And we are eager to move forward with a unified path to deliver for the American people.
 
Q  Does the sense of urgency have anything to do with the President’s trip coming up in just a matter of eight working days? Does he feel the need to get this wrapped before he leaves?
 
MS. PSAKI: The good news is that there are phones and video conference capabilities overseas for every President and individuals, so I’m not here to set new deadlines or timelines.
 
But it is also true that we have been at this for some time. The President proposed these plans back in the spring. We have been — he has participated in dozens and dozens of calls, of meetings, of engagements with members to hear their viewpoints, to understand where they’re coming from, to reach consensus.
 
And we are at a point where we feel an urgency to move things forward, and the pickup of meetings is a reflection of…

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