Air Force One waits on the tarmac for President Joe Biden ( Photo by Adam Schultz)
Air Force One waits on the tarmac for President Joe Biden ( Photo by Adam Schultz)

Press Secretary Jen Psaki gaggles aboard Air Force One before Biden’s trip to Crystal Lake to discuss the ransomware attacks, US presence in Afghanistan, and the White House stance on mandating vaccines. Delaney Tarr reports on the briefing.

President Joe Biden is making the trip to Crystal Lake, Illinois today to advocate for infrastructure investments in the form of his Build Back Better agenda. 

As work on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, nicknamed “Bif” by White House officials continues, Biden pushes for his expansive investments in what he calls “human infrastructure”. 

The Build Back Better agenda is a combination of policies from the American families plan and the American Jobs plan that aren’t included in the current bipartisan infrastructure framework. 

Key policies of the agenda include making four additional years of public education available to students, as well as expanding the Child Tax Credit. 

Press Secretary Jen Psaki gaggled with the press prior to the flight to talk about recent ransomware attacks, Afghanistan, and the White House vaccine approach. 

Revisiting Ransomware Attacks

Suspected Russian hackers attempted to hack the Republican National Committee last week, and gained access to a contractor. None of the RNC’s data was accessed, but the attack is one in a string of ransomware and cyber incidents affiliated with Russia. 

After the attack on Miami-based software company Kaseya, all eyes are on the White House and its plan to combat the repeated incidents. Psaki has said the White House is taking a “whole of government” approach to the issue. 

Psaki said the FBI is in touch with the RNC and will determine attribution and make a decision accordingly on how to retaliate. Psaki then stressed that the ransomware attacks are not unique to this administration. 

“They long predated this administration, what is new is this level of engagement,” said Psaki, “engagement from our national security officials with the Russian government and expert level talks about cyber and ransomware attacks.” 

The President and Vice President met this morning with the national security team as part of an internal briefing on ransomware efforts. When asked whether they would pursue sanctions, Psaki said it wasn’t in their interest to “preview our punches”. 

Biden had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin weeks prior and discussed the ransomware attacks, outlining critical infrastructure that was off-limits in the attacks. Biden had said he considered the meeting a success. 

As the world is hit with repeated ransomware attacks, the administration has announced the goals of an international coalition to hold those who harbor ransom actors accountable, but immediate measures against the hackers are yet to be determined. 

Psaki said the administration has nothing new to preview in terms of actions or considerations, but the President “reserves the right to respond against any ransomware networks.”

White House Will Not Mandate Vaccines

The White House has announced today that 1 million Johnson and Johnson doses will be headed to Bolivia on Thursday, and 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be sent to Paraguay. 

The announcement comes amid the administration’s target of distributing 80 million vaccines globally, a goal they have not yet met. Psaki said the government faced logistical challenges in distribution. 

In the US, Psaki pushed back against the idea that the government should do more to support vaccine mandates. The government is still taking action to reach its 70% vaccination goal, with a spotlight on door-to-door rallying of potential recipients. 

Psaki made clear the administration will not force anyone to get the vaccine. 

“That’s not currently the role of the federal government,” Psaki said, “our role is to provide supply, provide information, provide public health experts.” Psaki instead endorsed private sector entities like universities that are starting to mandate vaccines. 

Psaki said the White House will continue to use resources to get into communities in light of the rise of Delta variant cases, which she said 50% of cases are now a result of. 

Withdrawing from Afghanistan 

The White House has upheld its stance that they will continue to have a presence on the ground in Afghanistan after removing its military presence. 

Psaki said that the US has ongoing political negotiations in Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to have a presence there. The State Department will provide a later update on the negotiations. 

Despite the Taliban presence and political negotiations, Psaki stood solid on the US stance to remove troops. 

“The President made the decision he did because he does not feel there’s a military solution for a 20-year war,” said Psaki.

Instead, Psaki said the US will continue to provide humanitarian assistance and security assistance. 

“We intend to have a diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul, even after they bring the servicemen and women home at the end of August,” said Psaki.