Inside the Biden administration's plan to ease U.S. port congestion

Mike Pyle, Chief Economic Advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris, discusses how the White House will keep corporations on board in alleviating congestion in the supply chain.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Let's turn to the latest from DC because the White House is laying out its plan on how to ease some of the strain that we are seeing in the supply chains over the last several months. Now part of that plan that we heard from the Biden administration is 24 hours a day, seven days a week operations in the ports of Los Angeles and also in Long Beach. The Biden administration also pushing for the passage of the infrastructure bill, saying that that is going to help address some of the issues that we're seeing today. So let's talk a little bit more about this.

And for that, we want to bring in Mike Pyle. He's the chief economic advisor for Vice President Kamala Harris. And Mike, it's great to see you. The vice president met with the leaders of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach yesterday. I know that that's just one of the steps that the Biden administration is taking. But talk to us just about how the Biden administration plans to address this and why you're confident that this will actually help resolve some of the issues that we're seeing today.

MIKE PYLE: Yeah, so you're exactly right. The vice president met not just with the leaders of the ports of LA and Long Beach yesterday, but with a range of stakeholders around those ports. You know, the longshoremen, the Teamsters, leaders of our business groups, including the major retailers and the shipping companies like FedEx and UPS, they all have a role to play here. You know, it's not enough for the ports to go to 24/7 if the goods just stack up on the port.

And that's why it's so vital that there's the labor there from the longshoremen to unload the boats, why it's important that we have the Teamsters there to get them off the ports, and then into commerce. And then It's important that we have these commitments from the major retailers, from the shippers, that they're going to make use of those nighttime hours. We think kind of taken together, that is a set of steps by an important set of actors that's really going to unlock a lot of the challenges we've been facing in the port system.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Thank you for joining us, but good intentions-- how do you get, for instance, Walmart, which says they're going to play a role in this, how do you get past the fact that there may not be enough drivers to drive the trucks? We've already seen that increasing wages has not attracted people back into the labor shortage, in some ways. So how do, one, you get the truck drivers in place to deliver this stuff? And would it be necessary to perhaps relax some of the regulations in order to accomplish this?

MIKE PYLE: Well, that's why we thought it was so important that the Teamsters were a part of the discussion yesterday. You know, obviously, you're exactly right. You know, trucking is a key part of this challenge and making sure that they're a part of this discussion, that the truck drivers that they represent are a part of this solution. That's going to be essential to making it work.

ADAM SHAPIRO: OK, so what can the Teamsters do to get people behind the wheel of a truck?

MIKE PYLE: Well, you know, they represent, you know, tens of thousands of truck drivers across the country. You know, those are our drivers. Those are working men and women who are going to be a part of the solution, which, again, is why it's so essential that they and their commitments are a key part of the solution here.

SEANA SMITH: Mike, when we talk about how significantly this could potentially slow the economic recovery, what's your latest reading on that, just in terms of what we could see play out over the next couple of months?

MIKE PYLE: So I think we're really encouraged by some of the trend lines that we're seeing in the economy. You know, we got a reading this morning on unemployment insurance claims, down below 300,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. That's a level that's over 2/3 reduced from the level we saw when the president and vice president took office. You know, there is more work to do, clearly.

But I think, again, some of the trend lines we're seeing around the labor market, around unemployment insurance claims, the fact that US GDP is now back above the level that we saw going in the pandemic, really, the one country in the G7 which that's true, I think is encouraging to us around the trend lines. And we're going to be monitoring those very closely as we look ahead.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Would there be a way to prioritize which ships, which containers get unloaded? I would assume that the manifest indicates what container contains what. Or would that just be too much of a logistics nightmare? Because it would seem to me, for instance, semiconductors might be one of those things that's a priority over toys from China.

MIKE PYLE: So, you know, I think one of the important things to really recognize and acknowledge here is, this is a private system with private actors. And what the federal government can do is say, you know, port operators, unions, major businesses need to get around a table and figure out how to coordinate in ways that can unlock some of this. But some of those kind of very specific choices about how to make this work hour to hour, day to day, you know, those are rightly in the hands of the private actors that are really at the core of the system and the core of making it work.

SEANA SMITH: And Mike, speaking of making it work, we know that Vice President Harris, this is something that she has been talking about now for many months. Back in August, she was over in Asia. She was in Singapore saying that, hey, we could actually see a delay in Christmas presents this year as a result of this. Is this that should have been addressed earlier? And I guess, why wasn't it a bigger concern going back just a couple of months ago?

MIKE PYLE: So, you know, I might just push back against the question in the sense that, you know, this has been something that, you know, the vice president and the president focused on for months. So the president announced the supply chain task force at the very start of June. That followed on work that a number of folks around the White House have been doing, identifying some of these emerging pressures as early as the spring.

You know, we have seen a set of announcements over the course of months since then around semiconductors, around the vice president's visit to southeast Asia around food prices, which has been a core source of focus around here, and then around ports. You know, the appointment of John Porcari as the ports envoy at the end of August, and then the announcement yesterday reflective of hours and hours and hours of work that the port envoy put in with all of these stakeholders to get to the place we were yesterday.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Understanding the teaming of private sector and public sector to make this work, so help us understand how do we measure if it is working? I had started the whole block by saying 72 days to Christmas. What's the criterion by which the government, as well as those of us who are just part of this 330 million people in our society, can say it's working or it's not?

MIKE PYLE: So, you know, I think we're encouraged by some of the data that we're already seeing. The Port of Long Beach went to 24/7 operations a couple of weeks ago. What's called the dwell time, the amount of time that it takes for a ship to be fully unloaded, has gone down pretty considerably since they went to 24/7 as a result of some of the unclogging that was able to happen as a result.

We're looking at metrics like that, you know, dwell times, the number of ships at port. You know, these are going to be important metrics for us to be kind of monitoring very closely day in and day out in the few weeks ahead. And I know we're going to be very focused on seeing what sort of progress we have one week, two weeks, three weeks out and make adjustments as need be.

SEANA SMITH: Mike Pyle, chief economic advisor for Vice President Harris, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. And we look forward to having you back on Yahoo Finance soon.

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