Aboard Air Force One
En Route Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
1:30 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, I have a couple of things at the top. So, we are closely monitoring the floods in Mississippi, and the President has been briefed.
At the President’s direction, we have been in close contact with state and local officials — let me put this down so you guys — including Mayor Lumumba and the Mississippi Department of Health, and made clear that the federal government stands ready to offer support and assistance of the people of Mississippi.
FEMA is working closely with the state officials to identify needs, and the EPA is coordinating with industry partners to expedite delivery of critical treatment equipment for emergency repairs at the city of Jackson water treatment facilities.
The state of Mississippi allocated $450 million in American Rescue Plan funding for water infrastructure, and the city of Jackson is using over $20 million of that to address water and sewer infrastructure needs. The state has committed to match that commitment. We have also made about $75 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding available this year to provide clean and safe water across the state of Mississippi.
We will continue to partner closely with the state and local officials to support impacted communities in Mississippi, and stand ready to assist further as soon as we receive an official request from the state.
Today is a good day for American manufacturing. Because of the President Bi- — Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Corning announced it will build a new fiber optic cable manufacturing facility to deliver more high-speed Internet to Americans.
Also today, First Solar, the largest U.S. solar panel marker — maker, pardon me — in the United States, announced it will build a new solar manufacturing facility in the United States.
These announcements will create thousands of jobs here in America, lower consumer energy costs, and cut climate pollution.
And this happened — and this did not happen by accident. President Biden’s blo- — bold climate agenda and historic legislative wins are bringing manufacturing jobs back to America and turning America into a magnet for investing in clean energy manufacturing.
Finally, in Wilkes-Barre today, the President looks forward to sharing details about his Safer America Plan. He’ll be joined by Governor Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Senator Bob Casey, and Congressman Matt Cartwright.
The President will discuss his plan to build on the progress we’ve made to reduce gun violence and save lives, and how that means funding the police, not defunding them.
He’s also going to talk about how we brought together Democrats and Republicans earlier this summer to pass the most significant gun safety law in 30 years and how we have to build on the momentum by banning assault weapons. A majority of Americans support this; the NRA opposes it.
So here’s the question: Do Republican members of Congress side with the American people or the NRA?
With that, Chris, you want to kick us off?
Q So, on Mississippi, has the President spoken to the mayor or to the governor? And given that there’s no water in the city, are they — is the federal government shipping in water? What specifically is being done right now with federal resources?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, official White House staffers have been in touch with local — the local — local governments, including the mayor of — the mayor, Mayor Lumumba. I don’t have any calls to read out to you at this time from the President or anything to preview.
Look, FEMA, as I said, has a liaison on the ground at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and will work with state to identify gaps that could be filled by other partners, including federal agencies. We stand ready, and we are eager to assist further as soon as we receive an official request from the state. By law, FEMA cannot assist until a state requests assistance.
Q But Mississippi has not — Mississippi has not asked the federal government to truck in water or send relief efforts?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Not at —
Q Okay, got it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — not at this time. We are — again, we stand ready to help from the federal level in any way that we can. But again, we — we’re waiting for that.
Q Why do you think that is?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I cannot speak for — for the state of Mississippi. You would have to ask them.
Q On the Friday — there’s a jobs report on Friday. Last month’s number came in well over expectations. What kind of number is the White House expecting on Friday?
And I know that the President has been pleased with the high jobs growth over the past year, but is there any concern in the White House that continued high un- — or high jobs numbers will cause the Fed to really ramp up interest rate hikes, which could crush the economy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, I don’t want to get ahead of what the numbers are going to be in the next couple of days. Kind of spoke to this a little bit yesterday.
So we’re still — as you know, we’re still seeing, as you just mentioned, a strong labor market, which is important. Consumer spending is strong, which also matters. And it is no surprise, the way that we have seen it, that the economy is doing — slowing down, as you know, cooling off as we’ve — you’ve heard us talk about, because it’s going through a transition — that’s how we see it — from a historic economic growth that we saw last year to a more stable and steady growth. And that is kind of important to note.
So we’re expecting job numbers to cool off a bit as we — we’re going into transition. We’re expecting job numbers to not be at the high growth rate we’ve seen these past several months as part of that transition. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of that — of those numbers. And, you know, we’ve talked about how we’re expecting to see, again, a little bit of more cooling as we go into that more stable and steady growth.
Q Karine, a couple of questions on Taiwan — my apologies — (laughter) —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re so close.
Q Yeah, I know. I know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s okay.
Q Just — so, earlier today, Taiwan fired some warning shorts — shots at a Chinese drone. It’s the first time such shots have been fired, you know, at a time of, sort of, escalating tensions. Any fresh U.S. concerns over the situation that you can share with us?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, our policy towards Taiwan has remained consistent, and it has been for decades now and across administrations. So we remain committed to our China — One China policy, as you’ve heard us say these past several weeks.
In accordance with that policy, we’ll continue to fly, we’ll continue to sail, and operate where international law allows us to, consistent with our longstanding commitment, again, to freedom of navigation. And that includes conducting standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait. You heard me talk about the U.S. Navy ships yesterday.
So, we’ll continue, consistent with our, again, One China policy, to deepen our ties with Taiwan, including through continued — continuing to advance our economic and trade relationship. For example, we released an ambitious roadmap for trade negotiations with the U.S.-Taiwan 21st Century Trade Initiative.
And we have and will continue to keep the lines of communications open with Beijing, which we have for the past couple of months, as the — since the President has been in office. And we will continue to call on Beijing to reopen those channels it has closed, for our sake — not for our sake, but because this is what the world demands and its responsible — of its responsible powers.
Q And a quick follow-up. There was a report yesterday that the administration is planning to formally ask Congress to approve a billion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan. Can you share any details on when that request will be made?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any announcement at this time or don’t have anything to preview. As we have said, we will continue to full — to fully fulfilling our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act to support Taiwan’s self-defense.
Q Karine, two questions. You said yesterday that the President will bring up some of the Republicans that called for defunding the FBI in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago raid. Will the President — the President today defend the FBI’s work at Mar-a-Lago in his speech today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as I’ve said many times before and as many of us have said, look, when it comes to — you know, we’ve been very clear. We don’t believe in defunding the police. We don’t believe in defunding the FBI.
But as it relates to anything connected to what the Department of Justice is doing for their independent criminal investigation, we are just not going to comment and we are going to just refer to Department of Justice.
But again, the President — this is not the first time the President has been very clear that it is — that we have to not defund the men and women who put their lives at risk to protect — to protect us, to protect our communities, to protect our country.
And so, again, we do not believe — he does not believe in defunding the police; he believes in funding the police. That’s what you’ll hear from him today. And he certainly does not believe in defunding the FBI.
Q And on the Philly speech on Thursday — because you announced that after the briefing yesterday — why is he giving that speech now? Is this considered a political speech? Is this a kickoff to his midterm message? It’s a topic we’ve heard from him before. Why does he feel the need to give this speech right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, again, like you said, it’s a topic you’ve heard from him before.
Clearly, I can’t talk about politics from here. But I’ll —
Q So it means it’s a political speech?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well — no, no.
So let me just say: On Thursday, President Biden will give a primetime speech, as you just mentioned, on the continued battle of the soul of the nation in Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia.
He will speak about how the core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our democracy are at stake.
He will — he will talk about the progress we have made as a nation to protect our democracy but how our rights and freedoms are still under attack and how we will make clear who is fighting for those rights, fighting for those freedoms, and fighting for our democracy.
Look, he believes — and you’ve heard me say this before — Joe Biden believes, as President, it is important for the President of the United States to have the strongest voice when we talk about fighting for our democracy. And that’s what you’re going to hear from him on Thursday.
Q So pivoting off of that, Florida Republicans are complaining that the President’s comments last week about semi-fascism sort of contributed to the attack on their Seminole office.
Is there concerns that he’s sort of creating more pressure, creating more conflict, particularly after Lindsey Graham’s comments earlier this week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can you say a little bit of what happened?
Q Sorry. The — a Seminole office got vandalized with the word “fascist” on it. I mean, is there any concern that when he’s making this contrast with Republicans that he’s contributing to something that’s not a unity message?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the President has always, always been clear that violence, vandalism, threats have no place in our society and that he always condemns such acts, as he does here in that particular case.
He has also stressed that we must do all — do — we must all do so regardless of the points of view we are involved in.
For example, he has demon- — denounced violence against women seeking reproductive medical care and vandalism targeted at those who oppose reproductive rights, right?
So he has been very consistent here, and we’re just going to continue to condemn any type of violence. It is not appropriate in any political debate.
Q And there was a little bit excitement on Twitter today about potentially him announcing his candidacy for the 2024 election. Is — can we expect that sometime soon, with him filing his candidacy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, that is — I can’t speak from that from here, from — from where I stand. I would refer you to — to DNC on any- — anything that’s related to that.
Q So the new COVID vaccines that might be approved this week have only been tested on animals. Is the White House confident that these will actually work when out in population?
And given that only 30 percent of eligible people have gotten their second booster, what are you going to do to convince people that they should get this next booster?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just to be clear, like, these decisions on the vaccines, including on who will be eligible and when and — are made by FDA and the CDC based on their expert reviews, so I’m not going to get ahead of them. They’re going to make the decision on their safety and how — and who’s going to get them, as I just stated.
But in — to your second part of your question, the administration has been working with state and local health departments and other partners to prepare operationally for all scenarios. This includes working together to ensure vaccines remain available and at a range of trusted, convenient locations, including local pharmacies and community health centers, and easy to access.
So, as you know, we’re learning from the comprehensive campaign that we had for earlier — earlier in this administration. So we’re also planning a robust public education campaign — building on lessons, again, we’ve learned and focusing on those most at risk.
And so, this will include leveraging deep partnerships across sectors to meet people where they are with facts and answers to questions, and empowering trusted local messengers with messaging they need to engage with their communities about the importance of vaccination.
But I don’t want to get ahead of what the CDC and FDA is going to decide.
Q A question on — India is participating in military exercises with Russia. Given that India is a partner of the United States and Asia, how does the administration feel about that kind of relationship?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the United States has concerns about any country exercising with Russia while Russia wages a unprovoked, brutal war against Ukraine. But, of course, every participating country will make its own decisions. And I’ll leave it at that.
Q Why not put any pressure on India? I mean, there’s been pressure on China — you know, “Don’t help Russia.” Here you have India, a partner of the United States, working with Russia on the military.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — my first — my first sentence there is saying that we have concerns, and any country exercising with Russia while Russia is waging this unprovoked —
Q But no plans to take action to do anything about it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything else to share. But we have — we have been pretty public — I’ve been asked this question with other countries as well, and we’ve been pretty consistent in our — in our statements.
Q Do Iran’s drone sales to Russia make it less likely the U.S. is going to agree to a new nuclear deal? Or are those issues considered separate by the U.S. government?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So look, you know, we’re — when it comes to — so, there are two pieces to this. I can talk about the drones, but I can talk about where we are as well — the status and where we are with JCPOA.
Look, so we have taken — we have taken a deliberate and principled approach to these negotiations from the start, as you’ve heard us say. If Iran is prepared to comply with its commitment under the 2015 deal, then we’re prepared to deal — to do the same. The administration, along with our allies, is preparing equally for scenarios with or without a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA.
The President will only conclude a deal that he determines is in the national security interests of the United States. Look, we have said we want to do this in a diplomatic way, and that’s the approach that we’re going to take.
Q So, the drone sales aren’t a factor?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I — you know, I’m just going to lay out how we’re proceeding and how we’re looking at the JCPOA deals specifically.
I can give you a little bit about the drones if you wish — on, like, what we’re — you know, what we’re assessing is that Russia has received both Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series UAVs from Iran over the course of several days in August. Russian transport aircraft loaded the UAV equipment at an airfield in Iran and subsequently flew from Iran to Russia.
That is what we’re seeing and assessing. The initial delivery is likely that part of Russia’s to import —
AIDE: I’m so sorry. We have to get seated for landing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. No problem. No problem.
AIDE: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. Sorry. I’ll talk more later.
1:47 P.M. EDT