Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Bob Fenton and Deputy Coordinator Dr. Demetre Daskalakis
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:25 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. All right, so today we have two new guests that are with us in the briefing room. Our Monkeypox Response Coordinator, Bob Fenton, and Deputy Coordinator, Dr. Demetre, are here with us to provide an update on our progress against the monkeypox outbreak and take a few questions.
And I will have — Bob, you want to go first?
MR. FENTON: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
MR. FENTON: Well, good morning, and thanks for having me and Dr. Daskalakis here in the briefing room today.
We wanted to provide an update on the progress we’re making in fighting the monkeypox outbreak.
As we announced a couple of weeks back, we have ample supply to vaccinate the highest-risk individuals against monkeypox. Nearly all jurisdictions have moved toward the intradermal vaccine approach, which means that jurisdictions have effectively transitioned toward an approach that has gotten not only more shots into arms but also without sacrificing the safety and effectiveness of the JYNNEOS vaccine. In fact, over 70 percent of all vaccines being administered in the United States today are given intradermally.
Our focus now is to reach the remainder of the eligible population where they are: at trusted locations and events across the country. And equity has to be a key point and priority embedded in throughout our response.
This past week, we saw how successful that approach is. Because of our direct allocations for Southern Decadence in New Orleans, Black Pride in Atlanta, and Oakland Pride, thousands of shots were administered during these events. In fact, over 3,000 doses were administered at Southern Decadence and their affiliated events. And nearly 4,000 doses were administered at Black Pride in Atlanta.
That means thousands of individuals are being — getting their protection against monkeypox that they may not have if — otherwise.
These events demonstrate our strategy is working.
We’re also accelerating our efforts to provide vaccines to places and people that we know will make a difference. As Dr. Daskalakis announced last week, we are launching a new program that allows local health departments to request vaccines to use innovatively through strategies to reach Black and brown communities.
And today, we’re announcing that we’re providing more vaccines to upcoming Pride events across the country — first to Idaho, where 820 doses will be made available for the weekend of Boise Pride; and second, 10,000 doses to California, ahead of the Folsom Street Fair, the Castro Street Fair in San Francisco toward the end of this month.
We will continue to pull every lever and meet people where they are to end this outbreak. And we’re already seeing progress, as Dr. Daskalakis will brief out here in a little bit.
DR. DASKALAKIS: Thank you, Bob. We are encouraged by the progress that we’re making right now. You’ll see the chart to my left. We only have data from 35 jurisdictions; that’s just over half of all jurisdictions that are directly receiving vaccine. But over 460,000 doses have been administered.
Keep in mind, the population at highest risk is approximately 1.6 million people right now. So even with this partial view we have now from the reporting jurisdictions, we’re seeing strong progress really getting shots into arms.
So now that supply is less of an issue, we need to make sure we focus on maintaining demand by making sure that people know that effective and safe vaccine is available for those that could benefit.
Alongside our vaccination efforts, we’ve scaled up access to testing and treatments, as well as ensuring that LGBTQAI+ individuals know how to reduce their risk.
Together, those efforts are leading to positive trends in the data that CDC has collected over the last couple of weeks, especially in our hardest-hit areas.
So, as you can see, the week-over-week growth rates of the virus, meaning how quickly the virus is spreading, is trending downward in some of the areas involved earliest in the outbreak. Places like New York, California, Texas, and Illinois are all seeing significant declines in growth rates over the last month.
To put a finer point to it, back in July, CDC estimated that it took eight days for cases to double nationwide. By mid-August, the doubling rate was 25 days, showing encouraging signs of progress.
The positive trends that we’re seeing in this data also speak to the actions that individuals have taken across the country to protect themselves against the virus. That includes changing their behaviors and seeking out testing and vaccines.
But the data also underscores the fact that we cannot be complacent, and we must aggressively continue our work to get clear prevention guidance and vaccines out to individuals in communities where the virus continues to spread quickly and those places and individuals that may face barriers in accessing testing, treatments, and vaccinations.
So that’s why our approach centered on increasing vaccine access, including through equity interventions and event allocations in partnership with our outreach and engagement efforts, will continue to be critical as we fight this outbreak.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, let’s take a couple of questions. Right there.
Q Thanks. I have two, really fast. First, colleges are back in session. HHS told me last week that they — if they begin to see an outbreak on a college campus, they’ll work to make vaccines more available. I guess this is to either of you.
But my question is: What proactive steps are you taking to make sure there is not an outbreak on a college campus?
DR. DASKALAKIS: So we’re really excited that we’ve taken a lot of steps before colleges came in session, which included creating a toolkit that was for universities. I personally got to talk to all of the folks that run the health services in universities.
And then we’ve also had engagements with the higher executives of the universities to make them aware of the resources that we have. So that includes a combination of CDC resources that focus on congregate settings, as well as really clear information about safer sex, as well as how vaccines are accessible and available.
So it’s really a multi — multilayer approach where we provide appropriate information, make sure that it goes to the right folks, and that also that we give resources to not only figure out what the behavioral interventions need to be on college campuses but also, like, what biomedical things, like vaccine, can be used in the event of cases.
Q I have one more, but I can just —
DR. DASKALAKIS: Sure.
Q So are you guys really concerned about this?
DR. DASKALAKIS: So the risk in colleges is extremely low. So I think that we’re concerned because, obviously, we want to make sure that if there is a case in college, that everyone knows what to do. But realistically, given the way that this virus is spreading through the population, the risk in those settings is low. Awareness is more important than anxiety.
Q If I can just ask one more question. The CDC is reporting fewer and fewer cases recently among men who — fewer and fewer cases among men who recently had sex with men: roughly 66 percent, down from 95 percent two months ago.
So my question is: Do you guys think that that data is a reflection of just more testing, or is it possible that this is spreading more easily — that the risk of catching it is different, higher than originally thought?
DR. DASKALAKIS: You know, I think that what that data really shows is, A, that the population of men who have sex with men, we’re seeing decreasing infections among them. And also, it represents other mechanisms of transmission that may not be sex but could be other close contacts, so close contact in households, et cetera.
So I think it’s something to watch, but I don’t think that it’s a harbinger of — meaning that the virus is doing anything different right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Eugene.
Q Is the goal to eradicate monkeypox from the population? Or is this something that we’re — just like COVID, we’re going to be living with for some time?
DR. DASKALAKIS: Our goal is to really control this outbreak in the U.S. I think that we’ve seen really important strides in the right direction by creating more coverage in the populations that are at risk. Sort of creating that sort of level of immunity will be really important to us, but also thinking about the global environment and making sure that we don’t just address what’s happening in the U.S. but also think about the rest of the world, because infections that happen there will affect us as well.
Q And when it comes to the funding and resources that you guys have available at this point, how will — how long will it be before those go out and you have to get more from Congress?
MR. FENTON: Well, we’re working right now with Congress on the supplemental as part of the CR to identify additional funding needed, both in vaccine supply to not only replenish what has been used out of the stockpile, which is critical if there was another event, for the security of the nation; but also to provide additional vaccine and have it more available if needed during this event.
Also, there’s a number of other things that we’re pursuing — including technology with testing, research — to continue to watch this event and study as it progresses, to include other types of — looking at the treatments that are being provided and those kinds of things.
So, we have enough money right now to make the key decisions we need to make as this progresses. We need to replenish what we’ve used and be able to have additional funding to keep the fight going.
Q How much longer do you — how much longer do you — will you have this funding before you have to ask for more?
MR. FENTON: Well, we’re asking for more right now as part of the supplemental, as part of the CR. So — so one would assume that as it goes into the end of the fiscal year, we’d be looking to — hopefully, working with Congress to get that additional money to make those investments in our stockpile and to make sure that we’re able to replenish what’s been used, plus have additional funding if needed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, go ahead, Peter.
Q Thank you guys for doing this. Doctor, I think this question is for you. As a result of this outbreak, there has been the expression of real concern in the gay community, the LGBTQ-plus community about stigmatization, specifically related to gay men. So what specifically can you say, as it relates to those concerns, of a new stigma being attached to gay men across this country due to monkeypox?
DR. DASKALAKIS: So I’ll start by saying: It’s the role of governmental public health and government to really model excellent behavior on that. And I think we’re really proud of the work that we’ve done to create non-stigmatizing language to inform people what they need to do to stay healthy.
So I think that that’s the first step, which is really making sure that we’re modeling the right behavior and that we’re putting out materials that speak to the community in a way that doesn’t stigmatize them.
I think it’s all of our responsibility, and I think that we, as sort of the role model in that — it’s really important. But I think that, you know, in media, in the way that we communicate with our students and universities, in the ways that we communicate with others that need to know about this — really making it clear that this is a virus. It’s, like I like to say, a piece of DNA wrapped in some fat. It’s not smart. It can’t distinguish between people based on their sexual orientation or gender.
And so, everyone needs to be aware, but we need to make sure that we’re messaging appropriately to the folks who are overly represented in the outbreak.
Q And to be clear though, for those who are sort of embracing this stigmatization — right? — this is — as we’ve witnessed in other diseases that have impacted, in particular, the gay community — this is not by a handshake. This is not by going into a restroom. Can you help clarify —
DR. DASKALAKIS: Sure.
Q — some of the confusion that exists, the misperceptions?
DR. DASKALAKIS: Yeah, so I think, you know, this — this virus transmits through very close skin-to-skin physical contact, often in the setting of sexual exposure. But there are other mechanisms for its transmission, including, if you touch objects that individuals who’ve had monkeypox touch or if you have prolonged exposure to respiratory droplets.
With that said, signaling to people who are in the gay, bisexual, other-men-who-have-sex-with-men communities, and also transgender people who have sex with men that it’s really important to have awareness if it’s circulating in the community is really a critical part of the messaging while not generating, you know, inordinate concern and really focusing on the infection as linked to an identity.
So, it’s just an infection. It’s not linked to an identity. It just happens to be in the social network.
Q Thank you, sir.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steven.
Q I do want to dig deeper into the racial disparity because it’s growing week by week. Fewer and fewer cases are being seen among white people and more among people of color. I think it’s something close to 75 percent now. You mentioned it’s a priority. What specifically are you doing to reach out to people of color on this?
DR. DASKALAKIS: No, it’s great; I think — I think that the core work that we’ve done to reach out to people of color really begins with the fact that we’ve made vaccine accessible.
So the first step in addressing a lot of the equity issues and gaps that we see in vaccination is really about making vaccine available. That means, you know, the — the new strategy — the intradermal strategy, making sure we have more vaccine, all of the work to create more vaccine to bring to the U.S., as well as to fill and finish in the U.S., has been really important.
But we also have all of these equity interventions that include these large events. I think Bob just told you about a couple of really large ones that have been, frankly, wildly successful with thousands of vaccines that went to the community. We’ve also gotten vaccines to community health centers, as well as to Ryan White sites that really serve this population.
So they — the low-hanging fruit is done. The folks who were early adopters for this vaccine have gotten it, and now we’re really on to the next level, which is making sure that everyone who needs it gets it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And just a couple more. April. And then, Jeff, you’re going to the last question.
Q So I want to follow up on what Steven just asked. What organizations are you working with, particularly those in the Black and brown community, that can help get the message out?
And then once you work with them, what is the expectation of these organizations to help you lessen the numbers or even eradicate it?
DR. DASKALAKIS: Excellent question. So we, from the very beginning, before I was even at the White House — working at the CDC — one of our primary objectives was engaging with organizations that serve the Black and brown community. And so those have been going on since the very beginning.
And a lot of the communication there has been about really facilitating the materials that they need to be trusted messengers, as well as to provide them important tools to help their communities.
I’ll give some great examples. So, for example, many of the events that we worked with at Black Pride in Atlanta, we interacted directly with organizations. The local jurisdictions, in fact, interacted with those.
And that’s really what the story of success is about with these events. It’s not about just the vaccine allocation. It’s about that intense community engagement that happens on the ground because, ultimately, public health is a local event. And so, giving the tools that people need to be able to sort of reach health goals is what we’ve been doing. And the support of organizations that serve Black and brown people have been pivotal in really turning the tide in what I think you’re going to see, the new vaccine numbers emerging over the next few weeks.
Q I know you said Black Pride, Atlanta, but are there any other organizations that you can mention?
DR. DASKALAKIS: So Black Pride is just the event. We actually worked with many organizations. We’ve actually engaged with national organizations that are umbrella organizations that focus on — on community-based groups that serve Black and brown folks.
So really, it’s — it’s a long, long list, but it is a continuous — continuous piece of work to make sure that we stay engaged.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And, Jeff, last one.
Q You mentioned — right here. You mentioned the rest of the world. Can you give us a sense of where you see outbreaks elsewhere in — on the globe; the threats that that provide — or that it creates to the U.S.; and whether or not you’re sharing vaccine and whether or not you need to?
DR. DASKALAKIS: So I’ll start. And maybe, Bob, you can also fill in.
So I think that you’re really — when we’re discussing vaccine and, sort of, strategy, the global part of this is important. And I think, you know, we have a new team that has joined the response — to our coordination team that focuses on global, and we’re having the conversations about how we can best support global vaccine efforts.
MR. FENTON: Yeah, we’re working with USAID, as one of the leads, and the State Department. In the White House national security staff here, we’ve established a global task force across multiple different federal agencies to focus coordination to other countries and WHO to ensure that — that, you know, we have a responsibility to assist and help some of those countries that may not have the resources to do that.
And so, we’re working to — through WHO to determine who that is and what we can make available to support some of their efforts not only in terms of vaccine, but in tor- — in terms of some of our public education outreach, some of our technical expertise that exists here in the United States. And so, we’re working closely with those organizations to be able to support them.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, guys.
Q Can I get one more, quickly — one on international — on other countries, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, we’re going to continue.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue. They’ll be back. Thank you, guys, so much.
MR. FENTON: Thank you.
DR. DASKALAKIS: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
Q Thank you, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Appreciate it.
Okay. Today, the U.N. Security Council is holding a meeting on Russia’s filtration efforts — a dehumanizing term to describe the Kremlin’s efforts to imprison, forcibly deport, or disappear those individuals who Moscow decides could be insufficiently compliant or compatible to its control over Ukraine.
Our intelligence shows that Russia is using filtration centers in eastern Ukraine and western Russia to detain, to interrogate, and, in some cases, abuse thousands of Ukrainians.
Many of the news organizations in this room have reported on this horrific practice and told the stories of Ukrainian citizens who have experienced these filtration — filtration centers.
Today, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will present newly downgraded information that the U.N. Security Council — that the United States has information that officials from Russia’s presidential administration are overseeing and coordinating filtration operations.
Russian presidential administration officials are providing lists of Ukrainians to be targeted for filtration and receiving reports on the scope and progress of operations. We assess that the Kremlin views filtration operations as crucial to their efforts to annex areas of Ukraine under their control.
At the U.N. today, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will demand that Russia halt its filtration operations immediately and allow the U.N. independent observers and humanitarian and human rights organizations access to these filtration sites and to those who have been sent to Russia.
As we announced this morning, next Monday, on the 60th anniversary of President Kennedy’s Moonshot speech at Rice University, President Biden will deliver remarks at the JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts, laying out a vision for another American moonshot, a future where we send [sic] cancer as we know it — where we end cancer as we know it.
As President and Vice President, Joe Biden has led this Cancer Moonshot effort with the goal — and in Feb- — with the goal — and in February 2022, President Biden reignited the Cancer Moonshot and set new goals:
First, to cut the cancer death rate in half over the next 25 years.
Second, to improve the experience of people, their families, and caregivers living with and — living with and surviving cancer.
During his speech at the JFK Library in Boston on September 12th, President Biden will lay out that vision and provide an update on steps the Biden-Harris administration is taking to achieve this generation’s moonshot — not only to end cancer as we know it, but to change people’s lives, improving their health, and decreasing the burden of the disease.
And finally, this week, we know a lot of kids are going back to school, and we know that’s the case in Uvalde, Texas.
Our message to the Uvalde community is the same as it was the day of the shooting and when the President visited the community: The whole nation is with you and always.
This is a painful and challenging time for the Uvalde community, and the President is thinking of the students, parents, teachers, and community members this week. And our message to the nation is: We will not rest until we can make schools safe again, or safe places.
Okay, with that, Seung Min.
Q Thank you. Can you talk about how involved President Biden and the White House is in trying to ensure that the same-sex marriage bill passes in the Senate this month? Do you believe that it can pass and get 60 votes in the coming weeks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, we — with the legislative — I know there’s a legislative pathway that’s being discussed currently in Congress, so we’ll let leadership decide how to move forward with that.
But the President is proud — is a proud champion of the right for people to marry whom they choose, who they are — love. And he believes it is non-negotiable, and the Senate should act swiftly to get this to the President’s desk.
When the bill passed Congress in the House recently, he put out a SAP, as you all know, supporting that piece of legislation. So it has his full support.
And I just want to add: The President was one of the first leaders, after the Dobbs decision leaked, to sound the alarm about the imminent threats to this — what the — the imminent threat this meant to the right to marry, something he has continuously reminded the country of since.
So he’s going to — or his team is going to continue to be closely connected and have continued conversations with staff and members in Congress to make sure that we get this done. But again, this is something that he supports — this piece of legislation. And this is an issue, when it comes to marriage equality, that he has supported through — through his Senate days and as VP and now as President.
Q And one foreign policy question. Russia confirmed earlier today that President Putin will meet with President Xi next week in Uzbekistan. And obviously, that’s one of President Xi’s first trips out of China since the pandemic began. And I’m wondering if the White House sees it as a concerning signal at all that, for his first major foreign trip, President Xi is choosing to meet with President Putin, and what kind of message that sends to this White House.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know — and we have said this before — I’m not going to speak to reported meetings between other countries. That’s not something we’re going to do here. It’s not something we’re going to do from the White House. But we’ve made clear our concerns about the depth of China’s alignment and ties with Russia, even as Russia prosecutes a war of aggression on Ukraine — an unprovoked war, as we have said; a brutal war.
But again, I’m just not going to respond or make comments on a meeting that other countries are having with each other.
Q Thanks, Karine. I’m going to follow up, I guess, on both of Simon’s questions. The first was on marriage equality. You said you’d leave it up to leadership. Is there a reason that you wouldn’t want it as part of the continuing resolution?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, when it comes to the mechanism — and we’ve said this before, it’s nothing new, when we’re asked about a process of — a piece of legislation — when it comes to that process, that mechanism, the path forward, we leave that to the leadership.
Q On President Putin, he also spoke today and said that he — he threatened to cut off all energy exports to the West if the U.S. proceeded with its gas cap.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This is — the gas price?
Q Yes. Cap.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mm-hmm.
Q And so I’m wondering, are you concerned about that threat? Do you think it’s a legitimate threat? If so, does it change your strategy at all going forward on this — on the cap?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I think — and you’ve heard us say this before as well — is that, you know, this shows that Putin is again weaponizing energy by his very words, also by his actions. But the President and our partners in Europe predicted this playbook. We’ve — we saw this coming, and we have been preparing for months. And we have talked through the different processes of how this price cap could look.
So another thing that we have done is we set up a task force — you’ve heard us talk about this — with the EU, back in March, to work on ways to increase alternate sources of natural gas to Europe and help reduce Europe’s demand for Russian energy through increased efficiency and clean energy deployment. And so that is something that we’re going to continue to do to be helpful to Europe as — as they head into the winter months.
But they — this process of the task — the task force already has had a positive effect, as we’ve seen. Europe gas
shortage [storage] will be full by the critical winter heating season. Germany will reach their target gas shortage — storage, despite the Russian cuts, ahead of schedule. And Europe as a whole will reach a significant higher level than last year.
So, again, we prepared for this. This — we knew this was going to be part of the playbook in Russia weaponizing energy, as they have been for the past several months. And so, we will be prepared for this move.
Q A last quick one. I know — I saw the readout between the President and the Prime Minister’s phone call last night. It made mention of the fact that they discov- — discussed the Northern Ireland protocols. And I’m wondering if you can say specifically if the President discouraged her from abandoning the elements of it, or give any more color to that conversation, sort of the tone and tenor of their talks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t really have too much more to add from the — from the readout. Look, he — the President expressed it is a priority protecting the gains of the Belfast and the Good Friday Agreement, and preserving peace, stability, and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland. Don’t have much more to add from that.
I’m going to try and call (inaudible). Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just following up on Justin’s first question. And I understand that storage supplies is certainly up right now, but if weather goes in a bad or unpredictable direction, things could get significantly worse for Europe in terms of pricing for their people. How concerned is the White House right now about political instability — we saw it in Prague, the protests in Prague — and what it might mean for the coalition going forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Do you mean in general, as — the coalition, as it relates to —
Q As in the, kind of, the Western alliance, as it pertains to Ukraine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — with NATO?
Q — and whether or not political instability driven by energy cost increases could be very problematic.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you have seen the Alliance and the strength of the Alliance these past several months, and a lot of that is because of the leadership of this President. We are going to continue to work on that partnership. We’re going to continue to work with our Allies.
As we have seen, NATO is going to expand by two, and that because — and that’s because of what this President has been able to do.
This is — one of the things that Russia, that Putin, that the Kremlin thought it was going to do is divide the West, make NATO weaker, and it did the complete opposite. And that is what we have seen for the past several months.
And — and, as you know, the President was in Europe recently, just before — just before the summer. And you saw the strength of that alliance. You saw the strength of that partnership. And we believe you’re going to continue to see that. And we’re going to continue to be in coordination.
I mean, I think the price cap — when the G7 finance ministries met last week, you saw them come together and put forth different pathways to the price cap. And so that is one way you see that alliance continuing as well.
So we know that there’s a lot more work to do, and we’ll keep looking for ways as gas increases and — in Europe, and to help bolster other sources of energy as well. We’ll work towards that where possible.
Q But there’s no near-term concern that there are fractures in terms of what’s been a —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, there’s —
Q — very united group of countries?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re — we are still very united. We’re continuing to show that unity. Again, we have to remember, Putin thought, when he started this war — this brutal war, this unprovoked war, as I’ve said earlier before, as we have said many times from this podium — that he was going to divide the West, that he was going to make NATO weaker. And the opposite happened. It is stronger than it’s ever been before, and we believe that will continue and we’ll continue to grow that relationship.
Q Karine, following up on the question about the call with the new Prime Minister yesterday, did a trade deal between the U.S. and the UK come up? Was that discussed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The UK — the U.S.-K — UK trade deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So there is no formal linkage on trade talks between the U.S. and the UK and the Northern Ireland Protocol, as we have said. But efforts to undo the Northern Ireland Protocol would not create a — a conducive environment. And so that’s basically where we are with the dialogue.
Q But did they discuss trade at all yesterday in sort of (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have much more than — than what was — what was in the readout. But that’s where we’ve been with that.
Q And will President Biden meet with Prime Minister Truss? Is he (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We don’t have a meeting or anything like that to readout at this time.
Q Karine, the Washington Post, as you’ve likely seen, reported that some of the files seized at Mar-a-Lago include material on a foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities.
(A reporter sneezes.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Bless you. Bless you.
Q Sweet gracious. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Take that outside, Ed. Do you need — do you need a tissue.
Q No. We’re good. Carry on.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.)
Q I’ll keep my mask on.
Quickly, the Washington Post reported that files seized at Mar-a-Lago include material on a foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities. I know you can’t speak specific to that investigation, nor to the findings there. I know where the line is drawn at this White House as it relates to that. But what has this President specifically said? And has he held any calls with some of America’s allies or even adversaries on the issue of nuclear secrets that the U.S. may have some access to, to try to placate their concerns that that information is not in safe hands in the United States?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can say this: We don’t have any calls to foreign governments to read out at this time. On this particular issue, as you know, and I’ll reiterate this — you already kind of alluded: You know, when it comes to this specific issue, as I’ve said many times, the ODNI is in the middle of an assessment and DOJ is in the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation, so I’m not going to comment. But, again, I don’t have any calls to — to read out to you.
Q Let me ask separate from that then. Obviously, this is not unique to this investigation. There’s been discussion that classified information was mishandled by the last administration, even before this investigation that we’ve been reporting on.
So, at any point, has the President had conversations with other nations to communicate to them that that information — they should view that information as secure? What has he done to try to make that message clear to those allies or adversaries around the world?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I don’t have — we don’t have any calls to —
Q Has he in the past?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We don’t have any calls to any foreign government to read out to you at this time.
Q From any time over the course of 18 months?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We don’t have — we don’t have any calls to read out at this time.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me go jump around. Go ahead.
Q I wanted to ask about a decision today by a judge in Texas who said the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance plans cover HIV prevention drugs violates the religious freedom of a company. I wanted to see if you can comment on that decision.
And related to that, can you give us an update on your efforts to update the last administration’s rule allowing employees with — employers with religious objections and moral concerns to not include birth control in their plans that they offer (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as for that decision — I’ll refer you to the Department of Justice on that particular decision. We will have a statement from here. I just don’t have anything to share at this time.
Q And any update on the rewriting of the rules from the last administration on covering religious (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: With that as well, I would refer you to the Department of Justice. I don’t have anything to share at this time.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q So, yeah. Thanks, Karine. So, a federal judge — talking the about the social media lawsuits from Missouri and Louisiana. A federal judge ordered that you have 20 days to turn over emails communicating with social media companies over misinformation and disinformation. What are those emails going to show? What kind of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can’t comment. You asked me this question last week. I can’t comment on any specifically ongoing litigation. And so, again, I’d refer — would refer you to Department of Justice.
A couple of things that I would say, just as a general matter on this: As we’ve said over and over again since the beginning of the administration, in our battle against COVID-19, it has been critical for the American people to have access to factual, accurate, science-based information — in- — information.
And ensuring that any media platforms have access to latest information on a once-in-a-generation pandemic is something that has been done since the earliest days of the pandemic, beginning under the former President. So, this has happened under the former President.
I cannot say more from here. It is an ongoing litigation, as you know. And so, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q But what about if those communications are still happening? Are there frequent contacts between the administration and social media companies?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this. You know, as we have said before, there has been ongoing work, dating to the Trump administration, to provide accurate COVID information where folks get their news.
Again, this is litigation that is ongoing and is currently happening — clearly, that’s why it’s ongoing. And so, I would refer you to Department of Justice on that.
Q Karine, thank you. President Biden has said that not every Republican is a MAGA Republican. Would he consider Mitch McConnell a MAGA Republican?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to go into specific name or people from here. What I will say is, you know, when you go back to the speech — his speech last Thursday — you know, people have talked about if it was divisive. It wasn’t divisive.
The way that we saw the speech is that he was talking to a majority of the country who — who agree that we have to protect our democracy, who agree that we have to protect our freedom, who agree that we have to protect our rights.
And the point of the speech was that he wanted to really point to an inflection point, an inflection time that we were — we’re in at this — in this time in our country.
And he spoke very clearly. He talked about a minority, a small group of people who have extreme views and who threaten — who threaten that very, very value — core value of who we are as a country.
And — and, you know, he also asked for people to come together. It didn’t matter if you’re a Republican or an independent or a Democrat. He asked for folks to come together and stand against what we were seeing — these attacks.
And you don’t have to look further than January 6th of 2021 to see what the attack was on our democracy. It was very clear. We all saw it. Many of you reported it that day.
And when you have people who say the protesters on that day were “patriots,” that’s problematic. That’s coming from leaders and from that extreme part of — of the party. And so, that’s what he was talking about.
He also ended the speech in a very optimistic way in trying to bring people together. And — and so, I’ll just leave it there at that time.
Q Thank you, Karine. I have a couple of questions on China, but, first, a little bit more detail on the filtration camps. I’m just wondering: Why is it just now that you’re speaking about this from the podium? And why is it just now that the U.S. is bringing this up at the U.N. Security Council?
This is something that a lot of activist groups have written about in past weeks. I believe Secretary Antony Blinken has also spoken about it since July. So, I’m just wondering about the timing of it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, this was — it — this is information that was downgraded information. And so, as you know from past times, it takes some time to do that. And, you know, don’t have much more to say. It takes time to do that.
I’m not going to go into our process. I’m not going to go into how our intelligence community moves in that process.
But again, we’re providing it now and we wanted to make it very clear on how we feel about this, how we’re holding Russia accountable for the atrocities that they are committing, and we’re going to continue to do so.
Q And a couple of questions on China. Can we get the administration’s response to Beijing’s accusation that NSA hacked a Chinese military university research?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that again.
Q So there is an accusation from Beijing that the NSA hacked a Chinese university research facility. Is there any response from the administration?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I would refer you to NSA on — on these claims from China.
But generally speaking, it would not be surprising to me that — or to us — that China is deflecting from its own malicious cyber activities, on which there is extensive reporting on from — on from the private sector and governments around the world.
But, again, this is something that I refer to you to NSA on.
Q Thank you. One more on China, please. Is the administration still considering stopping Nicaraguan imports? There’s some reporting, including from our side on that, particularly in light of the country potentially taking steps to sign a free-trade agreement with China.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that — I didn’t hear the beginning.
Q So is the administration still considering stopping imports from Nicaragua? There’s some reporting on this that we’ve also done in recent weeks, particularly in light of the potential free-trade agreement between Nicaragua and
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And the free-trade agreement — okay.
So, look, we are going to, as we’ve mentioned before when it comes to this, there has been — there has been a dramatic deterioration, as you know, of — of respect of democratic principles — and we’ve talked about this before — in human rights by the Ortega-Murillo regime in Nicaragua — I think we had this conversation last week in the briefing room — including the harassment and imprisonment of democratic leaders, members of the political opposition, students, faith leaders, and journalists, in addition to the regime’s increased relations with Russia poses risks to the security of the hemisphere.
With members of the international community, we have already taken a number of actions to promote accountability for the Ortega-Murillo regime’s actions, and we’ll continue to do so.
But at this time, we don’t have new actions to announce.
Q So you’re not confirming that you’re stopping imports?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have any new actions to announce.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I — we’ve talked about this many times. I know you’ve asked this question.
I’m going to go around. Go ahead.
Q Thank you so much, Karine. Two questions. One about the Brazilian election that’s coming up in 25 days. Senator Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, and other Democrats are about to introduce a resolution to support — to show support for a free and fair election in Brazil and to call on the U.S. to break ties with Brazil if the results are not respected. Is the White House in contact with the senators and support this kind of resolution?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have any conversation to provide to you at this time with any members of Congress.
But as it relates to the Brazilian election, we’re going to continue to monitor them. The United States trusts in the strength of Brazil’s democratic institutions. Brazil has a strong track record of free and fair elections, which are conducted with transparency, and high levels of voter participation. The elections that have been conducted by Brazil’s capable and time-tested electoral system and democratic institutions serve as a model for nations in the hemisphere and across the world.
As a partner of democracy to Brazil, the United States will follow the October elections with great interest — as I just said, we’re going to monitor — and with full expectations that they will be conducted in a free, fair, and credible manner with all relevant institutions operating in accordance with their constitutional role.
Again, we’re just going to monitor the upcoming Brazilian elections. Don’t have any calls or meetings to read out.
Q But is this kind of resolution something the White House supports?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get into any — any specific resolutions or any specific policy or plans. What we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to monitor and keep an eye on it.
Q And another one on the U.N. General Assembly. There are talks that President Zelenskyy come to New York to participate. Is the White House aware of this? Is it talking to Ukraine about this possible visit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would leave that to President Zelenskyy. We’re not going to comment on his travel. That’s for him — that’s for him to speak to. We’re not going to speak to that.
Q And did the White House invite President Macron here around the General Assembly?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nothing to read out to you on any upcoming meetings with any of the foreign leaders that are coming.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, I’m going to keep going.
Go ahead. Phil, in the back. And then I’ll come back.
Q Thank you. Just like Peter mentioned earlier on, I know that the White House is not going to comment on the specifics of the raid at Mar-a-Lago or the subsequent investigation. But I’m wondering, as the President watches this story play out in the news just like every other American, does he think that the leaks about the investigation are helpful or harmful to the country? Does he want those leaks to continue or to stop?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to comment on anything that’s related to the investigation. It’s an ongoing investigation. As you know, the Department of Justice is leading that investigation. We’re just not going to comment from here.
Q And then one more then. Last Friday, the Energy Secretary said that green technology in California — that that state was in the lead and showing the rest of the nation how it’s done.
The state is currently bracing for blackouts. They’ve set ambitious goals. And, you know, yet, in particular, their governor is asking folks there not to charge their electric vehicles. Does the President agree that California is an example for the rest of the country as it transitions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I haven’t seen those specific statements — I would like to see it in fuller context — that the Secretary has made. So I’m not going to comment on something that I haven’t seen in full.
But if you have another question, I’m happy to take it.
So, by my count, the White House — you know, you’ve gotten a lot done this summer. And certainly, there’s a lot —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Really? Have we? (Laughter.) I think we’ve said that a few times.
Q And the — the President has a lot —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And you guys have reported it, too. So —
Q The — the President —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You guys have backed this up. (Laughs.)
Q Well, so, all of your accomplishments aside, the President still hasn’t done a sit-down interview in over 200 days. Is he dodging us? Is there a reason why he doesn’t want to do a sit-down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, absolutely not. The President loves talking to you all. He takes your questions all the time. He took Peter’s question last Friday. I’m sure Peter was excited about that.
Q It was the last question he took.
Q I have another.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, he did take a — (laughter) — he actually — Ed, he took another question when we were — when we were traveling.
Q But in all seriousness, a sit-down interview is much different than when the President has —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I hear you. I hear you. The President is going to —
Q — 10 or 15 seconds.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — he is happy to talk to you all. As you know, he does it multiple times during the week.
I don’t have a sit-down interview to announce or provide or — or schedule at this time.
And, you know, look, the — you guys know Joe Biden. He’s been a senator for 46 years. He was Vice President for eight years. And, you know, you guys have followed him and have had multiple conversations — some of you, sit-down conversations — with him.
And — and once we have something to share, we will share that.
Q Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q Thank you so much. On Iran: This morning, the administration warned of further action after the cyberattack on Albania. And I wanted to know what kind of further action could that be. And do you expect it to be only an American action or maybe a coordinated set of sanctions with other NATO countries?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, we’ll — NATO Allies will make their own sovereign decisions about how to respond to the cyberattacks, including whether to invoke — I know people have asked about Article 5, and so that will be up to the NATO Allies.
As you know, there’s a process in this. There are multiple processes before we can get to invoking Article 5. So, again, that’s something that the NATO Allies are going to have to discuss.
Q Would the administration support invoking Article 5?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, this is not — this is a — this is part of NATO Allies to — to decide on. And so, our role here is to support Albania’s efforts to hold Iran accountable and work with Albania to strengthen its cybersecurity and reinforce norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. That is what we’re going to do and be a helpful ally in that way.
Go ahead, Steve. And then I’ll come to you.
Q Thanks. The water pressure in Jackson, Mississippi, has been restored, but it remains a perilous situation; there’s a boil water advisory in effect again. The President said last week he had no plans to travel to Jackson. Does that remain the case?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, the EPA Administrator is in Jackson right now. He’s supposed to be doing a press gaggle. He — I think it may have happened already while we were — while I was here with all of you.
So he was in — he’s there today, and he is — had a press gaggle, I believe, with the mayor and also the governor. I don’t have a trip to read out to you. I do want to say FEMA, EPA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to partner with officials there to help distribute water, expedite the delivery of equipment to repair the water treatment facility, and support with safety inspections.
The emergency declaration signed by this President just last week or so includes reimbursement for drinking water and support for temporary repairs to the water system.
Just a couple of things I want to list out to date that we have done: 5.6 million bottles of water have been distributed at state-run sites to date. FEMA has an additional 5 million liters of water available if requested at nearby distribution centers. A call line is available for residents who need home water deliver — delivery. And the state, the private sector, and volunteer organizations are also providing water to residents who cannot get [to] distribution sites. And both EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are on site at O.B. Curtis Treatment Plant to assess the pumping system, wastewater infrastructure electoral system, and safety concerns.
Again, our Administrator of EPA, Regan, is there. The FEMA Administrator, Criswell, was there recently, as well as Mitch Landrieu was there on Friday. And so, we have had an all-hands-on-deck and being — being as — very responsive to their needs and surging that response right after the declaration was requested and signed by the President.
Q But, you know, it’s not the first time the EPA Administrator has gone down to Jackson —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — to talk about this problem.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Absolutely.
Q He went last — he went — he went last year. Why has the President decided — or seemingly decided this, to this point — not to direct the nation’s attention himself to this problem? I mean, he’s going — over the next week, he’s going to Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan. We’ve traveled with him to New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, Texas, and the West to talk about natural disasters. This is a manmade disaster. Why doesn’t he use the power of the presidency to focus the nation’s attention on it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would say, Steven, that he has used the power of the — of the presidency to focus on this particular issue. If you think about what happens to brown and Black communities across the country when it comes to environmental injustices — if you look at the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, if you look at the Inflation Reduction Act, if you put those together, $100 billion is going to deal with that issue in communities like Jackson. And that’s going to go a very long way. That is an investment that we don’t see at all very often to — for — from a federal government, from a White House to be zeroed in on those issues of environmental injustices. This is part of the plan of this President to deal with that in a real serious way. And — and we’re going to continue.
We have worked closely with groups and organizations on other things that we can do to deal with these issues. And so we’re going to continue to do that.
I mean, that’s why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is so critical, is so important. It’s going to fix, you know, crumbling infrastructure that — like we’re seeing in Jackson.
We’ve talked about the $400 million through the American Rescue Plan for water upgrades across that particular — that very state. The city has allocated twenty mil- — $20 million of its art funds for water and sewer infrastructure needs; $75 million through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support the state to provide clean and safer water this year, with an additional $429 million available to the state over the next five years; $30.9 million through the EPA’s evolving — revolving loan funds for treatment and distribution system improvements for Jackson.
And so we have made this a priority. The reason why the EPA Administrator has been there multiple times is because he has made that a priority, in particular dealing with environmental justice issues that we see across the country.
So, he has used the power and — the power of the pen, if you will, to deal with this issue in a real way by preven- — providing funding that’s been long needed in these communities.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Peter.
Q Thank you, Karine. As refugees were being evacuated from Afghanistan into the U.S. last year, why weren’t they all being thoroughly vetted?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So are you talking about — what are you — what are you — what are you referring to?
Q Well, so as the White House was managing the Afghanistan withdrawal last year, we were told “no one is coming into the United States of America who has not been through a thorough screening and background check process.” But now there’s this DHS inspector general who says CBP “admitted or paroled” evacuees who were not fully vetted into the United States.
That is not good. That is different than what you guys said. So how did this happen?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it’s not different than what we have said. That very report, it did not take into account the key steps in that rigorous — you heard from us — rigorous and multi-layered screening and vetting process the U.S. government took before at-risk Afghans were permitted to come to the U.S.
Again, I would refer you to the DH- — DHS comments on this. It did not take into full account of what the other agencies are involved in making sure that this multi-layered process and screening process they — it is a — it is a multi- agency effort, and it did not — this particular report did not include that.
Q Okay. But — so in the last week or so, we’ve heard the President calling elected Republicans a threat to the country. Does he think MAGA Republicans are more of a threat to the country than people DHS says may pose a risk to national security and the safety of local communities?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, DHS has disputed this report. It’s — and it said it didn’t take into account the key steps that we have taken as a U.S. government, the rigorous, multi-layered screening and vetting process that we take as a government. That was not part of the report.
Again, this report is not accurate. I know that our team has spoken to your team about this, and the DHS has provided a comment saying just that. So, again, I refer you to DHS.
All right. Go ahead.
Q Karine, a question on Somalia.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. The Obamas were here today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q Before the event in the East Room, can you give us any color about what the Bidens and the Obamas did together?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, one thing I can say — and I believe one of the Presidents mentioned it while they were speaking — is they had lunch. They had lunch together and they caught up and they talked about their families. And, you know, they’re very close. They’re good friends. Not only were they part- — were they partners in this — in the — for eight years, but they also became close friends as well — their families.
And so I can say that they — they had some — they had lunch together.
Q Where did they have lunch?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I — I don’t have specifics on where they had lunch — (laughs) — but they spoke to it. I can’t remember which one. One of the Presidents spoke to them having lunch and catching up.
Q Okay. And just one other topic. Following up on Peter’s question, can the United States assure its allies that their nuclear secrets are safe?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just — I know you guys have a lot of interest in this, and I know this is a question that is a more broader question —
Q It is.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — but I — I want to be very clear, and I — and from here, we cannot comment — or we will not comment on anything related or close to — to — close to the independent investigation. And we’re just — I’m just not going to comment on that.
I’m going to go —
Q Only one or two more.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, okay. One or two. Let me call on folks I haven’t called. Karen.
Q Just to go back to the $47 billion in funding that the White House had requested last week — COVID, Ukraine, monkeypox, natural disasters — can you give us an update on what the White House is doing right now, the conversations that are being had with lawmakers to try and push that through? Is the President having conversations with lawmakers? And is there something that — if there’s a sense that something has to get dropped, what’s the priority of that list right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m not going to get into a priority of list. Look, the way we — we see this is: Our job is to tell Congress what we need to protect the American people, what we need to get things moving as we look at the different components here.
And so, you know, when it comes — for example, when it comes to COVID funding, we have been clear that without additional funding, we would have to make different trade — tradeoffs and repurpose a previously allocated funding. And that’s precisely what we — we’ve done, right? I’ve talked about the COVID testing; we had to end that process last Friday. And so we’ve been very, very clear on this.
But the other piece of this, too, is this is not new. We did — we were — we did this — this same process this time last year, and Congress was able to get that done.
So we don’t see this as a difficult process. We don’t see this as an uphill battle. We see this — this is — that is very doable.
And, again, we’re — we’re going to, you know, make the case with Congress, we’re going to engage, we’re going to do meeting in person with bipartisan members of Congress from both the Senate and the House to talk about the consequences of inaction, to answer their questions, to make clear that we cannot afford to not act in light of new vari- — new subvariants, as we speak to — about COVID, and how dire things could look like later this year if we don’t act, if we don’t get that extra funding.
So again, we’re going to continue to make the case. We’re going to also actively talk to our governors and our stakeholders in these — in this process as well.
But again, we have seen — we’ve done this before. We’ve been here, again — again, this time last year. And we think Congress can get this done in time.
Q Just to be clear: The President will have those meetings with bipartisan members or is that staff?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: When I say “we,” it’s going to be his staff. But as you know, the President, as we have said, regularly has conversations with members of Congress on an array of issues. But, of course, his staff is going to be continuously being active in having those conversations. And that includes, you know, the — the COVID Response Team. That includes the — our Office of Leg- — Leg Affairs. That includes senior staff — an array of staff in this building who are directly dealing with the — with the CR.
Okay, I’m going to take one last question.
Q Can I ask you a question on Somalia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I took your question yesterday. Let me try and pick somebody —
Go ahead, S.V. Way in the back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll be back tomorrow.
Q Just two quick ones, Karine. First, not — not regarding the law enforcement part, but has the President been receiving briefings on what kind of national security damage might have been happening because of a security breach in South Florida, since this first came to the attention of the National Archives back in February?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, ODNI is doing their own assessment on this. We’re going to let them do that assessment and do that work that they’re doing on this particular independent investigation that is happening that DOJ is doing.
The President has not been briefed. I’ve been very clear about that. He has not been briefed on this. None of us have been, here in the White House — have been briefed.
We’re just not going to comment on an independent investigation that’s being done by the Department of Justice.
Again, ODNI is doing their own assessment, and we’ll let them run that process.
Q But on the ODNI part, shouldn’t the President be interested in, “Oh, so these…” —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It has — it has nothing to do with interest; it has everything to do with ODNI doing their process and us letting them go through that process.
Q And the second one, regarding the speech. There are Republicans who, in good faith, oppose abortion. Liz Cheney is one of them who the President has complimented and praised. She opposes abortion.
So was it a mistake, in retrospect, to put that line in the speech about choice when it was clearly referring to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He’s also said that they have many differences when it comes to agenda and policies. He has said that as well. So that is — he has been very clear about that.
Look, when you think about what happened with Dobbs — the Dobbs decision that was made on June 24th — it was something that was devastating to women, devastating to people’s lives. It was a right that existed — a constitutional right that existed for almost 50 years. And that was taken.
That was an extreme act. And what ended up happening is you saw, you know, national Republicans, you know, say that they wanted a national ban, to take away people’s right, to take away a woman’s decision to choose.
That is something that we have to stand up against and speak out about and be very loud and clear that, you know, we have to fight for our freedoms and our rights.
And so, that’s what the President is going to do. He’s going to protect –continue to protect women’s rights. And it’s also — it’s going to lead as — as it was very — made very clear in the Dobbs decision — we’re talking about contraception. Right? We’re talking about privacy. We’re talking about marriage. This is going to open the door on so many other rights and freedoms that we all have as Americans. And the President is going to continue to speak against that.
I’m — we’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks, everybody.
4:26 P.M. EDT