Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:23 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, hi, hi. Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday. Okay.
This morning, another shooting — another school shooting — this time in St. Louis, Missouri — has reportedly left at least three people dead, including the shooting suspect, and injured several others.
Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by today’s senseless violence, particularly those injured and killed, their families, as well as the first respondents.
In the wake of Newtown, Parkland, Buffalo, Uvalde, and countless other shootings in communities across the country, we need additional action to stop the scourge of gun violence.
Every day that the Senate fails to send assault weapons ban to the President’s desk or waits to take another — other commonsense actions is a day too late for our families and communities impacted by gun violence.
Today in South Africa, African Union-led talks kicked off to address the conflict in northern Ethiopia. We commend those — we commend South Africa for hosting the talks and stand ready to support African Union High Representative Obasanjo and E- — AU panel members, former South African Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka and former Kenyan President Kenyatta, in facilivating [sic] — in facilitating an agreement.
As President Biden told the U.N. General Assembly last month, a peace process is needed to end the fighting in Ethiopia and restore security for all its people.
The United States has been intensely involved diplomatically in supporting the launch of this — of this mediation effort.
Our Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Mike Hammer, has been in the region the past several weeks and will be participating as well.
After nearly two years of conflict, the crisis in northern Ethiopia is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. With humanitarian access largely blocked since August, emergency nutrition and — and health supplies have completely run out in many areas and severely malnourished populations, particularly children under five, will start dying at alarming rates without immediate additional supplies.
There is no military solution to this conflict. We call on the government of Ethiopia and the Ti- — Tigrayan authorities to engage seriously in the AU-led talks to achieve an immediate cessation of hostilities, unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, prevention of further human rights abuses and atrocities, and Eritrea’s withdrawal from Northern Ethiopia.
The United States urges the parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and prevent further human rights abuses. And as we have made clear directly to the relevant parties in recent days, those who commit atrocities will be held accountable.
Now, with respect to the news from the United Kingdom today, as you all know, it’s protocol for the President to wait until after an incoming British prime minister has met with the monarch and been invited to form a new government to offer his congratulations. But President Biden looks forward to speaking with Minister Suno- — Sunak in the upcoming days and — and to our continued close cooperation with the United Kingdom.
I wanted to also give a quick update on the work the President is doing to lower prices and give hardworking Americans a bit more breathing room.
The Biden administration is continuing to charge full speed ahead in implementing the student debt relief plan in compliance with — with the Eighth Circuit’s order.
As I said on Friday, the temporary order does not prevent — does not prevent borrowers from applying for student loan relief at StudentAid.gov. Again, that’s StudentAid.gov.
The order also does not reverse the lower court’s dismissal of the case or suggest that the case has any merit at all. It merely prevents debt from being discharged until the court makes a decision.
The Department of Education will continue reviewing appli- — applications and preparing them for transmission to loan services. As of Friday, 22 million student borrowers have already applied for this game-changing relief.
The President’s message to borrowers is to apply for student debt relief at stu- — again, at StudentAid.gov if they haven’t already. He will continue to fight efforts by Republican officials to block relief from getting to middle-class families.
We’ve also been — we’ve also seen continued progress bringing down prices at the pump. Gas prices are declining for a third week, with prices coming down in every state across the country.
Nationally, prices are down by $1.22 per gallon since their June peak. That is saving American families with two cars about 130 bucks a month on average. According to an industry analyst, the most common price at gas stations across the country is now $3.49 per gallon.
Some states that saw increases in recent weeks are now experiencing steep declines. For instance, the price of gas fell by 31 cents in California over the past week. In Oregon and Washington, it has come down by about a quarter per gallon. Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan have also seen prices drop by 13 to 15 cents per gallon over this past week alone.
The President will continue to do everything he can to lower prices. At the same time, energy companies who are taking in these record profits, as you all know, also need to pass on their lower costs to consumers at the pump. And that is something that the President is going to continue to call on.
Finally, we wish a happy Diwale — Diwali to the millions of Americans who celebrate. This evening, the President and the First Lady will host a Diwali reception at the White House. They will be joined by the Vice President, who is, of course, the first-ever South Asian American Vice President in history.
The President is looking forward to celebrating this Festival of Lights here at the White House along with millions of Americans who observe this sacred holiday and who have made it an important part of American culture.
With that, Colleen, you want to take — take the first question?
Q Thanks, Karine. So, you mentioned the St. Louis shooting. And the President, just a little while ago, was talking about how he’d like to pass an assault weapons ban. What’s the way forward if the Democrats don’t control the House?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let’s not forget, the President was able to do something just this past couple of months that hadn’t been done in 30 years, which is passing a bipartisan bill on getting — getting to that next step of dealing with gun violence. So, that is something, because of the President’s leadership, that he was able to do. And so, he’s going to continue to work on that.
You have to remember, 30 years ago, he was — he was — he was one of the leaders to ban assault weapons. So he knows what it means to get it done. He knows the work that needs to get that done as well.
But, look, I think this is part of — you know, you ask us all the time, every time — you ask me here at the podium, “What is the President’s message to Americans?” The — his message to Americans is: There’s a choice. There is going to be a choice that Americans are going to have to make, without me getting into elections or getting into politics from here.
But it’s very clear: If you think about what Democrats want to do, when — if you think about what congressional Democrats and this President have already done — lower costs; if you think about what we’re — what we’re doing with our economic policies — creating jobs, making an economy that is — that doesn’t leave anybody behind but builds it from the bottom up and the middle out, that is so incredibly important. And what congressional Republicans want to do is take that all away.
But there’s also: How do we look at the future? How do we look at the things that we want to continue to do? And that’s one of them — right? — banning — banning assault weapons. How do we look at how we’re going to protect women’s health — right? — women’s — women’s right to choose? That is making sure we codify Roe.
What the Republican — congressional Republicans want to do is they want to go ahead and codify Dobbs. Right? They want to make that a national ban. They want to make abortion a national ban, which means that it doesn’t matter if you’re in a red or blue state. That is — that right is going to be taken away from you.
Q One other question. How concerned is the administration about security around elections this — this upcoming cycle?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s a very good question, and that is something that, clearly, we’re monitoring very closely. Just a couple of things that we want to share with all of you on this is that the federal government is committed to working with our state and local partners to ensure the security of our — our election system from voter registration all the way to vote tabulation.
Recently, FBI and CISA issued a joint PSA focusing on America’s election security and preparedness. They assessed that any attempts by cyber actors to compromise election infrastructure are unlikely to result in large-scale disruptions or prevent voting.
As of that — as — as of the date of October 4th, the FBI and CISA had no reporting to cyberactivity has ever prevented a registered voter from casting a ballot; comp- — comprised — comprised the integrity — compromised the integrity of any bal- — any ballot cast; or affected the accuracy of voter registration information.
Any attempts tracked by FBI have remained localized and were blocked or successfully mitigated with minimal or no disruption to election process.
That said, we will continue, as I said, monitor any threats to our elections if they arise and work as a cohesive, coherent interagency to get relevant information to the election officials and workers on the ground.
Q Thank you. You just mentioned that 22 million people have applied to have their student loans forgiven. They are expecting to have some or all of their debt cleared. You called it “game-changing.” How confident is the White House in your authority to actually clear this debt? And do you have any concern that you may be giving millions of Americans false hope?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President was very clear that — what he was trying to do. He was trying to make sure that we give — we gave middle class Americans who were fe- — feeling a tight squeeze, especially coming out of — come — dealing with this pandemic, an opportunity to be able to take away the student debt that really holds people down, if you think about it, in order to start a family, in order to put money down on a house.
And so, the President is going to do everything that he can to make sure that we — we get this done. Again, I mentioned 22 million people have signed up. But this could help up to 40 million people. This is what this can do: give almost 40 million people an opportunity. Ninety percent of them make 70- — less than $75,000. That is a big deal. That is a gamechanger.
So, we’re going to continue to work and make sure that people continue to apply. And — and, you know, I’ll leave the legal process over to our Counsel’s Office and the col- — — the DOJ, actually.
And — but, again, we’re not — it’s not going to stop our message. We know that there are — are opponents out there who don’t want us to help middle-class Americans. But that’s — but it’s not going to stop us.
Q And, you know, this legal fight could drag out for some time. Is there any chance that the President is considering extending the pause on federal student loan payments, which are set to expire in January? Or is that off the table?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we’re not going to — I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. We have to see — let the process play out and see where the — where the process goes. So we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves from here.
It is a tempor- —
Q So he’s not ruling it out?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is a temporary order, right? That’s — so, just want to make sure — don’t want to get ahead of any of this. It does not reverse the fact that a lower court — the court dismissed the case. Let’s not forget that or suggest that the case has any merit at all.
As I was saying at the top of the briefing, we will continue to move full speed ahead in our preparations in compliance with this order, of course. And we’ll continue to urge borrowers to apply at StudentAid.gov.
Again, we’re not going to get ahead of it. It’s a temporary order. And so, we’re just going to let the process play out.
Q But is that even on the table — considering extending it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to announce if anything is on the table on extending the pause.
What I can say: It’s a temporary order, and we’re going to do everything that we can to continue to do our outreach and make sure that people apply.
But again, it’s a temporary order. It does not — it’s not — it is — it does — it doesn’t have — doesn’t suggest that it has any merit. And so, again, we’re just going to continue moving spee- — straight ahead.
Q Karine, over the weekend, the Chinese president won a third term. What does this mean for U.S.-Chinese relations? And will they meet at the G20 in Bali?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any — to take your first question last — your last question first, sorry — don’t have any — any, you know, meetings or anything to preview to you at this time with the president — the president of China.
But we — you know, as we have said many times, we’re not going to comment on internal party politics of the PRC.
President Biden and our administration are focused on responsibly managing our competition with China while cooperating on areas where our and the world’s interests align, which is important to us, from climate change to health security.
We continue our efforts to keep lines of communication open, including at the leader level, as we have. We’ve — we’ve had about five calls with President Xi, as we have announced to all of you, in the past 20 months.
As you’ve seen, President Biden has spoken to Xi again, as I’ve said, several times. And we believe it is important to keep those conversations ongoing, and we will continue to do that.
As far as a meeting at the G20, I don’t have anything to share at this time.
Q And just to follow-up: Today, the U.S. Justice Department says four Chinese nationals, including three intelligence officials, are charged in a spy recruitment campaign. Is there any reaction from the White House to this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we — DOJ has a standard process, as I’ve mentioned many times, for notification of law enforcement actions. And I can check to see if there’s anything else that we can share for you at this moment. With this — their announcement today, just moments ago, I would refer you to Department of — DOJ.
Q Thanks, Karine. The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress are in, and they show serious setbacks in math and reading for fourth and eighth graders.
The government mobilized a whole-of-government effort and — including legislation — to respond to the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Are there any plans to mount a similarly widespread, wide-ranging, and comprehensive effort to respond to the educational consequences of this pandemic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you all know, from when the President walked into this administration, it was a top priority for him to safely reopen schools. And he did that, especially for our kids — right? — across the country — millions of kids.
And let’s not forget, when he walked into this administration, the COVID response was incredibly mismanaged by the former administration. And could — and he understood because — just because it was mismanaged, it could not — that action could not come at the expense of our children.
So, he said he’d get to work. And the first step was reopening schools, which he did. It was about 46 percent of schools were open. And in a short period of time, we were able to open schools fully in just a few months after the President walked into the administration.
Look, we understand, as Secretary Cardona said this morning, the results of this data are unacceptable. That is something that the President believes and you heard straight –directly from Secretary Cardona today.
So we always knew that getting schools open would not be enough. That’s why it was the first thing that we had to do. A once-in-a-generation virus has had profound impacts on our students, as we’ve seen from the data.
And thankfully, the American Rescue Plan — to your point, that was an all-of- — that was a government approach to make sure that it provided essential funds to help students catch up academically and address the pandemic’s impact on their mental health.
And let’s not forget that the American Rescue Plan was something only Democrats voted for. None of — no congressional Republicans voted for that piece of legislation, which was critical to getting our economy back up, including opening up schools.
So we’re focused on ensuring schools across the country to use the American Rescue Plan funds to help students recover. And we have already launched nationwide efforts to get students recovered with efforts we know that work: to hire more high-quality educators and expand tutoring, summer, and afterschool programs bolstered by these very, very funds that the — the first, you know, major piece of legislation that this President was able to pass when he walked into the administration.
Q And then the President said last week that he’s gotten 16 to 18 requests to campaign in these closing weeks. But other than a trip to Pennsylvania, he’s got no campaign travel scheduled for this week.
So, I’m wondering: With two weeks ago, does the President feel like he’s doing everything he possibly can to get Democrats across the finish line in these midterm elections?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you just heard the President just moments ago, at the DNC. Of course, I have to be careful of what I say, because we do respect the Hatch Act here in this administration.
And, look, when the President speaks, it is — he has a large bully pulpit. And he has been able, in the past several weeks, to — to set that national conversation — right? — to be able to talk about what’s at stake, what the choices that the American people have to — have to kind of decide on, if you will.
And he’s talked about student — student debt relief. He’s talked about the economy. He’s talked about infrastructure. He’s talked about abortion — what it means to make sure that women have — to be able to make a decision on their health. Right? Abortion rights.
And so, every — almost every day — almost every day, you have seen the President in front of the American people, talking exactly to that: what is at stake.
And let’s not forget: You know, we are actually laying out issues and policies that are very popular with the American people, that are issues that the American people want to see when you think about lowering costs.
And you have congressional Republicans who want to take that away, who do — who do not want to see Americans have lower healthcare costs, who do not want to see Americans have lower energy costs.
The first thing that they said that they would do is repeal the Inflation Reduction Act — which, by the way, pieces of that, if you look at it in its parts, every part of that is popular with the American people.
Q But as it relates to travel, are there any plans for the President to ramp up his travel? I mean, we have —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well —
Q — just two — two weeks and a day left.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get ahead of the President. There will be more travel that we certainly will be announcing.
As you — as you mentioned, he’s going to go to Pennsylvania this week. We announced that he’s going to be doing the DNC — I shouldn’t say “we” — the DNC announced that he’s going to be doing a rally on November 1st in Florida. And I would say, “Stay tuned.”
Q With the Israeli President coming for a visit, it comes at a time when there has been a notable uptick in some prominent antisemitism and some questions about how Republicans are responding to that, how the culture is responding to that.
What is the President’s view of how that might even influence the visit or be a subject of the visit or how he believes the country should be responding to that? Kanye West has been a part of it. Others have been asked to respond to the corporate side of those sort of notable instances.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I could — I could just speak for the President and how he feels. And he feels that our administration and himself should respond to this.
Let’s not forget the President ran on — on healing — on healing the soul of our nation — right? — after years of — of just years of division, years of hatred.
And so, he’s very, very — been very clear on that and how important it is to make sure that he does that in this administration.
So, when racism or antisemitism rears its ugly head, he is going to call that out. And he has called it out. We should not allow that conversation to be existing — not just in the political discourse but in our — in our everyday lives.
And so, that is something that we’re going to continue to — to call out, that the President is going to call out. It is ugly. It is dangerous. It is despicable.
And he believes that — that we should con- — we should, as leaders — leaders in the political party, leaders — it doesn’t matter if you’re — which side of the aisle that you sit in, you should — we should be calling this out. And that is something that, again, he’s going to condemn. And he’s going to be very, very clear to call this out in the strongest terms.
Q Does he think others have been timid in that area?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’ve talked about this before, when we saw the situation in Los Angeles and I was asked about the city council members, specifically in Los Angeles. And they were Democrats, and we were very clear: It doesn’t matter if there’s a “D” or an “R” after your name, but that we should call this out.
And what is sad about this is you see Republicans — Republicans in Congress who — who make these horrific — and not just in Congress, but, you know, across — across the — across the spectrum, make these really vile and dismi- — despicable comments about racism and antisemitism. And they don’t call — they don’t call it out.
And that — and that is going to be — that is not going to be how the President is going to handle situations like this. He is going to call it out, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on, regardless of, again, if there’s a “D” or an “R” after your name.
There is no place — no place at all for that type of vile belief or language in our political discourse.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q On student loan forgiveness —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll come back to you.
Q Oh, okay. Sorry.
Q It’s all right.
Q No, no, it’s (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s hard. It’s hard.
Q In regards to students loans: If the legal challenges are resolved, do you expect that anyone would get their loans forgiven before the midterms?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Before — be- —
Q Before the midterm elections?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I — look, we’re not doing this — that’s not our goal here is to get this done before the midterms. That’s not — that’s not something — just want to make sure — clear that up.
We want to make sure that we give American borrowers who are — who are able to get this benefit of this program — the President’s program — relief as soon as possible.
Clearly, there is this — this case before us. And so, what we’re going to do is continue to do outreach to make sure folks apply online and to make sure that they are — they know if they are eligible to get — to get this — to get this relief.
Again, this is not about the — for us, for this President, this is not about the midterms; this is a campaign promise that he has kept. This is another way to make sure that we are giving Americans a little bit more of a breathing room. This is another way, as we’re dealing with high costs — as Americans are dealing with high cost, that they have an opportunity in this regard with student debt relief to give, again, a little bit more of space to breathe and a little bit more opportunity to get things done for their families.
Q And very quickly, we saw the First Lady in a Phillies t-shirt yesterday. Should we expect that they’re going to go to the World Series?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to announce. But I — as you know, the First Lady is a — is very excited about her team going to the World Series. I don’t have any scheduling to announce.
Q She could throw out the pitch — the first pitch?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t know. I don’t have anything to share at this time. But clearly, there is some excitement in the Biden household.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks, Karine. Today, the President seemed to be countering some of this GOP messaging on the economy. And he told people that Republicans like to call Democrats “big spenders,” and people should “look at the facts.” But the facts don’t seem to be exactly how he’s painting it on some of these issues.
He has claimed repeatedly that the administration reduced the deficit. But if you break it down, you know, spending was high because of the pandemic. Those programs expired, and that brought down the deficit. And then that deficit reduction was spent on canceling student loans.
And then, on the jobs claims that he made, he said that President Trump was the first since Hoover to lose jobs during his administration. But — and he claimed that he had created 10 million new jobs. But in reality, those jobs have mostly been added back. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics says only about 514,000 jobs have been newly created.
So, how are people supposed to take this kind of messaging on their most important issue seriously when some of this feels like smoke and mirrors?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me tell you what the American people should take very, very seriously. Let me remind you of the Trump tax cut of 2017: $2 trillion that was not paid for — not paid for. So I want to be very clear about that.
And let me also remind the American people of what was happening in January of 2020 — January 20th of — or 21 of 2020 — 2021, which was that American businesses, small businesses were shutting down. I just talked about schools; only 46 percent of schools were shut down. There was not a real, comprehensive COVID response and making sure that people got shots in their arms.
And because of the American Rescue Plan, which is something that Republicans refused — refused to work on, refused to vote on — you know, the American Rescue Plan got those schools open, got those small businesses open again, and really made — made — made us — and put us in a place where the economy turned back on.
And we saw historic — I mean, don’t — don’t listen to us. You’re giving me data, but there’s also data that shows that unemployment is the lowest that it’s been in 50 — in 50 years.
Q So then why not —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It also shows that — what we were able to do, even with the strong labor market, that was because of the plan, the economic policies that the President put forth. So, he put in the work.
And here’s the thing — and I’ll add more, and I’m happy to hear your next question — Congressional Republicans have been very, very clear on what they want to do. And this is the choice that the President talks about that Americans have to decide on — they have to make.
They have said that the first thing that they’re going to repeal is the Inflation Reduction Act, which actually lowers costs for American people. They have said that if they are not able to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping blocks — right? — they’re going to essentially hold us hostage. If that doesn’t happen, they’re going to shut down the government.
That does not hurt any- — that does not help inflation; that makes it worse. That does not help the economy; that makes it worse.
And so, that is the stark difference here of what we are talking about — about what congressional Democrats and this President want to do.
Q So why not use — why doesn’t he lean more on some of that language than continuing to repeat this “we reduced the deficit” thing that feels like, sort of, irrelevant when —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, the “reduce the deficit” is real — $1.4 trillion. That’s what he talked about just last week. And that is historic as well. In the — in one year, that’s what we — the President has been able to do. Those are real numbers that matter, as we talk about inflation —
Q None of his programs —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — as we talk about the economy.
Q — have actually reduced the deficit.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, but is —
Q It just happened on its own.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but it is actually the policies that he has taken that has helped reduce the deficit.
Let’s not forget: Trump 20- — 2017 with the $2 trillion that — that Republicans were very happy to vote on and pay — were not — was not paid for.
So, there is a difference here in how we approach the economy, how we approach what Americans are going through right now, how we approach dealing with middle-class families that you are not seeing currently — you’re not seeing currently from Republicans.
I got to move on, because we don’t have a lot of space.
Q What is one thing he did that reduced the deficit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What — no, wait — what? Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q What is one program?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. So, as the President talked about his economic policies on Friday and today, in the context of the midterms, he — he said he thought there would be a “shift” for the Democrats. Can you provide any clarity about what he meant by “shift”? Shift from what to what?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, when I — because I also have to be very careful here in talking about elections or politics.
Look, you know, there’s going to be many, many polls in the short term that we have left in these next couple of weeks. I’m not going to get ahead of them.
And as we know, polls go up, polls go down. It’s a roller coaster. Roller coaster. And so, I don’t want to get ahead of that. I’ll just let his word stand because, again, he was talking about the midterms, so I don’t want to dive too much into it.
But again, you know, there’s going to be a lot — a lot of movement in the next couple of weeks. And I think that’s what he was speaking to.
Q Okay, I have a question about the war as well. Secretary Blinken has already said that the U.S. believes that Russia’s claims that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb are false claims. Does the U.S. have any reason to believe that the accusations are a signal that Russia is preparing a false-flag attack?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just get on the record on a couple of things — basically, just kind of reiterating what the Secretary said.
We reject Russia’s transparently false allegation that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory. Just today, you saw Foreign Minister Kuleba of Ukraine put out a statement about his call with Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency — IAEA. The foreign minister officially invited the IAEA to send experts to study the peaceful facilities in Ukraine, countering Russia’s false claims.
The IAEA has agreed to do so. We welcome this commitment to transparency and the assurance it will provide the international community — to the international community. The world will see through any Russian attempt to use this allegation as pretext for escalation.
So, obviously, to your question, Weijia — and welcome back. I’m so sorry. I should have said, “Welcome back.” (Laughs.)
Q Thank you. It’s great to be back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Welcome back. And congratulations to you and your growing family.
But, obviously, we are concerned about the false allegation being used as a pretext for further escalation. And we’ve made clear we reject these allegations.
And so, we have not seen any reason to adjust our own, for example, nuclear posture, nor do we have indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons. But obviously, we are going to condemn — condemn what we’re hearing and call it out.
Go ahead, Steven.
Q Thanks, Karine. Late Friday, the Department of Homeland Security released the latest numbers on border interactions with the Border Patrol. They show that over the course of fiscal year 2022, 2.4 million encounters happened on the southern border. That’s the most ever on record. Republicans have their arguments about that. What’s the White House’s explanation as to what happened and why?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ve said this before and at this podium in the briefing room: What we’re seeing — this new migration challenge — is driven by people who are fleeing falling regimes and economic collapse, as you know, in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and also Cuba. It’s impacting the entire Western Hemisphere — what we’re seeing currently. The number of individuals arriving from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba was up 245 percent from September of last year.
Okay, there you go. (A chart is displayed on the television.) As you know, we love charts.
And meanwhile, the number of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — a number of — meanwhile, the number of migrants from Mexico and northern Central American — America is down nearly a quarter compared to just last year. So, we’re seeing, again, a different challenge ahead of us that we’re dealing with.
But, you know — and we’ve talked about this: While we’re trying to deal with the challenges, as you all know, you have Republican governors who are using these migrants, using these folks who are trying to flee communism, falling regimes, and economic collapses, as I just mentioned — they’re using them as a political pawn, which you’ve heard us call out many times from here, and you’ve heard the President call out.
We — we are hard at work in driving toward a regional solution to manage this new challenge. As you have heard from us, on October 12th, we — we announced — the Department of Homeland Security announced a series of actions with Mexico to provide an orderly and limited way for Venezuelans nationals to arrive in the United States and encourage them to stop putting their lives in the hands of smugglers.
So, since the launch of this joint enforce- — enforcement actions, we have seen the number of Venezuelans attempting to — to cross the southern border decrease sharply by more than 85 percent. So, we are doing the work every day to make sure that we deal with what we’re seeing in the southern border.
Q Thank you, Karine. I’ve got two questions for you. Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people inside the Saudi government, essentially saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regularly mocks the President in private, making fun of his gaffes and questioning his mental acuity. The report also noted that MBS preferred former President Trump to President Biden. I wonder if you had any reaction to that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any comments on that.
Q I’ve got another question about the economic message that we’ve been hearing from the President. He obviously is talking about the stark choice that the country faces between allowing Democrats to remain in power and putting Republicans in power. He’s talked about how Republicans will crash the economy, they’ll shut down the government, go after Medicare and Social Security.
It’s a pretty stark choice that he’s laid out. And I wonder if this President — who’s talked about how he can work across the aisle, work in a bipartisan manner, work with Republicans — believes that if we get to a point of divided government, if it’s just going to be chaos or if he actually thinks that things could — could actually work between a Democratic President and a Republican Congress.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So let me — actually, let me say something about your first question. I’m not going to comment about, you know, kind of ridiculous statements. I’m not going to comment on that.
But I’ll be very clear: The President has been very clear from the beginning of this administration that we needed to review our relationship with Saudi Arabia. And so that is something that we are going to continue to — to review. And once we have something to share, we certainly are going to share that.
The decisions that OPEC+ made recently, we saw it as them aligning to — with Russia. And that is going to hurt many, many economies across the globe.
And so, you know, the President is going to have to — have more to say on that. And when he does, you’ll hear directly from him.
On your second —
Q Which statements are ridiculous?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — your sec- — I’m not going to give it anymore light. I’m just saying that more broadly.
And on the second — on your second question, look, it’s not — don’t take my word from it — from — of it, what they’re going to do the econ- — to the economy.
The congressional Republicans have been very, very clear. They have said, if — you know, that they want to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping blocks. They have said that. That is their plan. And if they do that, that is going to hurt Americans.
And if they don’t get that, they said that they would shut down the government. That is what Republicans have said.
They also have said that they were going to repeal Inflation Reduction Act. Again, that’s going to — if they do that, it will take away the power that Medicare has to negotiate — that they now have to negotiate prices for seniors to lower those — lower prescription drug prices. They would take that away in a — in a time when middle class families are dealing with inflation. They want to take that away.
This is also a plan, as you know, that deals with climate change in a real way, and they want to take that away. So that — that’s them. That is them saying that — that we are laying down the choice between congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans.
Q Is the President ruling out any budget cuts, including discretionary spending cuts or just Social Security and Medicare?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t have anything else to share on — on any policy updates.
Q And then on deficit reduction, the fact that the White House is celebrating deficit reduction — to build on Jacqui’s question — does that mean the President thinks that the deficit should be reduced even further next year? Would more deficit reduction be economically good at this point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So he’s going to do everything that we can to continue to reduce the deficit. I don’t have any number to share, but he’s going to do everything that he possibly can.
Q Karine, back on the China meeting, I know you guys are still working through that and you don’t want to weigh in on internal politics there, but can you say, from your point of view, if this meeting is to occur, given what we’ve just seen play out in Beijing, what kind of goals do you have going into that, given that the Chinese leader seems to be doubling down on a lot of isolationist policies?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the — of the President and what — a meeting that could potentially happen or not happen, and what the agenda would be.
As you know, the President has talked to President Xi several times. We’ve given a readout of that conversation of how the conversation has gone and what has been the agenda on those several conversations. I’m not going to get ahead of the President on this.
Q Can you just say, right now, given — you know, following the Pelosi visit, China shut down a lot of channels of communication. Are you confident right now that you have enough channels open to actually plan this meeting and make sure that you convey exactly what you’re trying to get out of it and hear the Chinese side?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Like I said, we continue our efforts to keep lines of communication open with lea- — with — including at the leader level. So that is something that we have been doing for some time now, and we’re going to continue to make that happen.
Q Thank you, Karine. Two questions. First, it’s been tradition for Presidents of both parties, the day after the midterms, to hold a news conference to talk about what the voters in America have decided the night before. Can you commit that the President will do that this time around?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to read out to you or to lay out on the schedule for the President post — post-election. I’m certainly not going to get ahead of him or ahead of any announcement that we’re going to make.
Q Okay. And on another matter: Earlier today, a group of 30 House liberals sent a letter to the White House, urging the President to shift his strategy on the Ukraine war, saying that more direct negotiation, direct contact with Russia was needed. That’s something the White House to this point has not done, being deferential to the Ukrainians.
So, my two questions on that were: Does the White House plan to shift course? And secondly, is the White House concerned that there may be some fracturing here of Democratic support for the war effort?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’ve been very clear: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. Like, we’ve been very, very clear. Like, this is a decision that President Zelenskyy is going to have to make when it comes to any type of conversation with Russia, any type of negotiation. That is something that Ukrainians need to make.
We will continue to support them as long as — as long as it takes. And, you know, again, this is — and I’ve said this many times — this is a war — unprovoked war, a brutal war that President Putin has started, has created. He can end this war at any time. He can end it today if he wishes.
And we are going to continue to support the brave Ukrainians who are fighting every day for their freedom and who are fighting every day for their sovereignty.
Again, that is up to President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people.
Q Is there any concern though about this being the first time that a group of Democrats is questioning the White House’s strategy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ve not seen this letter. I will say this: that we are — we’re certainly very thankful of the bipartisan support that we have seen over the past several months during — during this war, from Congress. And we’re going to continue to keep those lines of communications open and continue to have conversations with members of Congress. I don’t have a direct response at this time to the letter.
Q Thanks, Karine. Two questions on COVID. Can you give us a preview of what the President is going to say in his remarks tomorrow when he gets his updated shot?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I do have something for you all for tomorrow.
So, the — for the President, it’s important for him to publicly receive his updated COVID vaccine tomorrow. As you all know, it’s the right time for him to get it after his infection this summer. And he wants to send a signal to the American people that the vaccine is safe, effective, widely available, and also free.
Ahead of the winter — ahead of the winter, and as more subvariants arise, there is a real urgency to getting the updated vaccine right now. And you can expect him to — to make that point very clearly to all of you tomorrow. And, fortunately, the vaccines we’ve invested in, tar- — targeted BA.5 and will be effective against these types of subvariants that we see thus far.
We’ll have more detail to preview ahead of his shot and remarks, but what I can say is that we’re continuing to see encouraging trends in vaccinations. For example, in the first three weeks, we saw about 7.5 million shots. In the last three weeks, we’ve seen almost 12 million; that’s a nearly 60 percent increase. That’s important progress. And we know numbers are higher after the weekend.
The big administration focus is on reaching those at the highest risk, particularly our seniors. And there’s good progress there. Half of shots have gone to seniors, and that means almost 10 million seniors, nearly one in five seniors, have already gotten their updated vaccine.
We’re doing outreach on the ground, using existing funds for targeted paid media, and continue to push every — everyone with a platform to spread the word, which will be a portion of tomorrow’s event as well.
Q Can I follow up on COVID?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Going back to the President’s meeting coming up this week with the President of Israel, can you give us some sense about what topics are on the agenda? What is the President’s goal for this — for this bilateral?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the President is looking forward to hosting the President of Israel. I don’t have anything specific to share on what’s going to be on the agenda — agenda or what’s going to be discussed.
But again, we’re looking to — he’s looking forward to that — that meeting. And as we get closer, we’ll share more to all of you, for sure.
Q Thanks, Karine. There have been some slightly conflicting reports about Elon Musk, because on one side there’s been a report that he might be subjected to some kind of national security review. There’s been these — he’s been kind of trolling on Twitter, communicating with Medvedev on Twitter. So there’s been a little bit of confusion about what his role is there.
And on the other side, there’s been reports that he’s in discussions or the government is in discussions with him about providing Starlink to Iran, or to the people protesting in Iran.
So could you give an overview of like — what’s the administration’s dealings with Elon Musk, who’s obviously not somebody — you know, he’s an important person.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — I know there’s a lot of interest in this. We’ve — we’ve heard those reportings. Those reportings are not true. So we’ll — we’ll leave that there. The national security review, that is not true.
And I really don’t have more to say on that piece, as well — on the Elon Musk and what he’s choosing to do and not to do. I’m not going to say more from here.
Q Thank you. Two questions. One pertains UK. What kinds of relationship the President wants to have with the new British prime minister? And does the President think that the British democracy is in turmoil right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the United States and the United Kingdom are strong allies and have an enduring friendship, and that fact will never change. And so, we know they will continue to be reliable partners on a range of issues, including holding Russia accountable for its aggression against Ukraine. And we will — we will be working very closely, we believe, with the new prime — with the new prime minister.
Q One on the Diwali celebrations by the President this afternoon. When did the President — the President has a strong relationship with the Indian American community. He has spoken about it in the past. Do you remember when the President celebrated Diwali for the first time? And when was that — with whom?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: With whom and when was that? I don’t have anything to share.
As you know, when he was Vice President, he would hold these receptions and events at the res- — at the Vice President Residence. And so — but as far as how early that started, I don’t have anything to share. We’re happy to — happy to check in with folks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, happy to — happy to do that. Happy to do that.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, go ahead.
Q On the event tomorrow with the vaccines, is the White House shifting at all in its ask for additional COVID funding now that this rollout has begun? Has the — is there sort of a reassessment of what may be needed?
And to that point, is there any sort of light with Congress that you guys see on the way forward to get that funding before the midterms, after the midterms —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we believe —
Q — sort of a lame duck?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mm-hmm. We believe getting that additional funding is going to be critical.
Q But is it still at 22?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s still — it’s still the same at $22 billion, and we are going to continue to have those conversation with Congress. That has not — that has not ended; we’re going to continue to make sure we get that additional funding.
As we know, in order — we made this a priority to make sure that this new vaccine — the bivalent — was — we had funding for that and — going into the winter months, because we understood how critical it was to make sure that people got vaccinated. But in doing so, as you all know, we had to really pull money away, from exam- — example — from folks getting free tests.
And so we’ve been very clear with Congress for the past several months on how critical it is to continue this funding, to have our — to have our front foot, if you will, on making sure that we have new vaccines and making sure that we have the treatment — continued treatment to offer that to people for free.
And so we’re going to continue to have those conversations again, keep those lines of communication open. We believe it’s incredibly important.
What we are doing right now — this campaign that we’re doing for this bivalent vaccine — is for the winter months.
And after that, there is — there is no funding available. And so we have to make sure that we — you know, that Congress acts. Congress needs to act on getting more — more funding for — for COVID.
Q Can I follow up on COVID?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, we —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, I’ll take one last one.
Go ahead, Phil.
Q Thank you. There’s reporting out of Forbes that TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, planned to use the TikTok app to track the physical location of specific Americans. My question is: Does the administration still believe that it’s safe for Americans to use TikTok? And does the White House believe that TikTok presents a security threat to upcoming elections, given that they are partnering with organizations like the Federal Voting Assistance Program to provide information about elections?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ll say this: I haven’t seen those reportings, but I’ll say this more broadly — that the President is concerned about the power large social media platforms have over our everyday lives, and has long argued that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms that they cause. And so the President has been very consistent on that. And the President has long been a supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal, including reforming Section 230, as you’ve heard us say many times.
His stance on Section 230 is not new, and it’s something he made clear on the campaign trail as, one, this continues to be his position.
On that specific story, I can’t comment from that — from here. But — and so I’ll leave it there as how he sees social media more broadly.
Q Well, then to follow up, I understand that there are these concerns about big tech and social media, but the TikTok and national security implications seem to be unique. And this isn’t the first time that TikTok’s ties to China have been scrutinized. I know the administration has made use of TikTok several times over the course of the last two years.
Will the President and the White House continue to make use of this platform given that there are serious red flags?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, let me talk to the national security — the National Security Council team on that specific report that you are laying out this — at this time. And then we’ll — we’ll respond.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks, everybody.
Q Karine, are you concerned that a lack of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll see you guys tomorrow.
Q — presidential press conferences has led to misinformation or contributed to misinformation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll see you guys tomorrow. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Karine.
4:14 P.M. EDT