James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:40 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello.
Q Heads up.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Heads up. Heads up.
Q Good to see you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Starting with you or without you.
Good afternoon, everybody. I do want to take a couple of minutes to make some announcements that all of you already know, but it’s been a few weeks now and I want to make sure I acknowledge some new additions and well- — well-earned promotions on our press team. You know how we — how much we love to lift our — our team up here.
So, Andrew Bates will be taking on additional responsibilities, adding the role of Senior Communications Advisor for Strategic Response to his portfolio. Andrew has been a tireless and talented spokesperson on our team. And in his expanded role, he will have an increased focus on rapid response.
Emilie Simons has been promoted, as you all know, to Deputy Press Secretary. Emily has been a star leading our econ war room work and has grow- — has grown into a strong leader and mentor on the press team. We are so proud to have — to have her stepping into the role of Deputy Press Secretary and taking on even more. As you all know, some of you have been dealing with her closely on some parts of her new role.
In the upcoming days, we’ll also be welcoming our former Press Assistant, Michael Kikukawa, who many — many of you know. He’ll be coming back to the press team as Assistant Press Secretary. Kiku, as many of us know him as very fondly, will be returning to our team from Treasury and taking on Emily’s econ portfolio.
And lastly, Robyn Patterson, who some of you have already been working with, has come over to our team on loan from the Department of Commerce and will serve as Assistant Press Secretary through the spring. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team, and we are grateful to have her on board.
Congratulat- — congratulations to our team on these well-deserved, well-earned promotions.
So as you saw this morning, the President announced new action by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — CFPB — making clear two types of banking junk fees that cost Americans more than $1 billion annually, are illegal, including surprise overdraft fees and bounced — bounced check victim fees, which are fees charged to customers who deposit someone else’s bounced check.
As CFP- — FPB Director Chopra said this morning, today’s actions are just the beginning. His team is working on future rules and guidance that would take on credit card and other banking fees.
The President also highlighted recent actions by the FTC to crack down on unfair and deceptive fees across industries, such as charging consumer fees they never agreed to or charging mandatory fees with little or no added value like hotel resort fees or event ticket processing fees. These fees seriously add up. Credit card late fees, overdraft and bounced check fees, can cost customers more than $24 billion per year. And these important steps announced today will give Americans, as we say, as the President says, a little bit more of a breathing room.
Now, it has been 40 days since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police. We join her family and the Iranian people for a day of mourning and reflection.
The President said it at the U.N. General Assembly, and it remains true — quote: “We stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.” End quote.
We are concerned that Moscow may be advising Tehran on best practices to manage protests, drawing on Russia’s extensive experience in suppressing open demonstrations. The evidence that Iran is helping Russia wage its war against Ukraine is clear and it is public. And Iran and Russia are growing closer the more isolated they become.
Our message to Iran is very, very clear: Stop killing your people and stop sending weapons to Russia to kill Ukrainians.
We remain committed to ensuring that those responsible for the brutal crackdown on those courageous protesters are held accountable.
Today we are announcing a joint action between the State and Treasury Departments designating 14 individuals and 3 entities using five different authorities, demonstrating our commitment to use all appropriate tools to hold all level of the Iranian government to account.
Specifically, we are designating Iranian government officials who hold leadership positions within Iran’s police and prison systems and who are responsible for or complicit in serious human rights abuses. We are designating the governor of the province of Sistan and Baluche- — Baluchestan for his role in overseeing the violent response by security forces against peaceful protesters.
We are designating individuals who are — actively serve as commanders in the IRGC for their brutal response to protesters. And we are designating two entities involved in censorship, surveillance, and malicious cyber activity against the Iranian people.
The United States stands with Iran- — Iranian women and with all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery. We will continue taking action to impose costs on those who commit violence against peaceful protesters or otherwise seek to suppress their very, very basic rights.
And with that, I will turn to turn it — turn it over to my NSC colleague, John Kirby, who’s here to take some few questions.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No problem.
MR. KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top. As you know, President Biden was pleased to welcome the Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, to the White House earlier this afternoon. The two leaders discussed the enduring strength of the U.S.-Israeli partnership, all the ways that we can deepen cooperation between the two countries, and, of course, our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.
They also consulted on a wide range of global and regional issues of mutual concern, including the threats posed by Iran and its proxies. The President emphasized that his administration has pledged to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
They also celebrated the forthcoming conclusion of a historic agreement concerning the maritime boundary dispute between Israel and Lebanon, and that was mediated by the United States. President Biden praised Israel’s statecraft and their courage, and noted that the agreement will set the stage for a much more stable and prosperous region, as well as being able to harness vital new energy sources for the world.
The President also made clear his commitment to advance peace and stability in the Middle East and highlighted U.S. support for Israel’s further regional integration into the Arab world. He emphasized the importance of taking steps to deescalate the security situation in the West Bank and underscored that a negotiated two-state solution remains the best avenue to achieve a lasting peace.
He also underlined the need to take continued steps to improve the lives of Palestinians, which are, of course, critical to peace, security, and prosperity in the region.
I think you know — just a second — I think you know he’s meeting with senior defense leaders right now. This is part of a semi-annual Senior Leaders Conference that the Pentagon hosts twice a year, bringing together all the commanders of the 11 combatant commands, as well as the leadership, both civilian and military, of each of the six branches of service.
Coming right in the wake of the release of the National Security Strategy, the timing just couldn’t be better for — for having this discussion this afternoon with these leaders. And I suspect you’ll see that they’ll — they’ll discuss a wide range of issues regarding our national security, all the way from managing the strategic competition with China to the acute threat that Russia is clearly posing on the European continent, to the threat — the threat of climate change and what that’s doing to our own facilities and our own ability to meet — to meet the nation’s needs here and around the world, as well as a whole range of other issues.
So, lots to discuss today, and I know he’s looking forward to having that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Zeke.
Q Thanks, John, Karine. I’m hoping you might be able to provide a little bit more context and evidence to back Karine’s allegation before that Moscow may be supporting Iran’s crackdown on its civilian population. What expertise does the U.S. believe Moscow is providing, and what evidence do you have to back up that?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into too much of the — of the sources of the information here at the podium. Karine wasn’t putting forth an allegation. She was putting forth a fact — that we know they may be considering some sort of support to Iran’s ability to crack down on protesters. And sadly, Russia has experience at doing that.
So, we’ll see. We’ll watch where this goes. But it’s just yet another example of Russia and Iran now working together to violate the — not only the human rights and civil rights of people in Iran, but, of course, put in further danger the lives of Ukrainians.
Q But has that support begun or is it just Moscow considering that?
MR. KIRBY: What I would say is, we have — we see signs that they — that they may be considering the ability to help train Iranians on cracking down on protesters.
Q Right. But it has not begun already?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t — I don’t want to go too much into more detail. I would just say: We’ve seen signs that they may be considering lending that kind of support to Iran.
Q Okay. But that’s just an important point of clarification, because the transcript, I believe, will read: “We are concerned that Moscow may be advising Iran.” So, these are two different things. We’re con- — you’re considering —
MR. KIRBY: May be advising.
Q — may be advising, already happening —
MR. KIRBY: May be advising.
Q — considering advising?
MR. KIRBY: Right. “May be advising.” Yeah.
Q Thank you. And then, on Brittney Griner, I’m assuming you saw the comment from Peskov this morning —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — in which he said all contacts of this sort should be held in quiet. Is this a signal of some kind? Are you interpreting this as a signal of some kind that they’re open to increased dialogue, further dialogue? Or has there been any more dialogue since the verdict, since yesterday’s decision, court ruling?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have anything since yesterday’s court ruling for her appeal to talk about.
But I would tell you that the conversations with the Russians — that they continue. They haven’t stopped. And so, that channel is still open, and we’re still trying to use it to bring her and Mr. Whelan home.
Q Did President Herzog provide any more specifics to the President today about Iran’s UAVs or things that they have been able to do to assist Russia inside Ukraine? Did he bring that intelligence?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to go beyond the readout, Kelly. I’ll let President Herzog characterize his side of the conversation. I know there were press reports before the meeting that he was considering doing that.
We’ve already spoken to it, though. I mean, we’ve already talked about the fact that we — that we knew Iran was providing UAV drone capability to the Russians. And, in fact, we already talked about publicly the fact that we know that they’ve got guys on the ground there in Crimea that are helping provide technical assistance and training support for — for Russian soldiers to actually pilot these things.
So, again, I’ll let President Herzog characterize his side of the conversation. But this is a — this is a concern we’ve not only had and harbored, but have spoken to publicly.
Q Thank you. The Iranian foreign minister keeps repeating, saying that the administration is sending messages that they want to reengage in the nuclear talks. Is this true? And do you think the time is suitable to reengage?
And secondly, Karine said that the administration message to the Iranian regime is: Don’t kill their own people and don’t send weapons to the Russians. Do you think this message will resonate with the Iranian regime?
MR. KIRBY: Well, on your first question: No, we are not seeking or asking for a new set of negotiations or renegotiation discussions on the JCPOA. That’s not what our focus on — is on right now. It’s on holding Iran accountable, as Karine mentioned in the opening statement, for the way they’re treating innocent protesters in their country. That’s our focus right now, not on getting back into the JCPOA. And frankly, we are just too far apart right now to be able to have any meaningful discussions in that regard.
And on your second question, I mean, it never ceases to amaze me what doesn’t seem to be able to soak in, in terms of message delivery to Iranian leaders. We’ve been very clear about our concerns over what they’re doing to their own people. We’ve been very clear about what they’re doing to enable the Russians to kill Ukrainians and to damage Ukrainian infrastructure. They’re now on the ground in Crimea, assisting in that effort.
The transfer of these drones absolutely is a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which prohibits the transfer of missile-related goods, equipment, and technologies to or from Iran. So, I can’t — I don’t think we can be any more clear about our concern about what they’re doing.
And we’re going to continue to work with allies and partners and with the U.N. to see if there’s additional ways to hold them accountable. Karine mentioned, just with respect to the treatment of protesters, another 14 now sanctions in place just today. And we’re going to continue to stay at it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, John.
Q Admiral, it has now been exactly a month — a full month since the explosions — the Nord Stream pipelines. Is there any update on the investigation as to what happened there?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you, Jonathan. We still believe it was an act of sabotage. There’s investigations that are ongoing. I’m not going to get ahead of them.
Q Any suggestion as to who conducted the sabotage?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of ongoing investigations.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you. John, I wanted to ask you about Saudi oil production. Over the summer, did the U.S. strike a deal with Saudi Arabia to boost oil production?
MR. KIRBY: Look, there was — we talked about it before the trip, that — that energy security was going to be something the President talked about when we went; that we were having conversations with Saudi Arabia before the trip about better balancing supply and demand. And — and obviously, when you heard the President himself, in Jeddah, after the bilateral conversation that we had that, that he was hopeful that there would be a boost in production. There was a boost in production afterward.
What I would tell you is — I’ve seen the press reporting on this. There were discussions before the trip, obviously, about a better balance of supply and demand to stabilize the energy market. Of course, there was. And we talked about that openly.
But this recent decision by OPEC+ to now cut the these 2 million barrels certainly isn’t — not — and Karine said this a gazillion times — it’s not in keeping with the — with what we believe was the actual mathematical analysis of what needed to be done for supply and demand at a time when supply is the predominant challenge. We didn’t believe it was in keeping with that, and it certainly wasn’t in keeping with the conversations that — that we were having.
Q But did those conversations ever culminate in a concrete deal with Saudi Arabia? Did Saudi Arabia ever agree that they would boost oil production?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I’m going to go back to what I said before: There were conversations before the trip, as you might imagine there would be, about — about an architecture that could better balance supply and demand to include what was — what ended up as an increase in production at the end of the trip. I think I’m just going to leave it there.
Q And then, just a quick follow-up then on OPEC’s decision, because the President said there could be consequences. Do you have any update on what those might be?
MR. KIRBY: No. And the President’s national security team is taking a look at that right now, internal here to the National Security Council, looking at options, looking at this bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, and — and what — what options we would like to tee up to the President for him to consider going forward.
But the President also said he wants to talk to members of Congress. And obviously, the members of Congress are — are not — not here in town. So, we’re not in a hurry. And we don’t need to be in a hurry.
But clearly, the President believes that we need to make sure this bilateral relationship — quite frankly, like every bilateral relationship we have with friends, partners, and allies — is suited to the national interests of the United States of America and to the security interests of the American people. And that’s what he’s going to stay focused on. But no, I don’t have a specific update for you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steve.
Q Staying on that topic, the Saudi energy minister said yesterday that when it comes to this conversation, his country is taking the “mature” route. He said that at the conference known as “Davos on the Desert,” on the global stage —
MR. KIRBY: I saw it.
Q — among the world’s leading financiers.
MR. KIRBY: I saw it.
Q You saw it. So, what do you make of the implication, then, that the U.S. is acting immature?
MR. KIRBY: I, obviously, refute that, of course. This isn’t a — you know, look, this isn’t — you know, it’s not like some high school romance here. We’re talking about a significant, important bilateral relationship — a partnership that has survived over 80 years — an important partnership, a strategic partnership. We said that even before the trip.
And I don’t think talking about it in — in terms like that necessarily lends the gravity of how important this relationship is to — to the way that we’re considering it.
The decision was — was regretful. It was, as the President said, a “mistake” to make that cut. It was certainly not in keeping with our analysis of what needed to be done to help better balance supply and demand on the market.
Now, look, it — we’re — we have not seen the decision itself result in an increase in oil prices. In fact, oil prices continue to come down. They’re down like 30 percent right now from June. And, of course, prices at the pump here in the United States are down about a $1.20 since about that same timeframe.
So we haven’t seen a radical effect here on — on prices. But that doesn’t mean that that — that we’re all of a sudden happy about the decision. At a time, as I mentioned before, when supply on the market is the predominant challenge, we felt that this was shortsighted.
And again, we’re going to — we’re going to obviously take a look at the relationship going forward. And I can assure you that whatever this relationship looks like at the end of that process, it’s going to be — where — how we get there is going to be done in a very deliberate, measured way, keeping in mind our national security interest and those of the American people, the American troops, and the American citizens that live over there — 70,000 of them in Saudi Arabia — as well as the strategic partnership that we have had for eight decades with Saudi Arabia. All of that will be factored in.
Q If I can ask a question on a completely separate matter. On word yesterday from the President that the U.S. has been in constant contact with Russia, the parents of Austin Tice, the reporter who’s been missing for 10 years in Syria, reached out to CBS News.
And they asked this question, which I’ll pose to you: Why has Jake Sullivan not followed the President’s directive of May 2nd to get a meeting with the Syrians?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into Jake’s individual schedule. What I will tell you — first of all, obviously, our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the Tice family. And obviously we want to see Austin home. No doubt about that. And we continue to work this very, very hard.
I don’t have anything on Jake’s schedule to talk about, but I can assure you that the national security team is still focused on this.
Q Do we believe he’s alive, John?
MR. KIRBY: We’re still focused — we’re still focused on — on Mr. Tice.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Karine.
John, the Saudis took a veiled shot at the administration for selling the country’s emergency oil reserves and said that that decision may become a painful one in the next few months. Is there any indication that they plan to further cut production?
MR. KIRBY: I’d have to refer you to them, Jacqui. I don’t have insight into what — you know, what their future decisions will or won’t be.
We did propose that they not make a decision right now and wait until the next scheduled meeting, which was very early next month. So we’ll see what they end up doing at this next — at this next meeting.
Q Do you feel that the administration has sufficient insight into what foreign governments are going to do, given the reporting that the U.S. thought that there was a deal to boost production through the end of the year, that the decision from the Saudis and OPEC+ came as a surprise and caused a bit of a meltdown in the West Wing? And your answer just now saying that, you know, don’t have insight into what they might be doing, is that at all a failure of our diplomacy or foreign policy?
MR. KIRBY: No. I mean, there’s a lot there.
First of all, we didn’t have a meltdown. Secondly, while we don’t — we can’t predict perfectly what OPEC+ is going to decide to do, the — we’re not part of that cartel. It’s not like we don’t have ongoing discussions with the Saudis and with other members of OPEC; we do. And we try to get the best information we can. Obviously, they have to make the decisions that they’re going to make. So we’ll see where — where they go on this — on this next meeting.
What I can speak to is President Biden’s priorities, and that’s making sure that we continue to keep the price going down and to reduce the pain at the pump for the American people and to try to do what we can in a measured, deliberate way to help better balance supply and demand inside the global market. And it is a global market. And I think that sometimes gets forgotten.
Q What are we doing to increase the supply of diesel, given that the Energy Information Administration said, as of October 14th, the U.S. only had about a 25-day supply? You have the northeast and New York already rationing home heating oil. What are we doing to prepare for the winter and to ramp up the supply of diesel?
MR. KIRBY: I’ll take the question on the diesel, because I just don’t have the data on that in front of me. So let me take that, and we’ll get back to you on that.
But — but writ large, the President has been working very, very hard to make sure that we’re — that not only are we ready for fluctuations that could come — and, of course, the prices are going down, and we think that’s important — but that we are also doing what we can to help our European friends and partners who are also going to be facing a long, cold winter.
We have doubled our commitment. The commitment he made in March for natural gas exports to Europe, we’ve doubled that commitment in terms of actual — you know, getting things over there, getting natural gas over there. And we are working with foreign suppliers of natural gas and oil to see if we can help our European partners diversify their own storage and supplies.
Many of them are, in fact, building up their storage capability here for the winter. Some are farther along than others. And we’re working closely with them bilaterally and multilaterally to see what we can do to help that.
But I will owe you a question on the diesel.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy, and then Trevor.
Q On the dirty bomb allegations that Moscow is making, I’m wondering if you can walk us through some of the potential scenarios that the U.S. sees here.
As it relates to Russia potentially planning or executing a false-flag operation, do you anticipate that it’s — that they will use the mere threat of a dirty bomb by Ukraine as an excuse to retaliate with a tactical nuclear weapon? Or do you anticipate that they would actually deploy a dirty bomb themselves, blame Ukraine, and then use the tactical nuclear weapon? How does the U.S. see this?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, let me start the question — what I would normally do at the back end — and that’s to say that we haven’t seen any indications that the Russians are making preparations for the use of a dirty bomb or, quite frankly, the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I think that’s important to get right out front.
It is a common Russian play for them to blame others for what they are doing themselves or about to do themselves, which is why we took it very seriously when the Russian defense minister called the Secretary of Defense and said that they had information that the Ukrainians were fixing to use a dirty bomb to — obviously, it’s a false allegation. That’s not true. The Ukrainians have nothing like that in mind. They have no intention to do that. So that’s why we take — that’s why we take it seriously.
Now, the question you’re asking is: Are they just using the threat of it or are they actually doing it? Again, we’ve not seen any indications that they’re making any preps to do that.
I wish I could get inside the Russian mindset here and tell you exactly what they’re thinking with respect to why they put this out there. I can’t do that. All I can do is tell you we took it seriously, we’ve spoken about it publicly, we’re monitoring it as best we can — as best we can — and we’re going to make sure that we can continue to do what we have to do to help Ukraine defend itself.
Q So are you preparing for both of those scenarios?
MR. KIRBY: We are making sure that Ukraine can defend itself against a range of threats that the Russians are posing inside Ukraine. And I think I’m going to leave it there.
Q And lastly, you’ve made clear that Russia using a tactical nuclear weapon would be crossing a very significant line. Do you view the use of a dirty bomb as crossing that same line?
MR. KIRBY: The use of a dirty bomb would — would cause –would cause significant casualties, depending on the size of it, and certainly follow-on casualties as well from radiation exposure.
I’m not going to classify it one way or the other except to say that it would be yet another example of Russia’s brutality on the Ukrainian people, another level of atrocity if they were to do it, that — that would have to be dealt with and properly — and they would have to be properly held accountable — accountable for it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Trevor. And then we’ll go to the back.
Q Does the White House agree with President Zelenskyy’s comments this week that Israel needs to step up its support for — for Ukraine and specifically to provide air defenses?
MR. KIRBY: That’s for — that’s for the Israelis to decide. You know, there’s more than 50-some-odd nations that are providing some measure of assistance to Ukraine, most of it in the security realm — weapons, non-lethal, money — that Secretary Austin holds the Ukraine Contact Group meeting; now I think he’s had six or seven of them.
And here’s the thing about it: Every nation that comes to that meeting, they do it on their own terms, and they decide for themselves what they’re willing to provide to Ukraine.
So, not long ago, we were all talking about Germany, because, you know, there were — there were issues about what Germany was doing or not doing. Germany has evolved its own contributions over time. We have evolved our contributions over time.
I mean, when the war first started, we were all talking about Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stingers, right? Now we’re talking about advanced rocket systems and howitzers and air defense capabilities that they clearly need.
So the war changes, the capabilities change with it. And every nation state that’s providing support to Ukraine, they got to do it on their own terms, because they have their own national security concerns they have to look after too.
So we’re not — we’re not cajoling. We’re not arm twisting. We’re not poking. We are asking. And we’re holding these Ukraine Contact Group meetings to provide a venue and a vehicle for our nations to come forward and contribute. But they got to do it on their own.
And, look, the relationship with — as you saw today, with Israel is very, very strong — unshakable, as we like to say — and we respect that Israel has to make these decisions for themselves.
Q And just to follow up on that, I mean, the U.S. has put billions of dollars into Iron Dome. Do you think that that technology that the U.S. has significantly funded should be used in Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: That is going to have to be a decision for the Israeli leaders to make. But for our part, we’re going to continue to — we have provided air defense capabilities to the Ukrainians since the beginning of the conflict. We are continuing to do that. We’ll continue to look forward for other — look at other capabilities that they might be able to use.
And it doesn’t just have to be systems coming from the United States or even systems that the United States helped fund. It can be air defense capabilities that other nations have that the Ukrainians are more — more familiar with or better trained on. They — you know, they have — they have — you know, they have the tech support to support them.
So, we’re going to work across the across the — across the board.
Q And just finally on Israel, do you agree with Senator Robert Menendez that the inclusion of far-right lawmakers in a governing coalition in Israel would threaten U.S ties and threaten peace in the Middle East?
MR. KIRBY: The — the kind of government that the Israeli people put in place is up to them. It’s a democracy; they get to decide that.
We’re confident in this bilateral relationship and the strength of it. We’re confident that no matter who the Israeli people elect, we’re going to be able to work with them going forward. There is an awful lot of shared challenges.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thanks, John. I want to follow up on Trevor’s question in regards to Ukraine’s request for Israeli air defense system. So I guess I just want more detail: Does the President under- —
MR. KIRBY: I’m sure you do. (Laughter.)
Q Does the President understand that Israel cannot poke Russia too much, considering its security interest in Syria? Or — I mean, you said there was no arm twisting, but was there even a conversation about asking President Herzog or asking Israel to reconsider about supplying these air defense system to Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: I’m going to leave the conversation to the readout and what you heard the President say today. We are not taking a position where we’re trying to put a guilt trip on a country to contribute a specific capability to Ukraine.
We are talking — and they talked today — about Ukraine, of course. We’re talking to countries all around the world about — about what we can collectively do to support Ukraine and certainly what they’re willing to do to support Ukraine. But it’s got to be their decision.
Q And a follow-up on the drones — the Iranian drones to Russia. You’ve mentioned that it violates U.N. Security Council.
MR. KIRBY: It does.
Q But does the administration believe that it — that Iran, by doing these transfers, is committing or at least complicit in war crimes or violating international (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: There’s a — we, as well as some of our partners at the U.N., have called for an investigation into this exact issue, so I’m not going to get ahead of that. We do think it should be — it should be investigated.
But you can go online and look at 2231 yourself, and it clearly says no transfer of — of missile-related items, goods, technology, or equipment to or from Iran. Clearly, they — they’re doing that inside — inside Ukraine and to help — and to help Russia.
I think we’re — stepping back just a little bit, this is — you know, Karine alluded to this at the top: It’s another — this whole relationship is another indication of how isolated both nations are from the rest of the international community.
It’s also an indication of two things, in my mind: One, Putin has no intention of sitting down at the negotiating table anytime soon. And two, that his own defense industrial base has been hurt now by the sanctions and export controls that he has to rely on a country like Iran to provide these unmanned aerial vehicles, which are — we’re not talking about ISR — intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance — platforms that can image things below. These are basically kamikaze drones. They’re meant for one purpose and one purpose only, and that’s to go hit a target, go kill people, go destroy infrastructure.
That he’s doing that speaks to the brutality he’s willing to continue to prosecute this war, certainly no interest in sitting down, and that he is having trouble in his own defense industrial base that he has to turn to another country like that.
Q And just to follow up on the regional air defense system that the U.S. is trying to help facilitate in the Middle East, can you give us a little bit more details? What kind of buy-ins do you have from Gulf states? Is it going to be one network with all the partners in there, or is it going to be a hub-and-spoke, returning to CENTCOM perhaps? And whether the latest decision by OPEC+ and the rising tensions between the U.S. and Saudi might complicate this effort.
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry, was this about integrated air and missile defense?
Q Yes, in Israel.
MR. KIRBY: Well, we still believe that that’s — and is an important capability that we’d like to pursue. It was — it was on the agenda when the President went to the Middle East in July. It’s still on our agenda of things to explore. Central Command is working through — through the modalities with our partners in the region. We still think it’s — it’s an idea worth pursuing.
Q Is there a timeline for this?
MR. KIRBY: No. And there hasn’t been. I mean, it’s not — this is not the kind of thing that you’re going to be able to slap together and just do in a couple of weeks. Integrated air and missile defense means netting together a series of sensors, as well as kinetic capabilities — interceptors, missiles, and the launchers that put them up into the air — netting all them together in a coordinated way so that everybody shares the benefit of the missile defense capabilities of your neighbor.
And given the fact that Iran’s ballistic missile program continues to improve and grow, we still believe there’s a lot of — there’s a lot of merit in that idea.
Q Thank you, John. Just to follow up on the Iranian drones, is the U.S. considering additional sanctions over the supply of those drones to Russia in addition to what was announced today?
MR. KIRBY: What we’ve — the sanctions today were really about the way they’re treating protesters. You saw — I think it was last week, I think — we did issue some additional sanctions with respect to their provision of these drones to Russia. We’re not taking additional sanctions off the table. I don’t have anything to announce today, but clearly, if and when we do that, we’ll make that public.
Q And a follow-up on the nuclear talks. You’ve said that it’s not the focus right now, but does a lack of urgency at this stage indicate that the administration has given up on the talks?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I’d push back a little bit on the “lack of urgency.” What I said is it’s not our focus right now. Our focus is on holding the Iranian regime accountable for how they’re treating their own people. And we’re just too far apart. I mean, Iran continues to make demands that have nothing to do with the nuclear deal that they want put in there. And we just aren’t there.
As I said in my opening comments, in the meeting that the President had with President Herzog, we reiterated that — our commitment, the President’s commitment to making sure Iran cannot achieve a nuclear weapon. Obviously, diplomacy is the — still the preferred path to do that. We’re just not in a position where that’s a — that that’s a virab- — viable option right now.
So, I disagree that there’s — that there’s a lack of sense of urgency. We don’t want them to achieve this capability. But right now, what we’re focused on is the way they’re treating their own people.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sebastian. Go ahead, Sebastian. Go ahead.
Q Thank you very much.
Q Can I ask you a question about Wagner Group in Africa? A lot of officials — the U.S. official have been warning that the Russian mercenaries are creating havoc in Mali. I want you to react. Is — do you understand the void that they are there to fill?
MR. KIRBY: Do I understand what?
Q Do you understand the void that’s been created for the Malian government to invite the Wagner Group into Mali?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have a lot of insight into the Wagner Group’s activities in Mali. So I can take the question for you, and we can see if we can get you an answer. I just don’t have the insight on that issue.
I’ll just say, broadly speaking, the Wagner Group is very active, of course, in Ukraine. We know that. They’re most active in the Donbas region, that northeast section of Ukraine right now, and that they have — and we’ve talked about this before — I mean, they have been recruiting fighters from North Africa, from the Levant area to aid their efforts on the ground. It’s a private military contractor, and they’re not above that kind of recruitment effort.
But as to what they’re doing in Mali, sir, I just don’t have that for you.
Q And is the State Department —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Hold on a second. Let’s be — John is kind enough —
Q No, I’m just asking a follow-up question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know, but we’re going to call — get to everyone. Just hold on. You were not called on just yet.
Q No, but it’s just a follow-up question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sebastian. Go ahead, Sebastian.
Q Okay. Thank you. Can I just zoom out a bit on Ukraine? Because we’ve had a lot of nitty-gritty on the weapons systems and so on.
Zooming out — I know you’ve had this question before, but I think it’s kind of a crucial one: The mantra is that the support for Ukraine will go on “as long as it takes” — I think that’s pretty much the wording. Obviously, “forever,” presumably, is nothing that anybody wants or could ever even plan for.
So does the administration have a clear view of what’s going on now and what’s being built up is going to end in a Russian withdrawal/defeat — Ukraine victory? If not, what is the — “as long as it takes,” where does it go?
MR. KIRBY: If you’re asking if we can predict the end of this war — what it’s going to look like and when — the answer, of course, is no. What I can — all I can really tell you is what we see now. Okay? Neither side is in a position to sit down and negotiate.
I just went through the whole litany of why, you know, Putin is clearly continuing to prosecute this war in a brutal, violent way. President Zelenskyy has said himself that they’re focused on their counteroffensive operations, that they are not in a position where they want to negotiate.
Our job, our role here is to make sure that we continue to support Ukraine in the field so that if and when it comes to the table, President Zelenskyy is also able to succeed in his negotiations.
He gets to determine — he gets to determine when that is. He gets to determine what success looks like. And he gets to determine what or what he is not willing to negotiate with the Russians. But we’re just not there yet.
So, our focus is on making sure he’s got the tools and capabilities he needs to succeed on that battlefield, because that battlefield success will, no — no question, have an impact on the “if” and the “when” and the scope of any negotiations going forward.
And yes, we’ve said “as long as it takes.” Quite frankly, we’d like for “as long as it takes” to be 4:20 today, right? It would be great if it ended now, but it ain’t. And — and until it does, we’ve got to make sure that we’re — that we’re postured to help Ukraine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. I’m going to take as many as we can.
Q Just to sort of follow up on kind of the conversations you’ve been having about Russia and Iran, is the assessment then that that relationship has grown closer since the invasion of Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: I think it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t, at least from a tangible perspective. In terms of the transactional nature of this, it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t grown closer.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, John. Two questions. First of all, regarding the, God forbid, deployment of a dirty bomb against Ukraine, I’m sure the administration would hold Russia accountable, except Russia is not going to own up to it. They’ve been fighting this proxy war since 2014. Most of the attacks taking place in the Donbas, Russia was like, “Hey, it’s got nothing to do with us.” Same with the attack on the Nord Stream pipeline.
If we don’t know who is behind the attack, how are we able to hold anybody accountable?
MR. KIRBY: First of all, there hasn’t been one. And — and — and we don’t wa- — and we don’t want to see one.
All I can tell you — I mean, this is a — that’s a very hypothetical question. All I can tell you is we’re monitoring this as best we can.
We know that the Ukrainians are not planning, are not thinking, are not — are not preparing for the use of a dirty bomb. We know it’s a part of the Russian playbook — again, as I said to Jeremy — to blame others for that which you’re going to do yourself, which is what gives us concern.
We’re going to watch this as best we can. I can’t tell you with perfect specificity that should one get used, we’re going to — we’re going to know the time and the place and the size and that we’re going to, you know, be able to have forensic evidence right on the — on the — on the ground about — about where it came from. But we’re going to treat it seriously.
And we’re obviously — to the degree Russia needs to be held to account for that kind of activity, we’ll do that.
Q You just said Ukrainians are not preparing for that right now?
MR. KIRBY: That is right.
My second question is: Have you — has the administration been tracking the U.N.’s inquiry into — the U.N. commission inquiry into Israel’s little war with Gaza last year and the condemnation that went only against Israel, not against Hamas? And is that something you’re prepared to comment on?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have a comment for you on that today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, Brian then Toluse. And John is — is kind enough to stay a little bit longer. We’re going to move the 4:30 backgrounder so folks (inaudible).
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, John. Just to follow up the last week when we spoke — the — on Ukraine and the dirty bomb: We both know those things can be very hard to detect if it’s brought to the front. How confident are we that — or how confident is the DOD, how confident are you that — that that hasn’t happened? And are there additional preparations to be made to ensure that it doesn’t happen?
MR. KIRBY: I’m confident that —
Q And then a follow-up.
MR. KIRBY: I’m confident that we’re — we’re monitoring this as best we can. And I say “as best we can” on purpose, because it’s not — it’s not perfect.
Q It’s not (inaudible).
MR. KIRBY: We don’t — we don’t have perfect visibility into everything that — that might be done or have to be done if one were going to actually use a dirty bomb. And just to make clear, it’s a conventional explosive device using radioactive materials to use the explosive device to spread that. And a lot of it would depend, you know, on — on size and — and how much preparation was — was put into it if, in fact, it was used.
So, we’re watching this as best we can. And all I can tell you with confidence is we don’t see any indications that there’s preparations for use. We certainly know the Ukrainians aren’t going to go down that path. We’ve seen nothing that would tell us that the Russians are, at this point, preparing to do that at this time.
Q And then a quick follow-up to yesterday’s withdrawal of the letter from — well, progressives of the Democratic Party requesting a change in the status of our relationship with Ukraine. For our allies — there have been reports that our allies are a little concerned about our commitment to Ukraine because of that statement. Can you just state categorically that the U.S. has not changed it and won’t change its attitude? Or can you make that statement?
MR. KIRBY: I can say not only have we not changed our approach to Ukraine, but we haven’t seen any diminution or any — any concern expressed by our allies and partners either over — over the press reporting on this letter.
These — these Democrats, as you know, they pulled the letter back. I’ll let them speak to — to their decision-making.
But we have enjoyed and continue to enjoy terrific bipartisan support for our approach to Ukraine and the — and the kinds of security assistance that we’re providing. And we’re going to need that support going forward. The President is not worried about that.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Toluse, and then we’ll go to the back. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, John. I’m going to try to keep this to one question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q We’ll see.
MR. KIRBY: Is that a problem for him? (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Actually, he’s — Toluse is (inaudible). (Laughter.)
Q It may depend on your answer. We’ll see. (Laughter.)
President Herzog said today that President Biden would be attending COP27 in Egypt. I was just wondering if you had any details on that trip and any information about what the President hopes to accomplish in Egypt?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any travel or schedule for the President to speak to today.
Q Second question then. (Laughter.) On the — on U.S.-Saudi relation review, you said there’s no hurry, that this could take a while, the President can take his time to do this review correctly. Obviously, there’s some things that have happened between the announcement of this review and today and, obviously, more things that could happen.
Yesterday, we heard about how it was noteworthy that Rus- — that the Saudis had voted against Russia at the U.N. and have provided millions of dollars for Ukraine. Today, you said it wasn’t so great that the Saudis were talking about who’s mature and not mature in the relationship. You talked about the upcoming —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t think that was helpful dialogue, no.
Q So my question is sort of: Are there things that the U.S. is looking for the Saudis to do between now and their completion of this review to shape the way and the direction of the review? Are there things that the Saudis could do to shape the direction of the ultimate outcome?
MR. KIRBY: We haven’t — we haven’t — we haven’t given them, like, a to-do list. I mean, that’s not the way a strategic partner acts with another partner, not at all.
I think Karine did talk about the — yesterday — their — their vote at the U.N. And they have contributed — now they’ve agreed to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to Ukraine. All that is welcome.
As I said to the question I got on Israel, these are national decisions and sovereign decisions, and we respect them all. And we certainly respect the ones that the Saudis have taken recently.
But — but, no, we’re not — it’s not like we have a laundry list of things that they — that they have to do or that we’re asking them to do.
I want to go back to what I said before, at the risk of — of sounding redundant: It is a strategic partnership, and it has been for 80 years. And nobody is talking about rupturing it. We — we — you know, it’s an important partnership that — that bears fruit in the region on many different levels — counterterrorism, climate change. I mean, there’s a lot there.
But we believe that — that in light of the decision, you know, that — that we want to make sure this relationship, going forward, is obviously serving that — the national interests of the American people as best they can, and we’ll get there.
And as I said earlier, it’s not going to be rushed. It’s not going to be done in a — in a careless way. We’ll look at this very, very deliberately over time and in consultation with — with members of Congress.
But, no, there’s not a — you know, there’s not a — there’s not a list.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just three more, and then we’ll let John go.
Q Thank you, Karine. So I’ve got a question about Saudi Arabia and a question about China.
On Saudi Arabia: A U.S. citizen, Saad Almadi, who’s imprisoned for a series of tweets he sent — his son told me that President Biden, quote, “sold my father for oil by prioritizing gas prices over his release.” Do you have a response to that?
And on China, this is a very simple question but it’s an enduring point of uncertainty: Does the President’s son still co-own a company with China’s government? And if not, can you provide some basic transparency about who bought that stake and how much money?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any for you on your second question. But let me — let me address your first.
First of all, we understand the angst that the family is going through. We appreciate that. We respect that. And we know that they’d love nothing more than — than to have him back. I think this was the son who said this — his father.
We know and, you know, again, respect the pain and the anguish that they’re going through. And we never lose sight of the — of the pain that families are feeling here back home or the trials and tribulations of people that are wrong- — wrongfully detained elsewhere around the world. It’s something we’re constantly focusing on.
So, I would just say to that family: Again, we respect and understand and sympathize with the anguish. We continue to work on these cases all around the world, as much as we can.
Q Is he wrongfully detained? And can we expect President Biden to directly address this case?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have a — I would refer you to the State Department for the characterization of this particular case.
But it’s not just wrongfully detained Ameri- — we’re concerned about all Americans that — you know, that are held overseas against their will, whether it’s technically “wrongfully detained” or not. I’m not going to get into this specific case.
I would just say to — to the quote that you read for this individual, we — again, we appreciate and respect the anguish that the family is going through. It’s never far from our minds. And, you know, we’ll work as hard as we can to get these cases resolved.
Q Is the President going to be publicly mentioning this? He, of course, did not mention it publicly when he went to Saudi Arabia in July.
MR. KIRBY: I don’t — I mean, he did bring up issues of — of human rights. It was like the first thing that he brought up in the bilateral discussion. I won’t get beyond that in terms of talking about specific cases.
But I don’t have any additional, official statements by the President to announce or speak to right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, Steven, we’ve got to go.
Q Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No — (laughs) — in the — yes.
Q Which one?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The young man next to you.
Q Thank you. President Biden just met with the Israeli President. I have a question on the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The U.S. security coordinator’s report was not an investigation that was based on the Israeli investigation, the PA’s investigation. There was a ballistics analysis done that was inconclusive. None of the key eyewitnesses have even been interviewed. Why has the U.S. not conducted an independent investigation into the killing of an American citizen?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve said from the very beginning that we wanted it — her death fully, completely, transparently investigated. And — and, you know, you saw that the Israeli government came out and acknowledged that — that she was killed from a shot fired from an Israeli Defense Force position. And that, in their investigation, it wasn’t — you know, it wasn’t a specific targeting of — of a journalist.
So, we also, you know, have been in touch with the — with the Palestinians about this as well.
But we — we said from the very beginning that we wanted it fully and transparently investigated. We recognize that the Israelis did conduct a thorough investigation, and they made it — and they made it public,
Q Did you characterize it as a “thorough investigation” when no eyewitnesses — no key eyewitnesses have been interviewed? And there’s clear video evidence that contradicts the central claim in the killing of a U.S. citizen.
MR. KIRBY: Again, we continue to mourn with the family. And this obviously should not have happened. But I’m not going to speak any more about the investigation that’s been completed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Last question. Go ahead.
Q Thanks. Thanks, Karine. Thanks, John. So, on the review — the Saudi relationship review, it partly is because we were told that it helps Russia — the production cut helps Russia. Why is the same result or why is the same review not happening with China, which has helped buy more Russian oil — 50 percent more — and helping prop up the Russian economy?
MR. KIRBY: We have been very public about our concerns over people purchasing Russian oil. And we’ve called the Chinese out for this as a major consumer of Russian oil, because it does help keep the price higher than — than what we — what we want.
What we’ve done to counteract that — I mean, you’re talking about a specific tactical decision by OPEC+ to make a cut, which we had analysis that showed that wasn’t the best thing to do for the market at that time and that we did believe benefited Russia.
We have been no less transparent or candid about talking about our concerns over Chinese purchases of Russian oil on the market, which also helps keep — you know, keep that price up, which is why we are working with our European partners to try to get a price cap in place for the oil — Russian oil on the market so that Mr. Putin can’t profiteer off it anymore.
Q But is there a review of the relationship between the U.S. and China?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not — there’s no — I don’t have an announcement of a review of the relationship. These are literally apples to oranges you’re asking us to compare here.
We have — I mean, take a look at the National Security Strategy, which we just released a couple of weeks ago. It makes it pretty clear how we feel about the bilateral relationship with China. It’s a strategic competition — a competition that the President believes the United States can win and there are — also present specific threats and challenges in the Indo-Pacific region that we have to make sure that we’re — that we’re ready for.
And we’re not bashful about talking about this very complex relationship with China. There are things that we believe we can and should cooperate with them on. Climate change is a good one. And they’re the ones that pulled back the bilateral discussions that we were having at a working level on climate. They’re the ones that pulled back on some of the military, bilateral, working level conferences and — and forums that — that we had.
So, there’s tension in this relationship. We believe we can manage that tension. We believe we can succeed in this strategic competition. And again, I would point you to the National Security Strategy, which I think lays it out perfectly clear how we look at this bilateral relationship and, with or without a review, how we’re going to manage that relationship going forward.
Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, John.
All right. Thanks, John, for your time. Appreciate you.
Okay. We have about 15 minutes. So, Zeke, do you want to kick us off?
Q Thanks, Karine. Did the President watch last night’s Senate debate in Pennsylvania?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I knew you were going to ask that question. (Laughter.) So, I actually tried to get an answer for you. I went to the Oval, but the President has had a very busy morning, as you all know, with the Israeli president he’s hosting, who’s in town. And so, I was not able to get an answer on that — if he was able to watch the debate last night.
But I do want to be careful — I’m not going to get into political matters from here.
Q I just asked you a question on the debate —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I know. I — I always preface that because I just want to be safe here. We do care about the rule of law here. But — so, just want to say that.
But I will say this: You know, the President looks forward to working with the lieutenant governor when he is — when he is in the Senate. And so, we — to continue to lower costs and continue to deliver for the middle-class family.
I could say also that, you know, in his conversations that he’s had with Lieutenant Governor Fetterman, he finds the lieutenant governor to be a strong and authentic advocate for the middle class. And, as you know, he has traveled many times to Pennsylvania and they’ve had events together. And he’s looking forward, again, to work — to continue to work with him.
Q A separate question. We know, Friday, the President plans to be with Lieutenant Governor Fetterman in Pennsylvania. It’s also the first day of early voting in Delaware. The last time there was an election in Delaware, the President had to take a last-minute trip up there to vote in the primary at significant taxpayer expense. Does he plan to vote early or on Election Day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President, as you — as you know, believes that, you know, people’s right to vote is incredibly important and he clearly exercises that right. And I don’t have anything to preview on his schedule about when he’s going to be voting. And as — when that happens, we certainly will — you will all know. But I don’t have anything to share on the timing of when he’s going to vote. He certainly will vote. I just don’t have a timing on when.
Q Just a really quick follow-up to Zeke’s question. Given the amount of time that the President has spent with Fetterman and the conversation that is happening today in the wake of last night’s debate performance, does the President have any concerns about — has he ever raised, either in conversations with you that you’ve been a part of or with others here at the White House, any concerns about his health?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this: With — in personal conversations that the President has had with the lieutenant governor, the President has found him to be impressive — an incredibly bright and talented person who’s just as capable as always to carry out his office — the duties of his office — as we know, he is lieutenant governor currently — and has great ability and heartfelt concern for the people of the Commonwealth.
And that is what the President has observed himself. That is, you know, as — is the case before and is the case today. And he respects the courage and the honesty that he sees from the lieutenant governor that he’s experienced in their conversation, in their relationship over time.
And we have — we have, of course, as it relates to your question about his health, seen the same comments from independent medical experts that you all have noted and that the improving symptoms he has had to do with the speech and hearing — not all with cognitive function.
He looks forward to working with the lieutenant governor in the future — and — and sees him as an authentic individual who is fighting every day for the middle class, and finds him incredibly impressive.
Q Given the President, last week in Pittsburgh when we were traveling with him, said that he did think Democrats would be able to hold the Senate, does he still think that today given last night’s debate performance?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I’m not going to get into analysis here. There are people out there who are — who are political pundits who are clearly doing that every day for the next — next two weeks, or less than two weeks. So, I’m not going to get into — get into those specifics.
Here’s what the President believes: He believes that the American people have a choice. There’s so much at stake for — for our country. And he believes that the choice is very, very clear. He believes that Democrats and congressional Democrats and the President have a lot to speak to.
And you’ve seen that across the past several — several weeks from this President. He’s talked about student loan. He’s talked about economic recovery. He’s talked about, today even, the junk fees and what his administration is doing to make sure that we give a little bit breathing room for the American people. He’s talked about lowering costs. We see gas prices, as Kirby was saying, has come down about $1.25 a gallon because of the work that this President has done.
So he believes — and let’s not forget the Inflation Reduction Act that only Democrats voted on, and that’s going to lower healthcare costs, that’s going to really put — put in a great effort in fighting climate — climate change and also lower energy costs.
So, for him, he believes — and also congressional Democrats, because you hear them talking about it as well in their districts and states — have a lot that they have delivered for the American people. And that’s going to be his focus these next couple of weeks, as it’s been these past several months.
Q Just one more question. Given — you know, polls show that voters at this point — the primary concern heading into the midterms is inflation and the economy. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters trust Republicans more than Democrats to handle the economy. I wonder, given this sort of majority sentiment of voters, is the President considering making any changes to his economic team after the midterms?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. Go ahead, Steve.
Q Karine, today the rank and file in the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen voted 61 percent against the tentative agreement that was brokered by the administration to stave off the railroad work stoppage. What’s the White House’s reaction to that? And are you concerned that a strike is ahead?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. I — we — I do want to give a little bit of a laydown of what we think here. The unions that have not ratified and the railroad employers have agreed to a cooling-off period that extends well into November, giving them adequate time to continue their work and ensuring that our economy is under no immediate threat.
The President remains focused on protecting American — America — America’s families, farms, and businesses by avoiding a rail shutdown. That is our priority, of course, when it comes to these discussions. Both sides have said they share that desire as well.
As the President has said for months, any shutdown would be completely unacceptable. It is the responsibility of the parties involved to resolve this issue. And that — and any idea that kicking this to Congress will result in a quick or favorable outcome is just deeply misguided. That is our view from here.
These unions’ rejection of the current proposed contract does not mean we face an immediate rail shutdown. That’s not how we view it. But it does mean that the union and the employers have additional work to do. Unions are democratic organizations, as you all know.
We stand ready, as we did earlier this year, to support the parties in their efforts. We continue to urge both sides to work in good faith and avoid even the threat of a shutdown. We remain laser-focused, as before, on taking any appropriate steps to ensure that America’s rail system keeps moving so our families don’t — don’t have to suffer from this.
Q Just a real quick follow-up. This is now the second union to reje- — have the rank and file reject a tentative agreement. Is the President himself going to get more directly involved in this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the administration is in regular contact. Don’t have anything to share about the President’s involvement specifically with the parties. Our administration are in regular contact with the parties who are dealing with this matter, of course. And we stand ready. We stand ready, like we did not too long ago — earlier this year, as I just mentioned — to support the parties in their efforts.
We continue to urge, again, both — both sides, as we did during that time as well, to really operate in good faith.
Q The President has frequently talked about transparency and so has this administration. Does the President believe that Fetterman should release his medical records?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ve been asked this question, and I leave that over to the lieutenant governor to make that decision.
Q One more on Fetterman. I’m just curious if the President feels that the lieutenant governor’s decision to participate in that debate was an important moment in terms of welcoming people who have disabilities into the public sphere and whether that was important symbolically.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President, as I said, is very impressive [sic] by his courage and — that he sees from the lieutenant governor. I’m not going to get into any analysis of if he should have or should have not.
But, clearly, you know, when you are in those positions, when you are a lieutenant governor, you are also a leader and — on many levels. And — and so, again, you know, we are impressed by his courage. We are impressed by what he’s been able to accomplish these past several months. And, you know, the President will — will continue to work with him down the road.
Q Thanks, Karine. I wanted to ask you about Leader McCarthy’s comments that a Republican majority would not write a blank check as it relates to Ukraine aid. My colleagues are reporting that McCarthy has been reassuring Republican lawmakers that his comments about Ukraine aid — that he wasn’t planning to abandon Ukraine aid and that he was simply calling for more oversight of federal dollars.
I’m wondering if the administration accepts that interpretation or if you have any comment on it, and also whether McCarthy or his office have reached out or if you’ve had any conversation with them about the future of Ukraine aid — any potential.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m just going to repeat what the President said when he was asked this question, because I think he — he touched to the question that you’re asking me.
You know, he said he understands why people have concerns; the cost to support Ukraine is great. But also, we have to understand that — that — that because of our support for Ukraine, it is a lot bigger than just Ukraine, right?
We’re talking about a democracy. We’re talking about Ukrainians who are fighting for their freedom. We’re talking about an unprovoked war that was started by President Putin. And — and — and, you know, the — and we all understand that; our partners, our allies understand that; and congressional members understand that too. Because, remember, this — the support that we have seen has indeed been bipartisan.
And just to continue what the President had said, he said it’s about supporting NATO and all of Europe. It’s about making sure that Putin is not able to succeed through his brutal actions. And our support for Ukraine will remain strong until the end of this war.
So we are committed to supporting Ukraine during this time, and we are impressed by their bravery. And we’re going to do everything that we can to continue to give them that assistance.
Q Just given the significant possibility that Republicans will retake a majority in the House, have there not been any conversations between the White House and Leader McCarthy’s office about the future of Ukraine aid in the wake of those comments?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ll say this — I don’t want to get too much into hypotheticals from here, but I’ll say that we have kept that line of communication open throughout these past several months with congressional members. Remember, this is a bipartisan effort, and we appreciate the bipartisan effort. And that’s what we will continue to work towards.
Go ahead, Kelly O.
Q Was the White House in any way surprised by the performance of the lieutenant governor in the debate? I know that people here — including not just the President, but others — have been in touch with him. But was there any surprise, in terms of how he performed, given the auditory processing, given the high profile of the evening, and that sort of thing? Was it a surprise to the White House at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, it’s — it’s been a busy day, as you know; you guys have been watching the President. He gave a speech on junk fees, which is going to be incredibly important to the American people, ser- — saving American people $24 billion. So that was something that he was certainly focused on. The Israeli President is here, who he’s hosting, as you all know.
So it’s not a conversation that we are — we are currently having here internally.
But I will remind you that the President was just with the lieutenant governor just last week — I think a week from today — when we were in Pittsburgh and the President talked about the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, how it was able to really help to rebuild the Fern Hollow Bridge — as you remember, back in January, fell, really just collapsed, and thank goodness no one was severely hurt. And because of the work that this President has done, we’re able to build — rebuild that — that bridge in a year’s time. And so — or, just under a year, to be exact. So that’s kind of our focus.
Our focus is how we’re going to continue to do the work that we have been doing for the past several months. Again, the President, in his personal conversations with lieutenant governor, he finds him to be an authentic, really brave individual.
Q And in those conversations, did he need to have any additional captioning service or anything like that to help facilitate that conversation with the President?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, you guys — I mean, you guys saw him. I think some of your colleagues were there when we went to Philadelphia, to the — to the fundraiser. And so your colleagues were there, and so they can speak to that themselves.
And so, you know, I’m not going to — I’m not going to get into what he shouldn’t do, not do — medical. That’s not my place to do; that is for the lieutenant governor to answer on his — on his own, for himself.
But again, the President looks forward to working with him down the road.
I haven’t called on you.
Q On student loans, I was wondering, is the White House making any preparations for the possibility that the Court of Appeals could block President Biden’s student — student loan debt forgiveness?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, right now, as you know — I’ve talked about this a few times, when you see — when we look at what has occurred with the court. It is a temporary court order, as you all know, and I’ve talked about this earlier. The Eighth Circuit’s temporary order does not prevent borrowers from applying for student — student debt relief at Student- — StudentAid.gov. So people should go there: StudentAid.gov, again. And we encourage eligible borrowers to join the millions of Americans who have already applied.
But the — the order doesn’t prevent the Department of Education from reviewing these applications and preparing them for transmission to loan services.
It is also important to note that the order does not reverse lower court’s dismissal of the case or suggest that the case has merit at all.
So, it merely prevents debt from being discharged until the court makes a decision, so we will continue to move full speed ahead. We understand how important the President’s policy is, because we — again, it’s going to give families a little bit of breathing room. And let’s not forget, it’s going to help — 90 percent of the borrowers that it’s going to help are going to folks who make less than $75,000.
So we’re going to move full speed ahead in the process — getting prepared. Again, it’s a — it’s a temporary order.
Q Thanks. I’d like to follow up on something you were asked Monday about presidential press conferences. It’s been since January since the President has held a press conference here at the White House. Is this administration at all concerned that the scarcity of press conferences by this President has in any way led to some of the misinformation that has been out in the public? And can we please get him in here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I understand the question. You guys have to ask the question about press conferences. Duly noted. And so, we, again, appreciate the question.
But the — the President took questions — he literally took questions while he was getting a needle in his arm yesterday and getting the new vaccine. So, he certainly — he certainly takes questions from all of you. And — and he — he — he does it often. I understand of having a — a more, you know — you know, a more — more —
Q A more robust discussion.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I mean, look, the President is happy to take questions. He does it pretty regularly. I — duly noted on the press conference.
But, again, this is a President who has — has not — has not shied away from taking questions from — from all of you. And so, I think you’ll con- — he’ll continue to do that. Almost every day, he’ll continue to make sure that — I’m sure, on his own, will continue to take your questions.
Q Well, just let him know we’d love to see him in here someday.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Okay. But, again, I’m not going to get ahead of — of him, of where we are with — with the process.
But, again, the President takes questions from all of you almost — almost every day.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks, Karine. You had just said that there are no plans to adjust the economic team after the midterms. So I just want to ask — and a follow-up — can the administration then say when Americans can expect to feel relief from inflation? Is there a date they can look to?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I will let the experts speak to that. I’m not going to get into — into what — when — when that’s going to occur. Right? But we have seen some relief over the past several months. We understand there is — there’s more work to be done.
But, look, the President has been laser-focused on doing the work every day to lower costs for the American families because he understands what inflation is doing to American workers, American families. And so, he’s going to do that — that work.
We talk — I just talked about gas prices. Has that — has that — that has gone down about $1.25 a gallon for the past several days. It’s going to continue to go down. That is saving American families about 130 bucks per month; that matters.
I — last week, we talked about hearing aids. That’s going to — how we’re lowering costs. Costs — hearing aids cost about $3,000 a pair. What the President did last week is going to hurt [sic] — to help, pardon me, tens of millions of Americans, and that matters.
We’re going to — the junk fees — going to give Americans a little bit more breathing room.
So, look, we understand that there’s more work to do. We understand that families are being squeezed by what’s happening currently with inflation. But, again, we have seen some moderation. I believe we’ll continue to see that. Don’t want to get too much into — into the economists’ world.
But — but because of the President’s economic policies, we — we have made sure, the President has made sure that we don’t leave anybody behind, that we have a strong labor market, that unemployment is at the lowest that it’s been in 50 years. And that matters. And we should talk about that as well — as well as acknowledging what American families are going through.
I’m just going to —
Q Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. All right, guys. Thanks, everybody.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
4:55 P.M. EDT