Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, and Chief Medial Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:49 A.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello! Hi, hi, hi.
Q You have gifts.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know, I — I bring — bearing gifts. I have some Thanksgiving cookies for all of you.
Q Awww —
Q I came on the right day.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Happy holidays. There you go. Well, you guys are going to have to pass this around. I’m not — (laughter) —
Q Are these from the White House, or did you bake them yourself?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure! (Laughter.)
Q If you have time to bake, I’ll be truly impressed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — it would be quite impressive, wouldn’t it be?
Q You were (inaudible), yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I know.
Okay, good afternoon, everybody. Today I’m joined by White House COVID Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha and Chief Medical Advisor to the President and NIAID Doctor — Director Dr. Fauci.
As you all know, Dr. Fauci is retiring next month. And I’m honored — so honored to have him join me today one last time, one more time at the podium. And he’s going to discuss the importance of getting your updated COVID vaccine shot ahead of the holidays.
For so many Americans throughout our fight with COVID, Dr. Fauci has been a source of information and facts. But Dr. Fauci’s leadership and legacy stretch far beyond the past couple of years, as you all have known him. It — it actually goes back even further, as I was just stating.
Whether it be HIV/AIDS, Ebola, or COVID-19, for close to four decades and under seven Republican and Democratic presidents, Dr. Fauci has always led with the science. And our country is stronger and healthier because of his leadership.
Today, he’s returned again to tell you a bit more about the science related to this updated COVID shots that you’ve heard us all talk about and an important, clear message you’ve heard from him before, which is: Please get vaccinated. Get your vaccine.
So, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce and welcome Dr. Fauci for his last — his last run at the podium.
All yours, Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Karine, for that really very — very kind introduction. It’s really a great pleasure to be back here with you again, albeit, I believe, for the last time.
But as Karine said, I’m going to spend the next just couple of minutes talking to you about the importance of getting an updated booster vaccine as we enter into the holiday season and the colder weeks and months of the late fall and early winter.
So let’s just talk very briefly about what we know about the vaccines, because we want to make our decisions really based on facts, evidence, and data.
Are the vaccines safe? That keeps coming up. The answer is now: Overwhelmingly, it should be off the table. There have been 13 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that have been distributed worldwide, hundreds of millions in the United States. And there’s robust safety monitoring systems that are in place. And clearly, an extensive body of information clearly indicates that they’re safe.
Next: Are they effective? And I believe you are all aware of this. If you look at the striking data, overwhelmingly show the effectiveness of vaccines, particularly in preventing severe illness and deaths.
And recent data that has come out indicate that if, in fact, you are vaccinated and boosted, compared to an unvaccinated person, there’s a 14 times lower risk of dying in the most recent BA.4/5 era compared to unvaccinated and at least a 3 times lower risk of testing positive compared to the unvaccinated individuals.
But then there’s some issues that we have to deal with that are sometimes confusing to the American public. “If that’s such great data, why do you tell us that we should be, for our own safety and that of our families and the community, get a booster shot?”
There are two issues that in some respects are unprecedented when it comes to infectious diseases. And that is: As good as the vaccine is and as good as post-infection protection is, the immunity and protection wanes over time.
Let me put it into some perspective for you. If you get vaccinated with measles or infected with measles, the duration of protection is measured at a minimum in decades and likely for a lifetime. That just happens to, unfortunately, not be the case when you’re dealing with coronavirus and particularly SARS-CoV-2. So you need to update the protection that we know is good protection.
Next, we have the complicating issue that we can’t do anything about, is that you have the emergence every several months now, historically, of variants. Remember Delta, Omicron, BA.4/5, BQ.1.1 — the things that we’re all hearing about and reading about and seeing?
You don’t have that with — another example, just getting back to measles, which we’re all familiar with. There are no variants of measles. I was — got infected with measles when I was a youngster because I’m old enough to not be getting the vaccine. And that measles is the same measles that’s circulating now in the developing world. It doesn’t change. And that’s the two major reasons for getting a booster.
The booster is bivalent. People get confused with that word. “What does ‘bivalent’ mean?” There’s two components. One is the ancestral, the original vaccine that we all got. And the other is the updated BA.4/5.
So then people ask appropriate questions. “Do they really work? What are the parameters to see if they work?”
There are two parameters. One is what the virus — what the vaccine does in boosting an immune response. We refer to that in the medical circles as immune correlates. And then there’s the real-world vaccine efficacy.
If you look at the recent data that has now been coming out from the companies as well as academic investigators, it is clear now, despite an initial bit of confusion, that the BA.4/5 bivalent booster — what we refer to as the “updated vaccine” — clearly induces a better response against BA.4/5 and the sublineages of BA.4/5 than does the ancestral strain.
So from a purely immunological standpoint, it looks quite good.
Clinical efficacy data from the CDC will be released — in fact, it already has been released; it was supposed to be released at 11:30 — which is clinical efficacy data, looking at real-world data of hundreds of thousands of people, looking at the capability of the virus to protect against the real-world BA.4/5 that has been circulating. And we know that that is really quite good.
So, we have immunological data and you have now clinical efficacy data. Everybody was asking the question: Where’s the clinical efficacy data? Now it has come out with the CDC MMWR this morning.
So, we know it’s safe. We know that it is effective. So, my message and my final message — may be the final message I give you from this podium — is that: Please, for your own safety, for that of your family, get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you’re eligible to protect yourself, your family, and your community.
I urge you to visit Vaccines.gov to find a location where you can easily get an updated vaccine. And please do it as soon as possible.
DR. JHA: Well, hard to follow Dr. Fauci, who, I would argue, has been the most important, consequential public servant in the United States in the last half century and a leader and a role model for so many of us. So, Tony, thank you.
So, thank you for reviewing the safety and effectiveness data. I will tell you it is remarkable what data have come in in the last month. I was here in front of all you a couple months ago, talking about what we expected. All of the evidence that has come in in the last month has far exceeded our expectations on the efficacy of these vaccines, and the safety data continues to be terrific.
Today, I want to focus on a new six-week sprint that the administration is announcing to get more Americans their updated shots before the cold and winter season really settles in.
Now, I want to start off by saying we are heartened to say we are not alone in this effort. Just yesterday, 12 of America’s leading medical and clinical societies — I’m talking about the AMA; I’m talking about the American College of Physicians, the American Association of Family Physicians; I’m not going to list them, all 12 — but they all joined together with one simple, strong recommendation for all Americans, which is: Go get your updated COVID vaccine shot and go get your annual flu shot right away.
Now why did they do that? Why did America’s physicians, speaking as a unified voice, say that? Because they know the best way to save lives this holiday season is to ensure that all Americans, particularly seniors, get their updated COVID vaccine and their flu vaccine.
Now, we’ve already had 35 million Americans who have gotten their updated COVID shot, including over 16 million seniors. And we are encouraged by steady and strong week-by-week numbers. We’ve seen about 4 to 5 million Americans getting it every week.
But we are working hard to reach even more Americans, especially older, more vulnerable Americans. So, as I said, today we’re launching a 6-week sprint to help Americans get their updated shot by the end of the year.
As part of this effort, with our limited resources that we have, we’re making a series of announcements and a series of efforts to expand community-based COVID-19 vaccination efforts. So, let me lay out some of them.
We’re announcing $350 million in funding to help community health centers meet people where they are with facts, with vaccines, through proven methods like partnerships with faith-based groups and mobile vaccine clinics.
We’re announcing an additional $125 million to help local aging and disability networks to get older adults and more vulnerable and disabled Americans vaccinated. This will include efforts at senior centers across our great country.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, is going to issuing guidance today reminding nursing homes that they are required to educate their residents on the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines and they are required to offer vaccines to residents. And nursing homes that don’t do these basic things will be referred for greater oversight and possibly face enforcement actions.
We’re also doubling down on our trusted messengers work because we know that makes a difference. We’re working with national and local organizations, state and public health departments, pharmacies. You’re going to hear schools, colleges, and universities announce that they’re hosting clinics. All of this, we think, is going to make a difference.
Also, what will make a difference is more paid media efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services designed to reach tens of millions of Americans, for instance, that are watching the World Cup through television and through digital ads.
Bottom line is that we’re doing everything we can in the next six weeks to help families get their updated COVID shots by end of the year because it’s the best protection for this winter.
And remember, for a majority of Americans, this is going to be a once-a-year shot. One COVID shot, once a year, just like the flu shot.
While I’m very encouraged by the work so many are doing, we need everybody to step up. We need to make protecting our loved ones an important part of the conversation we have around the Thanksgiving table, an important part of the conversation we have in the days and weeks ahead.
Because here’s what we know: If folks get their updated vaccines and they get treated if they have a breakthrough infection, we can prevent essentially every COVID death in America.
That is a remarkable fact two and half years after we found this virus first in our country. But it’s going to take all of us to make that happen.
So, please, don’t wait. Get your COVID shot. Get your flu shot. That’s why God gave you two arms. You can get one in each arm if you want. Go to Vaccines.gov. And let’s do everything we all can to protect the American people.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. We’ll can take a couple questions.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Dr. Jha, why is a six week — why is this necessary? Are the numbers lagging?
DR. JHA: No, look, we’ve had very consistent, as I said, about 4 to 5 million shots going in.
There are a couple of things that, you know, we are obviously now entering a higher risk part of the year. Why? Because each of the last few years, we’ve seen a substantial increase in cases as we got into December and January. So, this is a really important moment to announce this effort.
We think that if people do this now and do this over the next couple of weeks, it’s going to protect them over the holidays. So we think this is exactly the right time to make this, and the administration is obviously deeply committed to making sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the American people.
Q For Dr. Fauci, two questions, if I can. Hospitalizations for the flu at this point in the season are the highest in over a decade. Why is the flu so bad this year? And how much protection is the flu vaccine providing for those who have gotten it?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, well, let me answer the second question first — is that the vaccine is well matched to the circulating strains.
So that, again, is another really good reason to tell people what Dr. Jha and I and others have been saying about “Get your flu vaccine,” because that’s one of the issues that we’re going to be dealing with this winter that we can do something about.
When you have seasons of very low flu, which got kind of bumped off the table by COVID, when you have respiratory illnesses that circulate, they sort of have niches that you very rarely have one and the other at its peak.
So, when we were at a peak with COVID, all the other respiratory illnesses, including RSV and including flu, were very, very low compared to other years.
When you now open up in society — people now maybe are under-vaccinated, not everybody is wearing a mask, we’re trying to get back and are getting back to some degree of normality — you almost have like a rebound effect of something that was very low for two seasons.
If you look at the flu over the last couple of years, in the peak of the COVID back in 2020 and 2021, we were having the lowest flu seasons on record. So, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing it return back.
Q And if you don’t — one more, if you don’t mind.
DR. FAUCI: Sure.
Q This is your last appearance at the podium. You became a household name in large part because of your appearances here at the early stages of COVID. What do you want Americans to remember about your service in government?
DR. FAUCI: Well, I think what I’ve accomplished in my 54 years at the NIH and my 38 years as the Director of NIAID — although COVID is really, really very important, it is a fragment of the total 40 years that I’ve been doing it. So I’ll let other people judge the value or not of my accomplishments.
But what I would like people to remember about what I’ve done is that every day for all of those years, I’ve given it everything that I have and I’ve never left anything on the field. So, if they want to remember me, whether they judge rightly or wrongly what I’ve done, I gave it all I got for many decades.
Q Dr. Fauci, what did you do to personally investigate the origins of COVID?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Toluse. Toluse. Go ahead, Toluse. Go ahead, Toluse.
Q I’m hoping I can ask quickly about also the XBB variant that’s rising from India and Singapore. What should Americans expect as that variant continues to rise?
And just to take a step back, I know you were encouraging folks here to get their latest booster, but should Americans expect what we’ve been seeing in terms of more hos- — or more cases, not as many hospitalizations? Just a step back, what should Americans expect when it comes to COVID in the weeks ahead?
DR. FAUCI: Well, what Americans should expect is, from our experience, that you never can definitively say what to expect but you should really take some comfort in knowing that we have within our wherewithal to mitigate anything that comes our way because we have flu vaccines, we have COVID vaccines, we have testing. We have the option, under certain circumstances, with good judgment, to wear masks where appropriate in indoor congregate settings. So, we can do a lot to mitigate any surge.
One thing we were encouraged with looking at other countries, such as Singapore, which had a big XBB, they had increase in cases, but they did not have a concomitant major increase in hospitalizations.
So, we’re hoping that a combination of people who’ve been infected and boosted and vaccinated, or people who’ve been vaccinated and boosted and not infected, that there’s enough community protection that we’re not going to see a repeat of what we saw last year at this time.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Is the booster effective against the XBB?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. Well, XBB is one that evades immune response as measured by antibody, which is one of the elements — not the only element — of protection. Much more of cellular T-cell responses protect you against severe disease.
The protection is diminished multifold with XBB. If you look at the best, and then it goes down a bit with one. It goes down with B, BQ1.1. It goes down even more with XBB. It doesn’t fall off the map, but it goes down.
So, you could expect some protection, but not the optimal protection.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, April. And then Alex, in the back.
Q Dr. Fauci and Dr. Jha. Dr. Fauci, first — and Dr. Jha. First, on the issue of COVID and mask-wearing. We’re not talking about mask-wearing in this moment. Masks and the word “masks” have become a pejorative in some parts of this nation. Can you talk about the importance of mask-wearing as you’re worried about the holidays and people gathering together?
And then, on the gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas, what do you recommend for families who may have some who are boosted and may have some who are not boosted and may have some who have not had a vaccine at all?
DR. FAUCI: Well, I think your first and second question are related —
Q They are.
DR. FAUCI: — because what it really tells you is that we have multiple interventions and multiple actions we can take to protect ourselves. So, there’s a whole spectrum. Masking is one of them.
Now, we’re not talking about requirements or mandating. We’re talking about if you’re in a situation and each individual person evaluates their own risk and that of the risk of their family members, for example, like a person who is a 25-year-old living alone versus someone who has a elderly parent or grandparent or someone who is immune compromised.
First of all, everybody should be vaccinated and boosted with flu and with COVID.
Whether or not you wear a mask — or another thing we shouldn’t underestimate is testing. So, when we’re gathering at a family gathering for Thanksgiving or for Christmas or for any other holiday as we get into the winter, it makes sense that you might want to get a test that day before you come into a place in which you might be infected and spread it or other people who might be there in order to protect.
So, there is — masking is important. But you can count masking, vaccine, boosting, testing — all of that is part of the spectrum of protecting yourself and your family.
Q So what do you say about the word “mask” now being a pejorative in some communities?
DR. FAUCI: No, it shouldn’t be. I mean, you’re absolutely right. I mean, I know sometimes when you walk in and you have a mask and nobody has a mask, you kind of feel guilty. You shouldn’t feel guilty. You look terrific, right? (Laughter.)
Q I do. I have no problem in here wearing a mask. Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. We’ve got to move on.
Q Dr. Fauci, what did you personally do to investigate the origins of COVID?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead Alex. Go ahead, Alex.
Q What have you personally done to investigate the origins of COVID?
Q You’re being disrespectful.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re being disrespectful.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on, hold on. Hold on.
Q That’s a major part of your legacy though, Dr. Fauci. Do you have an answer to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait, I did not call on you, Steven.
Go ahead, Alex. You’re next.
Q Thank you, Karine. My first question is, you know, last year — I have two questions. The first is, you know, last year, we were really kind of hoping that the holiday season would go well, sort of look normal. And then, Omicron came along and sort of disrupted a large chunk of January, February’s schools, flights. Are we seeing a similar dynamic, especially with some of these new subvariants coming along?
And then my second question, Dr. Fauci, for you specifically, what was the most difficult moment of the pandemic response for you throughout the last two, two and a half years?
DR. JHA: I’ll start. Yeah, I’ll start with the first. Then, obviously, Dr. Fauci can answer the second.
So, the short answer is no. Like, first of all, like, you can’t predict with any certainty. So we don’t know what Mother Nature is going to throw at us.
That said, these subvariants, — obviously, we’re tracking them very closely. The good news is, even if you see a diminishing of our vaccines, they’re still effective against these subvariants — way more effective than the original vaccine, right?
So, I feel very confident that — that if people continue to get vaccinated at good numbers, if people get boosted, we can have — absolutely have a very safe and healthy holiday season.
But there’s always a caveat here of, like, you know, things out of left field, you can’t predict and you can’t — but nothing I have seen in the subvariants makes me believe that we can’t manage our way through it effectively, especially if people step up and get their vaccine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: So, this is a really difficult question to answer — about the most difficult because, you know, we’ve all lived through almost three years of the most horrendous outbreak that we’ve experienced as a society in well over 100 years. But there are certain things that stand out. I mean, I could probably write an essay on all the things that were a difficult time.
But one of the things, as a physician whose goal in life is to care for patients and to prevent and treat illness and ameliorate suffering, is that I remember back in my days in medical school and when I was an intern and a resident, when a patient came in, whether or not the patient didn’t like you, was angry with you, whether it was a rich person or a poor person, you treated everybody the same because you cared about them and you wanted everyone to walk out healthy.
So, when I see people in this country, because of the divisiveness in our country, not getting vaccinated for reasons that have nothing to do with public health but have to do because of divisiveness and ideological differences, as a physician, it pains me because I don’t want to see anybody get infected, I don’t want to see anybody hospitalized, and I don’t want to see anybody die from COVID.
Whether you’re a far-right Republican or a far-left Democrat, it doesn’t make any difference to me. I look upon it the same way as I did in the emergency room in the middle of New York City when I was taking care of everybody that was coming in off the street. So, that’s the thing that troubles me most about this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Thanks. Dr. Fauci —
Q What have you done personally to investigate the originals of COVID?
Q — only — only 13 percent —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on one second.
We have a process here. I’m not calling out on people who yell. And you’re being —
Q You call on the same people every single time.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re being — you’re being disrespectful to your colleagues, and you’re being disrespectful to our guests. I will not call on you if you yell.
And also, you’re taking time off the clock because Dr. Fauci has to leave in a couple of minutes.
Q I think that’s (inaudible).
Q You’re being disrespectful.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m done. I’m not going — I’m not getting into a back-and-forth with you.
Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Could we get an answer to the question?
Q Thanks. Dr. Fauci —
Q But she’s asking — she’s asking a great question.
Q It is a valid question.
Q Stop being disrespectful.
Q No, she’s asking a valid question. If you’re ask your question — you should allow her to ask her question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Dr. Fauci —
Q She’s asking a valid question, Dr. Fauci, on the origin of COVID-19. And people —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is not — it is not your turn.
Q No, because —
Q Stop being disrespectful!
Q You call on the same people. That’s the thing.
Q Many people have this question.
Q You complete the press briefing, you need to call from people across the room. She has a valid question. She’s asking about the origin of COVID-19.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear the question.
Q And Dr. Fauci is the best person to answer that question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear your question, but we’re not doing this the way you want it. This is a disrespectful —
Q It’s not about me.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is.
Q It’s about calling from people across the room —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m done. Simon, I’m done.
Q — not just the same people.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Simon, I’m done. I’m done with you right now.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q (Inaudible) asked a valid question. (Inaudible).
Q So, only —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. You’re taking time away from your colleagues.
Q Only 13 percent of adults have gotten this updated bivalent booster. Seventy-eight percent of adults have completed their primary series. Which of those numbers is more important in your mind, in terms of anticipating how bad this winter surge could be, if there is one, and the number of hospitalizations and deaths?
And then a second question for you as well.
DR. FAUCI: So, Jeremy, they’re both important, so I don’t want to say one is more and then diminish the other.
But the people who are most at risk are the unvaccinated. I mean, we have — 68 percent of our population is vaccinated. You know, that means that we have 32 percent of the population that’s not.
And if you look at the data, they are just profoundly striking of the curves of death and hospitalization of unvaccinated versus vaccinated versus vaccinated and boosted.
So, there is a relatively smaller difference in vaccinated and unboosted versus vaccinated plus boosted. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get boosted.
But the real danger is in the people who have not been vaccinated. So, that’s where we expect — if we’re going to see a problem this winter, it’s going to be among those people.
Q And then, as you reflect on, you know, the end of your time and decades in government service and particularly your handling of the pandemic, did you imagine that this virus would still, as we are here today, be killing two to three hundred people a day?
DR. FAUCI: No.
Q Did you imagine, you know, the level of cases? And what is your outlook for the future of this virus as you look in the next several years?
DR. FAUCI: No, I did not imagine that. I don’t think any of my colleagues imagined that we would see a three-year saga of suffering and death and a million Americans losing their lives.
The thing that was most disturbing is something I referred to, to an answer to one of the other questions — was the continuation of multiple variants evolving over time, completely unlike something like measles. And that’s the reason why I gave the measles comparison.
Where I think we’re going is that, sooner or later — and I hope it’s sooner — we’re going to equilibrate to a low level when there’s enough background cross-protection that unless we get a completely far, way out, different variant, we likely are going to see a continued lowering and lowering. Maybe we’re going to see blips at winter and stuff, but hopefully it gets down.
The message that Dr. Jha and I are trying to get to you today is that we can make that happen much sooner by vaccinating and by keeping updating on your booster. It’s just really as simple as that.
We’re going to get there. We can get there with less suffering if we use the interventions that we have. If you want to let nature take its course, we’re ultimately going to get there, but we’re going to lose a lot more people than we need to.
DR. JHA: Let me just add one more quick thing to that. I mean, look, there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died this year because people were under-vaccinated, people did not get their — people weren’t boosted.
And it is not blaming the people who died. It is blaming the fact we still have a lot of people out there spreading misinformation, undermining people’s confidence in vaccines.
There was a paper out last week that showed that death numbers in many European countries were much lower because their booster rates are much higher.
So, the key point here is: At this point, we can prevent nearly every death in America from COVID, but we can’t see this as, like, a horse race of “let’s get anti-vaxxer and let’s get a…”
Like, we know what the evidence is. The science on this is crystal clear. People get their booster. If you get — if you get infected, the chances you’re going to end up super sick in the hospital is exceedingly low.
That’s the message: People need to get their updated vaccine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: In the back, for Dr. Fauci. Last question.
Q Me? Sorry. Thank you so much. Dr. Fauci, if I could just ask you to reflect on the early days of this pandemic and the mixed messages that were coming out of, you know, this White House and how that affected people’s trust and how you’re going to take that message forward in future pandemics and the importance of trust and, you know, how you would advise Dr. Jha and his colleagues to emphasize that in future pandemics.
DR. FAUCI: Sure. Well, there was really a difference early on in the first weeks to months of the outbreak, because we were le- — we were dealing with truly a moving target.
And when you’re dealing with things like reporting and discussing with the press, making recommendations, making guidelines, you have to make it on the basis of the information that you have at that time.
But what’s happening is that we were not dealing with a static situation; we were dealing with a dynamic situation.
First, we thought it was just animal to human — didn’t spread well from human to human. Then, we found that it spread very well. And then, we found out that it spread enormously well. Then, we found out that it was aerosolized. Then, we found out that 50 to 60 percent of the people who transmit it don’t have any symptoms at all.
So, the recommendations that were based on what you knew in January — when you get to March, April, and May, they will change. Understandably, that leads to a question on the part of the public, is: “Why do they keep changing things?”
You know, a simple comparison and analogy: In January, two plus two equals four. In April, May, August, September, two plus two still equals four. When you’re dealing with an evolving outbreak where the information you get changes from week to week and month to month, we’ve got to probably do a better job of, when we talk to the public, explaining that this is a dynamic situation that could change.
I’ve said that from this podium multiple times when we were talking about, for example, do we need to do anything different now, when we had 15 cases. I said, “But,” “however,” semicolon, “this could change.”
The only thing people heard when they throw it back at you: “Well, you said we don’t have to worry about anything.”
So, you just got to make sure you always underscore the dynamic nature of what you’re dealing with.
Q But, Dr. Fauci, just — I’m sorry to contradict you, but there — there was some dubious advice coming out of the White House.
DR. FAUCI: Excuse me?
Q There was some dubious advice, some questionable medical advice coming out of non-doctors —
DR. FAUCI: Right.
Q — at this podium. How do you think that affected the progress of this pandemic and (inaudible)?
DR. FAUCI: Well, you remember, if you were around, that at this podium I contradicted those, which set off a whole series of things in my life. (Laughter.)
But, you know — yeah, I mean, we have to continue — and we were just talking about this a little while ago — the way you counter misinformation and disinformation is that — to do whatever you can as often as you can to provide correct information.
The people who have correct information, who take science seriously, who don’t have strange, way-out theories about things but who base what they say on evidence and data need to speak up more, because the other side that just keeps putting out misinformation and disinformation seems to be tireless in that effort. And it’s going to be very difficult.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, Dr. Fauci. Thank you.
Q Dr. Fauci, related to that, how are you preparing for the likely aggressive oversight from House Republicans, the new majority, next year that they’ve been promising on some of these very questions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, hold on one second. Dr. Jha is going to stay to take a couple more questions, but Dr. Fauci actually has to go.
So, thank you so much, Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: I can answer his question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You want to — you want to answer it?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. Yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. He — he says he’ll answer it.
Okay, go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Dr. Fauci, can you also answer why there are millions more dollars going to the (inaudible)?
Q You got to answer the (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just trying to keep him on time.
DR. FAUCI: All right. The answer is: If there are oversight hearings, I absolutely will cooperate fully and testify before the Congress, if asked.
You may not know, but I’ve testified before the Congress a few hundred times — (laughter) — okay? — over the last 40 years or so. So I have no trouble testifying. We can defend and explain and stand by everything that we’ve said. So I have nothing to hide.
Q Just a quick follow-up on that, Dr. Fauci. How much do you think —
Q Dr. Fauci, how much — no, just a follow-up on the oversight, Dr. Fauci.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, Dr. Fauci.
Q Time for a couple of questions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. He’ll take a couple — Dr. Jha. Go ahead. You can pick up, and then we’ll try and get some more around the room.
Q The administration has requested $10 billion in this lame duck session for the urgent COVID needs that still remain. That’s less than half of what you had even requested during the summer.
DR. JHA: Yeah.
Q Is that sufficient, in your mind, to meet these needs, not just to deal with COVID but the strains on the hospital system we’re seeing from flu, from RSV? And at a time when you’re making these kinds of urgent requests and warnings, is it undercut at all by some of the rhetoric we’ve been hearing, even from the President? He talked about this Thanksgiving being different than what we’ve seen in the past. And just two months ago, he talked about this, you know, COVID crisis being over as we know it.
DR. JHA: Yeah, so — yeah, so you’re absolutely right, we’ve asked for $10 billion. I think 9.7. But about $10 billion. It is less than what we had requested back in Ja- — back in March. And that’s because we have — we have pulled resources from other things; I’ve talked to you about this from this podium. They’re really critical other public health needs that we have pulled resources from to buy vaccines, to buy treatments. Even the resources we’re announcing today are from other really important programs.
But that $10 billion is now critical. It is to make sure that we do have enough vaccines and treatments and tests to get Americans to a point where eventually, as this response changes and we more normalize vaccine treatment purchases through the regular health system, we want to make sure that we do that in a orderly way. We want to make sure that we got uninsured and underinsured Americans covered. So we need — obviously need resources for that.
What you heard from Dr. Fauci is we — you know, we are at a point where this virus continues to evolve very, very rapid. And we updated the vaccines; they are working great right now. But the virus will continue to evolve. And at some point down the road next year, we’re going to have to update the vaccines again.
The truth is that for the long-run management of this virus, we need variant-resistant vaccines, we need vaccines that prevent transmission. What you have seen is China make a very large investment in mucosal vaccines because they understand that that’s how you deal with respiratory viruses. America is falling behind on this really important technology.
A major part of our request is for funding for public-private partnerships to move those kinds of technologies forward, to move the next generation of treatments forward.
So we are trying to be prudent, obviously, in requesting resources that we think are absolutely essential and necessary. And all I can say is Congress needs to do its job and step up and protect the American people.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, in the back.
Q Karine, thank you for allowing me to ask a question. Dr. Jha, my question simply has to do with vaccine mandates. Even if the vaccine is safe, even if the vaccine is effective, there’s always been a question, since the beginning, “Should they be mandated? Should people lose their jobs? Should military members be forced out of the service over these vaccine mandates?” And to this day, I don’t think the administration has backed away from those mandates.
Is it fair at this point in the endemic to back away from vaccine mandates and do what you’re doing today, which is simply encourage people to get their vaccines?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so I think mandate decisions are always made at the local level by — so you can have — I have had a vaccine mandate that I have been subject to for 20 years for a flu vaccine, because as a physician, the hospital where I work said I could not step foot on campus after, I think, like, December 1st or something if I didn’t have my flu vaccine. Was that appropriate? The hospital thought it was, because they said that’s how we make sure we protect other healthcare workers and that’s how we protect patients.
So this idea that in specific circumstances we can’t have vaccine mandates — we’ve had them forever. Right? George Washington had a vaccine mandate. Well, they weren’t quite vaccines then, but they were inoculations against smallpox. This is as old as America. We’ve done this. The military decides what it needs to have a healthy fighting, working — fighting force. This is a decision up to our military leaders. Individual employers can make these decisions.
So we’ve had a long history of this — of individual, local decisions on these kinds of issues. And I think that is completely appropriate.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q I just want to pick up the point that Dr. Fauci was making about misinformation. Under the stewardship of Elon Musk, Twitter seems to be welcoming back some people who spread COVID vaccine misinformation. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account is being reinstated, for example. Do you see that as a problem as you’re trying to battle misinformation?
DR. JHA: Well, as Dr. Fauci said — and this — it is something that we were speaking about earlier — the best way, I believe, to counter misinformation and disinformation is to spread good information, to spread science-based information, to have trusted voices.
So I started my comments by reminding everybody that America’s physicians, like the real leaders of American medicine — the people you trust for your cancer care and your heart care and your pediatrics care — are out there telling you you need to go get a vaccine. You can decide to trust America’s physicians, or you can trust some random dude on Twitter. Like, those are your choices.
But I think the key here is to get trusted voices out there spreading truth, spreading science-based information.
And for journalists and for people who run platforms, what I would say is: You should be thinking about what your personal responsibility is and do you want to be a source of misinformation and disinformation. That’s up to — up to those individuals, but I think it’s really important for us, for me to be spreading good information.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Peter.
Q So, Dr. Fauci said that it is not surprising there’s this rebound effect with the flu this season. Why then does it seem like the country is caught so flat-footed by it?
DR. JHA: What do you mean caught flat-footed by it?
Q Well, people in this country are struggling to get basic antibiotics and antivirals. Why?
DR. JHA: So I’m not sure what — what — so, we have plenty of Paxlovid. There’s — I’ve not heard people struggling.
Q Not COVID. The flu and RSV.
DR. JHA: So, I don’t know what antivirals you’re thinking about for RSV. There aren’t any that I’m aware of. There is a monoclonal that’s for very, very high-risk children. We have that, and we have plenty of that. So I don’t think anybody is struggling — I’m not aware of anybody struggling to get the monoclonal for high-risk children, immunocompromised children. But —
Q There’s a CNN headline today —
DR. JHA: Okay.
Q “Shortages of antivirals and antibiotics compound the stress of a rough season for viral illnesses in kids.”
DR. JHA: Again, I’d have to look at the specifics. What I would say is we often see shortages of individual antibiotics. I’m not — I’m not aware of antivirals that are in shortage. The single-most important thing that people need to do to protect themselves in this moment, where we have a lot of flu, still have a decent amount of RSV, still got a good amount of COVID — the single-most important thing people need to do is go get vaccinated. It keeps you out of the hospital. It protects — it keeps you from getting particularly sick.
We have plenty of flu vaccines, we have plenty of COVID vaccines, we have plenty of COVID antivirals, as I said.
I think the country is ready. We’re ready to support hospitals that are getting into trouble. We have been working with jurisdictions over the last month, meeting with them. If — if hospitals need help, we’ve offered that, and we stand ready to help hospitals get through this moment.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, just two more. Go ahead, Chris.
Q So, previously, you were talking about getting your vaccine or your booster before Halloween. We’re now well past that. Is the administration behind on this? You’re doing it six weeks before the end of the year, but you were saying to get fully protected over the holidays, this already had to have happened before. Why wasn’t there this sprea- — this outreach before, when it really would have had a bigger effect?
DR. JHA: Well, no, I — so, two things. First of all, we have been talking about this, I would say, pretty consistently for a couple of months now. And I was out here talking about people getting it before.
Look, it’s certainly not too late. If you think about the holidays that are coming, it takes a couple of weeks to get maximal benefits from your booster. You start getting it relatively quickly. If people go out and get vaccinated this week, they will have a lot of protection during December, January, February onwards — the time that we socialize the most.
So we have been doing a lot to keep vaccines and vaccinations happening. What we’re doing now is redoubling that effort and making it very clear that people need to go out and get vaccines.
Q Is this a signal that the country is behind the eight ball in getting boosted, though? (Inaudible).
DR. JHA: No, I think we’ve had — we’ve had slow and steady progress. Like — but the bottom line is — strong and steady progress. But the bottom line is we need more Americans vaccinated. And the weather is starting to get colder outside, as you can tell, and we know that this virus in the last two years — each of the last two years — we’ve seen substantial increases late December into January. And so going out and getting vaccinated right now is a great way to protect yourself if that pattern holds.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Tam. Last question.
Q The federal government purchased 171 million doses of this updated vaccine, and so far, you’ve got 35 million into arms. That seems like a far cry from what the government has paid for. Is your expectation that you’ll ever hit that 171? Yeah. And —
DR. JHA: So — yeah, let’s talk about the purchase we made.
So, first of all, our goal was to make sure we had enough vaccines for everybody. In rural areas, for instance, you end up having to deal with the fact that you might have a vial of five doses and are only able to give out three. So that’s always something that we factor in. Right?
Second is, over time, there will be updates FDA may — and again, I don’t want to get ahead of FDA — at some point make a decision that the bivalent vaccine is what you want to use as a primary series. When FDA makes that decision, if they make that decision, we want to make sure we have plenty of vaccines for that.
So we have made these purchases, thinking across all of the ways in which Americans will need vaccines, and have made decisions to make sure there are plenty of vaccines available for Americans wherever they are, in rural areas, in urban areas. And I think that was a really good decision to make sure that there’s plenty of access no matter how our vaccine usage shifts.
Q I don’t know what the numbers are for the flu, but are you expecting that, year after year, some number of Americans will get their updated vaccine? And what number are you hoping to achieve?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so we don’t have a target. I do — at this moment, I do believe that given where we are with COVID and the evolution of this virus, I do expect that for a majority of Americans, they will need an annual COVID vaccine to have maximal protection.
If you think about it, a majority of Americans were eligible for a booster last fall. If they got it last fall, they — they’re eligible again this fall.
It — again, there’s been a lot of, like — it’s hard to make specific predictions about this virus. But the — but all the science and all the evidence we have suggests that we’re probably going to need to update our vaccine again next year and have Americans get vaccinated again next year.
Right now, our focus is: Let’s get Americans protected this fall and winter with the updated COVID vaccines we have.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you so much, Dr. Jha.
DR. JHA: Thank you so much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
DR. JHA: Thanks, everybody.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, Dr. Jha.
Just one thing at the top, and then we can get going with some questions.
Since this weekend’s tragic shooting in Colorado Springs, we’ve learned more about those killed in the senseless attack. All started their Saturday night like so many Americans: going to work, going out with friends and families. But lives were cut short by senseless — in an act of violence.
Kelly Long [Loving] had just turned 40 last week. Her sister remembered her publicly as a — and I quote — “wonderful person who was loving and caring and sweet, and always put others before herself.” A friend of Kelly’s recalled her being “supportive and selfless,” and had looked forward to seeing her for Thanksgiving this week.
Daniel Alston — Aston was just 28 years old. He was a bartender and entertainer at Club Q who overcame being teased by peers in school as a child and found joy in performing. Daniel’s mother, Sabrina, was one of his biggest fans and would bring friends and family to his performance at Club Q. She said — and quote — lit — “lit up a room.” “He lit up a room.”
Derrick Rump was just — was also just 38 years old. His friends told the Washington Post that Derrick was, quote, “what made Club Q.” End quote. A bartender, a performer, and an avid Britney Spears fan, friends and customers remembered Derrick for making everyone feel welcome at Club Q. They talked about his positivity, kindness, and generosity, recalling he had a heavy pour — pour and was a great listener. But Derrick helped people outside Club Q, too. When the pandemic hit and some of his friends and colleagues struggled with rent and groceries, Derrick stopped — stepped in to help.
Ashley Paugh — her sister remembered Ashley as a loving mother and wife who leaves behind an 11-year-old daughter. Ashley’s sister described her as being a devoted mom for whom her daughter was at the center of her life. She spoke about the hole that will exist for — for their family this Thanksgiving and forever after.
Raymond Green Vance was only 22 years old. Just 22. His family described him as a kind, selfless, young adult with his entire life ahead of him. Raymond had recently gotten a new job at Colorado Springs at FedEx distribution center and was working to save up money for an apartment. He was part of a tight-knit family who has spoken about the irreparable heartbreak in their lives.
This attack occurred on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance when the community was already mourning the transgender people, especially transgender women of color, who have been killed over the past year and added two more to that count.
This attack also comes amidst a rise in violent rhetoric and threats against the LGBTQI+ people across the country.
While we don’t know yet for certain the motive of this attack, hate has no place in this country and neither do military-style assault rifles, which is why we will continue to push for an assault weapons ban.
Over and over again, we have seen these weapons used to inflict death and terror in our communities just across the country. Weapons of war do not belong on our streets, in our churches, in our movie theaters, in our malls, in our groceries, in our schools, or in our nightclubs.
The courageous actions of Richard Faro — Fierro and Thomas James and others we are still learning about stops — stopped the gunman before he could kill others. Richard and Thomas are heroes, and we are so grateful for their quick action.
And there are no words — no words at all that can bring comfort to those who are grieving, but we stand with the community of Colorado Springs and the LGBTQI+ community.
I will add: The President, just moments ago, spoke to Richard and his wife, Jess. He offered his condolences to them and also their — his support and talked through what it’s like to grieve. As you know, the President — that is something that he is able to do very personally. And thanked them. Thanked him for his bravery and, again, for his just instinct to act and the ability — by him doing that, saving — saving maybe dozens of lives.
With that, Chris.
Q I have two questions. First off, on what you’re speaking of, given the anti-trans rhetoric that has been so prevalent even in the wake of the shooting — what plans does the President have here to speak more about this? What else is the White House planning to do on that specific issue?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I would say that the President has been very vocal about speaking against violence, as you’ve heard him many times before over the past not just 20 months, but throughout his career.
He’s been very clear that hate, political violence have no place — no place at all not just in our political discourse, but just in everyday lives of American people. And we will continue to do that. We will continue to call this out. We will continue to be very clear how when you hear this type of — when you see this type of hatred — again, I want to be very careful because there’s an investigation going on, so I don’t want to get ahead — get ahead of the investigation.
But just more broadly, you know, hate has — hate and political violence has no place — no place in any community.
Q The other question I have is: Republican Leader McCarthy is in El Paso today — probably going to make some kind of announcement involving the Homeland Security Secretary. How does the White House respond to criticism that it has lost control of the border? And given the change in leadership at Customs and Border Protection, what changes does the White House have in mind about how it wants to manage the flow of migrants over the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just a couple of things. You know, I know — I’ve heard that Mayorkas is — pardon me, that Kevin McCarthy is at the border. And the question that we have for Kevin McCarthy, who is soon to be — who is soon to be Speaker McCarthy, you know: What is — what is his plan? What is he doing to help the situation that we’re seeing? What — what is his plan?
He goes down there and he does a political stunt, like many Republicans do, that we have seen them do. But he actually is not putting forth a plan — a plan to help us, you know, deal with an issue that we’re all seeing that you all are reporting.
And, I mean, one of the things he can do is he can go to Texas Senator Ted Cruz or any members of the Republican caucus from Texas who voted against the President’s request for record funding to support the hardworking men and women at the Department of Homeland Security. And whether they’ll vote for it when it comes up again.
This is — we have put a solution to this. We have said, “Here are the ways that we can deal with this.” The first day — on the President’s first day in the White House, he put forth a comprehensive immigration plan because he knew how important it was to move forward with getting this done.
But let me just say a couple of things, and then I’ll take — I’ll take other questions. Here’s the — what the President has done:
He secured record funding levels to DHS to support the more than 23,000 agents working day and night to secure the border under Secretary Mayorkas’s leadership.
He put forward, again, a comprehensive immigration bill on day one.
We’ve partnered with Mexico and Guatemala to tackle the criminal smuggling networks preying on immigrants. Those efforts have already resulted in thousands of arrests because of the work that this President has done.
He bought 20 leaders together to collaboratively manage the immigration challenge impacting the whole western hemisphere.
And we’re stopping fentanyl before it even makes it to the streets of the United States.
So, we have a plan. We’ve been putting that forward. McCarthy has no plan. The Republican Party has no plan. They do nothing except do political stunts.
Q So is there a change in approach though, given that you’re changing leadership at CBP? Does that signal that the administration is going to change course at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We feel that we have a plan that we have put forward. We are happy to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way, as the President has done for the past 20 months and 200 pieces — more than 200 pieces of legislation that he has been able to be done in a bipartisan way, signed into law.
So, this is something that can be done. Instead of doing political stunts and making about — making this about politics, you know, why don’t Speaker McCarthy — soon-to-be Speaker McCarthy actually put some — a plan before us, actually come to the table, and put some work into it?
Q How do you go about breaking the logjam on guns on Capitol Hill? Is it even possible?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President, as he says, as you’ve heard him say personally, he’s an optimist. And so, we’re optimistic that we can get this done.
The President is not going to stop until we ban assault ban — assault weapons. This is something that he did 30 years ago, as you know. You’ve heard him talking about it when he was a senator. In 1994, he was able to put that forward and it saved lives. And unfortunately, it sunset 10 years later.
So, the President’s going to continue to work on that.
Look, people didn’t think we would get a bipartisan — even a bipartisan legislation on the gun — gun reform bill that we were able — the President was able to sign into law just a couple of months ago. People didn’t think that was going to happen, and we were able to get that done.
So, again, we’re going to just continue our efforts, continue having those conversations because we have to keep our community safe.
Q Secondly, is there an update on the potential rail strike? Is the President talking to any of the parties?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just a couple of things on that — that I want to say just at the top, because I think it’s important. I know I spoke to this on the plane yesterday.
As the President has said from the beginning, a shutdown is unacceptable because of the harm it would inflict on jobs, families, farms, businesses, and communities just across the country.
And a majority of unions have voted — as you all know; I know you guys are following this very closely — to ratify the tentative agreement that we saw back in September. And the best options still is for the parties to resolve their differences themselves — their differences themselves. And that’s what the President is going to continue to call on.
To your specific question, though, Steve, the President is indeed involved directly, but I don’t want to get into details at this time. But he has been involved.
He remains focused, again, on protecting America’s families. We have to avoid a rail shutdown. It will harm, again, families, businesses, and farms. And so, we’re going to continue to speak to this.
The administration is in touch, again, to your question, with parties involved, as we have been since before the tentative agreement was reached.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Karine, to that question, the White House does seem a lot more hands off this time around, though, than you were before the last strike deadline. SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, this morning, said that there’s been quote, “No real engagement yet at this point from the administration.”
Can you explain what’s different this time around? You keep pointing to the fact that it’s — the best option is for the parties to resolve this themselves. Is that because you don’t want Congress to get involved, or is that because you’d like these unions to resolve this amongst themselves without involvement from the administration or anyone else?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we have said — look, there’s a tentative agreement, as you all know about, and we have said — the President — I just said the President has been directly involved. He’s been in touch. The administration, more broadly, has been in touch with respective parties. Secretary Walsh, as I mentioned yesterday, has been in touch.
We have been involved since before the tentative agreement. The President laid out, as you all know, a way — a path forward. But this is something that he believes that the parties should resolve themselves. They should come to the table in good faith and — and get this done — get this done on behalf of the American people.
Q Can you explain how the President has been involved though? Just given that one of the union presidents is saying he hasn’t seen any real engagement.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, you’re talking about —
Q So far, you’ve only told us that he’s been briefed, but you haven’t given us anything else.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I just said he’s been direct — I said — this is the third time I’m saying he’s been directly involved. You’re talking about one union president; there are 12. So you’re talking —
Q So he won’t be making calls to other unions or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re talking about one. I said I’m not going to provide any details at this time. The administration more broadly has been also in touch with — with parties. Yes, the President has been — clearly, he’s been — held — he’s been briefed, but he has actually been directly involved. I’m not going to get into more details on that.
But you’re talking about one president out of 12. And I know that they — I know that they voted yesterday — this particular union that you’re speaking of.
But, again, we are calling on all parties to come together and resolve this.
Q And then, on a separate topic, the President has said that during the holiday season he plans to sit down with his family to talk about his intentions for running, or not, for reelection in 2024. Can you give us any insights into what those discussions will look like over the Thanksgiving holiday in particular?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m going to be careful here. It’s a — it’s an upcoming election. So I don’t want to dive into that too much here.
But I’ll just repeat what the President has said many times, what I’ve said many times at this podium, is that the President intends to run. He plans to run. He said himself, as you just laid out, Jeremy, that he’s going to have a private conversation with his family.
I’m certainly not going to lay out what that conversation could look like or potentially be. That is — that is the President’s, clearly, prerogative to have that conversation with his family to make that decision.
But, again, I’m not going to get — I’m not going to dive in too much into this because it’s an upcoming election. The President intends to run, and I’ll leave it there.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q I just — look, on that private conversation, there won’t be a Vogue family shoot of the private conversation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have no idea.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s a private conversation that, by the way, I will not be part of, hence a private conversation.
Q On the “directly involved,” he was directly involved ahead of the September agreement being reached. Are you saying he’s been directly involved this week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I could say this: He’s been directly involved since before there was even a tentative agreement.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right? So that has not stopped. The President has been kept abreast as to what is happening. And he has been directly involved because he understands how important it is to make sure that we do not have a real shutdown, because, as I laid out, it would have a steep — a really serious effect on American families.
Q I’m just trying to figure out who this week, in the closing days before notices may have to go out, in the administration is in touch with the unions. Is it the Labor Secretary? Is it somebody else in this building?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’ve been very clear that the Sec- — Secretary Walsh has been in touch with — with the par- — with the respective parties in this, and he has continued to stay in touch with — with — with, again, the parties that are involved in this — in this agreement. But it’s — again, I’m not going to — I’m not going to get too far ahead of that.
Look, he’s encouraging — Secretary Walsh, specifically, he’s encouraging sides to reach a resolution that prevents a threat to a shutdown. And that’s been our focus.
Clearly, there’s other folks in the administration, but Secretary Walsh played such a pivotal role in the tentative agreement. And so he’s — he’s easy to point to because he’s the Secretary of Labor and has been certainly directly involved.
Q Is there a date in the next week or so at which point you all have to elevate this if there isn’t an agreement? Because, again, there’s going to be disruption for industries —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, we know. We —
Q — that rely on the railroads
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, we understand. We understand that there will be a disruption. We have been very clear about that.
Again, the President has been directly involved. I will — you know, don’t want — don’t have any details to provide at this time. Secretary Walsh has been involved as well, as you know, as the Secretary of Labor. And the administration, more broadly, as well has been in touch with the parties involved in this — this really critical, important issue.
Q I think — just to drill down on this part of it, not to belabor the point — but there was almost a celebration in the Rose Garden two months ago with the President, with these labor leaders, with management. Is the President surprised to see that these — so many of these — obviously, not all of them, but 4 out of the 12 of these unions have actually rejected a deal which he tried to sell as a strong deal for labor, for these workers involved?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I want to be very clear here: The tentative agreement that we signed in September actually helped to prevent an immediate disruption to the economy. So that was important that it was — we were able to prevent that.
This administration, it worked to bring unions and rail companies together to reach that agreement. And it kept our rail system working and prevented a disruption, again, to our economy. So that was an important moment as well.
Look, we’re going to be very — we’re going to be steadfast in saying that all parties need to come together, they need to come together in good faith, and we have to prevent a rail shutdown.
Q And then two other questions, if I can. Yesterday, the President said that he heard about the appointment of the special counsel when we all did. I wonder if you can elaborate on that. Was the President truly just informed based on media reports? Is there not a process in place with the DOJ in which that would be communicated to the White House?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There’s no process in place. We are not involved when it comes to a criminal investigation. The Department of Justice has its — has its independence; we respect that independence. We were not involved. We were not forewarned. We learned just like you all did.
Q And then lastly, the President obviously turned 80 this weekend. It was a year ago on his birthday that Dr. Kevin O’Connor, his chief physician, released a very thorough analysis and medical report. I’m wondering if you expect that to happen again. Will we get an annual physical from the White House Medical Unit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the President is in good health and maintains an active lifestyle. That is from the doctor — from the doctor. He shared that with me. He will have a physical in the upcoming months, and the results will be released in the same way that it was last year. So —
Q So you’ll commit to doing that before he makes his future political intentions known?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I — I — I mean, look, I don’t have a timeline for you. We are going to provide the information just as transparently as we did last — last year — this time around as well. And it will be happening in the next couple of months.
Q In the back?
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll — I’ll come to the back.
Q How much of a priority is it for the White House to get a legislation to protect DREAMers passed during the lame duck session?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, when it comes to DACA, it is something that is very important to the President. I don’t want to get ahead of — you’re talking about in the next couple of weeks?
Q In the lame duck, yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’m not going to get into any specifics on our — on the agenda for the next couple of weeks. As we have said, we’re going to have conversations with — with leadership in Congress. But I’m just not going to get into specifics.
Q And also, a bipartisan group of senators are urging the administration to reconsider its decision not to give advanced drones to Ukraine. Is that something the President is open to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that one more time.
Q His decision not to give advanced drones to Ukraine, is that something that the President is open to reconsidering?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would have to see — this is a bipartisan letter?
Q Yeah, it’s — yeah, a bipartisan group of senators are — have sent a letter. They’re urging him to reconsider this decision.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. I — I would have to look at this letter and talk to the National Security Council. I’ve not — I’ve not heard of this letter.
And I’m sorry, I’ll come to the back after.
Q Yes, I just wanted to follow up also on the lame duck session and see if the administration is still prioritizing passing the debt limit.
And secondly, on student loans, is there sort of an estimate for when the legal challenges will sort of start wrapping up? The President said back in October that he thought relief would go out in two weeks. And, of course, that has come and gone. So what should people expect in terms of timeline for when these legal challenges (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, on your first question about the debt ceiling, it should never — and I’ve said this before — it should never be a matter of political brinksmanship. We’ve been very clear: Congressional Republicans voted three times to left the — to lift the debt ceiling under a previous — under the previous President; three times that they were able to do this.
Congress must once again responsibly address the debt ceiling before its expiration. The sooner they act, the better for our economy and our country. We would welcome Congress resolving this issue during the lame duck. That is something that we are certainly open to and want to see. And we are consulting closely with congressional leadership on the issue. Again, it should not be used as a political brinksmanship.
On your question of student loan, are you talking about — what specifically? Just — because you said two weeks has passed, but, as you know, we — as you know, there — we have — it — we have sent us up to the highest court of the land — the highest court of our nation to make sure that we move forward quickly with making sure that the student laun- — student loan relief that the President put forward — his plan — gets to the American — American — American people very quickly.
As we know, there are about 16 million people who have — who have signed up and have been approved to get that loan. But that — not loan, but that re- — that relief. And so we think it’s incredibly important to make that happen.
We believe very strongly — we’re in cof- — we are confident in our legal authority to carry out this program.
But, again, I want to be very clear here — and I’ve said this many times before — it is really unfortunate that we see congressional officials and special interest groups block — try to block this.
What we — the way that this President see this — sees the student debt relief, he seizes that opportunity to give Americans a little bit of breathing room — American families — just to be able to start a family themselves, to be able to buy a house, to be able to really move forward with their lives in a way that they’re — they have that opportunity to do so with a lot — a little bit of — again, a little bit of that breathing room.
So we’re going to continue to fight. The President knows how to — you know, how to fight here. He knows how to — he wants to fight for the American people. And so we’re going to continue to make sure that we get this done.
Go ahead, Tam.
Q On the debt limit, you said that you welcome Congress resolving this issue. Two questions about that. First, the definition of “resolving this issue.” Are you thinking like just a little bump-up to get through a month? Or are you thinking permanently resolving this issue, as some Democrats have recommended?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I appreciate the question. I’m just not going to get into specifics on how they’re going to move forward on doing this. But we believe it should not be used as political brinksmanship. This should be — this should be done. It was done three times under the previous President, by Republicans. And so there’s no reason why we can’t do this again.
Q And you said that you would welcome Congress doing this. Is the White House actively working to get Congress to address this in the lame duck?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as I’ve said before, you know, we are — we are continuing to have conversations — we always do — with congressional members and just on a — just on a regular basis, as we do here at the White House.
I don’t have anything specifics to read out, any conversation to read out.
But, again, this is something that we welcome. We, again, don’t see this — we do not believe this should be used as political brinksmanship.
Q Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you about the statement that you made right at the top, talking about the need for an assault weapons ban. This is probably the best time, in terms of moving that type of legislation forward during the lame duck session, given that Republicans will take over the House in January. So what is the administration doing to move this forward during this limited window that you have right now to move that legislation forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, the President has always been very clear when it comes to the assault ban — assault ban weapons — or ban on assault weapons, which is we have something that we have to get done. And it’s a priority to him, and it has been.
He was a leader on that issue, on getting that legislation done 30 years ago. Under his administration, we were able to get the gun reform — bipartisan gun reform legislation done just a couple of months ago. And this is something that’s going to be — continue to be important to him.
I’m not going to — I think we’ve talked a little bit about the priorities of the lame duck. And — but, you know, he wants to have conversations with Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. And, you know — and to talk about what that lame duck, that priorities is going to look like.
But when it comes to — again, when it comes to assault ban — getting — banning assault weapons, this is something that is personal to him. This is something that he’s — an issue that he’s worked on for so long. And we don’t think — it should be — it should have happened months ago; it should have happened years ago.
And, you know, we should have communities that are safe for our kids. We should have communities that are safe for families. We should have communities that are safe for Americans across the country. But I’m not going to get into specifics of priorities.
Q Do you see it in the same way that there is this narrow window to move this legislation forward right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that one more time.
Q Do you see it in the same way that you have this narrow window during the lame duck session to move this legislation forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This particular legislation? You’re talking about the ban on assault weapons?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I just said we haven’t laid out our priorities just yet. We’re going to have conversations with Democratic and Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate to talk about what the priorities will — are going to be for the next couple of weeks.
But clearly — clearly, this legislation is important to the President. He has talked about this many times. He put it out in a statement most recently after the horrific events that we saw at Club Q. And he’s going to continue to speak to it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steven.
Q Thanks. Just for once more on the rail labor dispute. The President, a couple of months ago, called the tentative agreement a “big win.” And it wasn’t just the fact that a strike at the time was averted; he was talking about the substance of the agreement.
So now that the rank and file — the workers at four of the unions have rejected that agreement, is the President pulling back on his endorsement? Or does he still think this tentative should be implemented?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, here’s what I — here’s what we’re saying — is that it averted a horrible downturn in our economy by that tentative agreement. It was a big deal. What it could have done to our economy would have been devastating.
And so, right now, we’re le- — we are asking the parties involved to come together in good faith and resolve this. We — the President is directly involved, as I have said; Secretary Walsh has been involved, as I’ve said — and not just now, but before the tentative agreement.
And so, look, it was — it was an important — it was an important — the tentative agreement was indeed important, again, because it stopped — it stopped a horrible potential downturn, again, to our economy.
Q Part of the White House’s messaging and part of the industry’s messaging is that a majority of the unions involved have actually ratified the contract.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q So, I guess the question is, if you’re urging both sides to come to the table, the companies don’t have a particular incentive to do so. Are you suggesting that the President would not sign a bill that would impose the terms of the tentative agreement on those four unions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’m just not — I’m not going to get into hypotheticals from here. What I’m saying is we have been very clear that both sides need to come together to reach a resolution that prevents a threat to a shutdown. And that’s what we’re going to continue — continue to be very clear about.
Q In the back?
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting. I’m so sorry.
Q I’ve got two questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q You’ve said a couple of times that the President is going to wait to have conversations with Republicans and Democrats in Congress before laying out the agenda. The President said that he was planning to have members of Congress from both parties, the leadership coming over to the White House. Is there any update on the plan for that meeting, when it’s going to take place? Have invitations been sent out? Has the President started to have those preliminary conversations with leaders?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to preview at this time on — on members coming to the White House. When we will — when we do, we’ll certainly share that with all of you.
Q On a separate topic, we’ve learned through recent reporting about the President’s granddaughter living here at the White House. I was wondering if you have any more details on whether she plans to continue to live here and whether any other family members or other people besides the President and the First Lady live at the White House.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any fur- — anything further to share on that.
Q A follow-up on — to follow up on Steven’s question, is there a point at which the White House would welcome congressional intervention on the rail labor dispute? And, I guess, related to that, what are the concerns that the President has to Congress intervening on this at some point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we are in continuous contact with Congress on this issue, as we have been for months. And don’t have anything more to share or preview at this time.
But again, we’re going to continue to have those conversations with Congress. And once we — once — we will convey the views — we will conve- — convey that view after we have those conversations with Congress.
Q So it sounds like there aren’t sort of specific concerns about congressional intervention if it reaches that point.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not going to get ahead of any process here. That’s a bit of a hypothetical. I’m just saying that we have been in conversation with Congress. We have been for the past several months and will continue to do so.
Q Thank you so much. A foreign policy question. So, the crackdown on protests in Iran continues. And the latest numbers we have by a human rights group is of more than 70 people killed by security forces last week alone. So it looks like sanctions or statements don’t have much of an effect on the regime in Tehran. What are the next steps that the administration is considering?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just first say we remain gravely concerned about the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iran who are demanding their equal rights, their basic human rights. We are particularly concerned about recent reports from — from Iran on this, specifically.
The Iranian government has now killed hundreds of people, if not more, in its crackdown, according to credible reports by human rights organizations. We condemn the Iranian authorities that have arrested and fired on peaceful protesters; the targeted arrest of journalists, human rights activists, teachers, and cultural figures; and the continued disruption of the Internet inside Iran.
For decades, Iran’s regime has denied fundamental freedoms to its people and suppressed the aspirations of successive generations through intimidation, coercion, and violence. The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery. And we will continue to use all available tools to pursue — to pursue accountability.
As you know, we’ve laid out actions that we have — we have done from here to assist and to make sure we hold them — folks accountable.
I don’t have anything new to share from here, but we’re always looking at potential other ways to hold folks to account.
Q Karine, you want to do one or two more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, okay. Go ahead.
Q A follow-up on Chris’s questions on the border. You were saying the administration has been clear about its plan. There actually hasn’t been an official statement on whether or not the administration will appeal the December 21st court order that would lift Title 42. Will the administration appeal or will it not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just a couple things here. So, in many ways, we’ve been preparing for — I just want to make sure that we’ve been — you’re aware that — I know we get questions about if we’ve been preparing for what to do on — once Title 42 is lifted.
So, we’ve been preparing for this. We’ve been working to accelerate asylum process times to those without a legal basis to remain — can be removed promptly. And we’ve set up anti-smuggling operations with Mexico and Guatemala, as I had mentioned, as we prepare to transition to the next phase of our work to manage the border — the border in a safe, orderly, and humane way.
The Department of Homeland Security will continue to double down on those proven strategies. And you should expect to hear more from them in the coming weeks on how we’re preparing for this, because I know that’s been a question.
Look, I’m not going to get into any specific legal — legal movements of what we’re going to be doing. That’s not something that I will do from here. I leave that in the hands of the Department of Justice.
Q Okay. And, right now, for Venezuelans, which make up a large portion of people coming to the border, the administration has given a very limited humanitarian parole for the overall numbers of migrants coming and — basically, Title 42 — every other Venezuelan coming to the border.
If that’s lifted — you are just saying expanding asylum — does that mean that those migrants would be allowed to ask for asylum? Or would there be another policy — expedited removal or otherwise — to turn them away? Would they be allowed to ask for asylum or would they be turned away?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, it’s — it’s a great question. I’m going to let the Department of — the Department of Homeland Security — as I just said, they’re going to have more. They’ll share more on how they’re preparing from what will happen once Title 42 is lifted. Not going to get ahead of them. And they’ll lay out their process.
Q It sounds like, though, there’s no commitment here to actually follow the court order of December 21st.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not — I’m just not — it’s not — it’s not up for me to decide. It’s something for the Department of Justice to make that decision, is what I’m saying. This is for the Department of Justice to decide.
Q A follow-up, Karine? Just a quick follow.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
Q You didn’t come to the back.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Yeah, thanks very much. You said from the lectern that the wedding of Naomi Biden and Peter would be a private one —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — and that it would be closed to the media. Yet I’m reading all about it and looking at pictures on the Vogue website. Can you just talk us through what happened there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, first of all, let’s level-step here for a second. This was not a national security meeting. This was not an economic meeting. This was not — or economic summit. This was a young couple’s wedding with their friends and families. This is what this was. This is what happened here on Saturday.
So — and, secondly, just to be very clear, Vogue did not attend the wedding. They were not there. So, what you’re reading is inaccurate. They did not attend the wedding.
As I told you all before, there was no press access at the wedding. It was a private family event. And so — wait, you’re asking me the question. Let me just lay this out for you, and then I — I’m happy to take one follow-up, and then we’re going to go.
The couple asked that their wedding events be closed to the media, and it was. It was a closed event, a private family event.
Vogue did a portrait shoot on Thursday afternoon, before the wedding, in the Green Room. I would also remind you that many photos were released to the public on Saturday, after the wedding, to everyone. Vogue actually held their photos. They embargoed it until today so that — so it would give ample time for the photos to be in the public sphere.
And so, it is inaccurate, completely wrong — it is not right to say that it was open. To suggest that it — that a Vogue cover was open to the press, it was not. And so, I just want to be very, very clear what you’re reading right now is not accurate.
Q Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t suggesting that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but that’s what you just said.
Q No, my question was: You had said it was going to be a private wedding.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It was.
Q I mean, I think — I mean, it seems as if you are saying it would be — the media would not be allowed access on their wedding day. But I think those of us might think that dressing up in a wedding dress, having a photoshoot, talking about the wedding is coverage of the wedding.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The wedding was private. It was a private family affair. There was no press access to the wedding. We were very clear about that.
There is no — no reason to mince our words here. The fa- — the family and the — and friends were invited to this family — to this wedding. It was a private event. It was a young couple’s wedding. It was a joyous occasion. Again, the reports out there are inaccurate and false.
I’ll leave it there. Thank you.
1:11 P.M. EST