James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:33 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, so today in the press briefing we are saying goodbye to two of our amazing interns. I think they’re here somewhere.
MS. FELDMAN: We’re in the back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ah, there they go. (Laughter.) Cate Howell and Molly Feldman. They have been great, great additions to — additions to our team these past several months, and they are now going back to school. Hopefully enjoying the holiday before you go back to school. But thank you so much for your hard work.
And today we have a familiar face with us to talk about how the President’s Winter Preparedness Plan on COVID-19 increases — as COVID-19 increases as the holiday — as we head into the holidays. And so Dr. Jha is here to talk about this plan and take some questions as well.
DR. JHA: Great. Thank you, KJP. Good afternoon, everyone. Good to be with all of you again.
As expected, we’re seeing COVID rising across the country this winter. And while COVID isn’t the disruptive force it once was, we are focused on ensuring that the U.S. is prepared for this winter no matter what the virus throws at us.
As you know, we have the tools, we have the infrastructure, and we have the know-how to manage this moment. And that means protecting people, preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
And the key is this: We don’t want this winter to look like last winter or the winter before. And our winter COVID-19 preparedness plan helps us do just that. So how do we do that?
First — and you’re not going to be surprised to hear me say this — the most important thing Americans can do is to go get their updated COVID-19 vaccine right away. Now, you heard this from Dr. Fauci just before Thanksgiving; you heard this from me. And I will repeat again: The updated COVID-19 vaccine is your best protection against the version of COVID we’re fighting right now.
Second, a critical component of our winter plan is making it even easier for Americans to access the tools that will protect them this holiday season: vaccines, tests, and treatments.
So let’s talk about tests. Today, we’re opening up COVIDTests.gov for a limited time this winter to give Americans another easy option to access testing when there is a greater need as there is right now.
Starting today, each U.S. household can order up to four at-home tests free from COVIDTests.gov, with tests starting to ship as early as next week, the week of December 19th.
And as we’ve said for months, we’re operating in a resource-constrained environment in the absence of additional congressional funding for the nation’s COVID response. And that means we’ve had to make some tough choices.
Like in the summer, we were forced to suspend the COVIDTests.gov program so we could preserve our tests. Why did we want to preserve our tests? Because we knew there would be a moment later in the year when COVID cases would rise again. So we kept — we preserved the tests so we could have them on hand for exactly this moment. And if we don’t get more funding, we won’t be able to send more tests out to the American people.
Next, we’re standing ready to support states and communities with medical personnel, supplies, and other resources, as the President has been committed to doing since the first day he took office.
Today, Secretary Becerra is sending out a letter to all governors, underscoring that our partnership with state and local leaders has been essential to fighting this virus. But the Secretary also made clear we need them to step up right now to get ahead of this increase in COVID that we are seeing across the country.
And he outlined all of the federal supports available: to set up more vaccination sites, more pop-up clinics to get more shots in arms; to expand test-to-treatment programs, including new test-to-treat programs — sites that are — that the federal government can help with; to make key supplies like at-home tests widely available; and things that the federal government can do to support hospitals and health systems as needs arise. Because the bottom line is this: We’re all in this together.
Fourth, we are accelerating our efforts to protect the highest-risk Americans, building on the considerable steps we have taken.
Now, I want to remind everybody that more than 90 percent of COVID deaths in the U.S. have occurred in people 50 years of age or older. And in recent months, we’ve seen COVID deaths really concentrated among those 65 and above. And while we’ve seen many older Americans step up and get the updated COVID vaccine, there are still too many older Americans who have not gotten their immunity updated, who have not gotten themselves protected. Under half of nursing home residents have gotten their updated COVID vaccine.
So we are working very closely with leadership of nursing homes across America, and we have asked them to step up to do more. We’ve developed a winter playbook for nursing homes and long-term care facilities to help them take action to make it easier to get vaccines on site in nursing homes, to make sure that treatments are available on site in nursing homes, to improve indoor air quality — another strategy that can make a really big difference.
And we are reaching out to governors where nursing home vaccination rates are low to offer personalized support.
Now, before taking your questions, let me close with this: We don’t want this winter to look like last winter or the winter before. And it doesn’t have to. What’s different is that we have an updated vaccine that targets a version of the virus we’re fighting. But we need people to get that vaccine. It’s free and widely available.
We — what’s different this winter compared to last winter is we have highly effective treatments that are widely available if people get sick. But, obviously, we need doctors to prescribe them. We need people to get them.
This winter, we can keep people safe. We can prevent hospitalizations and deaths. We can minimize disruptions.
The administration has been — has been planning for this moment. We are doing our part. We’re prepared. But the bottom line is we need other leaders to step up as well — governors, mayors, people who have been terrific partners throughout this entire pandemic.
But here’s what I know: If every American does their part, if every American goes out and gets an updated vaccine, if every American gets treated who’s eligible for treatment, we can have a very different winter ahead. And that is a goal of this effort.
So, with that, let me stop, take questions.
And, KJP, I’ll turn it back to you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Thank you. Dr. Jha, moving out from the U.S. borders for just a second, certainly one of the risks that faces this nation is additional spread from a big outbreak in China. Can you give us a sense of whether the U.S. government was aware or made aware in advance that Paxlovid would be made available in China? And can you give us any sense of what talks are happening behind the scedes [sic] — behind the scenes, rather — to help get Western vaccines and medicines to that country?
DR. JHA: Yeah. So, on the specific question of Paxlovid, the U.S. government was not involved in any way. And it was — so, really would refer you to Pfizer and — but we were not involved in that in any way, shape, or form.
On the broader question you’re raising, Jeff, what I would say is this: Since the beginning of this administration, the President has been very clear that we think it’s really important for the world to benefit from the fruits of American scientific innovation. We have been the largest donor of vaccines in the world, almost 700 million doses — many bilateral, many through COVAX.
And the President has been very clear: We stand ready to help any country that needs help, in terms of vaccines, treatments, anything else. So, that — that offer stands globally for any country that could benefit from it.
Q Would it be fair to characterize this as the U.S. and other Western countries are encouraging China to import mRNA vaccines, but not necessarily with U.S. — or strong U.S. involvement? Does that give them cover that they may need?
DR. JHA: No, what I would say is: We stand ready to help any country in the world with vaccines, treatments, anything else that we can be helpful with. We have been the biggest donor of vaccines — as I said, almost 700 million doses. And that — that stance of being helpful, being ready to help, continues and hasn’t changed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Dr. Jha. Looking at the most recent COVID numbers we have, it looks like COVID cases were up 45 or 50 percent week over week, last week, but COVID deaths were up 60 percent. Why are COVID — why are COVID deaths spiking more dramatically than COVID cases are?
DR. JHA: Yeah, it’s a good question. So, some of that is, by the way, data — right? — irregularity, just to be clear. Data is just — we’re in a different place with data; we get data less often. So, in general, we have seen COVID cases go up. We’ve seen hospitalizations go up. Deaths are just starting to rise.
I do think that that standard link we’ve seen between cases and deaths are going to be different because there’s less testing. So, we’re going to be — it’s going to be later to see cases go up.
But, so far, nationally, in our analysis of the data, death numbers are just beginning to rise. We obviously want to make sure that does not go any further. We know we can prevent nearly every death from COVID if people get their updated vaccines and people get treated. So, we continue to press that message.
Q And are you considering a return to other restrictions — you know, masking on planes, vaccine requirements?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so I think we’re in a very different place with this virus than where we were two years ago, where we were last year. What I would say is we now have the tools that we can manage our lives much more safely than we could a couple of years ago.
And the most important thing, I think, people need to be doing is, first of all, they’ve got to get their updated vaccines. And then there’s a whole host of tools that people can use to keep themselves, their family safe: testing, masking, improving indoor air quality, being in better ventilated places — oh, and treatments, of course.
So we think that is the strategy of the administration, that we want to encourage people to use those tools. And given how widespread and how available those tools are, I think if people did that, we could get through this winter safely.
Q Thank you, Karine. Dr. Jha, just to follow up on Jeff’s question: With China relaxing its zero-COVID policies, what specific contingency plans do the administration have to deal with a potential outbreak or new variants, particularly with the increase of travel between the U.S. and China during the holidays and in the Lunar New Year? And do those considerations, at this point, include any talks of a travel ban?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so we have a very robust surveillance program that — where we use for travelers as people come in, in terms of identifying people who are infected, tracking variants. That continues. And we generally are using wastewater, using other mechanisms, constantly monitoring for variants, both here as well as with our partners around the world, in Europe and in South Africa, in other places.
I think all of that is a really important part of how we have become far more effective at being prepared for new variants. And if there are new variants that emerge, I’m confident that we will be able to identify them.
Q Thank you.
Q Dr. Jha, are we still facing a “tripledemic” where RSV, flu, and COVID are all surging at once over the holidays?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so we have seen, certainly in the last month, three highly contagious respiratory viruses, as you mentioned: RSV, flu, and COVID. Let me tell you what we know about them.
RSV, nationally, looks like it has clearly peaked and is on its way down. There are still places that have a very high levels of RSV. You’re still — but — but, nationally, there’s no question in my mind that RSV is heading down.
You know, flu is rising in many parts of the country, with probably the worst flu outbreak we’ve seen in a decade. There — and there are some places where may- — flu may be peaking, but it’s very early data. But a lot of flu out there. Again, the worst in a decade.
And then we talked about COVID, where, clearly, it’s on an upswing with increasing number of cases.
Q One other question. Back in September, the President publicly said that the pandemic is over. How has that complicated the messaging to keep Americans vigilant facing COVID?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so I think the President was also very clear that COVID is not over; COVID continues to pose a challenge for us. That is true. COVID is not over. And, obviously, we continue to see people getting infected, getting sick. Unfortunately, too many Americans needlessly dying of COVID.
And so I think the President has been very clear on this, even since that day, about the importance of ge- — people getting vaccinated, people getting treated. And, obviously, I’ve been out here making that same message.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Two more. Go ahead, John.
Q Dr. Jha, thank you. Two questions for you. One, is there — are there particular hot spots right now you’re concerned about when it comes to COVID rise?
And then, secondly, based on all three of the viruses you’ve been discussing, can you talk to us about the strain on the nation’s hospitals?
DR. JHA: So, particular hospitals — we’re seeing cases increase in about 90 percent of the country. So it is really sort of rising in lots of places across the country. So there’s not one that I think is — you know, is particularly worse off.
Obviously, the vari- — you know, the levels are different across the country, but it is rising pretty much uniformly. And it makes sense, right? We just had the Thanksgiving holidays. It’s getting colder. Even in the southern parts of the country, it’s still getting colder. Obviously, we tend to see more in the northern half of the country because it is colder up here, and people are spending more time indoors.
In terms of hospital strain, this is something we monitor very, very closely. We look at a whole bunch of national data every day. We are talking to states and jurisdictions every day — not every state and every jurisdiction every day, but on an ongoing basis.
I would say in the last 10 days, I have probably spoken to — I or members of my team — a dozen or more states and cities. And our first question is, “How are the hospitals doing? Do you need more help there?”
We have a very clear plan, if a city or a state gets into trouble where they really just can’t manage, that they can reach out to the federal government. We have a whole set of resources. Eval- — we can evaluate it. We can send in equipment. We can send in personnel. So we stand ready to help cities and states if and/or when they need it.
Obviously, the single-most important thing we can do to make sure that there aren’t constraints and there aren’t real problems with hospital capacity is: If people got vaccinated, they are far less likely to get hospitalized for both flu and COVID. And that’s the biggest thing Americans can do to make sure their hospitals are functional for all the other reasons we need hospitals.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Karen, last question.
Q Are you concerned that Americans who are testing positive but doing so on at-home rapid tests aren’t reporting that to government agencies, so the case counts right now might be dramatically lower than what we’re actually seeing spread across the country?
DR. JHA: Yeah, it’s a really good question. What I would say is, first of all, I’m a huge fan of home tests. I think, you know, they’re convenient, they’re cheap. It’s great.
One of the problems of — of home tests — really, the major problem — is that they don’t often get reported. So we do have, through this NIH effort called MakeMyTestCount.gov [MakeMyTestCount.org], I think, that people can report their tests.
But we have other mechanisms we use to monitor infection levels. So, for instance, wastewater gives us very good insights into how much infection there is in a community.
So we have seen case numbers often be lower than what you’d might expect if people were doing more PCR tests or more public health tests. But we’re tracking infections through other mechanisms. And, obviously, we’re tracking infections and hospitalizations so that that gives us a very good sense of the burden of disease as well.
The last point I will make is: When people test at home, if they test positive, the first thought every single American should have is, “Am I eligible for treatment?”
The truth is we have fantastic treatments. Anybody over the age of 50, anybody with chronic disease should get evaluated. Personally, as a physician, I think it’s very clear to me that anybody in their 60s or above should be treated. Like, there should be a good reason not to treat somebody. And there are rarely a good reason, meaning most people should be getting treated right now.
And that is a message we’ve been delivering to doctors and nurses. That’s the message we’ve been delivering to the American people.
If you get a positive test at home, stay away from others so you don’t infect them, and get evaluated to get treated.
Q And, if I can, on the funding that was — that is being used to purchase the new tests for this new round for people to get them sent to their houses, were there cuts to other COVID programs in order to pay for those tests?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so let me talk about how we’re able to do this. So we paused the program, you know, at the end of the summer because we wanted to make sure that we still had supply for a winter — potential increase of cases in the winter.
Second is, while we — as I have mentioned from here before — while we took a lot of the resources we had for tests to purchase vaccines and treatments, we still had some resources left; we didn’t use — deplete the whole supply. And so we had money in the American Rescue Plan to still be able to buy some more tests.
That combination has allowed us to do this. It is on a limited basis. We’re not going to be able to keep this open forever.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, thank you, Doctor. Appreciate it.
DR. JHA: KJP, thank you very much. And thanks, everybody.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, happy holidays.
DR. JHA: Happy holidays.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, just a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll take some questions.
So today is the final day of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a summit that has underscored the U.S. commitment to reinvigorating partnerships across the continent.
President Biden, Vice President Harris, and other officials across the administration have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the leaders from across Africa over the last couple of days, including at last night’s dinner here at the White House.
Now, this afternoon, the President will address the summit one more time at this afternoon’s discussion on food security and food system resilience.
This week, President Biden and Vice President Harris have had the opportunity to announce new initiatives that will empower African institutions and citizens. The President reaffirmed our resolve to work collaboratively with African governments, businesses, and civil — civil society to strengthen people-to-people ties, ensure more inclusive and responsive global institutions, build a strong and sustainable global economy, foster new technology and innovative sys- — strengthen innovation, strengthen health systems and prepare for the next pandemic, tackle the food security and climate crisis, support democracy and human rights, and advance peace and security.
The Biden-Harris administration plans to commit at least $55 billion in Africa over the next three years, working closely with Congress. And more than $15 billion in private sector investment deals were announced at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum.
And, of course, you’ve heard the President announce this week’s plan — this — this week, plans — this week — (laughs) — wow — this week to plan to travel to Africa and to continue the work over the course of the summit and to strengthen our partnership across the continent.
I also want to talk about something that affects millions of people across the country every day. And with the holiday season upon us, and in the light of the tragic — tragic news about tWitch this week, we think it’s important that we shed light on the resources available to any American dealing with mental health challenges or emotional distress.
Tomorrow, the Second Gentleman — Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and leaders from Department of Health and Human Services will visit a local 988 call center and meet with crisis counselors who are providing mental health and suicide prevention support to people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
The 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, confidential 24/7 support to Americans across the country experiencing suicidal crisis or severe emotional distress.
Anyone anywhere in the country can call or text 988 or chat 988LifeLine.org to reach a live trained counselor.
And thanks to the President, our administration has invested $432 million in getting the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline up and running in communities across the country, an 18-fold increase in investment from the previous administration.
So before we go into questions, I’ll repeat myself one last time here: For all of you — all of those who are struggling, we stand with you, and our administration will keep fighting for you.
One last thing before we — well, I say we really take questions is I want to take a — give you guys a little bit of the week ahead. Just a quick look here.
This evening, the President will travel to Wilmington, Delaware. Tomorrow, the President will visit and speak at a town hall at the — at the Major Joseph R. Beau Biden III National Guard Reserve Center in New Castle, Delaware.
This is a capstone on the Department of Veterans Affairs PACT Act Week of Action, with over 90 events and counting, held across the country to encourage veterans to sign up for healthcare, get screened for toxic exposure, and submit a claim if they are experiencing a toxic exposure-related condition.
The President will speak with veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors to discuss the historic expansion of benefits and services resulting from the Bipartisan PACT Act. I anticipate a preview with more details will be shared ahead of the event, so please stay tuned to that.
Afterwards, the President will return to Washington, D.C., for internal meetings and more holiday receptions.
Friday evening, the President will return to Wilmington, Delaware, where he will remain over the weekend.
On Monday, the President will return to Washington, D.C. And in the evening, he and the First Lady will host a Hanukkah holiday reception in the Grand Foyer, right here in the White House — in the Residence, to be more precise.
We’ll have more to share on next week’s guidance in the coming days. But we can also confirm today that next weekend the President and First Lady will celebrate Christmas at the White House.
And with that, Zeke, you want to kick us off?
Q Thanks, Karine. Just a bit of housekeeping to start off with. I was hoping you could shed some light on the apparent radio miscommunication that kept the White House press pool — separated the press pool from President’s motorcade when he returned to the White House today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. Give me one second, because I do have something to share on that.
So, there was no emergency, just to be clear, or a security situation. It appears that there was a radio miscommunication upon — upon departure. Vans picked up the White House staff and press that were left at the Convention Center. So, also, White House staff were also left as well. And we waited to start the press briefing until everyone returned to the White House.
We share an appreciation for how important it is for the press pool to travel with the President, and this remains a priority for our entire team. We sincerely apologize for the confusion and inconvenience.
And just to reiterate, we also sadly left White House staff as well at the Convention Center.
So this was — this was a — it was not just the press. So, just wanted to make that clear again.
But with all seriousness, we do apologize for that.
Q The President, in his remarks earlier, alluded to a trip to Africa himself. Do you have details on when he might go and where he might go?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And I know that Jake spoke to this when he was here on Monday as well. Look, I don’t have anything to share at this time. What I can say is — and this is basically what Jake said on Monday — is that the Vice President and a number of Cabinet officials, they’re all looking forward to visiting the African continent in 2023. Just don’t have anything to preview at this time.
Q And then — I’m sorry — back on COVID, something that Dr. Jha talked a lot about — the importance of Americans getting vaccinated. The latest CDC data shows that, you know, only about 14 percent of Americans have actually gotten the updated vaccines. Does the President believe that he or his administration bears some responsibility for not being able to convince the vast majority of Americans to get these updated shots that we heard from Dr. Jha are so important in this season?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let’s not forget, Zeke, when the President walked into the administration, he put forth a comprehensive COVID vaccination plan that would — that did not exist before he stepped into the — into the administration, that helped get more than 200 million Americans across the country fully vaccinated, and also made sure that there was equity at the center of his plan.
Look, we’re in a different phase, as we — you’ve heard us say, in this pandemic. And — and we are going to encourage people to get that new vaccine. We have the tools. We have the tools that we know work when it comes to COVID, when it comes to this pandemic. And — and we’re going to continue to let folks know to utilize those tools.
And so you’ve seen — as I started this briefing saying we’re seeing a familiar face in the press briefing room. And that’s because we’ve been trying to be very consistent on pushing that message out and letting people know that they need to get the new vaccine. It is important. We know it works, especially as they’re going to see their grandparents, as they’re going to see families — how important it is to get that new vaccine for themselves but also for their loved ones.
Look, we believe we’ve had a comprehensive message, we’ve had a comprehensive plan. But again, we’re in a new phase of this — of this pandemic. And we just have to continue to beat the drum, and we’ll continue to do that.
Q Thanks, Karine. On immigration, we’ve talked to so many Border Patrol agents and leaders who are just really worried and anxious about the possibility of Title 42 ending next week. Big picture, what is the administration doing right now to get ready for that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things that I want to lay out. And I kind of laid this out before, but I want to reiterate it here, is that, you know, we’re doing the work. We’re going to do this in a safe and humane way. And we will have more to share on the proposed preparedness next week before the December 21st date.
But, look, we also need Congress to act. It is important that they deliver the resources we requested for the border security and management. They need to pass the comprehensive immigration reform that we have put forth. On day one, the President put forth a comprehensive reform plan that dealt with protecting for DREA- — protection for DREAMers; cutting down the asylum — the asylum buildup that we have been seeing, especially because of what the last administration did, and they completely gutted the system.
And we know that this has been a multidecade-long problem. We need to modernize the system. And this is something that the President has put forth. And we are looking for Congress to act; we are asking Congress to act.
And so — but in the meantime, what we have been able to do is the President, as I’ve mentioned before, has secured historic funding. We have 23,000 border security agents at the border. And that is the most amount that we’ve ever had, and that’s because of what the President has been able to do.
And we have worked to launch a historic anti-smuggling operations that are taking thousands of smugglers off the streets.
But, look, the reality is we need Congress to take action. We need to do this in a bipartisan way, as we have done, as the President has been able to do more than 200 times during his administration.
Q There’s been some reporting out there that the administration is considering changes to the asylum policy, potentially making it so that only someone can — someone only apply for asylum if they’ve already been denied from another country, like Mexico. Is that true? Is the administration considering any changes to policy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I know there’s a lot of rumors out there about that, a lot of speculation. I don’t have anything to announce at this time, or from here at this time.
What I would encourage people to do is to read — the Department of Homeland Security, they put out — they put forth a six-point plan on how they’re going to move forward with dealing — with dealing when — dealing with the post-December 21st deadline, when Title 42 indeed lifts.
But don’t have anything more to announce about a — any oth- — any new plans from here.
Q Thanks, Karine. DHS warned in a memo obtained by CNN this week that the end of Title 42 will, quote, “likely increase migration flows immediately into the U.S.” So I’m wondering how many migrants are you expecting to try and cross into the U.S. through the southern border next week. And is the administration prepared for this anticipated surge?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, we have — we have an intensive all-of-government effort underway to prepare. As I was stating earlier, when I was being asked a question by Mary, we’ll have more to share ahead of the 20 — the December 21st deadline.
But in the meantime, DHS is surging resources to the border, as you’ve seen — as you’re probably seeing in El Paso — I talked a little bit about this on Monday — where over the last 72 hours they’ve moved thousands of individuals out of — out of the city. They’re doubling down on the anti-smuggling operations that the President launched months ago. They’re also working with our international partners to discourage disorderly mass movements across the border.
Moving forward, expect us to continue leaning in on our successful strategies like these and like our parole program for Venezuela nationals, which has drastically reduced the number of Venezuelans attempting to enter unlawfully. And we’ll continue to drive messaging in the region to counter disinformation from smugglers. So that’s another thing that we — you know, we have to keep an eye on, is how the misinformation that’s going to be going out to smugglers in the next couple of days. And so we have to make sure — we will work together with all of you, our team will, to make sure that that doesn’t happen, because that is one of the big issues that we’re seeing when it comes to migrants trying to cross the border.
Q But are you aware of this warning from DHS? And do you have an estimate of how many people you’re expecting will try and cross the border when Title 42 goes away?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I don’t have an estimate to share with you. What I can tell you is that the Department of Homeland — Homeland Security has put out a six-point plan. As you all know, Secretary Mayorkas was at the border just recently to talk about this plan, put out a statement.
And so we are focused. We are focused and we are prepared, and we will have more to share in the next coming days on this — on this piece.
But again, we have — we have done the work from this administration by securing record — record funding. And we are asking Congress — for Congress to act. We are not — we are not asking for political stunts. We’re — we continue to see political stunts from many Republicans out there. And that’s not how we’re going to fix this issue.
They want to — they want to secure the border. We’ve been doing that work on our own. And we asked — we’re asking them to — hey, you know what? There’s an immigration reform plan that the President put out on the first day. They should work with us and do this in a bipartisan way.
Q And then, in terms of the funding negotiations on Capitol Hill, we’ve seen this administration, this President, at times play a more hands-on role, a more hands-off role in some negotiations, depending on the situation. What’s the case with these negotiations? How involved has the President been?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Which — which particular negotiations are you talk- — are you talking about —
Q Over the spending bill.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The spending — oh, the spending — the omnibus bill —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — more broadly.
So, look, we’re encouraged by the bipartisanship that we’re currently seeing to — the progress that we’re seeing in Congress from leaders and the progress that they’re making.
So it’s a key step on the path to a full-year government funding bill that delivers for the American people. We’re optimistic that members of both parties can build on this progress and produce a funding bill that can pass the House and Senate, signed into law by the President.
But to your question, though — look, the President has been very engaged. He’s been talking to congressional members. He had the Big Four here not too long ago. And this was in the readout. This was — the government funding was the main priority that they discussed.
And we have our team here. We have Shalanda Young from OMB — I’ve mentioned this before — who’s the director, who has been playing point on this, who knows how to work across the — across the — across the aisle and do things in a bipartisan way. And she is leading that effort along with our Office of Leg Affairs who have had multiple calls, multiple meetings in getting this done.
Look, this was done in a bipartisan way last year, and we believe it can be done in a bipartisan way this year as well.
Q And are you confident this one-week stopgap will pass in time to avert a shutdown?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We are — we — we — I mean, we have said — I said this earlier — you know, if Congress needs a little bit more time to get this done, we’re — they should take that time. But we believe there’s enough time to get the omnibus — omnibus done.
And so we are — we are encouraged by what we’re seeing in that progress, and we believe that it can get done in time.
Did I just — okay.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President mentioned in his statement yesterday about the Sandy Hook killings, the anniversary, again his push for an assault weapons ban and also talked about a moral guilt in not having done more over the last 10 years.
There’s only a couple of weeks left in the lame duck. Can you give us an update on just what the next steps are that he sees for this White House, for this administration in getting that assault weapons ban passed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we have been in close touch with Senate leadership on this. As you — as you just mentioned, this is a priority for this President. It has been for some time. He was a leader on this during his Senate days and also as Vice President. And so he’s going to continue to push for this.
Whether this happens in the next couple of weeks or it happens in the next several months, he is going to really work hard to get this done.
And, you know, he’s — he’s talked about it at almost every moment that he can. Every time that he had an opportunity to talk about the shootings that we have seen, how it’s destroyed our communities, how it’s destroyed families, he’s going to continue to lift that up to the American people.
Again, we’re going to have those conversations with Senate leadership, we have been the last couple of days. Don’t have a timeline for you.
This is indeed a priority for this President and his administration. We have seen the work that he’s done this first year and a half. He did the most — did the most executive actions on gun violence than any other President. And so, clearly, this is a priority for this President.
Q And beyond him speaking about it, is it — is it really that? Is the strategy, basically, to use the bully pulpit, or are there other steps?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, that’s — that’s an important strategy. I mean — right? — the President has one of the most powerful bully pulpits in the country, in the world even. Right? And so we have seen him use it in an effective way to get historic piece- — historic pieces of legislation done. And so he’s going to continue to do that.
But we’re also having conversations with Senate leadership. That will not stop or end when it comes to this issue.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just before you came out, the President had authorized the release of documents related to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. And since you’ve been at the podium, the National Archives has started posting those documents.
Can you talk about that decision to release those? And also address — 70 percent of the documents are being released; 30 percent still are not. What is taking so long in the other 30 percent, given it’s been 50 years?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as you know, this was — has been a commitment of this President. Right? The President — the President’s actions have led to public release of over 14,000 records, including approximately 12,000 today, just to give everyone specifics here. As a result, we’re talking about 97 percent of the co- — of the collection is now available to the public.
This reflects, again, the President’s commitment to making these records available to the public to the greatest extent possible consistent with national security. So this is a commitment that the President has been making for some time, or made some time ago.
President Biden believes all information related to President Kennedy’s assassination should be released to the greatest extent possible consistent with, again, national security.
That’s why he directed the acting archivist to conduct a supplementary six-month review of a — of a subset of the remaining redacted records to ensure they are disclosed to the greatest extent possible. He also directed all remaining redacted information to be disclosed to the public when the basis for the continued restriction of that information no longer outweighs the public interest.
So, obviously, there’s a national security component here. But he is committed to getting that information out. And right now we’re seeing more than 97 percent of the collection that’s out there for — for folks to review.
Q Thank you, Karine. I have two questions for you. Congressman Cohen and Wilson from the Helsinki Commission introduced a resolution urging President Biden to take steps to suspend or terminate Russia’s rights and privileges at the U.N. Security Council. Does the President support this effort? What steps he can take? Is this goal achievable?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, we do support — we do support that effort.
Can you say the question one more time? I just want to make sure —
Q So, the resolution —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Make sure I have this right.
Q — says that the President — asks the President — urges the President to take steps to suspend or terminate Russia’s rights in the U- — U.N. Security Council.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, U.N. Security Council. Got it.
So, look, Russia’s conduct in — in Ukraine is — is a violation of the U.N. Charter and is an affront to the core mandate of the Security Council. And we see it as an outrageous — it is outrageous for a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to be violating the Charter and waging such a brutal war on Ukraine, including by trying to inflict such widespread human suffering and targeting critical infrastructure.
So we successfully led a vote in the U.N. General Assembly to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. And we have worked to prevent Russia from taking leadership positions elsewhere in the U.N. system.
So we’ve been very consistent on this. If there were a path to suspend Russia from the U.N. Security Council, we would pursue it immediately. Unfortunately, we don’t see the U.N. — we don’t see the U.N. rules changing. And so we are focused on continuing to take actions to isolate Russia, including in international organizations, and hold Russia accountable, including through sanctions and enforcement actions we announced today, as you saw.
Q I have a follow-up on the Patriots for Ukraine, also. Since there was no announcement on this yet, I would like to ask if the President is even considering sending Patriots to Ukraine. And what’s the White House’s response to warnings coming from the Kremlin about possible consequences if the U.S. sends Patriots to Ukraine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, first, let me take your last question first. Look, the only — the only provocative moves are being made by Russia, and Russia is the aggressa- — aggressor here. And let’s not — we should never forget that. We should never forget who is actua- — who actually started this war, and it was Russia. So that’s — that’s point one.
Point two, the United States is not now nor has it been at war with Russia. This is responding to what we’ve heard from Russia this past 24 hours.
We — we’ve been doing exactly what President Biden told President Putin we would do, one year ago, if Russia attacked Ukraine: providing security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself. That’s what you have been seeing from this administration, from this White House.
Finally, while I don’t have any new security assistance packages to speak of today, as you all know, President Biden has been clear about this: The United States will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, alongside our allies and partners, as the people of Ukraine defend their country, as they defend their freedom, as they defend their sovereignty. And we will continue to do that.
Q Can we expect any announcement this week, as it was reported by the U.S. media?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything to share with you at this time.
Go ahead, JJ.
Q I’m wondering if the White House has any reaction on two bills that moved through the U.S. Senate. One is on TikTok. The Senate voted to ban TikTok from government-issued phones. Let’s start with that one. Does the White House have feelings on that bill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as I’ve — as I’ve said before, you know, want to be very careful on commenting on any specific legislation at this time, so we refer you to Congress on the next steps. We don’t get involved in the process, as we’ve done in the past.
But, look, just more broadly, there are a range of tech appli- — applications and products that are not allowed to be used on the White Ho- — on the White House and other federal government work equipment for security reasons, including TikTok.
We will not go into any further details about security policies that we have here. But I’m not going to get into the process. I know that this just happened, so we’re going to let Congress move forward with their processes on this.
Q So no official position on that one.
What about the Senate bill that would essentially halt Huawei’s access to U.S. banks? The Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, was one of the sponsors of that bill. Does the White House have a position on that one?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, don’t have a position on that one at this time, from here.
Q Thanks. America is clearly divided about immigration. From the White House perspective, though, should Americans be supportive or concerned with the end of Title 42, which obviously stops most migrants from being able to apply for asylum?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What Americans should know is that the President has done — has done the work to deal with what we’re seeing at the border since day one. What Americans should know is that the President put forth an immigration reform policy to make sure that we’re dealing with a broken system, to make sure that we’re able to protect DREAMers, to make sure that we deal with the backlog that we’re seeing with asylum seekers, to fix the gutted system that was — that has been around for some time but certainly was gutted by the last administration.
And the work that the President has done, he wants to do this in a bipartisan way. But what we’re seeing is Republicans continue to move forward with political stunts. Many of them are doing this. And we continue to see this over the last several months.
So, the President has done the work. He secured record funding. Again, I mentioned 23,000 agents that are at the border who are working night and day to protect and secure the border. And that’s because of the work that this President has done. And we’re working on anti-smuggling efforts as well.
And so, look, what the — what the American people should know is that we have taken the steps — we’re taking the step to prepare for what is — for — for when Title 42 is lifted next week. And you saw that from the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Mayorkas was very clear about that. He laid out their six-point plan when he was at the border just a couple of days ago.
And this is an administration that has taken this very, very seriously.
Q But does the White House think that ending Title 42 –a Trump-era policy — is a good thing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I am telling you is that it was a court order that was — that we are following. And we’re going to follow the law when it comes to what the court has decided to do.
What I can tell you is what the President has done over the last two years to make sure that we’re dealing with border security. We hear it from many Republicans, right? You guys report on it. Many Republicans say over and over and over again that we need to do work at the border, that we need to secure the border, but yet they refuse to work with us on this piece of legislation. Instead, what they choose to do is do political stunts. That doesn’t help.
Q Can I ask one question about Afghanistan? There are negotiations about including the Afghan Adjustment Act in the spending bill. There’s been a group of retired ambassadors who have been pushing towards inclusion. The Biden administration has tried to get this in the spending bill before, unsuccessfully. What is the administration doing differently this time to get to try to do that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, by your statement, we strongly support the ongoing congressional efforts to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. And we urge Congress — we’re going to continue to do this — to send the legislation to the President to provide a path to permi- — to permanent legal status for Afghans.
And we have joined our communities and resettled across — who have joined our communities and resettled across our country through Operation Allies Welcome. So that is something that we’re going to continue to ac- — ask for Congress to act.
We first asked Congress to pass this legislation back in August of 2021, and have been working with members of Congress from both parties to try to pass it ever since. And we know that there’s a bipartisan support for this bill and that negotiations in the Senate are ongoing. It’s important to take care of our Afghan allies who took care of us during the 20 years of this — of the U.S. — of the years that U.S. was — was at war in Afghanistan.
So we take this very seriously. We strongly support it. We’re going to continue to have conversations with members of Congress and continue to urge them to get this done.
Q Karine, I know the pool has to leave — gather in a few minutes for the President’s departure. Will you take one or two more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll take one or two more. I’ll take one from the back that I haven’t taken one.
Q Thanks, Karine. Jake Sullivan was in here on Monday and said that an engagement with Russian counterparts was planned for this week on the Paul Whelan case. Do you have any updates on that, or can you say whether that happened?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, we want to be really mindful of — of any conversations that we have as we’re talking about negotiations. So we’re not going to, you know, speak about that in public. I don’t have anything to share.
But so that you know — and I — we’ve said this before, and Jake has been very clear, the President has been very clear — we take this — when Americans are wrongfully detained or held hostage, we take that very seriously, and we are going to do everything that we can to bring Paul Whelan home. That is a priority.
But certainly, we’re not going to talk about steps or any conversations in public because we want to make sure that we get this done.
Q And just one other question. Can you give us an update on Mayor Garcetti’s nomination as ambassador to India? Does the President need to resubmit his name to the new Congress? Where are you guys at with that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as you know, this is a priority and continues to be a priority for us. Mayor Garcetti is well qualified to serve in this vital role. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as you know, voted Mayor Garcetti out of committee unanimously after reviewing this matter thoroughly, and we’re hopefully — and we’re hopeful that full Senate will confirm him promptly. And so we’re going to continue to support him.
Go ahead, Emily.
Q Thanks, Karine. I have two follow-ups on Title 42. I know you said you guys were hopeful that the omnibus gets passed, but what kind of preparations are being done in case it doesn’t and communities do get overwhelmed and need some resources?
And also, does the administration fear that the end of Title 42 will lead to a spike in COVID cases in the country?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So let me just talk a little bit about the three — there’s $3 billion for border funding. So a couple of things.
You know, again, if Republicans are serious about this, we put forward some $3 billion plan that we are asking for Congress to support. Here’s what it would do: It would ensure that the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security have the resources they need to secure our border and build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system. The funding will integrate surveillance towers, inspect technology, Border Patrol rotor — rotary wing aircraft and helicopter aircraft sensor upgrades, tactical marine time surveillance system, and also law enforcement radios, faster asylum claim processing, and so much more. So we believe it’s incredibly important to get that done as well.
But to your question about the — the winter surge, how we’re — how Dr. Jha was talking about this from the podium: Look, because of the President’s — the President’s work and what he’s been able to do throughout his administration, the American people have tools — we know what works — and to protect — to protect themselves from COVID. And we continue to encourage them to use the tools as we always have.
Now, on Title 42, we’ve inquired — we are required by the court to lift Title 42, and we plan to comply with that order. And so — but Title 42 or not, every individual encountered at the border is screened and processed by Border Patrol agents before they are placed in removal proceedings.
And like I’ve said a couple of times already, you know, the Department of Health — Homeland Security has been on — has been on top of this. We are prepared. We are ready to do this in a humane way and in a safe way.
And so it is something that the President has been working on since day one of his administration.
Q Thanks, Karine.
Q Oh, Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, everybody.
Q — one more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, everybody.
Q Do you have time for one more, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Got to go. Thanks, everybody.
3:21 P.M. EST