Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, 2/14/2023
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, everybody. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Q Oooh —
Q Only one each? One each.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There’s only one each. There’s one for everyone in the room. So, share. As your mom told you, sharing is caring. So, share.
Q Are you asking us to be your valentine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I’m open. I have a slot. (Laughter.) Happy — the question is: Do you want to be my valentine?
Q Oooh —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t know about that. (Laughter.)
Q I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. I do have to give credit to Robbie. He’s the one who got the cookies. So, thank you, Robbie.
Q Thank you!
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He comes in for the cookies. Turkey Day, whatever — Thanksgiving Day, we got cookies.
Anyway, good afternoon, everybody. Happy Valentine’s Day. Happy Galentine’s Day. Happy anti-Valentine’s Day. However you celebrate, we appreciate you and we welcome you.
So, as many of you saw, the Super Bowl was a great game. While the First Lady and I were rooting for Jalen Hurts and the Eagles, as you all know, I do want to congratulate Kansas City on their big win. And a bet is a bet. I’m not sure if any of you were following this. I did get into a bet with Representatives Davids and Cleaver, so they have some Philly cheesesteaks coming their way from me.
But please don’t tell the First Lady. Shhh. Don’t let her know that I am sending them a Philly cheesesteak.
But on a more solemn note, I did want to — we did want to address a couple of things. The day — today, yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. But it’s also a day that we commemorate what happened five years ago and also what we saw transpired last night.
So, this morning, the President addressed the epidemic of gun violence that continues to devastate American communities.
Today marks five years since a gunman took the lives of 14 students and 3 educators at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
And once again, our country is mourning three Michigan State University students who were killed in a shooting last night.
Today, the President and the First Lady are praying for these young victims and their families, the broader East Lansing and Lansing communities, and all Americans across the country grieving as the result of gun violence once again.
We are especially thinking of all of the injured victims who are fighting for their lives today, as well as the survivors of the shooting. During a lengthy active shooting situation, they feared for their lives. They will carry that experience with them through the years ahead.
And as the President says — said today is “enough.” “Enough.”
The President has taken action to combat the epidemic of gun violence in America, including a historic number of executive actions, but he believes more work needs to be done.
Last year, the President signed the first significant gun safety law in nearly 30 years: the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
Today, the U.S. Justice Department is taking another important step to implement that law, awarding more than $231 million for 49 states and territories to create and implement crisis intervention projects like red-flag programs, mental health and substance-use treatment court — courts, and veteran’s treatment courts as well. This funding will reduce gun violence and save lives.
The President has long championed red-flag laws, which could potentially have stopped shooters in Parkland and other tragedies. These laws allow family members, healthcare providers, school officials, and law enforcement officers to seek a court determination that a person is a danger to themselves or others, and then temporarily prevent that person from accessing a firearm.
Recognizing the importance of ensuring that these red-flag laws are used effectively, today’s announcement also gives states funding to educate the public about extreme risk protection orders and to train law enforcement and other officials about this intervention.
The President also continues to call on Congress to act common-sense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons on the war — of war on our streets.
We owe it all to those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve — to continue — to continue to act.
Now you’ve often heard the President talk about giving families a “breathing room.” He said it today at the NACo Legislative Conference that you all just heard him speak at, and some of you may have been there.
And today, we have some progress on what we can be — what can be one of the most financially sophisticated things families face: medical debt and high — high healthcare costs.
Today, CFPB has released a new report that shows that the number of Americans with medical debt on their credit card reports fell by $8.2 million — million — from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2022.
The actions our administration has taken, including strengthening the Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance coverage to millions more Americans and enacting new consumer protections, played a critical role in reducing the burden of medical debt for millions of American families.
With that, Josh — I say this all the time — it’s good to see you.
Q Good to see you. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It feels like it’s been forever.
Q Too long. Too long.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, you’re —
Q On that note —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The floor is yours.
Q — let’s get to the two subjects.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q The one is the perpetual hot item as of late: The U.S. shot down three objects from the sky that are now deemed to be benign. Louisiana Senator John Kennedy says they can’t find the pieces. Should the U.S. have waited before shooting? And what are the protocols going to be going forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m going to take your last question first. As you know, the President has asked Jake Sullivan to — to oversee a stand- — a interagency team that — that is — that was stand- — that was created so that we can figure out the be- — protocols on how to move forward when — when and if this occurs again.
And so, I believe my colleague from the National Security Council, the Admiral, spoke to this moments ago, at 10 o’clock, during his gaggle, and talked about how we’ll have — we will have more protocols to share later — later this week.
So, there is, again, a interagency team that’s going to look at this process, look how we track, look how we decide to take action, and see if there’s anything else that needs to be done. So, there will be updated protocols, if you will, by the end of this week.
So, that’s that question.
The first one — look, you know — and, again, I — you’ve heard from Secretary Austin on this, you’ve heard from DOD on this, you’ve heard from my National Security Council colleagues.
Again, as you all know, the — the objects that were shot down were in the civilian airspace, kind of, flying low — at low elevation. And so, it was shot down. They were shot down because of — they were taking an abundance of caution.
We wanted to make sure Americans were safe. We wanted to make sure that the civilian aircraft flying above in the — in our airspace were safe. And that’s why they were taken down — the three objects.
As you all know, they are now being recovered. The weather conditions have prevented for — for the Pentagon to go out there and get those objects, but we’re going to continue to try. We’re going to continue to be vigilant on getting these — getting the debris.
But in the meantime, as you just mentioned, the — the benign statement. The intelligence community did say that they are considering or looking this — at this to be potentially benign.
But, of course, we want to make sure that we get the objects so we can actually — or the debris from the objects, just to be more clear — so we can get a sense of what — what — what the objects were for certain.
Q And then secondly, on CPI. Numbers came out today that show a monthly decline in real wages, as well as an annual decline in real wages. The administration officials have said growing real wages is an important marker for the economy. How do you view the setback in today’s numbers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. I do want to say that — what we have said many times is that — we believe that the President’s — the President’s economic plan is indeed working and it’s giving people a little breathing room.
You heard me say this at the top, how the — how we have seen, you know — how we have seen the plan actually working. We see — we’re seeing inflation moderate just a bit, as we’ve seen the last couple of months. And that is important.
And the way that we see things moving forward, we believe that it is — that it is important to continue to work to fin- — to finish the work that the President has started.
And that’s what you heard from him very explicitly just — just a couple of days ago when — just last week when he talked about the state of the union and how he sees every — how he sees the economy and the progress moving forward.
So, two things on the wages, as you’re asking me specifically on those pieces, as it relates to the data. Real wages are indeed up over the last seven months, which is important since trends are always more useful than one month’s data, as you know. I know this is something that you follow closely, Josh.
And the second thing is: Real weekly earnings are up over the last month. So, we continue to make progress fighting inflation. As the President said earlier today, his unwavering focus is on continuing to lower costs for families. And that’s going to be our focus. We’re going to continue to do that. That’s why the Inflation Reduction Act is so critical, is so important.
And — and we’re going to continue to fight for the American people and meet them where they are.
Q Thanks, Karine. Going back to the intelligence community’s conclusion, what led them to conclude that these objects could very well be benign?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m not going to get into — into the — kind of, the intelligence community process. What I can say is that they are considering — there’s strong consideration that these objects are indeed benign. But just not going to get ahead of — ahead of their process here.
Q Senator after senator at this all-senators briefing this morning wanted to know when the President is going to come forward and speak to the American people. I mean, the U.S. does not shoot objects out of the sky every day. Why hasn’t the President come forward and spoken to the American people about this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I know your colleague asked my colleague this earlier today during his gaggle. And, look, the President is taking this very seriously. And he’s receiving briefings regularly from his national security advisors. And he’s going to continue to do that.
We are sharing as much information as we can, as — as possible. And — but we do want to make sure that the Americans — American people understand that there’s no need to panic. The President took this action, as I mentioned earlier, because the objects were indeed flying at low — lower elevation and they were in civilian airspace. And we wanted to make sure that we protected that airspace.
But, again, you know, we want to also make sure that the Americans are not — do not panic during this time.
Q A question about the process. Can the Pentagon shoot down an object without presidential approval? Or does he need to give his okay first?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can tell you this process and what occurred during the — the three objects and, also, as you know, the Chinese surveillance balloon.
The President was indeed very involved. And the President listened to the recommendations, clearly, that he got from the Pentagon. And he took action as Commander-in-Chief.
I don’t have anything further beyond that on any other protocols or how it’s — how it’s normally done. But I can say we also — the standing up of this interagency team is going to help provide us — give us some additional protocols on how — how to move forward on this, on these issues.
Q And then, just a question about the salvage operation. I know that the teams haven’t been able to get to the debris yet. Have the salvage team has been able to locate the debris?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s a really good question. I would have to refer you to the Pentagon on this — on the specifics if they’ve been able to locate it.
What we know is the weather conditions have indeed prevented them in these three locations to actually — actually retrieve the debris.
But, again, there’s intensive operation underway. We want to make sure that we get the debris from the object. We believe that it is important for us to do that. The President believes it’s important to do that. Just don’t have anything further on that.
Q Not to belabor this point. But on the criticism coming from lawmakers that the President hasn’t spoken out more on this, should we expect to hear from him at some point? Or is part of the reason that we’re not hearing from him because, as you said, people shouldn’t be panicking? Is there a concern that the President talking would —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — look, I don’t have — I don’t have any — any announcement or anything to preview on a potential — you know, remarks by the President.
What we’re trying to do here is provide as much information as we can.
The President clearly has been briefed on a regular basis on this, on a daily basis, on what has occurred in the last 10 days or so. But I just don’t have anything to preview as to if the President is going to be speaking on this in the upcoming days.
Q And on another issue — on gun violence in this country. You know, the President again, today, is calling for Congress to pass an assault weapons ban. We heard him make that same argument rather passionately during his State of the Union Address.
Beyond using his bully pulpit, you know, what is the President or this White House doing behind the scenes, especially since the State of the Union? I mean, have there been meetings with stakeholders, calls with lawmakers?
I think Americans, you know, want to know if there’s more to this beyond just sort of talk and keeping it up publicly.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the President is not going to give up on this, right? He’s going to keep at it. He’s going to make sure that we keep the American people, American families, American communities safe.
Now, if you remember — if you look at the last two years, this is a President that deserves a lot of credit. We’ve gotten a lot of things done.
If you think about the executive actions that he took — more executive action than any President at this time — that’s because he took this seriously.
And he’s changed the conversation, the landscape on how we talk about gun violence. And this is not just the last couple of years; this has been since he was senator. We talked about the assault weapons ban. He did that in partnership with Senator Feinstein.
And let’s not forget: When that got passed, we saw gun violence go down significantly. So, all of that matters.
And I would just announce from what — the funding from DOJ, as it relates to red flags. And as we know, when that is enacted with more than $231 million in grants, it’s going to help a lot of cities and states across the country. Because when you enact red-fla- — red-flag laws, we hear from lawmakers, we hear from state officials that it actually can save lives. It actually can work.
And so, all of these steps are crucial. They’re important. This is a President ha- — that has been a long — a longtime champion when it comes — on fighting gun violence. And so, look, it’s not — we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue.
But I would argue — happily argue — and I think many others would agree with me and agree with us — that this is a President that has done more on this issue than many other elected officials.
Q That obviously was a very different political environment when the assault weapons ban was passed many years ago. When you say the President is going to — you know, you’re keeping at it — what does that look like?
Because in reality, I think we all know, you know, an assault weapons ban doesn’t really seem realistic right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, I mentioned at the top that there was a bipartisan, as you know, the — the Community Safety Act that was passed. Many people didn’t — said that wouldn’t happen. And 30 years later, after 30 years, we were able to get that done.
So, he’s going to reach out. We all — we’re going to reach out to those very members — those congressional members in Congress and see how — what’s the next step that we can take.
But again, we have the votes on our side. The Democrats have the vo- — votes on our side to get this done. So, Republicans have to meet us at the table and get this done.
Q Thanks, Karine. I think you’ve looked at this, but the timeline in terms of the interagency group, kind of, agreeing on protocols or having a better idea on protocols — what is that exactly? And will those be published? Will it be public? Will they be talked about or presented?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’ll definitely hear from us when those — when those protocols are — are completed or laid — and we’ll lay those out.
I believe my colleague mentioned, later this week you’ll hear what those protocols look like from this — from this interagency team. And so we’ll have more to share at — by the end of the week.
Q And then, if these objects are benign, is there any concern that there was an overreaction in terms of shooting them down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m not going to — I’m not going to get ahead — I’m not going to get ahead of — of what we — you know, what is actually the final word on this.
What we know is: The intelligence community is considering, as a lega- — legal — leading explanation that these could be tied to commercial or research entities and benign. That is something that the intelligence community is — has looked into.
But again, we got to get — we got to get these — the debris from the objects that we’re trying to — you know, in a — we’re trying to get out of the locations. Again, because due to weather condition, it’s been very difficult. But clearly, that is a priority as well.
Q And then just one last one on CPI. It’s the seventh straight month of a deceleration, but the trend line moderated a little bit in terms of the overall cooling. Is there any concern that this is a month or this is a print that raises some alarm that maybe some of progress you guys thought was on a steady pathway isn’t?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So a couple of things that I do want to — some toplines that I want to read out.
The annual inflation fell for seven — seven straight months. Inflation came down for groceries and food at home, last month. Gas prices are down about $1.60 from their peak. Real wages are up, as I mentioned moments ago, over the last seven months, for working families, even as unemployment remains at its lowest level since 1969. And job growth remains resilient with more than 500,000 created last month.
And we have to remember what Fed — federal — the Fed Chair Powell said just last week: The labor market is strong because the economy is strong. And that is an important piece to note.
Look, there’s still more work to do. You hear us say that often. And — and there’s more work to do as we try to get to a transition of more stable and steady growth. And there are going to — there are going to be setbacks along the way. We realize that. But there are some good data points here that we feel that it’s important to point out, as I just laid out before you.
But again — and I — and I’ve mentioned this before: The President is — one of the President’s priorities, as it comes to the economy, is to do everything that he can to lower costs for families, which is why when we talk about junk fees — you’ve heard the President talk about junk fees recently — that is important to Americans in order to make sure that they are getting lower costs. Right?
You think about the Inflation Reduction Act, you think about creating manufacturing jobs, you think about what he’s done to lower the deficit by $1.7 trillion. And we’ve talked — he talked about, just last week in the State of the Union, that his budget that he’s going to put forth on March 9th is going to show how he’s going to continue to lower the deficit with — by another $2 trillion.
Not going to get ahead of the budget. But that is something that the pres- — the President is very much top of mind, is how to be fiscally responsible.
Q Karine, Happy Valentine’s Day.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Happy Valentine’s Day.
Q Thank you for the cookies.
Have any private companies or research institutes contacted the U.S. government in any form to say that one of their flying objects is missing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, we have not yet been contacted.
Q Has the U.S. done anything to reach out to companies that could operate similar-sized flying objects, either here in the U.S. or elsewhere?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to preview or report on that.
Q Then I guess there’s the sense that, you know, if this belongs to somebody, if it is benign — obviously it remains a possibility. You’ll know more when you find this in the Yukon and elsewhere. But for those who may fear legal liability — let’s say — that they were flying in civilian airspace or the like, what do you say to anybody out there who’s watching this conversation and may be hesitant to come forward to the U.S. government to say, “It’s our object that is missing”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s a good question. Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the military or the intelligence community as they’re trying to really figure out what these objects are.
Again, what I said before is that the intelligence community is considering, as a leading — as a leading explanation, which is the commercial or research entities and it being benign. But, again, it’s a leading — it’s the leading thinking that’s coming out of the intelligence community. I just don’t want to get ahead of them.
Q So, to be clear: Today, you can’t say to the cameras, “If you had an unknown object out there and it’s missing, we’re asking you to come forward to the da, da, da or whatever”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s just not something that I’m going to do from here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I appreciate the question.
Q Then let me ask — then let me ask just one final one if I can then about Dianne Feinstein. She just announced, after 30 years, that she’s going to be retiring at the end of this time — her time in the Senate serving California. First, if you have any comments on that.
And separately, acknowledging the responsibilities you have when you’re standing behind that podium, your thoughts on the three Californians that have already announced their expe- — their intention to run for her seat.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ll take the first question first, which is: Look, the President looks forward to — to congratulating Senator Feinstein on her historic and remarkable career. I just mentioned earlier about the assault — assault weapons ban that they worked together just 30 years ago. So, clearly, the President sees the senator as a friend and as a colleague that he’s been able to get big things done. And I think that’s incredibly important. He sees her as a longtime friend, and he deeply respects all of the collaboration that they have been able to do on historic legislations over the years.
As I mentioned, the federal — the federal legislation on banning assault weapons — assault — assault — assault weapons. Pardon me.
Look, I — look, we respect all of the talented officials in California who are expressing interest in running for the seat. And again, as you know — as you stated at the top of your question, I am — I am prohibited for — from saying anything more on any upcoming races.
But again, these are — these are — these are elected officials that we’ve worked very closely with over the past couple of years and the President has gotten to know.
I’m just not going to comment on their particular, you know, wanting — interest in running for — for that Senate seat.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. In his speech to the counties the last hour, the President suggested that he would like to see a reform of laws related to the tech industry. He specifically said, “We’ve got to change the way the Internet works and the way people are able to use our children.” Was that a specific reference to the social media companies? And is there anything more you can tell us about the President’s ideas?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the President has been always very clear about reforming 230. We’ve been very, very clear about that — reforming the Section 230. And so that’s been something that we’ve said from the last two years.
And I don’t have anything more to add to it. I haven’t spoken to the President about what he commented on. But it’s not — it’s not — you know, it’s not different than things that he said before when it comes to tech companies.
Q The new Chief of Staff here had formerly served for some time on the board of Facebook. If there is going to be a discussion here about social media reform, will Jeff Zients be a part of that process, or will he remove himself from those discussions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I don’t have any conversation or any planning or policy to put forth before you and kind of lay out on what we’re going to do on any tech — tech company. So I’m just not going to get ahead of myself or really speak to a hypothetical.
What I can speak to is what the President said. It is not uncommon. It is not unusual. He has said it for the last two years. And I’ll just leave it there.
Q On the train derailment in Ohio, could you give us an update? Has the administration received any requests for federal assistance?
And then also, is the administration, is the White House confident in the way that the authorities in Ohio are handling it and the way the railroad is handling it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ll say this — I’ll take your last question first, which is: EPA is working hand in glove with the state of Ohio. And I — we think that’s really important. The administration has been in close touch with local officials to ensure that they have what they need and that their needs are being met.
So that’s — that last one — that second question that you asked: I have a couple of things that I do want to share about what EPA has been doing on the ground.
They’ve been on the ground, on site, since February 4th. They are, clearly, closely monitoring the situation in East Palestine. And our top priority is, of course, health — the health and safety of the community.
And since February 4th, EPA has been leading air quality testing and supporting Ohio EPA with surface and groundwater testing.
The National Transportation Security Board has also been on site for over a week to lead the investigation into the cause of the derailment.
And the EPA will continue to conduct 24/7 air quality monitoring throughout the East Palestine community in the days to come.
EPA is making information available via their agency website.
And on the water — I know there has been questions about the water. EPA will continue to support Ohio EPA surface and groundwater sampling efforts to ensure drinking water is indeed safe. Again, we’re — the EPA is closely monitoring this and trying to do their best to meet the community where — to meet the needs, I should say, of the community.
Q So no concerns at this point about the way it’s being handled?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we are working hand in glove right at this moment with the state of Ohio. The administration has been in close touch with local affec- — electeds on the ground to make sure that their concerns are being met.
Q This might seem like a silly question, but does debris actually exist? Is the U.S. government confident that there is debris from these objects? Or were they, like, destroyed in the process of being taken down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: From what I understand — and the Department of Defense and the Pentagon clearly would know more specifics on this — there is debris out there, and we’re trying to have an intensive operation to get that debris from the objects. But I would — I would refer you directly to the Pentagon.
Q And when the interagency review is done, will Jake Sullivan come here to brief?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Calling Jake.
I don’t have anything to — to read out to you on who would be joining if that were to occur later this week.
And we — we’re saying that we’ll have information. I just don’t have anything else to share beyond that.
Q Thanks, Karine. Two questions. Do you — do you know anything about the timing of the report from the physician after the President completes his — his physical?
And the other question is: Do you have any information on what other foreign leaders he might meet in Poland beyond the eastern flank leaders and Duda?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And President Duda.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so, as you just mentioned: President Duda, he’ll be meeting with him. We’ll have more to share as we get closer to — to the trip. I just don’t have anything — anything specific to share about additional meetings.
But, you know, we can’t — we kind of laid out where — what we were expecting on the front end. I just don’t have anything on the front end of the announcement. Don’t have anything more to share.
But, of course, as you know — as we normally do — we will share more as we get closer to the day.
So I know many people were asking if the physical was still happening because we didn’t have it in the week ahead. We don’t normally put — as you know, when we did it in 2021, it was not — it was not on the week ahead or on the schedule. So that’s why it wasn’t there.
The physical is indeed going to happen on Thursday. There have been no changes. And you can expect a memo from the physician will be released publicly in the same manner as it was in 2021.
So we will do our best to get that all to you. Again, we want to be transparent. We want to make sure you have the information, and it will be coming from the physician. So it’ll be the same — the same way we did it in 2021. We’ll do it this — the same way this time around.
Q Thank you. The President spoke with Prime Minister Modi earlier today. Could you tell what they talked about?
And has the President invited the Prime Minister to the White House this summer?
And on a lighter note, is the President celebrating the Valentine’s Day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Okay, so I’ll take — I’ll take the easy question. I have a readout of the Modi call. (Laughter.)
So, as you mentioned, the President spoke with the Prime Minister of India earlier today. They discussed the historic agreement for Air India to purchase over 200 American-made aircraft from Boeing. President Biden noted how the sale will support over 1 million American jobs across 44 states and help Air India meet growing demands of — for air transportation in India.
They also discussed the importance of the strategic technology partners between India and the United States. And the two leaders reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-India relationship and committed to continue working together and in groups like the Quad to advance economic growth for our two countries and expand cooperation on their shared priorities.
I do not have a — a trip or a meeting to announce at this time. And so I’ll just leave it there. But they had a very good discussion.
Q The Valentine’s Day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) I’m sure he’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day. I’m not going to get into what the President is going to be doing on a personal matter.
But go ahead. Go ahead, April.
Q Okay, thank you. Thursday, President Biden is hosting a screening of the “Till” movie. And he signed a historic piece of legislation and made it into law: anti-lynching — the first time ever in this nation for an anti-lynching bill to be signed into law, 67 years after Emmett Till was killed, lynched in Mississippi.
But the issue is the mother of Emmett Till sought for justice all of her life. She never received it. And the family of Emmett Till, last week, filed a lawsuit demanding that a Mississippi sheriff serve the arrest warrant for the woman who accused Emmett Till of whistling at her. What does the White House say about that, as you signed this historic bill into law, and then, also, you’re having the screening this week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, when it comes to lawsuit or any — anything that involves, you know, an investigation or something being looked into, I’m just not going to comment from here. So, just not going to get ahead of — of what’s occurring with that lawsuit. So, just want to be very careful to not get involved in that.
But I think — it is Black History Month, as you know. I think the fact that the President is screening “Till,” the movie — an incredibly powerful movie that tells the life of this young man that was clearly murdered, that we’ve heard the story of over the past many, many decades, who helped — which his — his life, the murder of his — of his life helped start the civil rights movement, helped ignite — it was one of the many things that helped ignite the civil rights movement.
I think that’s important that we’re doing this at the White House. One of the only — we haven’t — we haven’t actually screened many movies. So the fact that we’re doing this in this month I think sends a strong message from the President and from this White House, from the First Lady, how important we think it is to — to lift this movie up and to make sure that his story — his story continues to be told and not forgotten.
And I think, in line with him — with the President signing the lynching bill into law, I think also shows the commitment that this President has.
When he walked into this administration — and you’ve heard me say this many times — one of the four crises that he talked about was racial inequality and making sure that we do everything that we can to deal with that — to deal with that trauma, to deal with that devastating fact.
There’s still a lot more work to be done. The work is not done. But the President is going to do everything that he can in his power at — in the federal government, in this White House, to make sure that we address issues like this.
Q As a follow-up to that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait, I got to go —
Q In Chicago though. In Chicago.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh — what’s — what?
Q Emmett Till came from Chicago. She’s from there.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Do you mind taking a seat, please? We — just — just so that we’re following — you know, we’re following the protocol within — if you could take a seat within — within here.
Q So, I think you pointed at me there.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ed.
I’m just pointing all over the place.
Go ahead. I’ll go to Ed. Ed, why don’t you go, and then I’ll come back.
Q Thanks. Thanks, Karine. So, we’ve heard some CPI questions today — CPI. When can Americans see prices significantly decrease?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, what we have been seeing — and I laid this out — we have seen inflation starting to moderate over the last seven months. And that’s important. That’s important because, again, the President’s economic plan is indeed working. And he’s taken some historic steps.
I talk- — we talk often about the gas prices going down by — going down to about $1.60 — $1.60 per gallon. That’s because the President took historic steps to see that happening.
The last time — the last time we saw a peak in gas prices was this — this past summer. And so, again, the President is going to do everything that he can to do — to — to make sure that we’re lowering costs.
Inflation Reduction Act — we just saw in January how insulin, from the — because of the Inflation Reduction Act, how insulin is going to be capped at seniors — for seniors at 35 bucks. That’s because of the Inflation Reduction Act. That’s what the President signed into law this past summer.
We’re going to continue to take the actions to lower medical — medical costs, again, from the Inflation Reduction Act. Very important here.
So the President is going to continue to take action. We’re always going to look at the data points as they come out from CPI or any other piece of data. And we know — we know it’s going to — there’s still more work to be done to get it to that steady and stable growth, as you hear talk — talk about. And sometimes there may be setbacks.
But that’s not going to prevent the President from doing everything that he can to lower cost. And we have seen that. We have seen that.
Q I want to ask about the Phase One China trade deal. Three years ago today, that Phase One trade deal went into effect, and China has basically ignored that deal since President Biden has gotten into the office. Is the President going to enact any enforcement mechanisms that were in — written into that deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, I mean, let’s — you said China has ignored that deal, but we have to be clear here that the previous administration’s Phase One deal — it’s their deal — right? — let’s not forget that — it’s not ours, it’s theirs — did not meaningfully address our fundamental concerns with the PRC’s trade practices. That is just the fact.
The PRC did not meet its commitment, even in the first year of Phase One deal going into effect during the Trump administration. Again, Phase One is — was under the Trump administration.
So we are focused on defending American economic interests in ways that will work, including in coordination with our allies and partners through initiatives like the Trade and Technology Council and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and by investing more at home through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, through the CHIPS Act, and through the Inflation Reduction Act.
Those are all part of the President’s economic policies that has actually helped build an economy from the bottom up, middle out, and also bring manufacturing jobs back home. That’s how we’re addressing this, because Phase One did not work. It did not have a meaningful purpose. Again, it was started in the last administration.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q So, two — two more balloon questions. The National Weather Service website here says that 900 — that weather balloons are released around the world from 900 locations twice a day, every single day of the year, including 92 released by the National Weather Service in the U.S.; that they fly for at least two hours a day, drift as far as 125 miles, and cover — and rise up to 100,000 feet above the ground.
If it turns out, as it looks like, that the — that the President and Mr. Trudeau sent Top Gun fighters to blow weather balloons out of the sky, is the — does the President regret that? Is he embarrassed by that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get ahead of what — of any final decision. We just don’t know yet. We actually just don’t know. And as I — as I’ve said, as my colleague has — has said, from NSC, it is — it is in consideration that that could be the leading explanation here again.
Q And so if it is, does — is the President embarrassed by that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I get — I get —
Q — the idea that you would take hundreds —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t know —
Q — of thousands of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q — dollars of equipment and —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me — Michael, let me — let me answer —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — let me answer the question.
I don’t think the President should be embarrassed — right? — by the fact that he took action to make sure that our air- — our airspace, civilian airspace, was safe. I don’t think that he shou- —
Q But if there are 90 bal- — I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I apologize.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but you’re — you’re — I’m answering the question. I am. I am answering the question. Right?
The President took action because we did see that these — that these objects were in the airspace of — civilian airspace. And so, to protect the civilian airspace, the President took action. It is — and he took — he took recommendation by the Pentagon to take that action.
I don’t want to get ahead of what this — what will be the final analysis — right? — of what the objects may have been or may not have been. So, don’t want to get into — into a hypothetical here.
But, look, this is — the President does everything that he can, everything in his power — right? — to defend, to track, and to protect our airspace. And that’s what you should — that’s what you should glean from what the action — the actions that this President took.
Q And then one follow-up, which is: There’s a lot of criticism out there that — that what has — that what really drove the President’s decisions in the — in the latter three shootdowns was an overreaction, a political overreaction, to the criticism that he took on the Chinese spy balloon for waiting too long. In other words, that he was criticized for waiting too long in the first balloon, and so the reaction — the overreaction, the critics would say — is that he moved too quickly to shoot down the other ones before even knowing obviously what they were. How do you guys respond to that criticism?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll respond to it this way: Two diff- — two different things. Right? The Chinese surveillance balloon, completely different operation, if you will; complete different, you know, situation, if you will.
It was a balloon, as you all know, that was a Chinese surveillance balloon. We wanted — the President’s number one thing was to make sure that we kept American civilians safe. He took recommendations from the Pentagon, who told — who — who said that we should follow the path, and he agreed they follow the path. But he also said, the moment that they can, to shoot it down. And that’s what occurred.
But let’s remember what — what happened while the — while the balloon was on its path. We were able to collect data from it. We’re able to protect our security data on the ground and learn from the Chinese surveillance balloon. That’s what we were able to do.
And when it got over an area where it was safe, where we were able to collect — because we are collecting the data that’s on the — the — the — I should — not the data, but the — the debris — right? — that’s on the ocean floor and learning more about its capabilities. And when we were able to do that, they shot it down.
And so we’re going to learn a lot more because of the action that the President took and because of the action that the Pentagon took — right? — with the recommendation that they provided with the President.
So that’s a different scenario. It’s not the same.
And as I just mentioned, with the objects, they were in civilian airspace. So the President took action to protect our civilian airspace. They were — the elevation was a little bit lo- — was lower. And he took that action. Two different —
Q But they were in the civilian airspace with —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Two different —
Q — dozens, scores of balloons that are also in the civilian airspace every day.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear you, and I know that you’re — you just — you just read me the — whatever — the National Weather — (laughs) — data or numbers of balloons. I get that. I don’t know those numbers. That’s the first time that I’m hearing about them. I appreciate you sharing it with all of us.
But what I’m telling you is what I can give you from our — our vantage point, how we move forward. The Chinese surveillance balloon was very, very different than what we saw with these three objects.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Back to the train derailment. After that incident, the AFL-CIO sent the Federal Railroad Administration a letter requesting an industry-wide adoption of a confidential close call reporting system. They say that the workers need to be able to report near misses without a fear of retribution in order to increase the overall safety. But there are seven Class I railroads that refuse to adopt it. Where does the White House stand on this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s a very good question. I have not heard about the letter, so I would need to check in with the team about the letter and what it says and how we’re going to potentially respond or how we feel about the comments or the request that you just laid out.
I just don’t want to get ahead of the team. And so we’d have to check in with them on this.
Q Broadly speaking, the idea of a — of a system like that, would the administration think that that would have prevented an incident like that from happening?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I want to — I just want to be really, really careful here and not get ahead of whatever discussion or policy or decisions that might be considered from here, and I would need to talk to the policy team.
Again, I want to make sure that — just to get back to what I said before: The EPA is — is closely monitoring the situation that we — that we see in the community, and our top priority is the health and safety of the community. So, don’t — just don’t want to get ahead of what’s currently happening.
Go ahead, George, in the back.
Q Yeah, two follow-up questions on the train derailment. Should the Obama-era rail safety braking rule — the “better braking” technology rule that the last administration knocked out — should that be reinstated?
And secondly, beyond EPA testing and so on, what is the level of the President’s concern about human safety in Northeast Ohio and East Palestine now that animals there are dying from the toxic gas?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I just want to be really mindful. I know that we’re monitoring the situation. I can tell you that the President has been briefed on this. And I just don’t want to get ahead of what’s currently happening on the ground or, you know, the reports that we’re hearing.
But again, I just laid out what — what the EPA has been doing for about a week. They’ve been on the ground testing the air quality. They’ve been talking to locals on the ground trying to meet their needs at the moment. I just don’t want to get ahead of any specifics here because, again, we’re monitoring closely.
Q Well, just can we get some sense of whether there’s a sense of urgency or concern about human life?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’re always concerned about human life. That’s what I said at the top, right? I said that our number-one priority is the health and the safety of the community. That is our number-one priority here. That’s what EPA is doing on the ground. That’s why we’ve been working hand in glove with the state of Ohio on this issue.
And we want to make sure that their concerns are being met. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do. That is what — how we see our role here in the federal government.
Look, I can add a little bit more. FEMA continues to monitor the emergency, is engaged with state emergency operation center. And right now, there are no requests for federal assistance from FEMA. So, I can let you know that piece.
Okay, go ahead. Erin, right?
Q Yeah. Hi.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, Erin.
Q Can you say if the White House has any reaction to the censorship by the Indian Prime Minister of the documentary that was critical against him?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that one more time?
Q Can you say if the White House has any reaction to the documentary that the Indian Prime Minister censored?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I —
Q The BBC documentary.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t have a reaction to that for you from here.
Q Okay. Thanks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q Thank you, Karine. Just real quickly, when the interagency effort comes up with its recommendations later on this week, will you be releasing those to us or talking to us about them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we will definitely have more to share later this week on that. I don’t have a vehicle or how it’s going to be shared to all of you.
But clearly, the President thought it was important to get this done. That’s why he asked for this to be stood up. And that’s why he asked for Jake Sullivan to run this process.
I just don’t have anything else. We will — we will have more to share later this week. I just don’t have, like, a vehicle on how that’s going to occur.
Q Sure. Is that part of what the President is waiting for and — before he talks to the American people about this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything to read out or to share about a statement or remarks from the President.
Again, he takes this very seriously. He’s being kept — kept updated on a regular basis on this, clearly. But just don’t have anything to share.
Q On the missile that missed over — and is now at the bottom of Lake Huron, will there be a recovery effort? There was a congressman, Chris Stewart, on the Intel Committee, who expressed some concern that there’s highly classified information on those missiles, even if it’s been, you know, rendered not armed anymore.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would refer you to the Pentagon.
Go ahead, Chris.
Q Does the President agree with Mi- — former Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to resist a grand jury in the case of Trump and —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you’re going to love my answer: Because this is a criminal investigation, an ongoing investigation, I would refer you to the Department of Justice. I’m just not going to respond from here.
Q But does he think that it’s —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I hear your question, Chris.
Q — the proper thing to do?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear the question. I’m just not going to respond from here.
Q All right. Thanks, Karine. Are there any plans for the President to address the country on gun violence, given the latest Michigan State mass shooting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, I would go back to what I said earlier. I don’t have anything to read out on — or to speak to on any remarks about the latest shooting. The President and the First Lady — you saw a tweet from the President and the First Lady, their statement via Tweet, speaking about the horrific actions that we saw and loss of life yesterday at Michigan State University.
You saw that the President spoke to the governor of Michigan just last night, as soon as he was able to connect with her, and offered our — any assistance that we could provide. There has been some FBI law enforcement on the — on the ground helping in any way that we can.
And — but I do want to say — and I’ve said this moments ago — is that this is a President that has been a leader in — on this issue, and he’s been a leader on this for years on taking historic action to deal with a devastating — a devastating gun — gun situation that we’re seeing across the country in communities.
Again, I don’t have any speech to speak to that might be coming up on the most recent gun violence. But this is something that the President takes very seriously. That’s why he took executive action. This is somebody who takes it very seriously. That’s why he was able to sign a bipartisan piece of legislation on gun violence that hadn’t been done in 30 years. Very seriously. And we’re going to continue to do that work.
Q Since the shooting though, a number of gun safety advocates have been asking again for a national emergency to be declared. Is there any change there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to update you on that.
Q In the back?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sorry?
Q To the back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Can I ask about Iran and China? Iran’s president is visiting with President Xi Jinping today. His delegation includes members of his trade economy and oil ministries. Does Washington see this as a failure of sanctions against Iran? And do you have any messages for Tehran and Beijing as they go into this meeting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’re aware of President Raisi’s visit to the People’s Republic of China. We aren’t going to speculate on their conversation. You — you’ve heard me say that many times before. It’s not something that we’re going to speak to.
We continue to engage with the PRC and other countries globally, to encourage them to take steps to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities.
And so, we’ll continue to be vocal on that. I just don’t have anything to speculate or to comment about their potential conversation.
Q Thank you. President Obama gave a national address from the Oval Office in 2010 to discuss the oil spill — oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. When fighter jets are shooting down unknown aerial objects over U.S. territory, doesn’t it also warrant a national address from the President?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I don’t have anything to read out on the President speaking to this. What I can tell you is the President takes this very seriously. He’s been briefed multiple times — right? — on a regular basis, about — about what — about the objects and what is currently occurring, and trying to get the debris and, you know, get a sense of the analysis and get the capabilities of not just the debris, but also the Chinese surveillance balloon. And he’ll continue to be updated on those matters. I just don’t have anything else to share.
Q Thank you. I have two questions. And one of the benefits of asking questions this late in the briefing is that you don’t have to be concerned with advancing the story incrementally of the day; you can just ask about, sort of, broader things.
So, with that in mind: First, on the communications team, and then on the cultural — so-called culture wars. Where the President’s communications are concerned — and I’m asking you because you work on his communications team; you’re a professional communicator — there is obviously a variety of settings the President can employ: set pieces, impromptu remarks, teleprompter, no teleprompter, et cetera, et cetera.
Is it the view of the President’s communications team that he is equally adept in all settings, in terms of communications? Or are there some that play to greater strengths, some where he probably isn’t as strong, et cetera?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I will tell you this: The President is the best communicator that we have in the White House.
Go ahead. Go ahead. Right here.
Q Okay. Next question was on the so-called —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q — culture wars, if you would. And I appreciate it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q One of the most prominent themes that we hear from both elected Republicans and candidates has to do with what is called “wokeism.” And we hear about an “anti-woke” agenda. And this entire subject reminds me of what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about obscenity — that he couldn’t define it, but he knew it when he saw it.
And so, we hear so much talk about “woke capitalism,” a “woke military,” and so on. And by way of trying to clarify this for the American people, I wonder if we couldn’t begin with a threshold question to wit: Is President Biden woke?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me tell you what the President cares about and what’s important to this President. The President doesn’t — doesn’t concern himself about what Republicans are trying to do in creating political stunts, in making an issue out of the things that they feel benefits them politically — not the American people, not what matters to the American people, but what benefits them politically for their own — for their own ability to move forward.
What the President cares about is exactly what I just talked about and what he talked about at the legislative conference, which is how are we going to continue to deliver for the American people.
You heard him say that at the State of the Union. You heard him talk about how the economy has grown the last two years, the progress that we have made. And guess what? He wants to continue that progress. He wants to continue to move forward to make sure that we lower the deficit, which he did the first two years by $1.7 trillion, and be fiscally responsible.
Q So you wouldn’t describe him as “woke”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But he’s — but he’s — but he wants to work with Republicans on how we are going to continue to deliver, how we are going to build on the economic progress that we’re seeing.
That’s not what they want to do. What they want to do is they want to cut Social Security. What they want to do is they want to cut Medicare. And they want to take us back and not actually deal with issues that matter to the American people.
Can you imagine — can you imagine if you’re an American out there, and you hear your congressional member talking about how they want to cut Social Security, talking about how they want to cut Medicare — something that you have worked very hard for many, many years and paid into so you can get those programs. But yet, that Republican senator — who we’ve been talking about — from Florida, has continued to talk about how they want to sunset these — these programs. That’s not what we’re about.
We’re about fighting for these — for these programs. And that’s what you’re going to see from the President, and that’s what he cares about.
Q Hi. Thank you very much. I have a follow-up to April’s questions about the “Till” screening, because, as you probably know, this is very important and a signature issue for Chicago.
And I want to know, then, if you’re going to have anybody from the Till family or the Till orbit attend the screening. I know that when the bill was signed, it was almost a historic gathering people who were cousins, relatives, and others associated with Till.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we will have more to share on who will be attending that very important screening of “Till” in just a day or two — I think on Thursday, I believe. I just — I don’t have anything to share at this time. And we’ll have
more to share.
Q Would I be safe in saying that you do intend? Or is there something —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just — I actually just answered your question. We will have more to share in the next day or two.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, guys, thank you so much.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Have a great, great day. Happy Valentine’s Day. Don’t eat too much cookies.
3:38 P.M. EST