James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:08 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon. Hello. Welcome back.
Q Nice suit, John.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What — nobody likes my outfit? (Laughter.)
Q You look fantastic!
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not quite understanding this. It’s okay. There might be issues if people start commenting on my outfit.
Okay. So, first, I want to officially welcome Kelly O’Donnell as the new president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. And thank you to — she’s not here, but thank you to Tamara Keith for her partnership over the last year.
Very few people understand just how much work is required by the WHCA and the White House to ensure press coverage and related travels as smoothly as possible. And we are looking forward to working closely with you, Kelly O, and — in the — in this next chapter. So, welcome, welcome, welcome. I’m excited about it.
So, I have a coup- — two things at the top. And welcome to anyone who traveled with us abroad. Welcome back. Hopefully, you got some rest over the weekend.
But the first thing I want to talk about is of a subject that’s gotten increasing attention over the last few weeks, certainly the last couple of days.
And I want to quote a Republican senator in 2022. So, bear with me here. Quote, “Leaving our military in limbo is never the right thing to do.” End quote.
That same senator also said, quote, “Our military isn’t a political pawn.”
The year before, this Republican senator declared, and I quote, “Our job as elected official[s] is to make sure that those who have stepped up to defend our country have the resources” that need — that “they need to do their job and [to] do it safely.”
Strangely, though, that person who said these things seem — seems to have — seems to have forgotten them. And that person, as you all know because you’ve all covered this very closely, is Tommy Tuberville.
So, right now, Senator Tuberville is hijacking what has traditionally been a bipartisan process: the National Defense Authorization Act. He’s also delaying the confirmation of hundreds of qualified and capable military nominees, depriving our armed forces of leadership it needs.
The Pentagon is going without a Senate-confirmed Marine Corps commandant for the first time ever in over a century because of this attack on our national security.
A cascading effect of delayed promotions threatens to brain drain from the military.
And military families do not know where they will live, where spouses will work, where children will go to school.
Senator Tuberville him said — himself said in 2021 — and I quote, of course — “Military spouses make sacrifices every day for their country. They are the backbones and support systems for our troops, often balancing this with family life, moving towns, and being separated from loved ones.”
Senator Tuberville from 2021 and 2022 should intervene with 2023 Senator Tuberville, because clearly there’s a problem here. And Republican senators need to speak out on behalf of our national security and military families.
That’s something that you heard from President Biden at his press conference in Helsinki, so I’m just reiterating that. Republicans senators need to speak up.
Now, also, I have one more thing that I want to share before I turn it over to the Admiral, because we don’t get many opportunities to say what I’m about to share. And so, I want to make sure that these words come out very clearly. And I’m sure she’ll be very shocked that I — that I’m saying this, which is: We agree with
Majorie [Marjorie] Taylor Greene, which is not something that we say very often.
Over the weekend, the Congresswoman, Majorie [sic] Taylor Greene, criticized Bidenomics as being in line with the FDR’s creation of Social Security, Lyndon Johnson’s creation of Medicare. She also bizarrely attacked Bidenomics because it’s reducing poverty in rural areas.
We agree with her all around — all around on this. We are opposed to rural poverty. And the President is committed to protect Medicare and committed to protect Social Security, as you heard from him over and over again over the past several months.
Now, to be fair, we are aware of her misgivings about Medicare and Social Security because she’s a member of the Republican Study Committee, which recently again proposed cutting those very benefits.
But this is the first time that we are aware of being attacked for trying to reduce rural poverty, although we probably should have seen that coming, since Majorie [sic] Taylor Greene — or Marjorie Taylor Greene is also trying to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, policies that are responsible for high-paying manufacturing jobs coming back to her own district.
Now, President Biden looks forward to visiting her district, as you’ve heard him say many times before, to highlight those good-paying jobs and the differences that they are making in the lives of real people on the ground in Georgia.
And finally, as I just mentioned, as somebody just talked about his wonderful suit today, the Admiral is here, John Kirby, to take a few questions on some policy — foreign policy news of the day, including Russia’s
suspesion [suspension] of the Black Sea Grain — Grain Initiative; the President’s call, as you all know, with the Prime Minister of Israel; and the President’s — and also Israel’s President’s visit tomorrow.
And, with that, Kirby, the floor is yours.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Karine.
Good afternoon, everybody. So I want to start today by addressing Russia’s irresponsible and dangerous decision to suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which will exacerbate food scarcity and harm millions of vulnerable people around the world.
Q Admiral, I’m not sure the microphone is working.
Q Yeah, we can’t hear you.
Q Same for KJP.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, sorry about that.
AIDE: I will contact someone.
MR. KIRBY: Should I just yell? (Laughter.) I can do that.
Q You’re on deck.
MR. KIRBY: Admirals can do that. Is that better? It sounds like it is. No?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I don’t think so.
Q No. Really boost it.
MR. KIRBY: Okay.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Give us — just give us a second. I want to make sure you’re heard, Admiral.
Is it okay if we just start — in the back? No?
Q Maybe I could hear it, but — and same with you — it’s just muted today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, gotcha.
MR. KIRBY: I’ll try to — I’ll try to project.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ll do — we’ll do our best.
MR. KIRBY: I’ve had my grandkids for the last two and a half weeks, so projecting is something I’m good at right now.
I want to start today by addressing Russia’s irresponsible and dangerous decision to suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which will exacerbate food scarcity and harm millions of vulnerable people around the world.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative has been critical to bringing down food prices, which have spiked as a result of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
More than half of the 33 million metric tons of grain and foodstuffs that have been shipped through the initiative have gone to developing countries, including some of the most food-insecure regions of the globe. These shipments have helped drive down and stabilize global prices. And every shipment under the initiative has contributed to reducing hardship in the world’s poorest countries, since bringing grain to world markets lowers food prices for everybody.
Russia’s decision to resume its effective blockade of Ukrainian ports and prevent this grain from getting to markets will harm people all over the world. Russia will be fully and solely responsible for the consequences of this military act of aggression.
Indeed, we are already seeing a spike in global wheat, corn, and soybean prices just today as a result of Russia’s suspension.
We urge the government of Russia to immediately reverse its decision.
Meanwhile, the United States has and we will continue to work with other countries to enable both Russian and Ukrainian grain to reach the rest of the world, including by ensuring that our sanctions do not target — contrary to Russian propaganda, they do not target Russian food or fertilizer. And we will continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to get that grain to markets that desperately need it even if that’s through other routes.
A lot of work to be done here. This is a deeply regrettable and, as I said, a dangerous decision that we urge Mr. Putin to reverse.
Now, just quickly a readout on the President’s discussion today with Prime Minister Netanyahu. They obviously talked about a broad range of global and regional issues of mutual concern. The President underscored his ironclad, unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and he condemned recent acts of terror against Israeli citizens.
The two consulted on our close coordination to counter Iran, including through regular and ongoing joint military exercises. They noted that U.S. — that the U.S.-Israel partnership remains a cornerstone in preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The President stressed the need to take measures to maintain the viability of a two-state solution and to improve the security situation in the West Bank. To that end, he welcomed Israel’s willingness to consider new steps to support Palestinian livelihoods and recognized promising steps by the Palestinian Authority for their part to reassert security control in Jenin and other areas of the West Bank.
He expressed concern about continued settlement growth and called on all parties to refrain from further unilateral measures.
The two leaders agreed to consult with regional partners with the aim of convening a meeting soon in the Aqaba/Sharm format as soon as possible.
They also consulted on progress towards establishing a more integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Middle East, including through efforts to deepen and expand normalization with countries in the region and beyond.
Finally, President Biden reiterated, in the context of the current debate in Israel about judicial reform, the need for the broadest possible consensus and that shared democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
With that, I’ll take questions.
Q Okay. Thanks, John. First on the call with Netanyahu, was the — the Israelis said there was an invitation to meet — to meet in the United States. Is that meeting at the White House, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly asked for?
MR. KIRBY: They have — they have agreed that they’re — that they will meet probably before the end of this year. And all the details of the “wheres” and the “whens” are still being worked out.
Q And then, secondly, on the Black Sea grain deal: Assuming Russia doesn’t lift this — this effective blockade, what other options are there that the U.S. can facilitate to get that Ukrainian grain out there? Was there additional resources that the U.S. can send to Ukraine? Just ship it out via rail?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, yeah —
Q Or is it really just at the mercy of Russia here?
MR. KIRBY: Well, look, to some degree, Russia does have a huge amount of responsibility here. By allowing our — in the previous months, allowing ships to leave through the Black Sea acro- — along an approved route.
But absent that, we’re going to have to, kind of, go back to where we were before the grain deal was put in place last July. And that’s been a year where, obviously, the bulk of grain wasn’t getting out, because the only other option you have for that is overland — by rail, by truck — overland.
And, of course, overland transport of anything in Ukraine right now is a pretty hazardous undertaking. And, of course, you’d have to go through EU countries; they all would have to be okay with that. They have farmers and farms that they have to be concerned about for their own economies.
So, it’s — it’s more cumbersome, less efficient, certainly not as effective — an effective way to getting all that grain out of Ukraine. And that’s why before the grain deal was put in place, food prices were going up; the developing world, the so-called Global South was suffering under food scarcity.
So, I mean, I don’t want to stand here and promise you that we’ll be able to fix everything as a result of this decision by Russia. We’ll do the best we can. We’ll continue to work with allies and partners to find new ways to get grain out.
But there’s no possible way, just mathematically, we’re going to get as much grain out now as we were going to be able to get out through the grain deal if it had been extended.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sebastian.
Q Thank you. Hello, Admiral. Also, on the grain — I’m just following up on Zeke’s question — specifically, is there any — is there any thought being given to a plan of just taking the grain out by sea with some kind of escort and, you know, more or less daring the Russians to stop it?
And then, on the bridge, which —
MR. KIRBY: Basically, you’re, you know, arguing — arguing that — well, you’re — not arguing, but you’re suggesting that we should just try to run a blockade — an effective military blockade in the Black Sea because that’s what’s happening here.
MR. KIRBY: No, that’s not an option that’s being actively pursued.
Q (Inaudible) Turkey had sort of played around with this idea quite a long time ago. That’s not happening?
MR. KIRBY: That’s not an option we’re actively pursuing.
Q Okay. Okay, thank you.
MR. KIRBY: On the bridge itself, the Russians keep making like — this sound like this is — this is a sort of casus belli. You know, “You can’t touch the bridge; we’ll — you know, we’ll stop the grain” — and so on. That’s how they present it. Does the United States think the bridge is a — is a totally legitimate military target?
MR. KIRBY: So, two — let me just take that in two bites. Number one, I’ve seen nothing that proves causation here that the strike on the bridge led to Putin’s decision not to extend.
He had already been leaning that way publicly.
Now, I’ll — won’t speak for him. If he has his own justification, he can do that. But I’ve seen nothing that points to causation.
And then, to your second question, we don’t — we don’t take it upon ourselves to determine legitimacy or illegitimacy of targets that the Ukrainians hit. They’re fighting for their own country. Crimea is Ukraine.
And we don’t tell them — and we don’t tell them what is or what isn’t legally a legitimate target. They determine their targets for themselves.
Q Or this not at all in the same category as strikes inside Russia, which is something that —
MR. KIRBY: Strikes inside Russia, we — we made it clear to — to the Ukrainians that we won’t encourage and we won’t enable strikes inside Russia. What we are trying to do and have been for 16 months is making sure that they can defend their own territory and to push back the Russian aggression on Ukrainian soil. Crimea is Ukrainian soil.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Just to clarify something. Russia is calling the bridge attack a terrorist attack. They’re blaming Ukraine. The Ukrainians have not, though, claimed responsibility. Have you determined who’s responsible? Or are you commenting on who’s responsible?
MR. KIRBY: We are not in a position to attribute the attack to any particular party at this point.
Q Okay. And you’ve made clear — obviously, publicly, you’re urging Russia to reverse this decision on the grain deal. Privately, are U.S. officials reaching out, discussing this matter with your counterparts in Moscow?
MR. KIRBY: We are discussing it with our — our counterparts at the U.N. and with our allies and partners. I know of no — I know of no specific discussions with Russian officials directly about it.
Q And can you just discuss again how immediately we may see the impact of this deal being terminated? When will vulnerable countries —
MR. KIRBY: I mean, prices went up today. Corn, soybean, and wheat all shot up today as a result of this decision. So, we’re seeing the impact right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks. Admiral, I — just one more follow on the — on the bridge. Have you assessed whether the attack had any effects on Russia’s strategic ability to move military equipment in and out of Crimea?
MR. KIRBY: In and out of Crimea?
MR. KIRBY: The short answer is I — I don’t know. I mean, I can’t — we haven’t — let me put it another way: We haven’t seen any impact of the strike on the bridge to Russia’s defensive posture and their military capabilities in Crimea or in Southern Ukraine.
I mean, they are still — they are still arrayed in defense in depth, they are still fighting Ukrainian forces, still trying to push back elements of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
I think it’s just too soon to know whether that attack on that bridge is going to have any significant military impact on their ability to continue to fight this war.
And — and yes, it provided land access, terrestrial access to Crimea. But the Russians have many, many, many other ways of providing logistics and sustainment to their troops in Ukraine. So, my hunch would be that this won’t have a dramatic effect on — on them.
Q And then, just another on — on Israel. The Congresswoman Jayapal said that “Israel is a racist state.” She later walked that back, but there’s been one in a number of comments from some Democratic lawmakers about Israel. I’m just wondering if the White House had any response to — to those comments.
MR. KIRBY: We saw that she apologized, and we’re glad she did. We think an apology was the right thing to do for those comments.
I think, as you saw from my readout of the call with Prime Minister Netanyahu and you’ll see this tomorrow when the President gets a chance to meet with President Herzog, our commitment to Israel is ironclad. And we’re going to make that clear and consistent every chance we — we get.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thanks, Kirby.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q I want to ask you about the Chinese hacking campaign that affected —
MR. KIRBY: Sure.
Q — Secretary Raimondo, among others. Do you have an update on how much damage may have been caused by this hack, what information was taken? And also, what does this episode tell you about the Chinese’s ambitions and capabilities with regard to spying?
MR. KIRBY: Okay, there’s a lot there. So, just let me set it up here.
It’s important to remember what this was. It was an intrusion into Microsoft cloud services on an unclassified level. And this intrusion allowed the hackers to get access to some email traffic, particularly, that were — that — that is the main concern here — of various government officials and agencies.
The reason Microsoft knew about it was because we told them about it. We found it and alerted them to that. And in so doing, we also took steps immediately to minimize any further impact by this intrusion and to close down any additional vulnerabilities.
We’re going to continue to evaluate the cyberspace environment in the wake of this to make sure that those fixes are, in fact, doing the job that we expected them to do and that — that we’re still protecting our vulnerabilities through — through cloud services and through unclassified email. So, we’re — we’re mindful of this.
I think it’s important to remember that our systems get attacked and — and we’re fending off intrusions every day, I mean, from a variety of state and non-state actors.
Cyber resilience and cybersecurity is a paramount concern for the President. You know, we’ve just recently rele- — released a brand-new cybersecurity strategy for the — for the country and certainly for — for the government that we think will have a positive impact on our ability to operate much more effectively and much more safely in that space.
Now, as for the attribution, we’re not in a position right now — and I don’t have an update for you on the investigation to give. We’re not in a position to independently verify attribution, but we have seen nothing that would cause us to dispute Microsoft’s finding that it was a hacking group out of the PRC.
Q So, you just said that you fend off these attacks every day. But, in this case, you didn’t fend it off, and all the things you talked about were reactive, not proactive. So, are you doing enough to proactively prevent the Chinese or another government from — from gaining access into our, you know, government emails?
MR. KIRBY: We — we work at it every single day. Does that mean that you can prevent every single attack of every single nature? No. I mean, it — some — unfortunately, sometimes they get through. But it’s not for lack of trying.
And this isn’t the kind of thing that — that — that you fix and walk away from. It’s the — cybersecurity is something you got to stay on top of every single day because the environment literally changes sometimes by the hour. So, I mean — I think everybody understands that. It’s something we’re working on very, very hard.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Courtney, in the back.
Q Thank you. A bipartisan group of senators intr- — and members of the House introduced a new Afghan adjustment bill. I know that you supported that concept in the past. Can you talk about whether you support the new — newly introduced bill and what you’re doing, if so, to get it passed?
MR. KIRBY: Well, we certainly support the legislative efforts here on the Afghan adjustment bill. And I — I don’t want to get ahead of the legislative process or speak for what the President will sign or won’t sign, but — but he feels strongly that we have to continue to do everything we can to welcome our allies — our Afghan allies to our shores or other shores where they might want to go to start new lives and to make it easier for them to integrate and become — and become citizens.
So, we’re grateful for the work that Congress is doing on this score. And we’ll con- — we’ll continue to stay in touch with them and continue to support those efforts as best we can.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael.
Q Admiral, thanks. The President had — had not invited Bibi Netanyahu to the United States since he came to power again in Israel. There have been a lot of, you know, talk about the message that that was intended to send — the delay in inviting him.
Can you talk — given the fact that some of the concerns that the administration has vis-à-vis the — the judicial reforms are still happening — I mean, they’re still there; it’s not like something has been resolved to the United States’ satisfaction. Can you talk about what went into the decision or what the President’s thinking or the President’s advisors’ thinking about finally extending an invitation and saying, “Yes, we want you to come here to the United States”?
MR. KIRBY: Everybody is getting focused on the invitation end of it and the — and the — and the meeting. And, again, there will be a meeting here in the United States sometimes in — in the fall.
But for the President, it was — this was a phone call that he and Prime Minister Netanyahu had actually been trying to get on the books for some weeks. And he just came back from travel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu had some — some issues he had to deal with back home. And so, it just — the — the call fell today.
That doesn’t mean that — and you shouldn’t take away from the fact that they had a conversation today and that they’ll meet again in the fall — that — that we have less concerns over these judicial reforms or — or less concerns over some of the extremist activities and behavior by some members of the — the Netanyahu cabinet. Those concerns are still valid. They’re — they — they — they’re disturbing.
The President had a chance to reiterate — as I said in my opening statement — our concerns about all of that in his phone call with the Prime Minister. And what we — what we have found to be a useful process here is dialogue and diplomacy. These are two leaders that know each other, have known each other for a long time. And as friends can and friends should, you speak honestly, openly, forthrightly, candidly. You lay it out there.
And President Biden has done that. He’s done it publicly with respect to the judicial reforms, and — and he’ll continue to do it in his conversations with Israeli leaders.
Q So we shouldn’t read anything into the fact that he finally relented and said, “Yes, we’ll meet face to face”?
MR. KIRBY: He believes that it was the appropriate time to have a conversation with the Prime Minister with respect to our — our relationship, which is a strong relationship. And he believed it was the right time to talk about meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu sometime in the fall.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Thanks. John, given President Herzog’s role in attempting to mediate a consensus agreement on this judicial reform and given the President’s own concerns, how much of a focus will the judicial reforms be during their meeting tomorrow?
MR. KIRBY: It will certainly be a topic of discussion, as it was today in the call with the Prime Minister. But I don’t want you to come away from this thinking that it’s the sole topic of concern. It — is it — it is — it is of concern. The President has made our concerns over it public, clearly.
But there’s an awful lot of other issues, which I fully expect will come up with the meeting with President Herzog tomorrow: the destabilizing activity out of Iran — I think you may have seen the Pentagon, not long ago, just announced some new deployments of military assets to the region in the wake of Iran’s attacks on maritime shipping; the potential for additional protests now in Iran, now that the morality police is back on the streets and minding what women are wearing; as well as climate change and other broad regional security issues, including the normalization and — and stronger integration of Israel in — into the Middle East.
Q A lot of the protesters in Israel who are protesting against this judicial reform, they have been sending a message directly to the President asking for more support — more vocal support from the President of the United States, protesting in front of the U.S. embassy compound in — in Tel Aviv. Does the President stand with these protesters? And — and what’s his message to them?
MR. KIRBY: The same message that he’s been sending publicly since this issue of judicial reform came up: that what we — we believe strongly in the democratic institutions and the ideals of democracy that the United States and Israel represent, not just in their particular parts of the world, but across the world.
And we want to see Israel be as vibrant and as viable a democracy as possible, and that means that you — you build programs and reforms and changes in a way that is based on compromise and, as I said in my opening statement, the broadest possible consensus across the governing organization.
And he want — he’s been clear, will make — continue to make clear that we stand for Israel. We stand for the Israeli people. We stand for Israel’s democracy. And we want to see that democracy and the hopes and the dreams of all Israeli people and all their aspirations met through strong, viable democratic institutions that are built on consensus and compromise.
Q And a quick one on the — on the grain deal. Before pulling out of this deal, Moscow has long complained that Western sanc- — that Western sanctions restrict the export of their agricultural products. Would the U.S. consider modifying sanctions on Russian agricultural exports or anything else to entice Russia to reenter this deal?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, as I said in my opening statement, Jeremy, that — that — that’s Russian propaganda. We — our sanctions aren’t targeting Russian agriculture. They were still, even as the grain deal was in place, able to get their grain and foodstuffs out. And there is no sanctions on fertilizer. This isn’t about shutting down Russian farms.
That is a trope that Putin puts out there. So there is no reason to consider changes since we’re not doing it in the first place.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Way the back. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. John, I want to ask you about something that’s starting to gain — gain steam here in Washington, which is UAPs, unidentified aerial phenomena.
MR. KIRBY: Yes. I know what that is. (Laughter.)
Q There is going to be a House Oversight Committee hearing at the end of this month. Senator Schumer has put forth an amendment to the NDAA that is modeled after the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act. What level of transparency does the Biden administration believe that the American public deserves and should have as it relates to UAPs?
MR. KIRBY: Well, without speaking to proposed legislation — I won’t do that — as you know, the Pentagon has stood up an entire organization to help collate and coordinate the reporting and analysis of — of sightings of UAP across the military. Before that, there wasn’t really a coordinated, integrated effort to do that.
And, of course, we will always want to be as transparent with members of Congress and with the American people as we can, considering national security concerns.
Q But there — this used to get laughed at for quite some time, for years and then decades —
MR. KIRBY: What gets laughed at?
Q The idea of Congress taking this up. I mean, Gerald Ford talked about this as a congressman back in 1966, and here we are — what is that? — 60 years later, give or take.
Is this a legitimate issue? Does the administration believe that getting to the bottom of these sightings in the air — is it a real concern? Is it a real, legitimate issue as you see it?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. I mean, we wouldn’t stood — we wouldn’t have stood up an organization at the Pentagon to analyze and — and try to collect and — and coordinate the way these sightings are reported if we didn’t take it seriously. Of course, we do.
I mean, some of these phenomena, we know, have already had an impact on our training ranges for — you know, when pilots are out trying to do training in the air and they see these things, they’re not sure what they are, and it can have an impact on their ability to perfect their skills.
It’s already had an impact here, and we just want to better understand it.
Now, we’re not saying what they are or what they’re not. We’re saying that there’s something our pilots are seeing. We’re saying it has had an effect on some of our training operations. And so, we want to get to the bottom of it. We want to understand it better.
Q Do you believe these whistleblowers that have come forward?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about individual whistleblowers.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, go ahead, Anita. Go ahead.
Q Thank you so much, John. I have an Iran question and an Afghanistan question. Just starting with Iran, if we can dig a little bit more into your comments about the morality police who are now hitting the beat again and enforcing the wearing of hijabs.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q You know, what is the administration’s take on this? What leverage do you have to counter this? Can you maybe extend more asylum invitations to Iranian women, so on and so forth?
MR. KIRBY: Well, as you know, we’ve already sanctioned members of the morality police. We’ve sanctioned some entities that have supported the activities of the so-called morality police that’s already led to the death of one young woman and — and the injury and wounding of countless others, men and women.
Iranian women should be able to decide for themselves how they’re going to observe their faith and how they’re going to dress in public. And nothing has changed about our stance on that.
And we’ll watch this closely. And if we believe that more accountability needs to be had, if we believe that we need to take additional action to put more pressure on the regime, we’ll do that.
Q On Afghanistan, Pakistan says the presence of Afghan reg- — refugees in Pakistan has created instability. They’ve accused Afghanistan of harboring anti-Pakistani militants, and they threatened to take action against them in Afghanistan.
I’m just curious, you know: What is the White House’s stance on this? And does the White House plan to use some of that over-the-horizon capability to assist them in targeting these — these individuals?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve seen no indication that Afghan refugees in Pakistan or along that border have — are guilty of acts of terrorism. And we’re grateful to Pakistan for the incredible generosity that they have extended to so many Afghans who are just looking for a safe and secure place to be. And we’ll continue to work with Pakistan, as we have on their legitimate terrorism threats and their challenges in counterterrorism.
I’m not going to speculate about an over-the-horizon event or not. I mean, the President has been clear that we’re going to take our — seriously our ability to improve our over-the-horizon — over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability. And we use it effectively as we need to use it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, the Treasury Secretary said of that hacking attack that she has concerns, the U.S. has expressed those concerns to China, but nevertheless we intend to deepen our discussions with China and increase our engagement.
Doesn’t that send the message to China that they can keep getting away with this?
MR. KIRBY: No, what — the message it sends is that the way you handle tensions, the way you deal with disagreements, the way you best deal with issues like this — assuming it’s a — I mean, again, I’m not in a position to attribute this, but assuming this is a PRC hacking group — is that — is engagement, is — is being able to have candid, forthright conversations and to hold each other accountable for behavior as appropriate.
Let’s not get ahead of the investigation. The FBI is still working on it; I don’t think we should get ahead of that. If there needs to be — as Jake said yesterday, if there needs to be accountability, then we’ll execute accountability.
But that doesn’t mean — even if it is — even if it is a hacking group from the PRC, it doesn’t mean that you torpedo an entire bilateral relationship — the most consequential in the world militarily, economically, politically — because of one act. You deal with it, you hold people accountable as appropriate, but you still got to work on making sure this relationship, this competition — and it is a competition, Jacqui — is handled responsibly.
Q Why is it an “if” there needs to be accountability, though? Doesn’t — shouldn’t someone be held accountable for hacking —
MR. KIRBY: Well, my —
Q — Cabinet-level officials in this administration?
MR. KIRBY: Of course. My answer to that was: If it’s, in fact, a PRC hacking group. And that was the context of the question.
But, yes, of course.
Q Was Gina Raimondo the highest-level official to be hacked? Was she the only Cabinet-level official?
MR. KIRBY: Secretary Raimondo?
MR. KIRBY: As far as I know, yes. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of an investigation.
Q And then, on the F-16s and F-35s to the Middle East, what was the final straw in pushing the Pentagon to make this move?
MR. KIRBY: I’d refer you to DOD.
Q Anything else on why that decision was made though? I know that it’s been a lead-up since May with all of the maritime issues, as you mentioned earlier.
MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, you’re talking about — you’re talking about the additional —
MR. KIRBY: — assets.
MR. KIRBY: I mean, first of all, again, I’d point you to the Pentagon to talk about that with more specificity.
But we have seen, in just recent weeks, an increased level of activity in the maritime environment of Iranian attacks on maritime shipping. They have become more bellicose, more active, and more dangerous to peaceful maritime shipping in the Gulf region.
And the Secretary of Defense wants to make sure, as he should, that we’ve got the proper capabilities and assets, readiness in place to deal with that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, just a couple more. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. So, on Tunisia: This weekend, Libyan border guards have rescued dozens of migrants, including children, who have been left in the desert by Tunisian authorities without water or food.
Human Rights Watch accusing (inaudible) of Tunisia of carrying out collective expulsion of sub-Saharan migrants. The United States have a pretty strong relationship with Tunisian authorities. So have you been talking to them? What’s your message to the Tunisian President?
MR. KIRBY: You know, I really don’t have a — a good sense on that today. I’d refer you to our colleagues at the State Department.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Kirby, there’s an FT report that, for the past decade, millions of U.S. military emails containing highly sensitive information have been misdirected to Mali due to a typo with —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — dot-ml instead of dot-mil.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q A Dutch tech entrepreneur who’s been managing the country domain has been warning about this for decades — for the past decade. And control over that domain returns to the Malian government on Monday. They’re a Russian ally.
So what is the administration doing to deal with this issue and prevent our sensitive military data from potentially falling into the hands of a Russian ally? And how was this allowed to go unaddressed for the past decade despite warnings?
MR. KIRBY: I would first point you to our colleagues at the Department of Defense. This is really more for them to speak to.
But as I understand it, they have now for quite some time have in place a tool that — that stops e- — outbound emails that don’t have the dot-mil at the end from going.
There’s not a — there’s — there’s not a huge amount that they can do for people sending emails into the dot-mil domain from outside. For instance, if you’re working on your home computer, and you’re sending a document to your work account or something like that — which perhaps you shouldn’t be working on official stuff at home anyway — but they have done training of DOD employees, as I understand it, to warn them about that practice. But when it’s inbound to a dot-mil address without M-I-L, it — there’s not a lot that the Pentagon can do to stop that.
But they’re — they’ve obviously been mindful of this for quite some time and have been, again, working on outbound fixes and working on training for any problems of inbound traffic.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kelly O —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — then Brian, and then we’ll take two from the back.
Q There is a meeting tomorrow from an emissary of the Pope with the President, Cardinal Zuppi, about humanitarian issues with Ukraine and so forth. Are you able to preview that at all? And is there any particular urgent event that is having him travel from Italy to meet with the President?
MR. KIRBY: The Cardinal is coming at the specific request and as an envoy of the Pope to have discussions here about the war in Ukraine, about — specifically about humanitarian concerns in Ukraine. As an example, the thousands and thousands of Ukrainian children that have been shipped off to basically concentration camps in Russia or Russia-occupied territory. And — and we look forward to having those discussions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Brian. And then we’ll take two more.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, if this sounds obvious to you, just let me know. Speaking with members of the DOD today, they say if Russia was successful on the battlefield, that we wouldn’t see this instiga- — they wouldn’t instigate a blockade. I’d like to know if you agree with that. And if so, how weakened do you think Russia is?
And as an ancillary to that, could you just upgrade us on the Wagner Group and any lingering effects that’s had on the Russian military?
MR. KIRBY: Well, there’s a lot there, Brian.
Q I’ll try.
MR. KIRBY: I can’t — I won’t even pretend to get inside Putin’s brain on why he’s made this — as I said — reckless decision on the grain deal. It’s completely irresponsible. And whether it’s related in some way to how poorly they’re doing in Ukraine militarily, or whether as — in Jeremy’s question — it’s related more to grievances that he has — has conjured up about Russian agriculture, I don’t know. We just know that it’s reckless and irresponsible, and we want them to change — to change their view on this.
As for how the counteroffensive is going, the Ukrainians have said themselves they’re not going as fast or as far as they would like. This is tough. I mean, we knew it was going to be hard when we were talking to them months ago about this, and it’s turned out to be hard. The Russians have had months to dig in and to be entrenched. Defense in depth. And defense is the stronger form of war. They’re taking advantage of that as the Ukrainians try to go on the offense now for, really, not the first time, but certainly the first time in a long time throughout the 16 months of war.
And they’re running into effective defenses, including significant minefields. And it’s hard enough to go through a minefield, whether it’s a maritime or terrestrial minefield, all by itself. And when you’re being shot at and shelled, which they are, it’s particularly hard.
So we’re just going to keep focused on — stay focused on making sure that they have all the tools and capabilities that — that they need.
And I don’t know if I completely answered yet a third question.
Q Yeah, well, it — do you see any lingering effects because of the Wagner Group? I mean, is there any —
MR. KIRBY: No. No. I mean — no.
We don’t know where all these guys are. We think some of them may still be in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine. We know some have gone to Belarus. We’ve seen reports that some have gone to Africa. I mean, there’s still a viable group here, and they’re still doing some pretty bad things.
But whether or not what happened with Mr. Prigozhin has had a dramatic impact on the war in Ukraine, I would have to say it’s too soon to know right now.
And the short answer is, in terms of the counteroffensive, we haven’t really seen a major impact.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, go ahead, Phil —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — and then Raquel. And then we’re going to wrap up.
Q Thank you, Karine. The administration has been critical of Senator Tuberville with his holds on military promotions because of social policy and saying that he is harming military readiness. On the flipside of that impasse — and this is something that Republican lawmakers have raised — why is the new DOD policy on abortion critical to military readiness?
MR. KIRBY: I’m really glad you asked that question.
Q (Inaudible.) (Laughs.)
MR. KIRBY: No, I mean, I really am.
One in five members of the U.S. military are women. Twenty percent. We’re an all-volunteer force. Nobody is forcing you to sign up and go. People volunteer to go. You raise your right hand and you say, “I’m going to — I’m going to do this for a few years or even for my life, and it might cost me my life to do it.”
And when you sign up and you make that contract,
you have every right to expect that the organization — in this case, the military — is going to take care of you, and they’re going to take care of your families, and they’re going to make sure that you can serve with dignity and respect no matter who you are or who you love or how you worship or don’t.
And — and our policies — whether they’re diversity, inclusion, and equity; or whether they’re about transgender individuals who qualify physically and mentally to serve to be able to do it with dignity; or whether it’s about female servicemembers — one in five — or female family members being able to count on the kinds of healthcare and reproductive care specifically that they need to serve — that is a foundational, sacred obligation of military leaders across the river.
I’ve seen it myself. And it matters, because it says we’re invested in you because you are being willing to invest in us. You’re investing your life, your family’s livelihood with us. We owe you ba- — that back in return.
I had a chance a couple of weeks ago to meet with some military spouses here at the White House. Some were active-duty members. Some were spouses. All were women. And to a one, they told me that abortion laws in this country that are now being passed are absolutely having an effect on their willingness to continue serving in uniform or to encourage — or discourage, in this case — their spouses from continuing service.
So, if you don’t think there’s going to be a retention and a morale issue, think again. Because it’s already having that effect.
I have a — a son in the Navy — I think you all know that — and son-in-law, too. They’re both stationed down in Norfolk on destroyers. You know, they’re proud to keep serving their country in the Navy. But, you know, the Navy told them where to go. They go — you go where you’re told. That’s the way orders work. You go where you’re assigned; you don’t get to choose.
And so, what happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place, and you’re concerned about your reproductive care? What do you do? Do you say “no” and get out? Well, some people may decide to do that. And what does that mean? That means we lose talent — important talent.
And we’re, again, an all-volunteer force. Recruiting is tough enough as it is with a very strong economy out there. We want to keep the people that we get, and we want to — we want to make sure that they can continue to serve.
So, it has — it can have an extremely, extremely significant impact on our recruiting and retention. Not to mention, it’s just the right darn thing to do for people that raise their hand and agree to serve in the — in the military.
Q Thank you, Admiral.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Raquel.
Q Thank you so much, Karine. Hi, John.
John, last week, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez asked the U.S. government to release secret documents about the U.S. involvement in the Brazilian — in the military coup in Brazil in ’64. In a week — a few days before that, a group of Brazilian organizations sent a letter to President Biden to request the same. So, what is the U.S. position on this matter? And will the administration consider releasing those documents?
MR. KIRBY: You know, I’m going to have to take your question. I — I’m not tracking this particular event. And I don’t want to speculate right now. But I’ll tell you what, we’ll take the question and we’ll get back to you. We’ll get you an answer.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, Admiral.
Q Thanks, John.
MR. KIRBY: See you. Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And, Admiral, I want to say thank you for — for your service and raising your hand. “Dignity and respect.” That —
MR. KIRBY: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That was really important. Thank you.
Oh, now — now the mic works. (Laughter.) Okay, go ahead. Kick us off. I don’t have anything else.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q First off, on the — the rise in grain prices that — that John assessed before, is there any U.S. con- — government concern that that could, sort of, raise inflation concerns here at home? I mean, you know, we saw some positive trendlines in last few months, but that that could reverse some of that — some of that progress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I think you — you said something that I definitely want to lean into — is we’ve seen some positive trendlines over the last 12 months, in particular as it relates to inflation and how we have seen it ease. We saw that most recently in the CPI numbers that we saw just last Wednesday.
And so, it — it’s gone down 12 months in a row to 3 percent, which is the lowest it’s been in the last two years. And everything that you are seeing with our economy being stronger, wages going up, unemployment going down — staying under 4 percent, something that we haven’t seen in 50 years — is because of Bidenomics, as you’ve heard us talk about. It’s because of the work that this President has done.
And — and certainly, we are leading globally and as — as our economy is getting back on its feet, especially after getting through this pandemic.
As far as the — the inflation, that may be caused because of the grain. I know the Admiral talked about how we’ve seen some prices go up just today. I don’t have a — you know, a full account of how that’s going to certainly affect the positive — the positive momentum that we have seen, as far as inflation going down. But it’s certainly something that we’re going to monitor and keep a close eye on.
Q And separately, Kirby got a question about Congresswoman Jayapal’s comments. I was going to ask you about another Democratic official’s comments. Robert F. Kennedy was filmed at a dinner suggesting that COVID-19 was ethni- –ethnically targeted at certain populations. The President is the leader of the Democratic Party. Does he believe that — that sort of language, rhetoric, sentiment has any place in the Democratic Party or in American public life at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s an important question. And I want to be careful here because I don’t want to address a 2024 candidate, right? We’re not going to do that from here.
But what I will say, more broadly, which I think is important, because I think is — you look at the last two, three years since 2020, since this pandemic hit, there are countless Americans — American families who are seeing an empty seat at the Thanksgiving table — right? — for the past — who knows? — couple of years — past year — a coup- — coup- — a couple of year because of what the pandemic has done to this — to — to families across this country, because of the suffering of COVID.
And that is something that we have to acknowledge. And that is something that it’s important that we speak to because, if anything, all of us probably have that same — sadly, that same thing in common that we have lost someone that we loved because of this pandemic.
So, the claims made on that tape is false. It is vile. And they put our — they put our fellow Americans in danger. If you think about the — the racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories that come out of — of saying those types of things. It’s a — it’s an attack on our fellow citizens, our fellow Americans. And so, it is important that we essentially speak out when we hear those claims made more — more broadly.
I want to quote something that the American Jewish Committee said, which is the “assertion that COVID was genetically engineered to spare Jewish and Chinese people is deeply offensive and incredibly dangerous. Every aspect of [these] comments reflect some of the most abhorrent antisemitic conspiracy theories throughout history and contributes to today’s dangerous rise of antisemitism.”
And so, this is something that — you know, that this President and this whole administration is going to stand against. When you hear that type of false — those false claims against — against those — against Asian Americans, against Jewish Americans, we’re going to continue to speak out.
And we believe — and this is something that we just heard: It’s important to protect the dignity and of — of our fellow Americans. It’s important to respect our fellow Americans. And so, it is, as — as you can understand, the core principle of our country.
Q And then lastly, you took a two-by-four earlier to Senator Tub- — Tuberville. The senator is a —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: A two-by-four. (Laughs.)
Q The President is a — is a — is a — is a former longtime member of the Senate. You talked about the concerns about military readiness here. At what point — why have we not heard the President call on his colleagues, many of them his friends, to — to end the process of holds and change the Senate — the — the way Senate works and — and to go around Senator Tuberville here to — because it’s that important?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, in Helsinki, the President spoke to Republicans in — in the Senate speaking up against this, right?
Q Democrats control the Senate, though.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, totally understand that. But we’re talking about one person — right? — one person who is holding this up, which is Senator Tuberville. He is the one holding this up.
Q (Inaudible) have that ability to hold things up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, that’s what we’re seeing. That’s — I mean, we’ve been talking about this act for weeks — for weeks. For weeks now, we’ve been talking about Senator Tuberhill — Tuberville and what he’s been doing.
And, look, it is — I’ve said this; the Admiral said this — It is holding America — America’s military readiness hostage. That is what he’s doing. It is one — really one senator who is doing that — who has been doing that these past several weeks.
And so, look, we’re going to keep speaking out to it. You heard that from me. You’ve heard that from the Admiral. You heard that from Jake, you — Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor. You’ve heard it from the President himself during his Helsinki press conference.
And so, we’re going to continue to be very clear about it. We’re going to continue to ask Republicans in Sen- — in the Senate to speak against this and — and to hold the senator — Senator Tuberville accountable.
Q But you’re not going to advocate to get rid of the hold process. That’s not —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, what we’re talking about is this particular process that we’re seeing right now, as it rel- — as we’re talking about the NDAA holding — holding these nominees, which is something that we’ve never seen before. This is a bipartisan process that has happened and occurred many years before — before this moment.
I — as you talk about the “two-by-four” that I just — you said that I just landed on — on the senator, we talked about what he said in 2021. We talked about — I talked about what he said in 2022. And, you know, we’re talking about our military — our military — our military families and making sure that we are ready to protect our national security.
Q Thanks, Karine. Following up on that, as it relates to Senator Tuberville: He spoke last week with the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Is — is there a sense from the White House that that conversation was productive at all and will there be any follow-up from the White House with Senator Tuberville regarding this issue?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have a readout to that conversation. I don’t have anything to follow up. But clearly, we’re — we have been, if not communicating at a podium, certainly communicating through members of this administration. I just don’t have anything else to share beyond — beyond —
Q And then, as it relates to the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — that conversation.
Q As it relates to the NDAA, is the White House confident that once this legislation goes to conference that most or all of these kind of conservative wish list items that made it into this bill will not be in the final version of the bill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what we believe and what we have said — and I think — I believe Jake Sullivan said this yesterday, as he was making the rounds on the Sunday morning show, is that this legis- — legislation will never get to the President’s desk.
Just a couple of things: You know, it is extreme, as you just stated, some of these provisions or specifics that are in the — in the legislation. It targets females and LGBTQ service members. A small number of House Republicans are — are playing politics, as I have said many times, with our national security and support for our troops.
This is historically done in a bipartisan way. This is how we’ve seen this process move forward. And we believe that — that it will be done in a bipartisan way. We have that confident that the Senate will wor- — do its job and — and get this to the — and gets this to the final bill in a more broad, bipartisan way. And so that’s what we believe.
And, look, this — this hurts our ability — right? — to — to recruit and retain the strongest — the strongest — the strongest military force that we have, the most diverse military force that we have. And so it is in the world. And so it is important that we get this done in a bipartisan way.
As it stands to now — as it stands today, this bill will not get to the President’s desk. We’re confident in that.
Q And then on a separate issue: On Thursday, the Secret Service closed its investigation into the baggie of cocaine that was found in the West Wing. In a statement Thursday — I believe it was Olivia who said that you guys have been briefed on the investigation. You were reviewing it. So what conclusions have you drawn from it? Do you expect Secret Service to make any changes to security protocols as a result?
And lastly, you had initially expressed confidence that the Secret Service would get to the bottom of this. Are you surprised that they didn’t?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, let me start with the protocol piece. That’s something that Secret Service is going to handle. Any changes of protocol, how we move forward, that’s something for them to deal with as they handle the security, certainly, of this campus and of the White House more broadly.
Look, we believe that, you know, that Secret Service did a thorough investigation. I’m certainly not going to opine on the — on the investigation.
Of course — of course, we’re going to have confident that they’re going to do their jobs and do everything that they can to get to the bottom of this. Of course. That is something that we have confidence. We will always have confidence in that.
But as you’ve just stated, we’ve been briefed on the outcome. And in their public statement, as well as the Secret Service have said, you know, there is a — there is hundreds of visitors that traveled through this area where — where the speci- — where — where the cocaine was found across that weekend.
And so I’m going to leave it to them for any additional information, but certainly not going to go — going to opine on — on — on the process here. But we believe it was a thorough investigation.
Q A couple economic questions, Karine. Does the White House support the aims of the entertainment industry workers who are on strike right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the President believes all workers, including — including the writers, including the actors, they deserve a fair pay. Right? And they deserve fair benefits. That is something that the President believes.
This is a president, as you’ve heard us say over and over again, that is the most pro-union president in history. And so — and so he believes in — and supports — consistently support workers — their right to strike. You’ve heard him say that.
He believes in collective bargaining and how it works, and so that’s what he believes. It helps business succeed, and it helps also workers secure wages, so that they can raise their family.
We’ve been talking about dignity and respect so families can raise — people — Americans can rai- — raise — workers can raise their families with dignity and respect.
So we sincerely hope that both actors’ and writers’ strikes get resolved and that the parties come together and have a mutually beneficial agreement as soon as possible. But, of course, we believe that all workers — all workers, including writers and actors — have the — have the — have the right — deserve to be able to have fair pay and benefits.
Q So we’ve got that strike. We’ve got the issue with the Teamsters. Is there any concern at the White House that labor strike generally is going to lead to more generous contracts and push wage inflation up higher? Do you agree with current and former Fed officials who say that wages need to not rise as quickly as they are to get inflation back down to target?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’m not going to get into the — the economics of this, like what economics experts are saying specifically about wages. But what we have seen — right? — from the CPI data: that wages have increased. We’ve seen unemployment go down. We’ve seen a positive, you know, movement with the economy because of what this President has done, because of Bidenomics.
I will say this: Again, we — this President believes in — that workers have the right to strike. They have the right to ask for fair wages, for fair benefits. They have a — he believes in collective bargaining. He thinks that’s an important tool that — that works. And — and so this is a — very much a pro-union president.
So he’s certainly not going to get in the way of that. He’s going to continue to — to make sure that he’s protecting — protecting that and speaks to that.
But as it relates to the economy more broadly, what we’ve seen from the data is important as well. What we’ve seen from what the President has done with his own policy is indeed working.
When you think about 13 — more than 13 million jobs created, when we see wages going up, when we see unemployment going down, that’s important. That’s because the President has made — made it a priority to make sure that we have an economy that works for all, that builds an economy from the bottom up, middle out. And that’s what you’ve seen from every policy that this President has put forward.
Q And just one more on that. The President had a tweet out last night saying that real wages for the average American worker have — are higher than they were before the — the pandemic. That tweet has now been annotated with a message from the platform, saying that that is not factual and that they have some — some — some stats and some charts footnoted along with that. Do you welcome that kind of contestation from tech platforms?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We disagree.
Q Do you have any — any —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we disagree because we’re looking at the data from — from February of 2021, and what we’ve seen is that wages have — have gotten stronger, have increased. We’ve seen that Biden eco- — economi- — Biden — Bidenomics has been really helpful in getting to make sure that we build an economy that leaves the one behind.
What we’ve seen from the beginning of this administration, with the American Rescue Plan, we’re making sure that we’re dealing with COVID. We were just talking about COVID and what the President has been able to do to deal with an issue that turned our economy upside down, that took the lives of many Americans. And because of this work that this President done –has done and also what Democrats were able to pass very early on, we’ve seen the — an economy that’s now growing.
And so that is — that is how we’re going to continue to move forward, make sure that, again, we have an economy that works for all.
Q And are you able to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q — share that information with Twitter, given the judicial —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure. Sure. We’re happy to do that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — after this.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just one follow-up on UPS. The Teamsters president specifically urged the White House not to intervene in the case of a strike, using the Taft-Hartley Act. Will the White House promise not to intervene if workers, in fact, do go on strike?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, anytime we hear — anytime we — we — there is — there are these discussion, we want to ensure we’re playing a constructive and productive role, right? That’s how we kind of move forward here.
As you just stated, the Teamsters have asked us to not get involved, not to intervene. And hopefully, the two sides can have — reach a mutual agreement and come to the table and do that collective bargaining that we — that I was just talking about.
We’ll continue to be in touch with both parties constructively, support any efforts to reach a solution. But again, we are confident that both sides are going to come to an agreement and — and so — and continue to have a constructive presence as we continue to stay in touch.
So that’s our role that we see — see playing moving forward.
Q Thanks, Karine. First, following up on the cocaine. You said that it was very important to President Biden that the Secret Service get to the bottom of who brought it into the White House. So can you just talk about his reaction when he learned that the investigation did not end with a suspect?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. And I appreciate the question. Look, I’m just not going to opine on this, not going to get into specific on this. We believe the Secret Service did a thor- — thorough investigation. We’ve been briefed on the outcome. They shared the detail in a public statement, which I think is important for the American people to hear directly from the Secret Service, who did the investigation.
Look, and one of the things that they said in the public statement is hundreds of people come through this particular area, and — and it — so it’s a heavily traveled working area. And so that’s what they were able to find doing this thorough investigation. And so — especially during that weekend. When you think about Friday, that Saturday, and that Sunday, and also that — I believe that Monday — that weekend, I should just say — that it was heavily traveled.
Q So is the President satisfied with the explanation that someone was able to bring an illegal substance into the White House because there are hundreds of people who
come here every day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I will say is that the Secret Service did a thorough investigation. That’s what we believe. They put out a public statement. I think that’s important.
Anything else detailing any details or any more information, I would reach out to the Secret Service.
Q Thank you. And then one more on Tuberville.
After President Biden made those remarks in Helsinki, the senator said that “[t]here’s no chance of changing my position if we don’t sit down and visit.” So why doesn’t the President sit down with him and try to hash this out?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Why does the senator continue to do something that is — that has been done in the past in a historically bipartisan way? Why? Why make this political? Why politicize and make it partisan?
That is something that this senator, Senator Tuberville, to be — to be specific — has done. And it’s hurting — it’s hurting our military readiness.
So this is actually a question — we’re not the problem here. We’re not causing this. This is the senator who’s causing this.
He’s causing something that has never been done before. Historically, this is done in a bipartisan way. So he’s holding this up, or has been holding this up, and this is a question for him.
Q So just to be clear, when the President said that he would sit down with Tuberville if he thought there was any possibility he would change his ridiculous position, that was the President saying “no”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I’m saying is: This has been historically — hist- — historically a bipartisan bill. And so — which has been made recklessly partisan. That’s what I’m saying. And it’s hurting our ability to recruit. It’s hurting our ability to retain the strongest and most diverse military that we have in the world. That’s what he’s doing.
And so that is a question for him to answer.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just going to try and call on some- —
Q Thank you. I’m wondering what the administration’s priorities are for the Farm Bill and anything specific related to nutrition.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have anything up- — to update you on the Farm Bill or anything related to nutrition. I would have to go back to the team and get back to you on that. Just don’t have anything new to share at this time.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q Yeah, thanks, Karine. So the Penn Wharton Budget Model recalculated costs based on the new rules for the student loan forgiveness. The model now says that those rules will cost an additional $475 billion over the next 10 years.
I’m just wondering when the President will — will unveil a plan that actually reduces spending.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, just a couple of things because — as it relates to — and you’re talking about the student loan?
Q The student loan forgiv- — the new rules that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Yeah.
Q Yeah, from the Department of Ed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the Department of Education, they estimated this particular piece to cost about $156 billion over the next decade. And the reason why we were able to do this, the reason why we believe this is being done in a responsible way — and let’s not forget we can afford to give middle-class Americans, middle-class families, a little bit of breathing room, as you hear from this President over and over again.
And so — and it’s because the progress that we have done, we have done to — to make sure that the deficit is coming down. And that is something that the President has done.
Let’s not forget, the first two years, the deficit has gone down by more than $1 trillion. And that is the def- — and the deficit reduction, because of Bidenomics and because of the work that he’s been doing.
Q But that’s COVID spending coming off. The deficit is actually increasing —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, but it’s still —
Q — according to the CBO.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, what — the — what we have seen is it’s gone down over a trillion dollars, right? And he has done this in a responsible way. And so he has done reduction. As we look at the deficit, it has come down and done so more than any other president has been able to do in their four years — first four years of the administration.
And so that — that’s important, as well. And so he’s taken policies that have been responsible, that has made sure that it doesn’t — it doesn’t add to the deficit, that it actually decreased the deficit. And you’ve seen that over — if you think about the Inflation Reduction Act, you’ve seen that over and over again in historical pieces of legislation that he’s put forward.
Q Let me ask you about EVs. Ford just cut the price of the F-150. Cox Automotive is showing that dealerships now have a 92-day supply of EVs on their lots, which is about twice the average for a gas-powered car on their lot. Is this the marketplace speaking, saying that people don’t want this transition as quickly?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’ve seen that same study. A couple of things that I also want to make sure that folks know about:
The EV sales hit a record high last quarter and increased nearly 50 percent from the same time last year. So that’s important to note. And EV prices are actually down 20 percent per year-over-year on average, with EVs that are eligible for the Inflation Reduction Act credits seeing high demand. So we’re seeing a lot of high demand here, which matters as we’re looking at the study.
And because of what this President has done — and the congressional Democrats, as we think about the Inflation Reduction Act — sales are going up. Car- — costs are coming down. That’s important to note.
It’s also good to see that after a couple of years where it was hard to find electric vehicles, they are now readily available for consumers. So, you know, that is also important as we move forward with Inflation Reduction Act — as we move forward in implementing a very historical piece of legislation that’s going to deal with climate change, that’s going to create record — record jobs — right? — good-paying union jobs. All of these things are coming out of the work that this President and Democrats have been able to get done.
Q Thanks, Karine. I saw there was a report that President Biden and Senator Sanders are meeting with labor organizers today at the White House. I was wondering, I guess, one, if you had any details on that. And two, if the President has any plans to raise the senator’s — his decision to hold up the President’s NIH nominee while the two are at the White House today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So a couple of things about the President — the President and Senator. They’re going to drop by a White House meeting with young workers organizing unions in a ver- — variety of industries, many of which have not traditionally been organized. Workers — workers participating in Monday’s meeting include employees of Starbucks, Minor League Baseball, Bluebird, and — and Sega.
During Monday’s meeting, the President and Senator Sanders are expected to congratulate organizers for the work they’ve done to lead a resurgence of labor organizing across the country and discuss his belief that worker power is essential to growing the economy from the middle out and bottom up.
So administration officials — just a few of them who are going to be joining — joining the — the — the President and the senator — it might; I think might be — it may have happened already — is Act- — Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su; the White House National Economic Council Director, Lael Brai- — Brainard; and White House Director of Government Affairs Tom Perez. And so those are going to be the folks who have — I think already — I think this already happened — joined — joined the President and the senator.
And I think he might be going to the sticks at some point to take your questions.
Q And were there any plans to raise the concerns about the NIH nominee or were —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That part I can’t —
Q — there any discussion at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — I can’t speak to what was brought up in — in the conversation that he may have had with the President. But I can tell you about this meeting that occurred moments ago.
Q A White House official last week said that they hoped Senator Sinema would change her position on the nomination of Julie Su. Did Senator Sinema tell the White House she would oppose the nomination?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have anything to share. She’s going to have to — clearly, the senator can speak for herself.
What I can say is that we are committed to Acting Secretary Julie Su to get through and become the next Secretary of the Department of Labor. That is our commitment that we have had for the past several months. And we’re continuing its un- — unwavering commitment. And so we’re going to continue to — continue to fight hard. The President is going to continue to fight hard. His White House office is going to continue to fight hard to get her through.
We believe that she is qualified to be — to be Secretary of the Department of Labor. She has shown that over and over again as the Deputy Secretary of Labor. She has been effective. And she got — as you all know, got Democratic support when she became department — the Deputy Secretary of Department of Labor, and we believe that she — she should get that support for this — for this secretary position as well.
Go ahead, Courtney.
Q Thank you. I wanted to ask about Julie Su again. Is the White House still actively having what you call those “war room meetings” with different officials to try and get her confirmed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So what I can say is we’re actively working very hard to get her confirmed. We believe she is qualified to be the Secretary of Department of Labor. And so that is our commitment and the President’s commitment.
Q Thanks, Karine.
Q And I also wanted to ask you about the two strikes in Hollywood. Is the White House or another representative of this administration going to get directly involved in that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I — I don’t have any more to share of what I just laid out. Look, we believe, and the President knows, that collective bargaining works for employees and employers. That is something that he’s been very consistent about and has said over and over again. He urges both parties to negotiate in good faith and reach a mutual, acceptable resolution. And so that’s what the President is going to call for.
And he believes that both writers — both writers and actors, they deserve a fair — fair pay and also fair benefits.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
Q And I also wanted to ask one more thing on the Teamsters. You — you mentioned how you’re keeping in touch with both parties on this to be a constructive part of it. Who in the administration is doing that? I know in the past, on different union issues, you’ve appointed certain Cabinet officials or White House officials to lead on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have a — I mentioned — just last week, I had mentioned for EAW. We talked about — we talked about Gene Sperling. As you know, Julie Su has always been — been as — as the Acting Labor Secretary, has always been involved in — at least in having these conversations, staying in touch. Don’t have anybody particularly leading it. But certainly Julie Su is certainly involved in keeping in touch and having those conversations.
Q Thank you.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Great. Thanks, everybody. See you tomorrow.
4:20 P.M. EDT