James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:39 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, nice. (Laughter.) I love that.
Okay, so, this afternoon, as you all know, the President will convene his Competition Council to mark the second anniversary of the council’s work to lower costs for the American people and strengthen our economy. Promoting competition to lower cost and support small businesses is a central pillar of Bidenomics.
As the President says capital — capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism, it is exploitation. Without competition, costs add up. One study found that higher prices and lower wages caused by lack of competition cost the median American household as much as $5,000 annually.
The President’s Competition Council continues to deliver results. The Department of Agriculture is helping lower food prices with a historic partnership with over two dozen bipartisan state attorney generals to promote competition and crackdown on price gouging in food and agricultural markets.
Zillow, Apartments.com, and AffordableHousing.com answered the President’s call to eliminate hidden junk fees by committing to show prospective renters all fees upfront.
And the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are proposing updated merger guidelines to protect the American people from anti-competitive mergers.
This follows bold actions we have taken to eliminate junk fees, hidden junk fees, and high costs in air travel, healthcare, banking, and hearing aids that are all saving families hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars a year.
The council’s work is another example of Bidenomics at work that is lowering costs and creating a more level playing field for small-business entrepreneurs and also workers.
Another event that happened — that is happening here today or happened earlier is that we had more than 90 state legislators from across the country that came to the White House for a state convening on childcare with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and also the Director of the Gender Policy Council, Jen Klein; the Director of Domestic Policy Council, Neera Tanden; and the Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Tom Perez.
The conversation was centered around how we can all work together to expand access to affordable childcare, take on out-of-pocket costs, and support childcare workforce.
We hosted today’s convening because the Biden-Harris administration understands that high-quality care is fundamental to families across the country. And the implementation of care depends on the states. States determine who is eligible for childcare assistance, how much parents will pay out of pocket, and how much child providers are reimbursed.
And now thanks to the actions taken by this administration, states have even more avenues to improve childcare access, affordability, and also quality. As the President has said many time, no — many times — no parent should have to choose between caring for their children or the paycheck they rely on to take care of their children.
This work is more important than ever, and we will continue — we’ll continue to take actions that provide relief to working families — that breathing room that the President talks about often as well.
Now, turning to Ukraine, some news there: The Department of Defense announced a new security — security assistance package to support the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend their country. This package includes more critical air defense capabilities such as National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems and additional systems to help Ukraine shoot down Russian and Ukrainian drones.
The package also includes additional artillery rounds and mine-clearing equipment, as well as unmanned aerial systems, and equipment that will help Ukraine better protect its ports. These latter capabilities will become increasingly important, especially now that Russia has pulled out of the grain deal and has renewed attacks on port cities, as we have seen over the past two days.
The weapons and equipment we are announcing today are being procured by the Defense Department for Ukraine through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative as part of our commitment to strengthen Ukraine’s military over the near and also long term.
As President Biden made clear in Vilnius last week, the United States is committed to supporting Ukraine alongside our allies and partners now and for the long future, as we get — head into the future, clearly.
Finally, one last thing. As many of you know, the Women’s World Cup begins in less than 24 hours. How exciting. The Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, is leading the U.S. delegation to the tournament. He’ll attend tomorrow’s opening ceremony, as well as Team USA’s first game against Vietnam on Friday. Go Team USA.
In addition to World Cup events and engagements with Team USA, the Second Gentleman will highlight U.S. and New Zealand shared values and priorities during his trip through his engagement with civil society, the private sector, and community leaders in New Zealand.
The Second Gentleman — Gentleman will also deliver remarks to young women and girls as part of a panel discussion on gender equity and women in sports. He is, of course, thrilled to be there representing the administration and, of course, re- — rooting for Team USA.
As the President said himself, this team epitomizes what it means to be champions. And we are all rooting from — for them here at the White House.
I know you guys were probably waiting for a Tuberville topper, but I don’t have one for you today.
Aamer, hi. Good to see you.
Q Good to see you too. Could you walk us through what efforts have been made over the last 24 hours or so by the U.S. government to contact the North Korean government about Private King?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q And has the U.S. been able to ascertain where he’s being held and his condition? And is there any further understanding about his motivations to flee or his state of mind at that moment?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, all good questions, Aamer. I have a couple of things at the top just to share so that folks are all tracking.
As you know, yesterday, the Department of Defense notified the next of kin. And so, as you mentioned, identified the individual as a U.S. Army Private Travis King.
The White House, Department of Defense, the State Department, and the U.N. are all continuing to work together on this matter to ascertain the information — the questions that you just asked me about his well-being and the whereabouts of Private King.
We are still gathering all the facts. It is still very early on. I believe the Secretary himself of the Department of Defense said yesterday it might take us a little bit of time to ascertain all of that information. But again, we’re gathering all the facts.
But I want to be very clear that the administration has and will continue to actively work — actively work to ensure his safety and the return of Private King to us and to the fam- — to his family, obviously.
So, that includes what we’re doing as outreach to the administration of Sweden — and also South — to South Korea as well on this matter.
The Department of Defense, as I mentioned yesterday, is in — is — has been engaged and having communications with its counterparts — the KPA — on the well-being of Private King.
Again, we’re working to ascertain all the facts, all the information that we can. And as soon as we have more to share, we certainly will.
But our prim- — primary goal is to make sure that we ascertain his well-being, get a sense of how he’s doing. But also, clearly, we are committed to bringing him home.
Q So is it fair to assume Sweden hasn’t had any luck thus far with getting any answers from —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So —
Q — the North Koreans?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — don’t have to sh- — don’t have anything to share on our conversation specifically on Private King as it — as it relates to his — where he is and his well-being.
But I can tell you that we have been engaged since yesterday — I think I mentioned this at the podium that we’ve been engaged with Sweden and also South Korea.
Q If I could just ask one more on the Competition Council thing. Generally, with the council and these guidelines that have been rolled out — like the ones that have rolled out today — Republican lawmakers and some business group have (inaudible) this criticism that these efforts will lead to greater regulatory costs that leave the economy worse off. How do you ensure that any new regulatory burdens don’t undermine the savings you’re trying to generate for consumers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, so, we are — we are very confident in — in the actions that we announced today. And I just — I also mentioned the other actions that we have announced about these hidden junk fees — right? — and also the hearing aids. I mean, this is something the Competition Council has been very zeroed in on.
And so, we are confident that this will — this will lead to the outcome that we certainly are trying to provide for the American people.
As I mentioned, competition is a key pillar of the Bidenomics and it is part of the President’s agenda. We believe it’s going to lower — lower costs for American families in targeted areas. When you think about those surprise medical bills — I talked about the hearing aids. And so that’s our focus.
And I said this at the top, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to capitalism without competition, then it isn’t capitalism; we’re talking about exploitation. And that’s what the President is trying to deal with when you think about these big corporations that are gouging — they’re gouging Americans.
So, the President is going to continue to do the work. We’re — the way that we see this, as it comes to the competition’s — the President’s competition agenda, we’re talking about supporting pro- — pro-small business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-worker, and pro-consumer. And that is, we believe, Bideno- — Bidenomics in action. And so, we’re confident in that.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q You mentioned Sweden and South Korea. But just to be clear, has the administration reached out to China at all for their help in this case?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any — any engagement with China to read out to you at this time. But I can tell you for certain that South Korea and — and Sweden, we have engaged with them.
Q And on another issue, Texas has been installing these buoys along with razor wire on the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass. Mexico is now requesting that Texas remove these barriers. They say the state is violating international treaties. And Mexico actually says they first raised this with the administration three weeks ago.
So, do you agree with Mexico that Texas is violating these international treaties? And if so, how do you plan to respond?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I saw some — I saw these reports. And I think one of the things — and I’ve been very clear about this — that this governor has done over and over again is treated this — this situation that we’re seeing at the border in an inhumane way.
It is atrocious the — the actions that he decides to take. He ta- — he takes this — instead of dealing with this issue in a way that we can get to a resolution and working together, he turns it into — you know, he turns it into a political stunt. And that’s what we have seen.
I can’t speak to conversation three weeks ago with the Mexico — Mexican government. I don’t have any information to share on if that came up in conversation.
But, you know, this is not surprising. This is not surprising.
Just yesterday, I was asked about — about banning children — migrant children, not offering them water. This is what we see over and over and over again from this Texas governor, from Governor Abbott.
And it is — it is — all we’re asking for, all we — as a country, and what we should hold near and dear is the basic human decency — basic human decency. And we are just not seeing this from this governor.
Q It’s clear you disagree with the governor on this, but what comes next here? And what — does the administration believe that these barriers, these buoys need to be removed? And what can you do to force that, if so?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, this is — as it relates to any legal action, that’s something that Department of Justice is going to certainly look into or has to deal with.
As it relates to the indecent, inhumane way that migrants are being taken — you know, the actions that are being taken against them, I can continue to condemn them here. Right? And take — we’ve done that in the most strongest terms. And — and so I’ll just — I’ll just leave it from there at the moment.
Q Just to clarify, has the administration discussed this with the Mexican government?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have a — I don’t have any information on a conversation that happened a couple of weeks ago with the Mex- — with the Mexican government. I can’t — I can’t confirm that — or, currently, I can’t confirm this coming up. I would have to certainly refer you to the Mexican government.
What I can say is what I know and how this governor has treated migrants. Instead of dealing with the situation in a way that we can actually have results, he’s used this in a political stunt, and that’s shameful. And we’re going to continue to condemn that. We’re going to continue to call that out.
Q Karine, we saw the Tom Friedman column based on a meeting with the President. Is this true that the President is now deeply worried for the stability and future of Israel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I — I’m not going to — he — I think, the column — Tom has a quote — directly quoted the President. And so, I will let the President’s quote stand on its own.
The President has — as you know, had productive meetings with the President of Israel, President Horzag [Herzog], and also the Prime Minister. He had a phone call, as you all know, with the Prime — Prime Minister Netanyahu.
And the President has been very clear — right? — his — his — his relationship with Israel goes back to his early days in the government. It is strong. It is deep. And it is a special relationship.
And certainly, we are committed. We are committed to Israel’s security. And — and so, we’re going to continue to — that commitment not just as President, but as a commitment that we’ve had as — as the U.S. as I — we — as we continue deepening that relationship with Israel.
But I will let the — let his comments in the article stand for itself.
Q And further, does he want Prime Minister Netanyahu to abandon the judicial overhaul that he’s proposing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ve been also very clear about that, right? That conversation about the judicial reform, the President has had direct communications with the Prime Minister on that. We — we — we shared that in the readout that we shared with all of you, you know, a day or two ago. He had that conversation. It certainly came up with the President.
As we know, the President of Israel has played — has played kind of a mediator role in those conversation. The President — we have said, when it comes to our relationship with Israel, the U.S. relationship with Israel, it — the core — at the core is democratic values, and that’s what we believe.
And any changes — any major changes certainly needs — and it says it in this article — you need a broad consensus to make any changes. And so, that says it in the article.
The President has been very clear. I have been very clear. We’ve all been very clear as it relates to the judicial reform.
Q Thank you.
Q Thanks, Karine. You said moments ago that you’re — that the U.S. government is actively working to ensure Private King’s safety and his return to his family here in the U.S. But by all accounts, Private King ran across the border. So, what if he doesn’t want to come back home?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals on that.
Right now, we are very much at the beginning of this investigation. We’re looking into it. I mean, we said it was done willfully. Clearly, we’ve been very upfront about that. The Department of Defense said that yesterday during their press conference. I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals from here.
Our — our commitment is to do everything that we can to actively work to ensure that he’s safely — his safety and that he returns — we return him home to his family.
Q Will the U.S. accept if he has freely chosen to defect to North Korea?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just can’t get into hypotheticals from here. I get the question. I just — I can’t get into hypotheticals from here.
Q And then on another topic. A new Monmouth Poll shows that Americans still disapprove of the President’s handling of inflation. They are by and large split on his handling of jobs and unemployment.
So, a few weeks into this new Bidenomics push, how do you rate how you guys are doing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the polls don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell the full story, and we understand that. The data shows the combination of unemployment and inflation is at near historic lows. That’s what we have seen. Consumer confidence is increasing, and also wages are rising. That’s what certainly the data is showing.
And when you think about our econ- — economic recovery is stronger. And inflation is currently lower than any other leading world economic countries, when you think about the G7.
So those are the facts. We’re going to continue to have those conversations with the American public. As you know, the President is going to go to Philly tomorrow, talk about his invest — Investing in America plan. We’ve seen that ac- — we’ve seen the Cabinet secretaries go across the country, crisscross the country having those conversations.
But as we believe it, you know, the polls don’t tell the entire story. And so we’re going to continue to have the conversation. We’re going to continue to have a conversation with the American people.
Q How long do you think it’s going to take for the public to start —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I — you know, I —
Q — feeling differently about the economy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a timeline for you. But we know, just looking at the midterms — right? — the results of the midterms — Americans want us to continue to work and build on the historic actions that we have taken. They want to see a lowering — us continue to work, the President to continue to work on lowering costs. That is what matters to them: focusing on the economy. We’re going to hear from the President very shortly about his Competition Council and what they have been able to accomplish on dealing with hidden junk fees.
All of those things are important. And we’ve seen very good stories from some of you speaking about the technical — the technical, kind of, apparatus of it, how this is going to work, and how this is going to benefit the American people.
So, look, we’re going to — we’re going to continue to talk. We’re going to continue to share our message. We’re going to continue to be out there, and you’re going to see that from the President in — in about an hour or an hour or so from now.
Go ahead, Kelly O.
Q Any expectation that at the Congressional Picnic tonight your two most frequently mentioned, of late, Republicans, Senator Tuberville and Marjorie Taylor Greene, would be in attendance? And has the President made any effort to encourage them, especially Tuberville, to come forward? Even a casual relationship-building moment over the impasse you have with the military policy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have a list of who’s attending. As you know, there — there are a lot of members — (laughs) — at least in the House and certainly about, you know, 100 senators on the other side. So don’t have a list of who’s attending.
Clearly, this is an opportunity for both sides to come to the White House and enjoy the time here on the South Lawn, enjoy a picnic with their family. And this is something that congressional members — both sides of the chamber — enjoy. And we always have. It’s always been a wonderful time here on the South Lawn.
Don’t have anything more to share.
Look, you know, I get the question. And I know this is coming from the press conference from last week in Helsinki and the President’s comments. But we also have to be very clear that what Senator Tuberville is doing is unprecedented. It is something — holding — holding these nominations, as we look at making sure that our military is prepared, making sure our military families are well taken care of, that is not something that normally occurs. This is a process that’s done in a bipartisan way.
And so, you know, we’re going to continue to call out — call that out. It is, again, unprecedented. This is not how we should be moving forward as we think about our military force, as we think about the families of these military members.
And it is important to lay that out: What he is doing is dangerous, and it is shameful. And so, we can’t allow that.
I don’t have a conversation to announce or to share that the senator — with the senator. Obviously, we have an Office of Leg Affairs here who’s in constant communication with members — with members in Congress, and that always continues. And they talk about a variety of issues.
But, I mean, the President should not have to call the senator to tell him to stop putting our military reade- — readiness in harm’s way, to not — to not put military families without under- — knowing where they’re going to go next or making sure that they’re secure. And so that is not something that the President needs to tell Senator Tuberville.
And we’ve also — yesterday, I read a bunch of quotes from a CNN article from his own constituents who are — either have family in the military or are veterans themselves who say that the senator does — may not understand exactly what’s happening here and what he is doing is — is dangerous.
Q Wesleyan University has ended the practice of legacy admissions. You know, President Biden, as you know, has criticized the practice, and he’s called on the Education Department to look into it. Can you say anything about where that process stands, and whether the President supports a widespread elimination of the practice?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I have not seen that story, so I — as it relates to where we are with the — with any parts of the plan or the process, I would have to refer you to the Department of Education. This is something that I just haven’t had an opportunity to talk with folks here about, so I don’t have anything further to share on that piece.
Q Just on another issue: Two senators — one Republican, one Democrat — are preparing to introduce legislation that would ban federal executive branch employees and lawmakers from owning stocks in individual companies. This has become an issue with a potential conflict of interest. Does the President support that concept broadly, that — that members of the administration and lawmakers shouldn’t own individual stocks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I think we’ve been — we’ve spoke- — we’ve spoken to this before. As you know — you know, the President — you’ve seen the President’s — his own — kind of, where he stands on that for himself personally, on — when it comes to stocks — and him, of course, not owning stocks and where he is. And we’ve been very clear about ethics here. We’ve had a very stringent kind of process as it relates to ethics and — and — and as it relates to staff here. So that hasn’t changed. We’ve kind of laid that out and been very clear on that.
As it relates to this bill, I haven’t seen the bill. I haven’t talked to the Office of Leg Affairs on it. So I don’t want to comment, get ahead of that.
Q Thanks, Karine. On Tuberville, he spoke to the Defense Secretary yesterday. He said afterwards it was a good call, but then nothing has changed. What is the next step? Are they planning to speak again? Does anyone have a plan to speak to him again?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, the next step — that’s up to the senator. I mean, this is something that he’s doing. He’s holding these nominees. He’s holding America’s military readiness — that’s what he’s doing — as well as service members and their families, and he’s holding them hostage.
It is divisive. It is a political stunt. It is a — it is — it undermines our national security. This is something for the senator to speak to and answer to why is he doing this.
And so, I don’t have any calls to read out. Clearly, this is not the first time that the Secretary has either reached out or spoken to him. He’s — you know, this is — this is something, clearly, that the Secretary — as the Department of Defense — these are — these are the people that he is in charge of, right?
And so, it is just shameful that — that he continues to do this. And we have been very clear: We call on Republicans in the Senate to speak up, to speak out, and not let this process — which should be a bipartisan process — be hijacked by one person.
Q On that front, does the White House believe that Republican leaders in the Senate have any particular responsibility or any specific leverage to get him to change his mind?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we think that they can. We think that they can speak up and speak out. We think these Republican senators and Congress — that it’s important to do this, that they actually speak to the senator and ask him, “What is going on? Why are you doing this?” This is not — this is not how we should move forward, and as we — as it relates to our national security, our military force, our military families.
And so they have — they have — it’s — we believe that they have a — you know, it is on them as well to speak up.
Q But, obviously, lots of people have spoken to him, and he hasn’t changed his mind. Do you believe there’s anything else that Republican leaders or rank and file in the Senate can do to try to influence his position?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand the question, Nancy, but it’s — it’s a shame that we have to ask this question: “What else can be done to get this one senator, who’s holding our military redi- — readiness hostage, our military families hostage — what else can we do to change their mind?”
That shouldn’t be — that shouldn’t even be a question. This should be done in a bipartisan way. We should not be holding our military force hostage.
And, I mean, that’s why almost every day during — every — every press conference this week, I have called this out. We’ve called out Senator Tuberville, because we’re trying to send a message to him to say, “Hey, this is not the way we should be moving forward. This is unprecedented.”
We even had — at the podium yesterday, as I just mentioned, we even had quotes from people — this is — we’re talking about his constituents, veterans in his — in his own state. Not only that, military fam- — families in his own state saying, “This is not okay,” that he may not fully understand what is going on here.
And so it is — it’s so disrespectful to the sacrifices that our military force is making, the sacrifices that our military families are making. It is — this cannot continue.
And so this is something that he has to — that he has to deal with.
Q Are there any calls or conversations that you can read out between the White House and Republican leadership about this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any calls to read out at this time.
Q On U.S. investment in China: There’s an executive order that’s been in the works. A question on the timeline. Are you confident that that — we’ll see that EO by say, like, the end of August?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, don’t have anything new on the EO to preview or a timeline to preview. It’s a complicated process, as I’m sure you understand, and so we want to make sure that we get this right. And it takes some time.
What I can say is that making progress and formulating an approach to address outbound investment in sensitive technology, particularly for transactions in critical sectors that could undermine America’s national security. So we’re trying to formulate that approach.
But it is — it’s going to — it’s a complicated process. We want to get it right. And once we have more to share, we certainly will share that.
Q So, yesterday, Illinois moved to become the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail. And I wanted to ask you about this specifically, because during the 2020 campaign, I know that then-candidate Joe Biden had described cash bail as a “modern day debtors’ prison.”
And so, I wondered if you could give us an update — I know he had promised to eliminate it — on where efforts stand at a nationwide level.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s a good question. Don’t have anything specifically on what our efforts are on cash bail. I would — I would have to get back to you specifically on the plan. But I don’t have anything —
The President’s — I should say the President’s stance has not changed.
Q Okay. Can I also ask — in this debate in the state of Illinois, there were prosecutors, law enforcement who essentially said that this would lead to a more dangerous climate in the state. I wondered if you all have a message to law enforcement who do have concerns that eliminating cash bail could lead to more dangers.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, one of the things that the President has always been very clear about is — if we’re talking about the economy, as we’re talking about building an economy that is — doesn’t leave anybody behind — right? — that is — that has equity at the center of it — this is part of that — right? — making sure that we treat people fairly.
And so, certainly that is part of that. And we think about, you know, racial injustices, inequality. This certainly plays into that.
I don’t have anything new to share on that particular — on that particular issue as it relates to cash bail. But certainly, the President’s stance stands. I just don’t have anything new to share on that at this time.
Q Is everyone invited to the Congressional Picnic? Were all members of Congress invited?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I believe so. I think that’s usually the way it works, that all members of Congress are indeed invited. I don’t have — I don’t have a list in front — in front of me. But I believe it is a congressional picnic. And I believe all — all sides are invited.
We are not picking — we’re not picking who come — who gets to come and who doesn’t get to come.
Q Right. But if somebody is not there, we shouldn’t — we can interpret that they declined the invitation rather than that they weren’t —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I believe so. I want to be very mindful and careful, but I believe so — that is indeed the case.
Q Okay. And then, I was also curious if the President has ever spoken with Senator Tuberville. Do they have any relationship whatsoever?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it’s a good question. I just don’t have a conversation to read out at this time. The President has multiple conversations with senators and House members regularly. I just don’t have anything on this particular senator or if there’s been a conversation in the past.
Go ahead, Anita.
Q Thanks. A quick Russia question. I’m sure you’ve seen that the Ministry of Defense says that they’re going to treat all ships in the Black Sea Port as, quote, “potential carriers of military cargo.” I just wanted to get the White House’s response to this statement — what you intend to do to help Ukraine guard against this to defend themselves, and, you know, what the administration wants to do to exert pressure on Russia to reconsider and rejoin the grain deal. And do you see any alternatives to get these essential goods out of Ukraine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, a couple of things as far as what we’re doing. So we’re going to continue to support Ukraine’s effort to get Ukrainian grain to the markets that they des- — that desperately need it.
I just talked about a new initi- — a new announcement from the Department of Defense, which also is going to include how — what part of that actually speaks to the grain initiative. Right?
And so, I spoke to that at the top. But a couple of things is providing financial support and supplies for Ukraine farmers, such as seeds and fertilizer, as well as help with cro- — crop storage and processing needs.
In fact, the Administratio- — Administrator Power is in Ukraine right now and announced today — announced this week that the United States will provide another $250 million for the AGRI Ukraine Initiative to help Ukraine’s farmers produce, store, and export agricultural products and grain — and grain to the world.
We have also applauded — let’s not forget — our — the neighboring countries here, such as Romania, for improving overland access for Ukrainian farmers and looking to — looking to their goods to market.
So, we’re — we are going to continue to — to help Ukraine in — in not just the short term, but the long term, as I announced at the top. It certainly is a priority for this administration but also for the NATO Alliance, as we heard from them last week — the partners and our Allies — to make sure that Ukraine has everything that it needs to continue — to continue to make sure they continue to, you know, fight for their freedom and also their democracy.
But as it relates to the grain initiative, we’re certainly going to do everything that we can.
Q A follow-up on that, Karine?
Q (Inaudible) shore up their naval capabilities? Because, I mean, Ukraine has a pretty small navy, especially compared to Russia.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Don’t have anything about — specifically about the naval piece, but we’ve seen what we’ve been able to do, given security assistance to Ukraine, to make sure they have what they need to defend themselves.
And that is something that you’ve seen this commitment for more than 15 months now. You’ve seen this commitment from the NATO — NATO Alliance. You’ve seen this commitment from our partners and Allies. And that’s going to continue.
We — we probably have not seen a stronger commitment than we saw last week. And so that’s going to continue. Just announced, again, another initiative of how we’re going to continue to provide that –- that type of assistance.
Q Thank you. A month after the state visit by the Prime Minister Modi from India, where did the relationship goes from here in terms of India-U.S. relations?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So as –- as you know, Lalit, we thought the -– the visit last — last month was extremely successful and important. The relationship with India is stronger than ever. And, as you know, we announced some ra- — a range of key deliverables, which some of them are being implemented.
And so, we’ve remained very optimistic as it relates to our lern- — long-term future and relationship with India. And so, that’s — we believe that’s going to continue.
Q And about a year ago, India, U.S., Israel, and UAE had announced the formation of I2U2. Was this an issue that the two discussed yesterday (inaudible) of Israel? And how much progress has been made on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have an additional -– an additional meetings highlight to share with you out of the readout that we shared with all of you, so don’t have anything to share on the I2U2.
I know that — I know that was, as you said, an initiative that we started a year ago. It was a vision of — of — it was a vision to — certainly a shared vision of security and prosperous Middle — to — Middle East region connected — keep them connected, as it’s called the I2U2, with India and the world.
So we thought it was really important as we announced it, as you mentioned, a year ago. I2U2 is already deepening its partnerships among four countries — those four countries and beyond — and evidenced by existing projects and initiative.
There’s still a strong future with I2U2. And so, we’re really excited about the prospects of that future. And so, just don’t have anything more to share it beyond that.
Q Can I ask a follow-up, please?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. No, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. Admiral Kirby, when he was up on the podium the other day, he seemed to rule out the U.S. participating or even repacking a convoy system to get grain in and out of the Ukraine, you know, because of the dangers, but the Ukrainians are really pushing for that. In fact, a senior Ukraine official told us — AFP — today that — that they’re negotiating right now with regional countries in the Black Sea, and that what they want to see in the U.N. — some kind of U.N. mandate for this. Is –- is the U.S., you know, into exploring any of that –- into the U.N. part?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, the Admiral answered this question. I don’t have anything else to share beyond what he — he laid out on that particular question.
And we get it. We hear what the Ukrainians are asking for. Just don’t have anything else to share. I just laid out three important pillars, if you will, of how we’re assisting right now — with — with this grain initiative no longer, certainly, existing — how we’re going to help Ukrainian farmers.
I just announ- — I just talked about what the Administrator Power said this week about the $250 million for the –- the Ukrainian initiative to get Ukraine farmers produce and store and –- and ex- — export agriculture products and grain to the world. So that is really important.
So we’re taking steps to help in ways that we can. We’ve been very — very detailed about those steps that we’re taking. As far as it relates to your question, I just don’t have anything beyond what the Admiral shared a day or two ago.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Karine. Several Democratic senators wrote a letter to student loan service providers this week saying they’re concerned about whether they’re going to be able to handle the restart of payments this fall. And they’re citing what they say is a heavy workload and the weakened ability of these providers to deal with all of this because of layoffs and the big transfer of borrowers during the pause over the last three years. Does the administration share those concerns? And has the White House spoken to those senators about what the federal government might be able to do to alleviate some of these promises?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So one of the things I can say is as –- as — as the pause is going to — is going to be lifted, the Department of Education has been in touch with certain administrators to see how — what we can do to be helpful. I don’t have any calls to read out with these -– the two senators that you list out.
But it is something that the Department of Education is aware of and wants to make sure that we do this in a smart and effective way. I don’t have anything — any details. I would have to refer you to Department of Education, as certainly they are –- they are running this process.
Q And when the student loan process was all announced a couple of weeks ago, there was that 12 month on-ramp transition period, which was certainly framed as a way to help borrowers as they restarted their payments, if they missed a payment, that they wouldn’t default on their loans.
But could this end up helping the loan providers if they’re dealing with the flood on their end and helping them more so than the borrowers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, it was designed to help the borrowers. That was the whole idea of announcing the 12-month ramp. That’s what it’s designed to do. That’s what we want to make sure that we understand: that some — it’s going to take folks a little bit more time, and they do need a little bit of that breathing room.
And so, we believe that it is going to be beneficial to the borrowers. We believe that is going to be — it’s –- it’s a — it’s an option that is certainly needed for many borrowers. So that’s — that’s how we moved it forward. That’s how we’re looking at it.
And so, we believe, again, it’s going to be something that the borrowers were -– will — will benefit from, as we’re — as we’re getting them back into — into this loan process.
Q Thanks, Karine. On the Competition Council convening later, let’s take a look at the rental fees part of this: that you’re offering transparency on that, as you have with a number of programs. But some Americans have been waiting more than a year and a half for actual prices and fees to come down. So, when will the prices and fees come down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as far — look, I think when you look at what we’ve been able to do, the actions that we have taken — I talked about the hearing aids, right? I’ve talked about important — the –- the important — what we’ve seen with Inflation Reduction Act with insulin capped at $35. We’ve seen how we’re preventing as — as many as one million surprise medical bills every month. Americans are saving $5 billion a year on overdraft fees. And consumers are better able to — to comparison shop to get the best deal on apartments and event tickets.
And that’s something that we’re seeing today, when you look at the — when we put the junk fees: making sure that’s up front. And so, consumers are able to look at what the — what the junk fees are and make decision that is good for them. And so, that is incredibly important.
So, we have seen results. We have seen real results from what the Pre- — the actions that the President has taken to lower costs for the American people. And this is something that the President says: He’s going to try and figure out how to do that.
And so, we’re going to hear from him again. And he’s going to lay out the Competition Council and these announcements today, as I did at the beginning.
So, look, we understand housing affordability is a challenge for families. This is why we make announcements like these. This is why we make sure that — that we take action in this administration, when you think about the Housing Supply Action Plan — and that is going to help housing supply shortfall that we have seen — that we have seen recently. So, it’s really important that we do that.
The good — the good news is that we’re starting to see a housing market cool. So, that is something that we’re seeing. But we believe that, you know, Bidenomics is working, with these actions that we took today. Of course, there’s always more work to be done.
Q But why not — why do this now? Why not in the first year of the presidency? Why now? So it rolls out next year, as voters begin to vote for the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — presidential election, or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I — let’s — let’s talk about the first year of this administration, right? The first year of the administration, we’re dealing with the economy that was turned upside down because of COVID; because we didn’t have a comprehensive plan to deal with making sure people got shots in arms; because, let’s not forget, businesses were closed, schools were closed.
And what does — did this President do? He made sure that the American Rescue Plan — as well Democrats in Congress — got passed — right? — and got that out of the way and made sure that the economy got back on its — on its feet.
We passed — we passed historical pieces of legislation. I just talked about the insulin being capped at 35 bucks — right? — for seniors. That’s something that we were able to pass last year in the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s going to lower costs for energy, going to continue to lower costs on healthcare.
These are actions that the President did. This is what — we talk about Bidenomics. This is it. This is what we were able to do in the first two years.
And so, the President has always said — even today, he’ll probably say — right? — he’s going to always continue to look for ways to lower costs — what oth- — what other ways that we can do to lower costs for the American people. That’s what you’re going to hear from him today: another way to lower costs or give — give the American people an opportunity to make decisions on how to lower costs for their household. That’s — that’s the hidden junk fees that we see, right? That’s the — that’s the role of the Competition Council.
So, the President has taken action — actions over and over again to deal with what Americans really care about: the economy. And he wants to continue to do that, continue to lower costs.
Go ahead, Todd.
Q Thanks. Back on the Texas border barrier. Is the state’s installation of razor wire illegal under international law or any other law?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I can’t speak to the — the legal piece of the — of the wires. That is not something I can speak to. That’s something that DOJ can speak to more — more — you know, more clearly.
What I can say is that we’re going to condemn any — you know, we’re going to continue to condemn the actions — these types of actions the governor takes when it comes to treating these migrants in an inhumane way. That is something that we will be very clear about.
As far as the legal piece of that, I would refer you to Department of Justice.
Q What — what moves, what kind of efforts have been made to address concerns about that razor wire — concerns raised by migrant advocates, by Mexico, by Border Patrol agents? Has anything been done to remove it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I would — I would refer you to Department of Justice. And I would also refer you to Department of Homeland Security to see exactly what is being done with these — with this issue.
I don’t have anything to share with you here. But, again, we are going to continue to condemn these types of actions that we see from this governor. It is a political stunt. It is inhumane. It is atrocious. When we think about even the news that we heard yesterday about not providing water to migrant children, this is an action that we see from this governor over and over again. And we’re certainly going to call that out.
As any legal actions, that is something for the Department of Justice to speak to.
Q One last quick question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q President López Obrador — Obrador, earlier this week, said that he — he is urging Hispanic Americans to vote against Governor Abbott and any Republican who fails to denounce this border tactic by Texas. Is the administration okay with that kind of involvement in domestic politics (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not — that is not something I’m going to speak to. That is something for the President of Mexico to speak to. I’m just not going to get involved in elections.
Q Karine, can I follow up on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure. Go ahead, Brian.
Q Just to follow up on that. Are — are you saying that — because in the past, when this has happened on the border in several states, Homeland Security and Border Patrol have said, “Listen, the purview of the international borders is the federal government, not the states.” So, are — are you saying that we’ve ceded the Border Patrol —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s not what I said. I said you have to talk to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.
Q But — but you’re not — this administration isn’t going to cede international control of its boundary?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, absolutely not. Absolutely not. I’m just saying that that is something — as far as actions, that’s something for the Department of Homeland Security to speak to.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thanks, Karine. Cardinal Zuppi and President Biden met last night. I saw the readouts. After their meeting, does the President believe the Vatican can help end the war in Ukraine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just a couple of things on that. You saw the readout, as you just mentioned, of the President’s meeting with the Cardinal. We put that out last night.
Look, just a couple of things that I know the President would want me to share here is that he has shared his wishes for Pope Francis’s continued ministry and global leadership, and welcomed the recent nomination of a U.S. Archbishop as Cardinal. They also discussed the Holy See’s efforts providing humanitarian aid to address the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, as well as the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcible deported Ukrainian children.
What Russia has done, kidnapping thousands of Ukrainian children from their families and transferring them to other parts of Ukraine or deporting them to Russia, is obviously horrifying. So, we applaud — we certainly applaud the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of these children. We think it’s important advocacy.
And so, that is something that the President discussed with the Cardinal yesterday.
Q And can you just tell me real quickly: Did the use of cluster bombs come up? The Church, the Pope against those, obviously. Did that come up in their conversation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I don’t have anything beyond the readout from last night.
Go ahead, Courtney.
Q Thank you. When will the President sign the Taiwan trade deal that the Senate passed last night?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any — I don’t have a timeline for you on that at this time.
Q And I also wanted to ask about the defense bill. Does the President want your policy on troops and abortions to be included in the bill? For example, would he want the bill to codify the policy or not touch it at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I can say is the President wants a piece of legislation that is bipartisan, as we’ve done historically, in the past. That’s what the President wants to see: a bipartisan piece of legislation.
Q Karine, one on Israel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Last question —
Q Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — and the I really got to go.
Q Thank you, Karine. At the top, in the statement, you talked about a new weapon system that the U.S. would f- — is providing to Ukraine. What’s the timetable for getting that weapon system to the Ukrainian military?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, any timetable as it — as it relates to any weapon system, I would have to refer you to the Pentagon.
Q Can I ask you another question? On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue today, there is a hearing: House Oversight Committee, chaired by James Comer. And he has before the committee these two individuals who work for the IRS. They’ve invoked whistleblower status. And they’ve alleged that there has been preferential treatment that has been given to Hunter Biden. Is there any reason why those allegations should not be believed, from your point of view?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, my colleague at the White House Counsel has addressed this, so I certainly will refer you to him.
But a couple of things I do want to say: The President respects the rule of law. He respects the independence of the Department of Justice, as it relates to their conduct in investigation. That’s something that we say over and over from here. And you’ve heard from the President, specifically.
On this case, let’s not forget: This has been led by a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney. Let’s not forget that. And the President has said — we have said that he has not been involved.
And so, look, what I can say is — just taking a step back and looking at what the President is even doing today, he is going to focus on how we can continue to do the work of the American people, how we can continue to lower costs, right? And he’s taking on big — big corporations who are price gouging — price gouging the American people. And so — and that’s going to be his focus. That’s what he’s going to continue to focus on.
Let’s not forget, in the midterms, that was the focus that Republicans said that they wanted to do. They wanted to run a midterm, or — or their message during the midterm was: How do we lower costs for the American people? It doesn’t seem like that’s their focus right now. Their focus is continuing to do political stunts. That’s what they want to do.
But that’s not what the President is focusing on. You’re going to hear from him in a few minutes about that.
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