James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
(August 31, 2023)
3:05 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello. Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you for your patience today. As you saw, the President went to FEMA to thank the workers there — and their hard work over not just this past couple of days, but these past several weeks. So, thank you for your patience with all of us.
I have a quick intro, and then we’ll — we’ll get going.
As the President said earlier today, the entire administration is committed to supporting all the communities impacted by Idalia, and he has directed a whole-of-government response to ensure those impacted have everything they may need.
Now, before I turn it over to Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, we want to make sure everyone who was impacted continues to listen to the guidance and direction of local officials and first responders.
Do not put your lives at risk by attempting to transverse flooded or damaged areas. FEMA Administrator Criswell, as you all know, is in Florida to survey the damages firsthand and will continue to brief the President and the White House team.
The administration will stand with the impacted communities every step of the way, as we have for the past two years and as long as it takes.
With that, Liz, thank you for coming back again.
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s been too long.
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Happy to be here. Hello, everyone.
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Good afternoon. The President is intensely focused on extreme weather that has impacted people across the country. And as you know, we’re experiencing more of it every day.
He has been receiving regular updates from Administrator Criswell and from me on the latest developments with Hurricane Idalia and also, of course, with the ongoing recovery operations in Hawaii on the island of Maui.
He continues to guide the response to both — to the devastating fires on Maui, as well as to the remnants of Idalia now that it has moved off the coast of North Carolina.
He and Deanne Criswell have been talking daily. He spoke to her this morning before he went over to FEMA headquarters.
He’s also been in regular contact with Governor DeSantis. He spoke to the governor twice today. He spoke to him yesterday as well to check on the circumstances on the ground and today, when he reached him this morning — let him know that he was approving the governor’s overnight request for a major disaster declaration.
He also talked yesterday to Governor Kemp, Governor McMaster, and Governor Cooper and committed the federal government support to each of those states as they responded to and recovered from what we, at the time, did not know would be, relative to some of the early predictions from the National Hurricane Center, a consequential but not a catastrophic hurricane in those states.
Yesterday, he also convened key Cabinet members who are leading the federal recovery and rebuilding efforts on Maui and asked them to report to him on their progress. That is essential to supporting the people of Maui.
He has directed us to do everything that we can to accelerate recovery wherever people are impacted by extreme weather, whether it is in Maui, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, or any of the other communities that have been impacted by extreme weather events since the beginning of his administration.
He is particularly focused whenever we talk about these events on the lives that are torn apart and how we can help people get back on their feet as quickly as possible.
For example, yesterday, when we were briefing him with respect to Maui, he was very focused on the opening of the school year and how the kids of Lahaina don’t necessarily have schools they’ll be able to attend and what can we do, using federal resources from the Department of Education, to support the local community in finding a way for kids to get back to school this fall.
I also want to thank the brave first responders, the Coast Guard, the search and rescue teams, the local law enforcement personnel, and so many others who, in a moment like yesterday, run toward danger. They’re the ones we pre-deploy — the search and rescue teams, the Coast Guard. They’re out there under extremely dangerous circumstances taking personal risk to make it possible to save lives.
I was talking to Admiral Poulin, the deputy of the Coast Guard, when we were over at FEMA just now about the Jayhawk helicopters that fly when a hurricane is still happening in order to be able to rescue people who may need their assistance.
So, as you’ve heard, he — the President did just visit FEMA. The reason he went over there was principally to thank the personnel there on the floor of the National Response Coordination Center, who work 24/7 to make sure that we’re capable of responding to whatever is happening across the country. He walked the floor and thanked people for what they’re doing.
It’s incredibly important that we acknowledge this work, because these are really the unsung heroes — the FEMA folks both here in the headquarters and also those who are out in the field all around the country helping Americans.
He has directed us to ensure that we have a fully coordinated whole-of-government effort to support people in the aftermath of this storm.
At his direction, Administrator Fe- — Criswell flew down to Florida yesterday just as soon as she had completed briefing him both on what was happening in Florida and then during the meeting that he convened on Maui. And she is joining Governor DeSantis today, conducting the initial damage assessments in the state.
As the President just announced when he was over at FEMA, he will fly to Florida on Saturday to visit the areas most impacted by the hurricane.
There are currently approximately 1,500 federal responders on the ground in Florida. This includes over 500 Urban Search and Rescue personnel, who were there ready to save lives and help people get to safety.
One of the decisions we took early on was to pre-deploy personnel. That’s something we do regularly to make sure that we’ve got what it takes in a disaster, rather than wait until it happens and then be late to need.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was pre-positioned before this storm to support power restoration. It brought in more than 30 large generators that are pre-staged if needed to support critical infrastructure assets in particular, like hospitals or water treatment plants.
There’s also a great deal of work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that the electric grid can be maintained for people to have access to power after a storm.
One of the benefits to the citizens of Florida is that during the Obama-Biden administration, we spent more than $200 million on hardening the grid in Florida by putting in stronger power poles and smart meters on those power poles — something the President referenced yesterday — which has enabled Florida to recover much more quickly from a series of extreme weather events that they face.
I want to also acknowledge the pre-positioning of critical supplies, including more than 1.3 million meals and 1.6 million liters of water in the region, in case that’s necessary. It may not all be necessary, but, again, we want to be ready.
The Red Cross is our critical partner in much of this work. They pre-positioned personnel and resources to support sheltering for up to 20,000 survivors. That may not be necessary, but we know that there are thousands of people who are in shelters as of this morning. The evacuation orders have been lif- — lifted in most places in Florida, and so people may be able to go back to their homes.
We also have approved, through USDA, early issuance of September SNAP benefits to all households that receive those benefits.
We will be with the citizens of these impacted states as long as it takes. We know that there is some very heavy rain in North Carolina today, lowland flooding. We’ve asked people to be sure to pay attention to what their local officials are telling them about where it is safe to move, because often people think the hurricane has passed but that doesn’t mean that all the storm surge and flooding is over.
We won’t know the full extent of the damage done for several days. The assessment teams are out in Florida today, as I mentioned. What we do know is that we will stay there as long as it takes to help, in partnership with our state and local counterparts, to get people back on their feet.
Now I’m glad to take a few questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Just a couple questions.
Q Can you say a few words about the state of the U.S. electrical grid? The outages that we saw with Idalia raise concerns about that. I mean, can you — have you done an assessment? Do you know what percentage of the electrical grid is in need of upgrades? And how serious of a threat is that? How concerned should Americans be?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: So, we are investing an enormous amount in grid resilience through a number of pieces of legislation that the President has passed. Just this week, from the infrastructure law — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — the President announced $95 million to assist the state of Hawaii in hardening its grid and making the grid more resilient to the effects of extreme weather and also potentially other threats. And that’s the kind of work that has to take place all across the country.
We’re looking to invest from similar funds in other states, working in partnership with the private sector, to make sure that we do modernize the grid in a way that both employs clean sources of energy and enables us to sustain power for the American people under all hazardous conditions.
Now, it’s inevitable that there will be outages. And indeed, sometimes it’s preferable that a utility takes the power off certain parts of the grid in order to prevent fires. And that’s a decision that’s made by state and local utilities; it’s not something we would decide at the federal level. But it’s a way of managing for the possibility that you could have a circumstance in which it would be preferable not to have power on the line — for example, in a circumstance in which you’re concerned about the spread of fire in a community.
So, this is an ongoing effort which the President is driving from the White House, in conjunction with the Secretary of Energy and other agencies, to ensure that we have the grid of the future that we need, both to power our clean energy future and also to provide resilient power to the American people.
Q But can you say how much of the grid is in danger or is at risk or antiquated?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: I think we should go on to others. Thanks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kayla.
Q Thank you. President Biden said today that he will be visiting Florida —
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Yeah.
Q — on Saturday. He said that he should have a direct line to Governor DeSantis at this point based on how much they’ve been speaking. Should we expect the President to be meeting in person with Governor DeSantis? Will they be touring some of the hard-hit areas together?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: We’re just planning the visit, but I will say that every time I’ve been to Florida with the President, he has met, of course, with Governor DeSantis and traveled the disaster zone, whether it’s from last year’s hurricane or when the Surfside condominium building collapsed.
Often, they’ll meet, have a briefing from the emergency responders. It can be in the open, as it was from the hurricane last year. It could be in a briefing room, as it was at Surfside. They are very collegial when we have the work to do together of helping Americans in need, citizens of Florida in need.
Q And you mentioned what the federal government is doing in response to Hurricane Idalia and the assistance that’s being provided to some of these states. But NOAA has predicted above-normal hurricane activity for the duration of this hurricane season. So, I’m wondering what other actions are being taken proactively to prepare for that?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Well, I’ll tell you that one of the things we’re doing proactively if we — is that we have submitted to Congress a supplemental request that would replenish the Disaster Relief Fund, because that fund has been depleted.
We have requested $12 billion, because we know that every American expects FEMA to be there if they are experiencing a disaster. And we want to be sure that we can fund that support that these communities will need, whether it’s hurricanes or wildfires.
We have an extremely intense wildfire situation in a number of Western, Southwestern states right now. And in each of those communities, the expectation is the federal government will come in in support of state and local partners to help people.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, last question, Selina. And then we have to wrap up.
Q What are the biggest concerns on the ground at the moment? And is there any more clarity on just how long that road to recovery will be for those hardest areas?
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: So we’re just getting the initial assessments. The President heard from Deanne Criswell when she briefed him on the telephone before we went to FEMA that the greatest concern right now is flooding and the impact on people’s homes and businesses of that flooding.
It currently doesn’t look, from aerial surveillance, as if there has been widespread destruction of many buildings. Some homes have been harmed. Some businesses have been harmed. But principally, it looks like it’s about flooding in areas that are low lying, where there was storm surge in that bend in Florida — the Big Bend in Florida. And so that — that will likely be the area in which we have to invest the most in recovery.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Liz, thank you so much.
DR. SHERWOOD-RANDALL: Thank you, all.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, thank you. All right, please come back.
All right, just a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll get started.
So, as you all know, in March, President Biden signed an executive order directing the Attorney General to move as close to universal background checks as possible within existing law.
Today, as a result of that executive order that the President signed and also the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the Department of Justice is taking lifesaving action to reduce the number of guns sold without background checks and keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
Now, this action that a majority of Americans want to see, a majority of gun owners also want. And it’s just common sense. It’s just common sense, because we know that background checks are one of the best tools we have to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals.
This administration respects the right of responsible gun owners while also believing Americans have the right to live free from gun violence as well. Those two things can exist.
The President will continue to call on Congress to build upon this step and pass universal background checks, legislation, as well as other commonsense legislation to save lives.
And this administration will continue to do everything it can to combat the epidemic of gun violence that is tear- — tearing up our families, our communities, and also our country apart.
Now, President Biden — as you all know if you heard the back-and-forth of the Q&A that he — he was able to take at FEMA — that this week he also announced Overdose Awareness Week to focus the nation’s attention on the devastation caused by the illicit fentanyl and other illicit drugs and recognize the pe- — and recognize the people who have lost their lives or a loved one to drug overdose.
This is an issue that affects red states and blue states. And it’s a key pillar of President Biden’s Unity Agenda.
That’s why today the White House announced more than $450 million in new funding to strengthen treatment for addiction and disrupt drug trafficking.
The Second Gentleman and the Director of Drug Policy Officer [Office] Dr. Gupta also hosted family members across the country here at the White House today who have lost loved ones due to drug overdose.
Now, the reality is that far too many Americans have lost someone to the overdose epidemic. Every day, and especially today, we want you to know we see you, we grieve with you, and this administration is committed to ensuring that our nation has the resources we need to beat — to beat this crisis.
And today, as you all saw from the P- — the PCA — PCE — pardon me — report came out. It showed that further evidence that inflation is easing with monthly inflation at 0.2 percent, the same rate as last month.
Economists often look at inflation over three months to understand trends. As the chart behind me shows, over the last three months, PCE inflation averaged about 2.1 percent, in line with the pre-pandemic trend that we saw, and core PCE over the last three months also fell to the lowest rate in two and a half years.
Now, our economy and labor market remains strong. Yesterday, we learned the economy grew faster than 2 percent last quarter. And we’ll get an update in tomorrow’s jobs report. As you all know — I know some of you track that very closely.
But we know unemployment has been near historic lows and below 4 percent for the longest stretch in 50 years.
With that, William, it’s good to see you. It’s been a while.
Q It has. Thanks. I have two questions. On disaster relief funding, does the President think that $12 billion is going to be enough or is it possible that he’ll go back and have to ask Congress for more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, $12 billion, as you know, is part of his — what this — is in the supplemental fund — supplemental request. And, you know, Criswell, the Administrator, has been here for the past several days. I think today is the only day that she hasn’t been here.
And so, she explained the — the reasoning behind the $12 billion. It is incredibly important. I do want to make very clear that FEMA will continue to do its job and to — to — continue to do the incredible work that they have been doing — dealing with extreme weather, dealing with these kind of disastrous storms that we’ve been seeing.
But it’s important — we think and we believe that it’s important for Congress to do its job and to really — to really move forward with the supplemental request.
Look, that is something that FEMA certainly asked for and requested. And we believe that this is needed. You heard directly from the President when he was asked about this just moments ago.
And so, I will leave it there. I’m not going to get ahead of — of the request that we c- — that is currently in front of Congress at this time.
What’s your second question?
Q Well, picking up with that: You know, the White House also asked Congress today for a short-term funding resolution. Can you elaborate why that’s necessary not just for natural disaster response, but on social programs like WIC?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So it’s — what we — what we asked for today is basically anomalies. That’s what they’re called. They’re called CR anomalies, just to be very clear about that.
And just to give you a little bit of rundown: On August 10th, we sent Congress a supplemental request for critical emergency funding. As you just asked, William, that includes funding for disaster relief — the $12 billion, as you’ve heard from the Administrator, and also from — from Liz just moments ago — supporting the people of Ukraine and combating the fentanyl crisis, which is all incredibly important.
Today, OMB sent a technical package to Congress called anomalies to avoid disrupt- — disruptions to government programs during a continuing resolution. So that included an adjustment to WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children.
Without this adjustment, states would be forced to implement wait- — waiting lists, causing women and children to go hungry and pushing vulnerable families into poverty.
So, just for some clarity, this is what Congress should pass. They should pass both the supplemental requests and the technical packages I just laid out with a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown.
This is something that Congress can do. They can prevent a government shutdown. They need to prevent a government shutdown. What I just listed out are critical, critical programs that Americans across the country — American families across the country certainly need.
Go ahead, Selina.
Q President Biden had campaigned on fully decriminalizing marijuana. Even if the DEA request goes through, marijuana would still be illegal at the federal level. Could you provide some more information on exactly what impact this would have on Americans?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just — I don’t want to get ahead of the process. I was asked this question before. So just so that everybody is clear: The President asked the Secretary of HHS and also the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review how marijuana is scheduled, as you just kind of laid out
The administration’s process is an independent process — want to be very clear on that — that is led by HHS and DOJ. It is going to be very much guided by evidence. And it — so I’m not going to comment on that. I want to be also clear on — on that piece. So, I would refer you all to HHS.
As it — as it — as we speak to legalization and the legal piece of it, as you’re asking me in your — in part of your question: So, look, the President has always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes — he’s been very clear about that — where appropriate, consistent with medical and scientific evidence. That is why it is important for this review — this independent review that is going to be, again, guided by evidence to go — to go through.
And so, I’m just not going to get ahead of what HHS is going to — the decision that they’ve made or get ahead of eventually what the DOJ is going to move forward with.
Q Thank you. Three months ago, the President struck a deal with Congress that set spending limits, guardrails on federal spending that were supposed to allow negotiators to reach a deal on full-year government spending. Why does the White House believe that — that the two sides couldn’t reach that deal for full-year funding in the last three months now that the White House is suggesting that a continuing resolution will be needed to keep the government open?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, we have said — this is –let’s not forget: This deal that was made — right? — in early June was a bipartisan — a bipartisan decision — right? — bi- — bipartisan deal. And we truly believe, as I have said almost every day this week when I’ve been asked this question, that Congress can avoid a shutdown, right?
We — they need to uphold their part of the deal, right? This is what the country wants to see. They want to see us coming together in a bipartisan way.
And so, there is no reason why this should occur. There’s no reason why Congress cannot do their job, as we’ve been very clear about this. They should keep their word; they should keep their word and do their job.
This is what the American people want to see. We saw that in the midterm election — the results of that. They want to see us coming together and working on these issues in a bipartisan way, which we were able to do, as you just listed.
So, we must fund vital programs for American people and meet emergency needs. And so, that’s what we’re talking about. That’s what the anoma- — the ano- — the anomalies that I just listed out is about. It’s a technical process here.
But, look, Congress, again, needs to avoid a government shutdown, and they need to do their job.
Q But what has been the involvement of the White House, the Office of Legislative Affairs, and some of those who are involved in these negotiations more recently to try to work toward that full-year spending deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I talked about that the last couple of days. I’ve talked about — not even the last couple of days. I’ve talked about this for the last couple of weeks when I’ve been asked.
And I’ve — I’ve talked about the engagement — the Hill engagement that this White House has had with the Office — the OMB director, Shalanda Young, right? And she has led this process along with the Legis- — Legislative Affairs folks. And we have had multiple conversation and multiple calls with congressional members on the Hill.
But this does not take away their job and their duty and to keep — to keep their word. We’re ask- — all we’re doing is asking them to keep their word, right? We came to an agreement in a bipartisan way. They should keep their word. And they can avoid — Congress — “they” being Congress — can avoid a government shutdown.
And yes, we have been talking to them not just for what led to the agreement going into June when we finally had a bipartisan agreement, but also these past several months. And I’ve been very clear about that right here from this podium –about our engagement with the Hill, which is going to continue.
Q Karine, I asked the President about President Xi from China potentially attending or not attending — we have reports saying that he’s not expected to attend the G20 Summit. Does that complicate the plans to try to facilitate a meeting with — between President Biden and President Xi? Do you now anticipate that that kind of a meeting would more likely take place at the APEC meeting in San Francisco? And have you had any communication with the Chinese government about whether he would be attending that meeting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as it relates to his attendance — President Xi’s attendance to the G20, I would leave that to, you know — to his spokesperson to answer that question, not for me to answer.
Look, the President has said multiple times that he is looking forward to continuing his engagement and conversation with President Xi. I don’t have anything to preview as to when that’s going to happen.
But, look, this is, you know — I’ll just let the President’s words stand for himself. He spoke about it during his press conference at Camp David. You heard him speak of it just moments ago. He’s looking forward to having that conversation, continuing that ongoing engagement.
As far as President Xi’s participation or attendance, that’s just really for his government to speak to.
Q Just following on from that, Secretary Raimondo had a longish trip there. She was in multiple cities and spoke multiple times. You know, I know you were asked about this “uninvestable” comment, but, like, just looking back, would you — would you assess the — the, you know, outcome of her meetings? She said that, you know — she has spoke about needing to draw a hard line on some of the issues. I mean, do you feel like these visits by Cabinet members have been successful? Or, you know, is — is the U.S.-Chinese relationship still in — in trouble?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this, and she has been speaking to this these last couple of days. I think she’s been doing interviews. I saw her, I believe, just moments ago on — on MSNBC doing an interview on this. And so, I would certainly — she had the experience, so I would certainly let her speak to her trip.
But I’ll say this: No president has put the United States — and you’ve heard us say this many times — in a stronger position to outcompete China than President Biden. And managing — and I think she has said this, too, in her interviews: Managing that intense competition requires intense diplomacy.
That’s what you’ve been seeing from this administration. That’s what you’ve been seeing from these events. And we have never viewed these trips as about deliverables or particular policy outcomes.
We see this as an — as it being incredibly important to have those in conversations, to make sure we have those diplomatic conversation. And they are going to be intense, and that’s okay. That is part of this — of this process.
As far as it relates to her trip, I’m going to let the Department of Commerce speak directly to that. She has been very vocal, as I said — has done a couple of interviews. I know she had a — a media availability, I believe — if not yesterday, the day before — when she was in China. So, certainly would point you to that.
But, again, this is about intense — intense diplomacy. We understand this. That’s what competition requires. That’s what it means to manage these types of relationships. We welcome it, and we think it’s — it has been important to move forward in that direction.
Q In the back, Karine?
Q (Inaudible) on China, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Patsy.
Q Thank you, Karine. So, still on China. They just published this new map that includes territories of Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Philippines. We know that the President will be in New Delhi and in Hanoi; the Vice President will be in Jakarta meeting with ASEAN leaders. What can we expect from them on this issue of territorial disputes? And how forward-leaning would they be?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things on — on his trip in Hanoi. Since day one — look, the administration, we have focused on rebuilding and investing in our allies and partners — right? — throughout the world, and especially within the Indo-Pacific. You saw that most recently with the trilateral that he held at Camp David — a historic meeting there.
As the United States looks to deepen our ties with the region, Vietnam is going to be a key partner. And so, the deliverables that will be announced as part of this visit will reflect both the breadth and also the depth of that relationship.
As you know, we try not to get ahead of this President as we — as these trips are — are upcoming.
As it relates to the Vice President — as you just mentioned, she’s going to be going to Jakarta. Will be a continuation of her work as well. She has been a partner in this, when it comes to strengthening our partnership with ASEAN nations on maritime security in the South China Sea.
The Vice President has spoken extensively throughout the Indo-Pacific about the importance of international rules and norms. And you can expect that conversation and that kind of approach to continue on her trip as well.
She has spent significant time working on these issues with leaders from Southeast Asia. You can expect the Vice President to discuss the South China Sea as well.
Throughout her meetings in Jakarta — a couple of things — she will reaffirm our support for the freedom of the seas, peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence of international law, including freedom of navigation. She will advance our work with ASEAN partners to preserve martial [international] law. And she will make clear, peace and stability in the South China Sea is vital to the entire — to the entire world.
Again, I’m not going to get ahead of those — that specific engagement. But it is consistent, and it is a continuation of what her work has been as she’s, clearly, in partnership with this President as we move forward in the Indo-Pacific.
Q But can you specifically say whether the President or the Vice President will discuss specifically about this new Chinese map?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’m not going to get into — get ahead of that. I just laid out what we have been working towards — right? — deepening that relationship, which is incredibly vital — that Indo-Pacific relationship.
So, it’s certainly going to be a continuation of that. You know, those trips are upcoming. And so, once we have more to discuss and lay out and read out, we certainly will do that.
But, look, we look forward to these — these types of diplomatic conversations. And, again, deepening — deepening those important, critical relationships that the President has been leading on since the beginning of his administration.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q Should we anticipate an on-camera briefing with Jake or someone about the trip beforehand?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, you can anticipate —
Q Okay. Good.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As we normal do —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — normally do, Ed. That is a — that is something that we do ahead of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — ahead of the trip. So —
Q As for something completely different, I have a question —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q — on immigration.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q It’s something that happened here at the White House yesterday. Because the President, justifiably, understandably, was focused on natural disasters.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q He talked to the four governors of the states affected by the storm.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. Yep.
Q He met with the Cabinet on that issue. Also had time for a meeting with Bernie Sanders. But when the governor of New York came by to discuss a very urgent matter in the state of New York and across the country in a lot of big cities, he did not meet with her. Why not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, as you just stated, there’s a lot going on, and his Chief of Staff met — met — was part of that meeting. I believe Secretary Mayorkas was part of that meeting. Some of his very high-level senior staff participated in the meeting with the governor, which is, as you said, a very important meeting to have.
He has a — has a very good relationship with the governor. We’ve been — every time we’re in New York, the President en- — practically every time, the President engages with the governors. They have a very good relationship.
Look, the President has a lot on his plate. As you said, this is an important — important issue as well. But when you have the Chief of Staff, when you have the Secretary of Homeland Security there meeting with the governor, I think that shows how important the President thought this meeting was to make sure he had his top people speaking with her as well.
Q Part of why I ask this is because, in a recent New York Times interview, the New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, quote, “Immigration is arguably this administration’s weakest issue. This is one area where our policy is dictated by politics, arguably more so than any other.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well — (laughs) — I will — I would agree with her, certainly, on the last part, where it is dictated by politics.
This is a president — and you hear me say this over and over, Ed. The first day of his administration, he put forth a comprehensive immigration piece of legislation. The first piece of legislation in his — in his tenure as president was that. And he took it incredibly seriously and wanted to put forth a path to deal with an issue — a system that has been broken for decades upon decades upon decades.
And while he is taking steps on his own, Republicans have made this an incredibly political issue. They have turned this into a — a — into political stunts that we have seen over and over and over again.
And so, the President has asked and has said, “Hey, let’s do this in a bipartisan way. Here’s the funding that we would need to actually try to — to fix what’s going on and to work what’s going on — work with — work on what’s going on in the — on the border.” And they refuse. They want to make it — “they” meaning Republicans in Congress — want to make it a political issue.
Look, the President has done what he can from — from here, from the federal government, from the White House, to put forth and manage our border in a safe and humane way to respect the dignity of every human, as he says all the time, and making sure that our communities are safe. And you have seen him do that.
But the system is broken. We want to do this in a bipartisan way. Republicans refuse to do that.
Q But to the charge from the congresswoman that the White House hasn’t taken up recommendations from fellow Democrats on how to deal with this issue more through executive action or otherwise because of concerns of how Republicans might react, you would say what?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I will say this: The President has done more to secure the border and to deal with this issue of immigration than anybody else. He really has.
June saw the single largest month-to-month drop in lawful — unlawful border crossing because of the policies this President put in place.
We’ve got a record number of federal agents and officers — more than 24,000 — working to secure the border because of the funding this President secured.
We brought — we brought 21 world leaders on the West Coast, as you all remember, together for the first time to — ever to deal with this issue in a — in a regional way because of the alliances that this President has put forth. And we secured record funding for border security and management.
And let’s not forget, we expanded — we’ve expanded the pathway to citizenship under this President. And mind you, he’s been doing this on his own. Does he want to do it in a bipartisan way? Absolutely. That’s why he put forth his first piece of legislation to be on immigration to fix this broken system.
We are — we are willing to work with Congress and with Republicans. We need Republicans to do this. We just do. But they keep turning it into a political stunt.
Q I just wanted to follow up.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, sure.
Q You said that this administration has expanded the pathway to citizenship?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The pathway of legal — legal pathway — pardon me — the legal pathway for migrants to enter this —
Q Okay. You were talking about —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The legal pathways to mi- — to migrants coming. Yes.
Q From — from the parole program?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right. From the parolee program. That’s —
Q Which don’t have any — which don’t lead to any sort of permanent legal —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, it — it’s a legal —
Q Right — it’s a — it’s a two-year program with —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I agree. You’re right.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It gives you a legal pathway to come in — and that’s what —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — that’s what I’m talking about — in trying to prevent the unlawful pathways.
Q And —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just to clear it — clear — clear what I was trying to say.
Q And when the two-year parole for those folks — whether they be the folks from South and Central America or Afghanistan or Ukraine — when the parole ends, does this President intend to renew the two- — two-year paroles for those? Or are they — or is he going to send them back?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, that’s a very good question. That’s why we keep asking for help from Congress to help us fix this bro- — broken system. That is why we’re —
Q And —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — we’re — we — we’re just not there yet. That’s why we keep asking for help from Congress, from Republicans to help actually come together in a bipartisan way to fix this issue.
Q But if they — but if they don’t —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — like — like I said, we’re going to continue to do what we can, right? This President is going to continue to do what he can to — to deal with it — to deal with a broken system. So, we’re taking the steps to do that. And that’s where we are today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q In the President’s conversation with Senator McConnell, did he bring up at all the White House supplemental funding request?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President talked about what he — that he had a conversation with Mitch McConnell. He basically said — you heard him; you were there, I believe, at FEMA — that this — he’s an old friend, and — and while they may have disagreements, they try to find ways to work together.
The President was calling to check in on him, to see how he was doing. I don’t have anything further than what the President shared with you — with you directly.
Q Should we expect any more interactions between Biden and Republicans specifically urging them to pass this package?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any direct conversations or direct engagement with the President and Congress. But the President has been very clear. You heard from him, again, at FEMA; you’ve heard from him multiple times. You have his OMB director, you have Leg Affairs reaching out, talking, engaging with Congress on a regular level.
This is their job. I’m talking about them doing their job and making sure that the government doesn’t shut down.
It is not a difficult thing. It is very simple. This is what they are supposed to do: make sure that the government works and key — key vital pieces of programs continue to get funded. That’s their job. Pure and simple.
Q Thank you, Karine. I have a question on Saudi Arabia. The regime just sentenced to death a man who had been critical of corruption, human rights abuses on social media. Would you have a comment on that? And what role does that play when there is speculation that the President could meet with the Crown Prince at the G20 Summit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we are aware of those news re- — new reports. Obviously, human rights remain a pillar of our engagement around the world. We’ve been very consistent about that, including, of co- — of course, with our partners in Saudi Arabia. We don’t shy away from — from raising those concerns, whether with Saudi Arabi or anyone else. And that is not going to change.
Anything specifically on this particular new — new report, I would definitely refer you to the — to the State Department.
But, again, we’re — we’re aware of this. But we will never shy away — never shy away on talking about human rights, regardless of who — who that leader might be.
Okay. I’m trying to go to the back, because I know folks —
Q It’s been a while, Karine, for some of us.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) You ju- — you got to ask the President a question today.
Q I haven’t gotten to ask you a question —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Alex.
Q — since May.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Alex.
Q Karine, how — how concerned is the White House by the new COVID wave in the fall? And how are you thinking about, you know, masking, boosters, and just broadly about the state of the pandemic right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. So — and I spoke to this on Monday. Happy to — to talk about this now.
So, nationally, the — while CDC is reporting an increase in infections, as you all know, and hospitals’ admissions, overall levels remain low, which is important.
The U.S. has experienced increases in COVID-19 during the last three summers, so it’s not surprising that we’re seeing this uptick. I’d say, you know, it’s been a long — a long period of declining — declining rates.
And so, when updated COVID shots become available in mid-Se- — in mid-September — we’ve heard from the FDA and CDC; they announced this last week, that there will be new — new — new vaccines next — this — wow, are we in September? — next month — mid-S- — mid-September — we will be encouraging all Americans to get updated COVID — COVID vaccines.
And also, let’s not forget the RSV. Let’s not forget the influenza shots as well. All are very critical and important, so we’ll be encouraging Americans to do that.
And vaccinations, as we all know, as you’ve heard us say from here, against COVID-19 remains the safest protection for avoiding hospitalization, long-term health outcomes, and death. And so, this is why we’re going to encourage Americans to make sure they keep up to date — up to date with their — with their vaccines.
Look, because of this work that this — this President has done from the beginning of his administration, making sure there was a comprehensive approach with dealing with this pandemic, with dealing with COVID-19, we have tools at our — at our disposal now.
Whether it’s vaccines, whether it’s home tests, whether it’s masks, we do have — and effective treatments, obviously — we do have these tools at our disposal. And I think that’s incredibly important.
And so, you’ll hear more from FDA and CDC.
Any more information about those vaccines, certainly I would refer you to — to CDC.
As it relates to — to masking, n- — no protocol has changed — has changed here. That is up to the individual. If the — if an individual wants to wear a mask, they can do that. That is up to them. That’s why we made sure we provided these different tools.
Again, there will be more to share in mid-September.
All right, guys. Thank you so much. See you next week. Have a great weekend.
3:47 P.M. EDT