3:58 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Apologies for the delay. I so apologize for that. But thank you for all being here.
We know there’s a lot of interest today on some international issues out there, so we wanted to make sure that we had someone from NSC, so I brought over John Kirby from NSC. St- — I always mess this up. (Laughs.) Communications Strategy Coordinator.
Okay. All yours, Kirby. Sorry about that.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Karine. No worries.
Okay, everybody, just a couple of things at the top here. Today, I think — and you might have heard Secretary Blinken talk about this earlier — officials from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow attended the sixth session of the court hearing of American citizen Brittney Griner, who is being wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances.
I want to reiterate that President Biden has been clear about the need to bring home every American who is held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, and that includes, of course, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
Now, months ago, President Biden directed his national security team to pursue every avenue to bring Brittney home safely to her family, her friends, her loved ones, her teammates. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue, to make that happen.
Now, as part of those efforts, we made a substantial offer to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner and to bring them home, just as Secretary Blinken mentioned earlier.
I would add that a high-level administration official, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Josh Geltzer, spoke today –reached out, I’m sorry, today to both the Whelan and Griner families ahead of Secretary Blinken’s comments. And he’s going to be having conversations with them later today and tomorrow, as we arrange for them to connect.
In order to increase the chances for success here, we’re obviously not going to be able to share more publicly about the deal. I’m sure you all have questions about what this looks like, and I’m sure you can all understand that it’s not going to help us get them home if we’re negotiating in public with you all. So I’m not going to have any more detail on that.
But I will say that the President and his team are willing to take extraordinary steps to bring our people home, as we’ve demonstrated with Trevor Reed, and that’s what we’re doing right here. It’s actively happening now.
This has been at the top of the mind for the President and for his whole national security team. He receives regular updates about the status of our negotiations to secure Brittney and Paul’s release, as well as other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and, I might add, around the world as well.
With that, I’ll take some questions.
Q A few questions for you, Kirby. I just want to make sure: One, this offer was made in June. Is that right?
MR. KIRBY: It was made several weeks ago.
Q Several weeks ago. And has Russia responded to the offer? And our indication seems to be that they have not. And if they have not responded, what do you read into that?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to get into the details of negotiations, Kaitlan. I would tell you that the offer has been made, and we certainly hope that Russia will favorably engage on it. But I don’t want to get into more detail about that.
Q If they haven’t favorably engaged so far, do you think this is an offer that President Biden needs to make directly?
MR. KIRBY: I think we’re making it clear across the national security team that we’re serious about securing their release. I don’t have any conversations to speak about or announce on the President’s behalf. We believe that this is a serious proposal, and we want the Russians to take it seriously as well.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Peter.
Q You talk about Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan being a part of this substantial, serious offer, as you describe it. There are other questions being asked about why Mark Vogel is not included among those names. He’s a former diplomat; he was a teacher at the Anglo-American School of Moscow. Can you explain why he is not a part of this list of Americans that are a part of this exchange?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to talk specifically about what — the modalities of the deal, as you mentioned the word “exchange.” I’m just not going to get into the details of it. But —
Q Okay, ignore the word “exchange.”
MR. KIRBY: But I would just tell you we’re focused on all Americans who are held hostage and wrongfully detained around the world. What we’re talking about with this particular proposal is for those two individuals. That doesn’t mean that we’re not also working in real-time on other Americans who are unjustly detained around the world.
Q Can you explain why he, then, is not a part of this one?
MR. KIRBY: I think I’m just going to leave my comments where they are, Peter.
Q Understood. Thanks.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Caitlin.
Q Is there a risk in announcing this deal and making this deal public?
MR. KIRBY: There’s — this is delicate work to try to negotiate for someone’s release. And every case is individual. The circumstances of their detention is unique. The circumstances of how they’re being held and under what — you know, under what legal basis is all unique. And, of course, our approach then has to be unique.
We try very hard to be very careful in the public sphere about how much we say. I don’t want to get into too much today, other than to tell you that we felt that where we are and given the circumstances — certainly, in part, in context to Mrs. Griner having to stand and testify today — that this was — that it was an appropriate time to talk about these efforts.
But I will tell you that even that decision was not taken lightly. And we’re going to continue in private to work through the negotiations.
Q And I know you can’t talk about the details of the deal, but it has been reported that Viktor Bout is part of that. He’s obviously been called the “Merchant of Death.” He’s been called the “most dangerous man on the face of the Earth.” Is having him part of this deal a good idea?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the details of the negotiations and the arrangement that — the proposal that we made to the Russians.
And again, I think — as I said at the top, I hope you all can understand why more details are just not going to be helpful for us right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steven.
Q I’ll take another crack at that. Has the President made a determination that releasing Viktor Bout is in the national security interest of the United States?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to negotiate this thing in public, and I’m not going to talk about specific individuals. Our focus on individuals right now is on getting Mr. Whelan and Ms. Griner home. And that’s where the President’s head is.
And again, we’ve made a proposal. We — we urged the Russians to move positively on that proposal so we can get these two individuals home. The details of it I think are best left between us and our Russian counterparts.
Q And you said that this, obviously, is a delicate negotiation, delicate work, but the — you decided this was the appropriate time. Why is this the appropriate time to go public with this substantial offer? And are you just trying to up the pressure on Russia by making this public now?
MR. KIRBY: I think it’s sort of the same answer I just gave. There’s — no decision to talk about these issues are made lightly, given how sensitive they can be and given the ultimate outcome that you want to achieve.
We think through every step so carefully, and I can just promise you that this decision was — that this decision to talk about it was made in the same vein and in the context of what’s going on with both cases and what’s going on — where we are in the negotiations. And we just felt like it was an appropriate thing to do — again, with limits. I mean, we’re only going to go so far here.
Q And just more broadly, if I could: You know, after Trevor Reed’s release, the President did talk about what a difficult decision that was and how he didn’t take it lightly. Could you just talk broadly: How does the President evaluate when a prisoner swap is worth it?
MR. KIRBY: There’s a range of things that the President and the whole team have to — have to balance here. I mean, ultimately, your goal is to get Americans that are unjustly detained and held hostage home — back to their families, where they belong; back on their home — home soil. That’s the overarching goal.
You start with that, and then you start thinking through the building blocks of what’s it going to take. And every case is different — every single one — because of different legal systems where they’re held, different conditions under which they’re held, different governments that you’re dealing with, whether — what their relationship is bilaterally between — you pick the country you’re talking to. All of that factors into it. And the team presents the President the whole range of options for him to work his way through there.
But I can assure you that, in his mind — as I said at the top, the foremost in his mind is getting these Americans home.
And, obviously, there’s — as I said, there’s a balance to be achieved with each and every arrangement, and — the balance of getting folks home, but also making sure that our own national security is preserved, and that — clearly that we’re not encouraging hostage-taking in the future.
And you can go back and look at any case and see that, you know, it’s very rare that any one case is all lopsided on one way or the other. But the goal has got to be to try to find a way to get them home, and that’s his focus.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Josh.
Q Mr. Kirby, we’re reporting that the call with President Xi and President Biden has been set for tomorrow. Is there anything you can share about whether that time has been set and preview any of the call at all for us?
MR. KIRBY: I can’t announce a date and a time for you. I think the President spoke to this just the other day, that he expects to do this very soon, and I think it will be certainly very soon, in the coming days. But I wouldn’t get more specific than that for you.
MR. KIRBY: Hang on. He has a second question.
I’m not going to get too far ahead of a conversation that the President is having with another head of state, except to say there is an awful lot in the bilateral relationship between the United States and China for these two leaders to talk about. And this, I think, will be their fifth call, so it’s not like they haven’t had communications.
And that’s the key thing — is that the President wants to make sure that the lines of communication with President Xi remain open, because they need to. There’s issues where we can cooperate with China on, and then there’s issues where, obviously, there’s friction and tension. All of that will — I would expect the President to bring up inside.
So, clearly, tensions over — over Taiwan; tensions over Russia’s — I’m sorry, China’s aggressive and coercive behavior in the Indo-Pacific, outside of Taiwan; tensions in the economic relationship; Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine. I mean, I would expect all these things to be part and parcel of the conversation.
Q Since you mentioned Taiwan — I’m sorry, I know you’ve been asked this question like 100 times in the last two days. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: Let’s make it 101.
Q It was reported today that Speaker Pelosi invited other members of Congress to Taiwan on a potential trip. Do you have any update for us on what information the administration has given the Speaker’s office? You said yesterday, if I recall correctly, the information had been provided in recent days.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q Has there been any update to that? Or do you have any comment on the potential for Speaker Pelosi to make a stop potentially —
MR. KIRBY: I — I actually —
Q — with other members of Congress in Taiwan?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t — I don’t have much to satisfy you today. I mean, first of all, I’m not going to speak to Speaker Pelosi’s travel. That’s really for her and her staff to speak to, and there’s been no announcement, as far as I know, and no decision made. So that’s a really a better question put to the Speaker and her team.
I will tell you that it’s routine for us to — when she travels overseas — to provide her facts and analysis, context, geopolitical realities that she’s going to be facing wherever she goes. And there’s always issues of security surrounded by her travel, too, that sometimes the Department of Defense participates in, depending on where she goes and how long she’s going to stay and what the — what — you know, what the threats and challenges are. And we do that routinely. And that’s really what our focus is on here. The Speaker will make her own decisions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Tam.
Q Yeah, in Europe, they are talking about conserving natural gas for fear of Russia cutting off supplies this winter. They’re developing these plans.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q Where do things stand with U.S. efforts or global efforts to supply alternative sources —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — of natural gas? I realize it’s August and it’s a million degrees, but it will be winter soon.
MR. KIRBY: It’s a million degrees in here too. (Laughter.)
Yeah, I — I think you know — I think Karine has talked to you about the task force that the President stood up to work with suppliers and distributors around the world to see if we can’t find alternative sources for natural gas and, frankly, for oil for our European allies and partners. And that work continues.
This is just another example of Mr. Putin weaponizing now energy, as he’s weaponized food. And we’re going to work as hard as we can.
I don’t have a specific update for today, but we’re going to work —
Q That was the question.
MR. KIRBY: — but we’re now going to work as hard as we can to make sure, in the context of the President’s task force, that we are trying to find alternative sources for our European allies and partners as they, you know, face a frigid winter here.
We understand — we understand the realities of that and the impact that that’s going to have on their lives and livelihoods.
Q Can I ask Karine about the economy? Or are we doing a back —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll — I’ll come — we’ll —
Q Okay. Great. Yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll be at the podium once Kirby is done.
Go ahead, right behind you.
Q Yes, yesterday, (inaudible) stated (inaudible) say — said (inaudible) China’s behavior in the South China Sea. They say the — China’s aggressive behavior means it’s only a matter of when before a major accident happens. So how are you concerned by China’s behavior in the South China Sea? And do you expect the President will talk about the issue with President Xi?
MR. KIRBY: I — I would fully expect that, as part of the President’s conversation, that tensions in the South China Sea will come up, as they have routinely with respect to China’s excessive maritime claims that aren’t backed up by international law, by their coercive and aggressive behavior towards — towards nations that border on the sea or are in the South China Sea. And I fully expect that that will — that will come up.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Alex, then Chris — behind you.
Q John, back to the Speaker’s potential travel. It’s well known that the Chinese have leveled threats, saying there would be severe consequences. What will the President say to that, given that it’s assured that’s going to come up?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s call with President Xi, and I certainly wouldn’t detail here for you his specific points on any one issue. I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t go there.
Q Okay. I wanted to follow up. Axios is reporting that Brett McGurk told a think tank last week that it’s “highly unlikely” that the Iran nuclear deal will be revived. Is that an accurate statement?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think I’m going to comment on what was — what was billed as a private phone call that Mr. McGurk participated in.
I would just tell you a couple of things. One, we remain committed to seeing Iran never achieve a nuclear weapons capability. You heard the President say that on our recent trip to the Middle East.
Two, that the President believes diplomacy is the best path forward to see that outcome.
Three, that the negotiations are pretty well complete on a new JCPOA, and it’s on the table. And the onus is now on Iran to decide whether they’re going to take that deal or not.
And the last thing I’d say is: Short of that — and I don’t want to hypothesize; we still hope that they’ll come back into compliance. And it’s not just us; our European partners feel the same way.
But short of that, the President has an obligation — and you heard him say this on the trip — to make sure if he can look after our national security interests in the region, make sure that we have the capability and the capacity to do that — to defend ourselves and to help defend our allies and partners against the range of other Iranian threatening behavior: their burgeoning ballistic missile capability, which continues to improve; their support for terrorist groups; their threats in the maritime environment. All of that is still happening.
And so, we still have a concomitant responsibility to be ready for that, and we will.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Chris.
Q This question has come up given the golf tournament happening at Bedminster, and it’s a question from the 9/11 families. Does the — does President Biden plan to meet with the 9/11 families as his predecessors have done?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the President’s schedule with respect to that. I don’t. But I can — we can take the question —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, (inaudible).
MR. KIRBY: — and see if there’s something. I just don’t know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steven.
MR. KIRBY: But before I go — I don’t want to just blow past that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, sure.
MR. KIRBY: Obviously, the President — just like all Americans, you know, remember that tragic day — continues to want to do everything that we can as an administration to support them.
Q And excuse me if you said this before, but did they come up specifically in the — in the Saudi meetings?
MR. KIRBY: The President made it clear that — I would just say that made it clear that human rights and the defense of our national security interests abroad and at home were important to him.
Q Thank you, Karine. Yeah, so I have a question about China and then a question about Saudi Arabia.
On China, you just mentioned that President Biden intends to bring up South China Sea issues. I was wondering if we could also expect him to be bringing up issues regarding fentanyl exports from China and regarding the origins of COVID-19 as well?
MR. KIRBY: I think, as I said, there’s going to be a range of issues. We’ll give you a full readout after that call is over with. And I think I’ve gone in —
Q These are two major ones though.
MR. KIRBY: I’ve gone in —
Q Would you expect —
MR. KIRBY: They are — they are big issues. No argument. I think we’ll — we’ll give you a readout when the call is over. I don’t want to go into any more detail of the call than I just did.
Q Regarding Saudi Arabia, President Biden may have began to have — may have begun to have symptoms about four days after returning from Saudi Arabia. Has the U.S. government ruled out the possibility that the Saudi government may have deliberately exposed the President to the coronavirus?
MR. KIRBY: I think I should ref- — refer to Karine on tha question, in terms of talking about the President’s medical condition. That’s out of my scope.
Q Were there any considerations —
MR. KIRBY: But — but — but — but I don’t know where this idea is coming from. I don’t know what prompted you to ask it that way.
But the idea that a foreign nation-state would — would deliberately try to infect the President of the United States with a virus is just ludicrous — just absolutely ludicrous. There’s nothing to it. And it should be treated as the — as the ridiculous idea that — that it is.
Q I have a question, just briefly. What’s your —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q I just want to know what’s your response to Russia —
Q Yeah, let him go ahead.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, go ahead, Trevor. Go ahead.
Q Sorry, so, on Taiwan, you mentioned that that’ll — that’ll be a topic on the Xi call. Where is that situation right now? And where do you expect that it will be after the call? Do you expect there to be some progress or some kind of new arrangement on that issue?
MR. KIRBY: I wouldn’t — I mean, I again, I don’t want to get ahead of the President. So I — you know, I can’t speak to some specific arrangement that might come as a result of this. But let me back up a little bit.
This is about keeping the lines of communication open with the President of China — one of the most consequential bilateral relationships that we have not just in that region, but around the world, because it touches so much.
And I think the President — I know he’s looking forward to this conversation. There is a lot for them to talk about. Clearly, we would expect that the tensions over Taiwan would be — would be on the — would be on the agenda.
I’m sure, without getting into the — you know, too far ahead of the President, I’m sure that in one form or another he will reaffirm that there’s no change to America’s commitment to the One China Policy — none, zero — and that we continue to not want to see cross-Strait issues or tensions resolved unilaterally, and certainly not by force, and there’s no reason for it to.
But there’s no change to our One China Policy. And I’m quite certain that the President will — will reaffirm that.
We’re mindful — I mean, it’s not like — it’s not like the President is not mindful of the context here — that there has been rising tensions in and around the Taiwan Strait and that the Chinese have been more aggressive — the Chinese military. And as you’ve heard many leaders across the administration say, that’s — that’s not only not helpful, it’s — it’s not necessary, because nothing has changed about our One China policy.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, just (inaudible).
Q And then one other — let me just get one other, because the CHIPS Act secured Senate support today. That’s a China-related measure, obviously, you know, on economic competitiveness. And I’m curious that, you know, the President already issued a statement of support for what the Senate did, but that bill does not include a measure that would allow the U.S. to look at what businesses are doing abroad when they’re investing in China. That provision was stripped out. Does the White House expect to issue an executive order to fill in that gap?
MR. KIRBY: That’s a better question for my colleague.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Just a couple more. Ebony, Sebastian, Tyler.
Q I know you can’t give us many details about the negotiations with Griner or Whelan. However, was there any conversation with the family of Whelan or even Griner’s wife before the announcement was made? Has there been any conversation?
MR. KIRBY: We have been in constant touch with both families about the status of negotiations. So they have been informed every step of the way so that they understand exactly what we’re doing on behalf of their loved ones.
There was outreach to both families today in advance of Secretary Blinken’s press conference.
I don’t know that we connected with both of them before that, but there was a — there was certainly an effort to do that. And as I said in the opening statement, we’ll continue to reach out throughout the rest of the day and tomorrow as well.
Q And did they seem satisfied with — I know you’d said not Whelan, but on — with Griner’s? I don’t know whether you spoke with her wife or whether it was her mother and the rest of her family, but were they satisfied? What was the sentiments that was said in that conversation?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for the families; they need to speak for themselves. But we have — I do want to stress again: We have kept them informed every step of the way.
The outreach today was just to let them know, “Hey, we’re going to — we’re going to be talking a little bit more about the arrangement.” But it’s part and parcel of a constant contact that we’ve had with them throughout. And so we’ve been working real hard to keep them informed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sebastian.
Q Thank you. On the Xi call again —
MR. KIRBY: Oh, there you are.
Q Hello. It’s me, Sebastian. Thank you for taking my question. On the Xi call, you keep stressing that the President’s — perhaps his main goal is to have the lines of communication open. It’s also often been said the President is somebody who likes to have face-to-face meetings with leaders. I mean, the White House says that all the time. So —
MR. KIRBY: Both are important.
Q Right. So now that COVID is, you know, “over,” quote, unquote — the President’s is; today he was in the Rose Garden — is there any plan, or if not plan, is there any desires or any talk about an in-person summit with Xi? Because it’s something you guys never — I mean, it just never gets raised. I mean, this is his fifth phone call, right?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, COVID is not over.
Q He has summits all the time, right? Other summits.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, he just came off a very important trip to the Middle East. I don’t have a trip to Beijing to speak to or announce today, and I don’t have a visit by President Xi to speak to or announce today. But, you know, if and when that happens, we’ll certainly be able to talk about it.
There’s certainly no prohibition to it or — no policy against it. I mean, this is their fifth conversation.
As I said, this is one of the most consequential bilateral relationships in the world today, with ramifications well beyond both individual countries. The President clearly understands that, and we’re going to continue to work on that relationship. I just don’t have a physical face-to-face meeting to talk about today.
Q But has the President never had — expressed any frustration, perhaps, about that — that this, as you say, is so consequential, there’s so many issues that are so big that maybe —
MR. KIRBY: Frustration about what?
Q That he’s not getting to see Xi in person and hash this stuff out face-to-face?
MR. KIRBY: I mean, this is — this will be his fifth conversation. I don’t think — I don’t think he believes he doesn’t have the opportunity to relay his concerns to President Xi, to listen to President Xi and his — and what his issues are.
I mean, I think part and pa- — part of doing this — these calls is to keep that communication going. I don’t think the President feels like communication between the United States and China is lacking.
And it’s important to remember that it’s not just at his level. I mean, the Defense Secretary, the Secretary of State, other Cabinet officials, Mr. Sullivan clearly works on this relationship very, very hard as well.
So I mean, there’s — there’s a whole level here of communication with the — with the Chinese.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Just — just more on the timing today of Secretary Blinken’s announcement on the fact that the U.S. had made a deal: Was that in part because, as you said, Russia has not favorably engaged on it? You said it happened many weeks ago. Why was today the day that he would announce it?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I think there’s a — there’s a lot of reasons. And I think you have to just — because we don’t want to negotiate too much in public. You just — I think the reason we did it today was in context of sort of where things are, where things aren’t. And certainly, you know, this next step in her — in her trial.
There was a lot of reasons that we factored into making this public today.
Q You say you don’t want to negotiate in public, but that’s precisely what you’re doing.
MR. KIRBY: No.
Q You made this announcement today, after weeks of secret negotiations, to let the public know. Is this a part of a pressure campaign? Is this — you said there’s many reasons.
MR. KIRBY: We —
Q Can you give the American public a sense of what those reasons are?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, well, by saying that there’s a proposal on the table is not negotiating in public. I take issue with that.
But to your — to your larger point, we believe it’s important for the American people to know how hard President Biden is working to get Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home. We think it’s important for their families to know how hard we’re — we’re working on this.
And we think — we think making it clear that there is actual — there is an actual proposal made, that there — that there is something tangible on the table is important context for the world to know that — about the United States’ seriousness with which we will — which we will try to get our citizens back home.
I mean, there’s a lot there, Tyler. I — I couldn’t point to, like, one thing and say, “This is what made it happen today.” There’s an awful lot going on inside the context of the work to get them home, and we felt that — that letting everybody know — not just the American people, but the whole world — that there’s a proposal, and we’re waiting on Russia to make a decision about that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Last question.
Q Thanks, Karine. I just want to clarify, John: Is it the White House’s position that Nancy Pelosi should or should not go to Taiwan?
MR. KIRBY: The Secre- — I’m sorry — the Speaker of the House makes her own decisions about travel. We provide facts, context, analysis, geopolitical realities for — that she’ll be facing wherever she goes. Our job is to inform her decision-making process, and we’re doing that. The Speaker makes the decisions.
Q But why wouldn’t the White House make a public position on this? It’s such a — it would be such an important, significant trip.
MR. KIRBY: We typically don’t, though. I mean, when — when — wherever the Speaker goes and whenever she goes overseas, this is the — this is exactly the way it works.
Q So the White House doesn’t really —
MR. KIRBY: We don’t make it a habit of speaking for her travel or telling the public, you know, more detail and context about where she’s going to go and what she’s going to do. That’s really for the Speaker to talk to.
Q And so the White House — just wrapping this up — hasn’t relayed any position to the Speaker on this matter?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the conversations that are being had with the Speaker’s office. I’m not going to get into the details of it. What I can tell you is our obligations, and we take them seriously, in the national security establishment is to make sure that as she prepares to travel, she does so fully informed with all the context, analysis, and information she needs to make the best decision.
And again, I’ve seen no decision. We’ve seen no announcement. That is entirely for the Speaker to determine.
Q Okay. Thank you.
Q Admiral, what about Russia?
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, guys.
Q Russia is banning a Jewish agency —
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry, guys. I got to go. I think I got everything, right? It’s all (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
Q Mr. Kirby, can you comment on Russia — Russia in Africa?
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you, John.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, John.
Okay, I have a couple things for you at the top. Someone mentioned CHIPS, and today the Senate passed CHIPS — the CHIPS and Science Act with a strong bipartisan vote, which will lower costs and create good-paying jobs here at home.
We know that many families are worried about the state of the economy and the cost of living, and the CHIPS bill is one answer. It will accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering gas pri- — lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers.
It will strengthen our supply chains and national security because we will be able to make these critical technologies at home.
Next, the bill will go over to the House, as you all know, for a vote, and then the President will sign it as soon as possible.
As I mentioned earlier this week, we are closely monitoring the extreme heat conditions impacting millions of Americans. The President has directed his team to take swift and aggressive action to protect communities and last week announced $2.3 billion through FEMA to help communities increase resilience to heat waves, drought, wildfires, food, hurricanes, and other hazards.
Federal officials are proactively inspecting over 70 high-risk industries in areas under a heat warning or advisory. Yesterday we also launched Heat.gov, a website that provides information and tools to assist federal, state, and local governments in responding to extreme heat.
And today we announced additional actions to lower electricity bills and maintain an affordable energy supply to cool homes. We’re paying — we are paving the way to expand access to low-cost community solar power for 4.5 million families in HUD-assisted housing.
We announced that five states and Washington, D.C. have signed up to pilot a new federal platform that will connect low-income households to low-cost solar power, saving families a combined $1 billion annually in electricity bill costs across the participating locations.
We launched a new initiative to help small rural housing authorities, making rental housing more energy efficient, resulting in savings that can be reinvested in lowering costs for rural families.
We also announced new investments to strengthen America’s solar work — workforce by expanding union density and increasing participation from underserved and underrepresented groups in the rapidly growing solar industry.
President Biden is taking bold action to tackle the climate crisis and protect Americans from threats like extreme heat, and he will continue to take action.
One last thing, and then we can get started today: The Treasury Department announced new steps that will make it even easier for state and local governments to use American — use American Rescue Plan funds to increase the supply of affordable housing in their communities.
This builds on commitments made in the President’s comprehensive housing supl- — Housing Supply Action Plan to address housing shortages and lower cost for families. Tackling costs for families is President Biden’s number one priority. And while the housing shortage in the U.S. long prec- — preceded the pandemic, increasing the supply of affordable housing remains critical to lowering housing costs for families over time.
American Rescue Plan funds have already been a key source of state and local investment in affordable housing, providing billions of dollars to help improve housing stability, preserve and develop new affordable housing, and helping homeowners stay in their homes. But today’s steps will help leverage even more American Rescue Plan dollars to help close gap in the supply of affordable housing.
So those are the announcements that I have for you.
Will, you want to kick us off?
Q Sure. Thanks. I’ve got two things. Does the President’s increased COVID testing cadence that Dr. O’Connor mentioned mean that he’s going to be tested daily for COVID, at least in the near term?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So what I can promise to you is that we will be as transparent, as we have been these past couple of days, in letting you know when the President tests positive.
We know there’s been questions about a potential relapse. That is very, very — a small percentage of that happens. But if that were to happen, we would share, just like we have been every day with the letter — a detailed letter from the
President [Doctor] every day, with letting you know — from that day on Thursday, we put out a statement, we put out a letter, and we were very, very transparent on what was happening with the President’s health.
So if that were to occur, we would certainly be transparent on that.
Q Nothing on the cadence specifically and when (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any change of cadence, but I do — again, I — we will promise to be transparent and share when he — if he were to — if anything were to change. Again, small percentage of that happening — to change with his testing, you know, status.
Q Okay. And one other thing on another topic. What’s behind the President invoking President Trump more often in his remarks? He’s been tweeting about it. He spoke about it in the — on the taped remarks yesterday. Is this part of a change in strategy to specifically name Trump?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So as it relates to the taped remarks that you’re speaking about where he addressed Black law enforcement, which was the NOBLE event that happened on Monday — look, you know, the President has spoken many times before about his pre- — his predecessor’s role and the — and the responsibility that his predecessor bears in — on January 6th.
And, you know — and I spoke to this yesterday as well. The President wanted to use that moment to thank the heroes — the law enforcement heroes — to thank them for their bravery, and made a comparison — made a comparison to what — what we saw this — his predecessor, Donald Trump, do on that very day, which is instead of stand — standing on the side of the law enforcement, instead of standing on the side of democracy, he stood on the side of the mob.
And so that is what the President wants to make very clear — is that we had — you know, we had law enforcement that day who were assaulted, who were beaten, who were — who were being attacked, and they protected our democracy. And we had someone who was in this very building, as you all saw the reporting — 187 minutes away — minutes of the first couple of hours, those three hours — not far from where we stand here today, and didn’t do anything. And so that is what the President wants to make very clear.
Q Yeah, so just to follow up on the CHIPS Act bill, there was that provision in there that you all had advocated for that would let you basically block a deal if a company was going abroad and, say, investing in China and you thought it was against national security interests. That got stripped out. Are you guys going to do that as an EO?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ll say this: The Pres- — the bill is going to the House. So that is the next process of the bill.
We’ve been very clear about having guardrails. I think the — the Speaker wrote a letter saying that — how important it is going to be to have those — those safety precautions in — in this CHIPS bill.
Look, this is going to — what we — what we’re seeing right now — what the Senate has passed is going to be a game-changer as we talk about inflation, as we talk about strengthening the supply chain. This is what this will do.
When we talk about — you know, when we look at the — those semiconductor chips that are in — that are in, for example, automobiles, and we saw how those costs spiked over — during the pandemic. This is going to help lower costs for families.
So, you know, the — it’s going to continue into the House, and so we’ll see what happens in the next step. I’m not going to speak to hypotheticals at this point. But, again, it still has another process that it needs to go through.
Q Okay, and then let me —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh.
Q — ask you just a quick question on the economy. So, Fed Chair Jay Powell, after raising rates again today, he said in his press conference that the U.S. economy is not currently in a recession, but that the path to have a soft landing clearly has “narrowed,” which translated out of the jargon means that it’s much more likely that we will have a recession as these — as they continue to try to fight inflation in the future.
So is that the White House’s assessment as well? And what would you do to kind of make that less likely?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So here’s what he said; I’ll quote him directly: “I don’t think the U.S. is currently in a recession.” There’s just “too many areas
in [of] the economy that are performing…well.” And then he points to the labor market — the very strong labor market that we — that we know are — are one of the factors that’s looked — that economist and experts look at.
Right now, we’re seeing that strong labor market, with
about 400,000 jobs that have been created each month. We see unemployment at 3.6. There were — there was the state unemployment numbers that came out last week with 21 states that are at 6 percent or lower. And so, the way that we see is that we are not currently in a recession or a pre-recession.
And, look, we’re going to let the Fed do its business. We’re going to let them be — continue to be independent. And that’s what the President has said. They are — they are committed to making sure that we lower inflation or tackle inflation for the American people. So we’re going to let them do their job. They have the monetary policy to do that. So I won’t speak further into exactly what they’re doing and how — how that’s going to look for them.
Q You noted we aren’t currently in a recession, you don’t think, but are you concerned that these Fed rate hikes could push you into a recession?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we — again, it is — we’re not going to comment on the monetary policy steps that the Federal Reserve is taking. They are an independent agency, and we are going to give them the room to do the job that they’re doing.
And so right now, the President has laid out his plan to lower inflation. We have seen what has happened with gas prices: The last 43 days, a steep decline at the — you know, the — a steep decline that we haven’t seen in a decade, again, to help give families a little bit of breathing room. And that’s what the President has talked about.
We have also seen food prices go down just a little bit. And so we’re going to continue to do that.
We’re going to — there’s the drug — the drug prices bill — the reconciliation legislation that’s going to continue to address lowering costs for Americans. And so that’s going to be our focus there.
Q We are hearing from companies like Walmart and Target who are starting to say that, you know, they’re seeing how inflation is impacting their customers. And there are a lot of Americans who, even though you may say that you don’t — we’re not in a recession now, that’s not how it feels to them. You know, what is your message to those consumers, those Americans who very much feel that we are in one?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, and we have said this before: We understand what a — what the American people are going through. We — we feel that. We understand that. That is something that the President personally understands.
We see that the gas prices and the — and what they’re dealing with at the pump is — is costing families.
But again, the President, for the past several months, has taken action to make sure that we do everything that we can to give American families some relief.
That’s why he did the work with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That’s why he did the announcement on the ethanol 15 — something that’s not normally done during the summer. And he did that so that we can bring some costs down.
Even the Treasury Department announced yesterday that the actions that the President took helped bring down the cost per gallon by 40 cents.
And so, while there’s still more work to be done — but this will give — this will give families a little breathing room. Seventy cents, on average, per gallon — that’s going to — that’s going to give families with a two — two-car families at least 70 bucks a month to save. And so that matters.
Now, is there still work to be done? Absolutely. The job doesn’t stop. He’s going to continue to see what else he can do. That’s why we’re looking at the — the reconciliation piece as well to bring down, lower costs. And that’s what CHIP — the CHIP bill is going to do.
Go ahead, Caitlin.
Q I know you can’t talk about the details of a prisoner swap, but is the President consulting with the Justice Department about all of this, given that would involve a prisoner swap?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I can say this: Again, we’re not going to give the details — there’s safety reasons; Kirby just laid out all of the — the rationale of not having — about not negotiating and not going further than we are already.
But, look, the State Department is playing point on this. There is a Special Envoy that deals with this issue specifically.
And the President has been very, very clear from — from very mu- — very early in his administration that he believes that any U.S. national that is wrongfully detained should be — should be brought home, and he’s going to do everything to make sure that happens.
Q And also, there’s a new poll showing that 75 percent of Democratic voters want the party to nominate someone other than Joe Biden as the nominee. What does the President make of that dynamic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I mean, we’re not worried about polls. The President has said — has been clear that he intends to run. But we are so far away from that time — from, you know, even being close to — to be thinking about that.
But what I can say is: We are going to continue to do the work that I just laid out, that the President is doing, lowering costs. We’re — we are — you know, we are — the — you saw the President’s statement on CHIPS. That is a great step forward to investing in manufacturing, to dealing with our national security, to lowering cost for Americans.
There’s the reconciliation bill that’s going to help lower cost.
There are def- — there are definitely plans that we’re going to continue to work on so we don’t leave anybody behind. And so that’s going to be his focus.
And I — you know, I will say, on the other side, the — you got the MAGA congressional Republicans who are putting forth plans that’s going to take away — sunset Medicare, sunset Social Security, ri- — increase taxes for Americans making less than $100,000 a year. That is — that is what the plan is on the other side.
At least this President has a plan, and he’s doing the work on behalf of the American people.
Q Karine, but — so as you talk about plans on the other side, it was this President’s plans that contributed to inflation, right?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it was not.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It was this President’s plan — if we talk about the American Rescue Plan —
Look, Peter, when the President walked into this administration, there was an economic crisis, there was a COVID crisis, there was a climate change crisis. And we’re still dealing with a lot of that right now. But the President turned the economy back on. There were businesses that were closed, schools that were closed. And because of the American Rescue Plan — by the way, no Republican voted for that plan —
Q And he —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — and that plan had $350 billion for public safety — another thing that Republicans talk about but they actually don’t do — and they don’t put — push forward on a policy that will help our law enforcement. That plan helped put us in a stronger labor market and helped make our economy stronger.
And so that is what is happening. It is not the President that has created inflation. There are also outside factors that has led us to where we are today.
Q If things are going so great though, then why is it that White House officials are trying to redefine “recession”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, we’re not redefining recession.
Q If we all understand a recession to be two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth in a row, and then you have White House officials come up here to say, “No, no, no, that’s not what a recession is, it’s something else,” how is that not redefining recession?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because that’s not the definition. That is not the definition.
Q Brian Deese said in 2008, “Of course, economists have a technical definition,” which is — “of a recession, which is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can tell you this —
Q And then yesterday he said two consecutive — “two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is not.
Q What changed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is not.
Q Why did he say that it was? What’s the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can sp- — I can speak to —
Q — difference, other than who the President is?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can speak to you — to what he said yesterday, in front of all of you, which is the last thing that you just repeated.
There are many factors — there are many factors — economic factors and indicators — to consider. And I will say that the textbook definition of “recession” is not — is not two negative quarters of GDP. We have a strong labor market. We have business that’s investing. We have consumers that are also very much, you know, investing and purchasing. That is incredibly important.
We have 3.6 unemployment. You do not see that in a pre-recession, and you do not see that in a recession.
So the factors that we are seeing right now, the economic indicators, does not — does not show that we’re in recession. And I’ll read — since you gave me some quotes, I’ll give you some as well.
In 2009, the St. Louis Fed said, “While the popular definition of a recession is ‘two consecutive quarters of negative real gross domestic product (GDP) growth,’ the NBER” — which we have mentioned many times in this room — “does not strictly abide by this designation. Instead, the committee broadly defines a recession as a ‘significant decline in economic activity spreading across the economy lasting more than a few months.’” NBER has been around since 1920.
I’m going to move on. Go ahead.
Q To follow up on the economy, is it a risk for President Biden to say that he does not think the United States is going to be in a recession? And does the White House have any concerns that it will look misguided if the U.S. does enter a recession?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So your second part is, you know, speculation right now. And if you’re — the answer to your first part is “no,” because we’re looking at the facts. We’re looking at the other economic indicators, the strong labor market, as I just listed out. We had 21 states last — last week where we saw unemployment was at 3 percent or lower.
So everything that we are seeing currently, right now, does not show that we are in a recession. That is just the facts.
And it’s not just us saying that. You have economic experts who have said this; I just laid out a couple of — a couple of, you know, outlets who have said this as well. And so there is not — and I’m happy to list more economic folks who have said this as well.
So, you know, CitiGroup’s Jane Fraser: “Little of the data I see tells me the U.S. is on the cusp of a recession.”
Analystics [Analytics], Mark Zandi: “I still have no recession in my forecasts.” And job numbers are growing with our — are with — “are incongruous with fears that recession is dead ahead.” And so that matters too.
So it’s not just us saying this. There are other experts as well who have weighed in on this.
Q And just ahead of tomorrow, given there is so much talk about “is there, is there not a recession” — I asked this other day; I just want to follow up: Is there a White House definition of what a recession looks like?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We — we have — we have — have talked about the — the National Bureau of Economic Research. They have the textbook definition of what that looks like. They look at it more broadly, as I just laid out. And so that’s what we would point you to.
Q Since we’ve been sitting here, Senator Manchin has put out a statement saying that he has an agreement of some kind with Senator Schumer on an Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 that, at first blush — forgive me, I haven’t read the full details — looks a lot like something that might raise hopes on a reconciliation deal. Do you have any comment from the White House on whether you’ve been involved in these talks? And is this a deal on a reconciliation package?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m standing here; I haven’t seen this for myself. I need to talk to our folks on this. So I don’t want to get ahead of the team here.
But we have been very clear about the reconciliation bill. We have always said this is — this is negotiations that are happening in Congress. But, clearly, we are — we are — we are — you know, we welcome hearing about the drug — the lowering cost of pharmaceutical drugs, which is going to help so many seniors, which is so incredibly important.
This is something that the President has been fighting for since he was senator. When it comes to fighting Big Pharma, you know, fighting pharmaceuticals who would not let Medicare negotiate lower — lower costs, this matters. This is going to matter to so many millions of Americans who are dealing — many with chronic illness, as you think about our seniors.
So this is something that we have spoken to. We do believe that it’s going to be part of lowering inflation, which is so important, again, as we talk about the economy.
I don’t want to get ahead of the team on this; I have not seen the announcement. But again, we have been very supportive of that — of those pieces of the reconciliation bill.
Q And just for clarity, there’s no, you know, recent conversations that you can tell us —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There’s no —
Q — about with Senator Manchin and members of the administration?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, there’s no — there’s no conversation that I can read out to you.
Q Okay. Thank you very much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steven.
Q I want ask a question about monkeypox response. There is a — an antiviral treatment that is effective that is in the U.S. stockpile. It’s called “TPOXX” and it works to see lesions go away. Apparently, it’s very hard to get.
Patients have to have their doctors email the CDC on a one-on-one basis, and it has to be approved case by case. Why has — and that raises question about equities. People who might be their own best advocates have doctors who get engaged, might be able to get access to the medication but others might not.
Why has the White House not reached down and tried to make this medicine, which the U.S. has, easier to access?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So here’s what I can tell you. I don’t know much about this medicine that you are speaking of, Steven, but I can tell you that when we learned — so, I think the first case was in May at some time. And in June, we put together — the HHS put together a comprehen- — comprehensive strategic approach on dealing with monkeypox.
We made sure that — it was also very aggressive. We made sure that there were more than 300,000 vaccines across the country at the — I think, currently, right now, there’s about 3,000 cases. And — and so we expedited that. We ordered a production of an extra 5 million more vaccines.
And today, just to — just to add to — to that, today, the FDA approved 786,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine manufactured by Bavar- — Bavarian Nordic. I’m not sure — maybe this is part of what you’re speaking of; we would just have to dig in a little bit to see.
But this is an important step forward in our plans to accelerate and strengthen our monkeypox response. And HHS is going to continue to work to strengthen the response in the coming days and work with partners on the ground, in the community, and across the world to combat this virus.
And we have been making sure that as the vaccines go out, they go to at-risk communities and that there’s also an education component that has to be done as well, which is really important because people are not aware of what monkeypox is. That is something that HHS has been doing as well.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q I just wanted to go back on the some of the economic messaging. There’s been a lot of debate over the technical term of recession. And this somewhat harkens back to earlier economic messaging that you guys had around inflation, where you insisted that it was transitory for months, that it was temporary, and then we’ve seen it continue to persist. And I’m wondering if you can just take us in a little bit about how you think about economic messaging, particularly as relates with recession.
The argument over whether we are or not in a recession, I think, when we talk to Americans, sort of misses the point about the economic attitude and feeling that they have and the struggles that they face with increased prices across the board, as we’ve seen over the many months.
And I’m wondering if the White House finds it effective to debate the technical term of “recession” versus speak more broadly to Americans, who it doesn’t really matter whether a group of economists that they’ve never heard of declare it recession when it when it comes to their, you know, just getting by.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — I get your point. And to some degree, I agree. Right? There are — there are Americans here who are feeling — who are feeling the high prices and the cost very — you know, very personally. And that is something that the President, I believe, has talked about almost anytime that he talks about the economy. He talks about the pain that the American people are feeling, and he talks about his plan and what he is going to do to lower cost.
That’s why we bring up gas prices, because we have seen costs go down. We understand that we need to do more and we will. We will continue to do more by asking oil companies to make sure they — the profit that they’re making passes on to the consumer. So we should see more going to the consumer as prices are going down.
We — I was just asked about the reconciliation bill. That is something that is incredibly important as we lower drug prices.
And so, there is a — you know, a myriad of ways that we are working on to make sure that we have a plan and that cost is lowered.
But as we are being asked about recession, and as we’re being asked if we are in one or if we’re going to one, what we’re doing is just laying out the facts. You know, I have a long list of other organizations, other economic groups that have said we are not in a recession, and because of the strong labor market, you know, it — there is no — there’s no indicator — or all these different indicators doesn’t show that we’re headed to a recession.
So, we’re just laying out the facts as — as we’re seeing it. And we’re also pointing to NBER, who actually has the textbook definition, and they look at this more broadly, as I’ve said.
But, you know, we’re going to continue to talk about the American people. We’re going to continue to talk about what they’re feeling. You know, that’s why the CHIPS is so important, as I just mentioned very early on, at the top.
And so that doesn’t end. That doesn’t end. The Pres- — the President does this every time we have a conversation about the economy or is asked.
Q And just to quickly follow up: You’re setting the expectation that we’re not headed to a recession, we’re not in a recession. What happens if the NBER does declare we’re in a recession? Do you feel —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, that’s a hypothetical. I’m not going to get into that. I’m just saying that where we are currently, how we see things, how — the multiple economic indicators that are in front of us do not play in a way where we would be currently in a recession at this time.
Q And just lastly on that, very quickly. Does the President have confidence in his economic team’s ability to forecast and predict? Obviously, on the inflation, that was something that we heard from the whole host of the same economic officials we’re hearing now, that we — that inflation was temporary, was transitory, it would not persist. And that’s been the opposite. They’re now saying the same thing about a recession. I’m just curious if —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the President has full confidence in his economic team.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Karine, has the President communicated one way or another to the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, whether he thinks it’s a good idea for her to go to Taiwan, or had any conversation about that topic with her?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — a call to preview for you at this time or that’s been on his schedule. He has spoken to members of Congress, as we mentioned, last week. Those were the — one of the many things that he did while he was working from the White House residence. I don’t have anything new to share on a particular call.
Q Does the White House — without specificity to her, does the White House have any concerns about prominent American officials going, given the sensitivities of the relationship between the U.S. and China right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I’ll just — I’ll just reiterate what we have said from here: is that any time a member of Congress travels, we do share with them the geopolitical, kind of, information that’s happening in the country, in the region; the national security situation. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Taiwan or any other place around the world — we share that information, and so we make very clear of what is happening currently, in that moment.
Q From the podium, you communicated earlier that the White House had identified 17 close contacts of the President. Just for clarity, as we hopefully wrap up the President’s experience with COVID, can you say either way whether any of those 17 individuals, without identifying by — them by name, have since tested positive for COVID?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: They have not.
Q Not one of the 17?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: They have not tested positive.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, I’ll take one more. Tam?
Q Yep. Now that the President is feeling better, are there any plans for him to get out and travel and talk to the American people about these economic concerns that you say he cares a lot about?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, he’s always — he’s always willing and thrilled and excited to go out and talk to the American people, have those one-on-ones that you see him have when he is at the rope line or when he is engaging with the American public. So, he certainly is looking forward to getting back on the road.
As far as a schedule, any travel — upcoming travel, nothing to add — nothing to share at this time on any addition to his travels in the next coming days.
All right, thanks.
Q On Russia —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll be back tomorrow, guys. We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks, everybody.
4:58 P.M. EDT