Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, September 2, 2022

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, September 2, 2022

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 12:29 P.M. EDT  MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Okay. So, I’m pleased to announce that

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:29 P.M. EDT 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Okay.

So, I’m pleased to announce that on Friday, September 16th, President Biden will welcome South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to the White House.  The leaders, building — the leaders, building on their productive call in April and the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue in August, will reaffirm the importance of our enduring partnerships and discuss opportunities to deepen cooperation on trade and investment, infrastructure, climate and energy, and health.  We look forward to a productive visit. 

President Biden’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Mike Hammer, will travel to Ethiopia starting this weekend to engage on the crisis in northern Ethiopia.  Special Envoy Hammer will convey that all parties should halt military operations and engage in peace talks. 

He — we condemn Eritrea’s reentry into the conflict, the continuing TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, and the Ethiopian government’s airstrikes. 

There is no military solution to the conflict.  Prior to renewed hostilities, we were encouraged by five months of humanitarian truce, and are now deeply concerned about the seizure of humanitarian assistance of military use. 

All parties should exercise restraint.  And we urge de-escalation by all actors, particularly so that there can be a resumption of humanitarian relief and basic services to all parties in need. 

Last but not least, I also wanted to share some very sad news to report for the press team.  This is the final day of our good friend and invaluable colleague Alexandra LaManna’s detail with us.

As you know, we have rotating details from different agencies.  Alexandra succeeded Brittany Kaplan at a pivotal time, coming to us from Treasury and taking the lead for the press team on our response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v.  Wade, as well as the ensuing attacks on women’s fundamental rights from elected Republicans in Congress and also all over the country. 

Her expertise on economic issues has also been a huge asset for us in the Press Office.  We’re going to miss her talent, her smarts, her sense of — her sense of strategy, her sense of humor, and her work ethic, which speaks to how lucky we have been to have her on our team. 

We’re going miss you, Alex. 

Okay.  With that, want to take us away?

Q    Sure.  A couple on the water crisis in Mississippi.  Last night, the President said, quote, “We’ve offered every single thing available to Mississippi and the governor has to act.” 

Can you elaborate on that a little bit?  What does the President think Governor Reeves has to do now that he has not yet done regarding the crisis?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just say a couple of — a couple of things that give you — give you all an update. 

So FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell is in Jackson, Mississippi, today to assess the ongoing emergency response operations.  She will be joined by Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu and other federal officials. 

I know she will be providing an update from the ground a little bit later today.  FEMA, EPA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to deploy personnel to support the state’s emergency response and identify longer-term solutions to improve the infrastructure. 

As far as water distribution goes — I know some folks had questions about that — FEMA has a number of personnel on site in the State Emergency Operations Center and is coordinating with the Mississippi Emergency Management Team to ensure that everyone has access to water. 

As you know, the President took immediate action to approve the governor’s emergency declaration request and directed his team to surge assistance to Mississippi.  The President and the Vice President both spoke with the mayor of Jackson this week.  And that’s the — that’s the update of where we are.

Again, we are determined to continue to provide all of the the assistance — needed assistance for the people of the state of Mississippi and specifically for the people of Jackson as they go through this really tough time on the ground. 

So we’re going to continue to do the work. 

Q    But what did he mean by saying the governor has to act?  And so, he issued the emergency declaration, obviously, but what more should Governor Reeves be doing that the White House clearly thinks he’s not doing at this point?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, look, I mean, as you know, there is — there’s funding that we’ve provided through the American Rescue Plan for upgrades across the stra- — across the state, which is about $450 million.  The city has allocated 250- — $20 million, pardon me, of its ARP funds for water and sewer infrastructure needs.  And there is about $30.9 million through the EPA’s revolving loan funds for treatment and distribution system improvements for Jackson — Jackson available right now. 

So the state has the $75 million this year, through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to provide clean and safe — and safe water this year, with a total of $429 million available to the state over the next five years. 

So, we’re looking across the federal government to see what else we can do.  But, you know, again, this — this administration, we’re committed.  The emergency that we’re currently seeing in Jackson shows how long-deteriorating water infrastructure can quickly turn into an emergency, as Mayor Lumumba said, and this is a result of decades of underinvestment.  So that is why the President is making this a priority. 

So, look, there’s funding there that the state can tap into for infrastructure needs — a bipartisan funding law — infrastructure law that the President worked very hard on, and Congress did as well, to make sure we deal with these types of long-term issues. 

And so, we think that, you know — that should be happening, that should be moving forward. 

Q    Can you talk about why the President has not spoken directly with Governor Reeves at this point?  You mentioned he’s spoken with the mayor; so has the Vice President.  But why has that communication between President Biden and Governor Reeves not happened at this point?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, look, as I said, the FEMA administrator spoke to the governor this week, and the President has spoken to the mayor of Jackson.  The conversations are happening.  There’s communication.

As you mentioned in your question, the governor did ask for our federal assistance, took that — took the official step, doing the declaration.  And we responded.  We surged the emergency funding — or emergency resources, I should say — to the state of Mississippi — Jackson, Mississippi, in particular, because of the urgent need that they have. 

And we’ll — we’ll keep you abreast if there’s any conversation that is coming in the upcoming days or, you know, that may be happening. 

But we’ll hear from the FEMA administrator later today.  But right now, as you just stated, there just has not been a call.

Q    Hey, Karine, the President last night argued very forcefully that democracy is under assault.  But what kind of concrete actions does he actually plan to take, given that he described this essentially as a fairly existential threat to the American republic?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as — as you also heard from the President yesterday, he believes we’re at an inflection point.  And so — so that’s an important thing, why he wanted to make sure he gave that speech.  But you also heard the President express optimism — right? — about the future of America, which was something that was important for him to deliver to the American people, that he believes there’s nothing — there’s isn’t nothing we can — we can’t do.  Right? 

He believes that we can do everything — anything, as — as a country.  And then, we have seen throughout our history, America has made its greatest progress out of the darkest times.  We see that for — before. 

One way, of course we can do that is by making our voices heard.  And he said that.  He said that the American people have a choice. 

And — but it wasn’t just a policy speech.  Obviously, the President believes that we can make great progress out of the darkest moments.  And he calls on all Americans, regardless of which aisle — side of the aisle you sit on, regardless which ideology that you may follow, regardless of the political persuasion, to unite around democracy. 

And he thought it was an important message — again, an inflection point.  And that was the message that he delivered, again, giving people a choice and saying to folks, “We need to come together and make sure our voices are heard.”

Q    So, other than urging Americans to vote and make their voices heard, the President has no plan to confront this threat that he described very forcefully last night?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, it’s not the first time he’s confronted — confronted or spoke about this threat.  This is — he’s done it multiple times at multiple stages during the last three years — during his campaign a couple of times as well, during his administration.  And he’ll continue to lift that up when he feels it’s needed. 

But what the President did last night was incredibly powerful.  It was clear.  It was concise.  It was steadfast, which is — and he did it prime time, as you all know, to the American people, speaking directly to them, that this is a time for us to come together. 

Q    Right.  But what I’m asking is if there’s any action behind his words. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, the action is making your voices heard.  That is a powerful action.  We have seen it across time, we have seen it throughout our American history that making your voices heard actually can change — actually can change the direction of a country. 

So, I would say that is the most powerful tool that we have as a country right now. 

Q    And I know you guys have addressed this to certain extent, but because you’re behind the podium, if you could address the criticisms and the questions about why the President delivered what sounded very much like a politically charged speech as an official White House event, taxpayer-funded, with two Marines in uniform, in particular, flanking him and visible on camera throughout the speech. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’ll take your first question.  Look, the way we see it here — and I would argue, the way many Americans across the country see it is standing up for democracy is not political, denouncing political violence is not political, defending rights and freedom is not political, making clear that the challenges facing the nation is not political.  We don’t call any of that political.  We see that as leadership.  And we see that as presidential.

To your question about the Marines.  Look, the President gave an important speech last night — a critical speech, in an — at an inflection point.  And, you know, our democracy, our values — our values that are — are values that our men and women who protect us every day and fight for every day believe in as well. 

The presence of the Marines at the speech was intended to demonstrate the deep and abiding respect the President has for these services — service members, to these ideals and the unique role our independent military plays in defending our democracy, no matter which party is in power — again, no matter which power — party is in power. 

And it is not abnormal.  It is actually normal for Presidents from either side of the aisle to give speeches in front of members of the military, and including President Donald Rea- — Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush.  It is not an unusual sight or is not an unusual event to have happen. 

I’m going to — I’m going to move around.  You’ve asked three questions. 

Q    Just to follow up —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No.  You’ve asked — you’ve asked three questions. 

Q    Well, you didn’t answer the first question until —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I did. 

Q    — three follow-ups.  So —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No.  No, no, no, I answered the first question.  You just — you know, I had to just dive in a little bit more, but I certainly answered it because I said, “Making your voices heard is a powerful tool.”  I answered it the first time you asked. 

I’m going to go around. 

Go ahead, Nancy. 

Q    Thank you.  Oh, thanks so much, Karine.  Just on the Treasury Department’s oil price cap, I’m wondering: Will the President be making any personal appeals to world leaders to jump on this Russian oil price cap policy? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So let me just give you a couple of things at the top because this is a really important first step.  And so, we’re moving from exploring a price cap on Russian oil to gaining an agreement with G7 nations, making up 50 percent of the global economy to implement one. 

A global price cap will help us accomplish our two goals.  The first one is: significantly reduce Putin’s biggest source of revenue for his war chest. 

Number two: ensure that oil continues to flow into the market at lower prices and supply meets demand. 

The impact of our efforts to implement a price cap is already bearing fruit.  Reports show that Russia is already offering steep discounts — as much as 30 percent — and long-term contracts to some countries.  This also demonstrates that Russia is planning to continue supplying its oil and willing to swallow bigger discounts. 

A price cap will give more countries better leverage to strike bargain with — deals with Russia.  We will fur- — we will further work in the coming — upcoming weeks to determine the price cap level; release further information, including technical guidance for market participation; and announce our coalition partners as well. 

A price cap on Russia — on Russian oil is a powerful tool — one part of the tool in our agenda to put downward — to put downward pressure on global energy prices in a way that will benefit consumers in the U.S. and globally.  And we are determined to implement this policy in a way that achieves those goals. 

We’re going to let folks who are working on this continue the work. 

This was, again, a very big step forward.  And we’ll have more in the upcoming days. 

As you know, this is something that the Treasury is leading — but U.S. Treasury is leading.

Q    But is the President himself going to ask world leaders to sign onto this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, here’s the thing: The President started this conversation, as you know, in Europe when we were in Germany at the G7.  So this is part of the President’s leadership.  He moved this forward.  He started this conversation. 

Now, the Treasury and our — our administration is going to continue to have those conversations.  When I — we’ll have more — clearly.  We always share more. 

If the President is going to put out a statement, we’ll let you know.

Go ahead.

Q    Where does the President think the line should be drawn for having members of the military who could be perceived as being part of stagecraft for an address?

The former President was criticized for using military many different times in many different settings.  And you’re right, there have been other instances and other Presidents where members of the military — especially here at the White House.  But to be at a location in Pennsylvania where the Marines are not normally stationed, where does the President see the line for having members of the military included?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I — I just want to be very clear: You know, as you know, the President was at Independence Hall.  And you know the history.  I’m just going to — I’m going to repeat it, but I know you know the history.  Which is where some of our — some of our — the documents of some of our most critical rights and freedoms were debated and were drafted. 

And so, being at Independence Hall for this President — and you — you followed this President.  You know how he thinks, and you know how — you know, how he is — as an elected official.  He believes that it is important for him to speak very loudly — to have, actually, the loudest voice when it comes to our democracy. 

And so, for him, this was not a political speech.  This was an opportunity in primetime to talk directly to the American people, and to be very clear — clear — with a clear voice to talk about what is happening in our country today. 

And it was about our values as a country, about our democracy as a country.  And so, that is what the President wanted to convey. 

And he believes the men and women who wear the uniform and protect us every day, protect this country every day — that’s what they fight for as well. 

And so, this was an opportunity, as he’s having this conversation, of leveling — right? — of a level conversation with the American people to do that. 

So, I just want to — that’s really the best way that I can explain how the President was thinking about this last night. 

You know, when it comes to — you know, when it comes to the soul of the nation, this is something that the President has talked about, as I mentioned, for years.  He has seen where we are headed as a country.  He has been concerned where our democracy is going. 

And again, he took this opportunity to directly speak to the American people, understanding — understanding that the Marines who were standing behind him are — you know, are men and women who believe in our democracy as well, who fight for it every day. 

So that’s — that’s the thinking that I can give you behind that. 

Q    On the Mississippi issue, briefly — just following up on the other question.  Is there some tens- — some tension between the President and Governor Reeves?  Because this is obviously an ongoing health concern, a day-to-day lifestyle concern, a real crisis for people in Mississippi.  And the President seemed to be pointed in his comments — there hasn’t been leader-to-leader direct communication.

Is something getting in the way of the President and the governor speaking to each other?  And is that necessary to further any assistance or progress on this issue?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, look, it’s not necessary to further any progress in this situation.

FEMA director is on the ground today — who lead — who is part of the agencies that, if anything, leads the effort when it comes to natural disasters that we’re seeing.  In this case, it is an infrastructure issue that we’re see- — we’re seeing in Jackson, Mississippi. 

And we’re also going to have — we have EPA officials on the ground as well. 

So it’s not necessary to have a leader-leader conversation.  The federal government is going to do its job because of — the President has, you know, has put —

Q    But it is typical when there’s a crisis in a state regardless of party, regardless of personal relationships.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And you’re right.  Regardless of party.  You’re absolutely right.  We’ve gone to Republican governors who — other Republican governors who are in a state and have delivered emergency assistance many times, sadly, during these last 18 months because —

Q    So has a call been attempted and not been welcomed or —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, I don’t have a call to preview.  I don’t have to call to read out to you at this time.

I can tell you that, regardless of a call, the President, as I just laid out with an update, is determined to help the people of Mississippi, in particular the people of Jackson, as they’re dealing with this incredibly tough time.

We have provided funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  We have provided funding through the American Rescue Plan that is going to, we believe, start the process of really dealing with an infrastructure issue that exists in Jackson, Mississippi.

And we have said — I was asked about this yesterday — we — we are looking at all options to ensure that the people of Jackson have access to clean — to clean, safe drinking water.  So that work is going to continue regardless if there’s a call or not. 

And because the President — he says this all the time; you’ve heard him say this — he’s a — he’s the President for all Americans.  And he’s going to make sure that we do everything that we can for the people in Mississippi.

Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Thank you, Karine.  I have a question about Jackson, and then also just following up on the speech yesterday.  First, with Jackson: So FEMA has — you’ve talked a lot about the infrastructure funding — FEMA basically has two climate resilience programs that received a boost from that infrastructure bill, one of them being BRIC.  Jackson hasn’t, in the past two years, filed applications for that program — still hasn’t now. 

Has the administration asked the state whether or not those applications were blocked, or just asked why those applications haven’t gone through yet?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So I’ll say this: That is a question for FEMA.  The FEMA director is going to be on the ground today.  And I’m sure those many conversations will come up about ways that we can help the city of Jackson.

She’s going to — we’re — you all are going to hear from her directly today.  So I will leave it to her to answer that specific question, because you’re asking about a specific program that I clearly don’t have any information on it at this time.

But, you know, the FEMA — the FEMA director — Director Criswell — is very good at her job.  We have seen what she’s been able to make happen over the last 19 months.  And so, we have confidence that she will get to the bottom and be as helpful as she can be, as we can be on the ground.

Q    More broadly, just these smaller, poorer communities tend to not be able to hire the staff, don’t have the infrastructure to actually navigate through this climate resilient system and get federal funding often.  Years show this, you know, when you go back and look at reporting as well. 

So I wonder: What — what actual kind of stick does the administration have to — and since so much of the power is with the states — that this funding actually gets to communities that need it after these (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I spoke to this a little bit yesterday and I’ll talk about it now.  You know, we have put a real emphasis on making it easier for state and local governments to access the federal — federal savings.  Because when we talk about the President’s economic plan, when we talk about lifting people from the bottom up and — and — and out — you know, out, it is — has that, in the middle of it, equity. 

And you saw that in his response to — also to his COVID response and making sure that equity was at the center of that.  And everything that you see from the American Rescue Plan, from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, from everything that we have dealt with as we talk about the economy, we want to make sure we do not leave anybody behind.

And so, one of the reasons we’ve asked every state to appoint a state infrastructure coordinator to help streamline communications and information flow — so one of the other — one of the other administration officials who are — is on the ground is Mitch Landrieu, who runs that team.  And so, he’ll be on the ground.  He’ll be having those conversation.  And so having that coordinator is incredibly important as we engage directly with, again, state and local governments and Tribal governments as well to help them quickly assess — access the necessary technical assistance and capacity to underserved communities, to your point.

So we have also partnered with not-for-profits.  That’s another way that we have found a way to assist communities in access- — accessing and deploying these federal infrastructure funding, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Emerson Collective, Ford Foundation, so — and so many more people that we are partnering in ways so that folks under- — in underserved communities could get that funding.

So our goal, again, is to help local, state, Tribal, and territorial governments navigate and access and deploy infrastructure resources that will build a better community and a better America.

So, again, there’s a coordinator that is connected to getting that Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  You know, you’re going to hear from Mitch Landrieu, you’re going to hear from Criswell — Director Criswell — Administrator Criswell, who are both down there today.  And we will hear a lot more on what we can do as an administration.

Q    And I just have a follow on the speech yesterday, just to follow up on this point.  Noting that — that rhetoric and delivering speeches can — I understand the, kind of, inspiration — the inspirational kind of motivational factor there.

But just, frankly, can the American people expect any sort of policy rollout underlying the speech yesterday in the days ahead to actually address the threat to democracy?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, I think what the President was trying to do at this moment, and we’ve seen this before, is give Americans a choice.  How do we move forward in this time, in this inflection point? 

And one of the ways that we have seen time and time again in history is making sure people have their voices heard.  And that comes in many different ways.

And he believes, as President, it is important for him to be very clear and direct, and to fight the hardest for our democracy.  And so, that is what you saw.  You saw a very strong message from the President.

It was clear what he was saying to the American people.  It’s time to, you know, take a stance.  It’s time to take action.  And — and we also see that.  We see that from polling about what the American people are anxious about.  What they care about is our democracy.  So it is not unusual.  It is something that we have seen over the last several weeks.

And so, you know, the President is going to continue to have those conversations, and he’s going to continue to make sure that he makes that clear.

Q    But what’s the administration’s action, besides telling people to go vote?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I think we should not underestimate what that — what that can do — the power of the bully pulpit, the power of the President, and that — and that action that he took last night and what that could make happen, what that — what — the — what that could lead to.  And we’ve seen that in the past.

This is not unusual — right? — to have a — a — to have a speech like this and to encourage people to act, to send a message so that — you know, so that the American people understand what is happening in this country.

And so, again, the President se- — believes that it is his job to level with the American people about threats he sees to our nation and our values.  And that’s what you heard from him last night.  And we believe it did — it indeed resonated.

And so, again, this is something that he’s going to continue to do.  It is a powerful message that was delivered by the President. 

I’m going to continue.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, thank you, Karine.  Isn’t a speech in which the President concludes by saying, “Vote, vote, vote,” inherently political?  He wasn’t referring to voting for any candidates.  He was — he wasn’t saying, “Vote for Dr. Oz.”  He was saying, “Vote to reject the MAGA forces.”  I mean, isn’t that a political speech?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We don’t think it’s a political speech.  When I was here yesterday, I actually said that he would mention voter participation and getting folks out there to make your voices heard.  I said that at the podium yesterday when I was asked what this speech was going to be all about.

And, look, that is the most powerful tool — the most powerful tool that Americans have is to make sure their voices are heard.  It is.  It is the most powerful action that an American voter — an American can take.  And so, that is what he is asking the American people to do.

I’m going to continue.  I’m going to continue because you’re — I’ve asked — I’ve answered that question a few times. 

Q    Well, I was going to a different topic —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Go to a different topic.

Q    Looking ahead to the Labor Day events that the President has — one in Pittsburgh, one in Milwaukee — will the President be speaking at those events?  And is he going to be continuing the message we heard yesterday or talking more of an economic theme?  What should we expect from the President on those days?  And will he be appearing with the respective Senate candidates — Fetterman and Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I don’t want to get ahead of what the President is going to say.  As you — as you just mentioned, he’ll be in Wisconsin and in Pennsylvania on Monday for the Labor Day activities that he’ll be participating in.

I’m sure we will be hearing from the President.  Don’t want to get ahead of what he will say.  And we’ll have more to share on who will be attending, as we normally do.  I don’t have anything to share at this time.

Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    Hey, Karine.  Thank you.  On social media companies.  Did the administration give Twitter and Facebook talking points over flagging what the President describes as mis- — misinformation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Talk — say that one more time.

Q    Yeah, did — has the administration helped Twitter and Facebook with talking points about what the administration believes is misinformation?  Or how much coordination is there between the administration and social media companies?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I don’t have anything to share with you on that.  I’m not going to comment on that at this time.

Q    Okay.  Because the attorney generals from Missouri and Louisiana said there’s a “vast censorship enterprise across a multitude of federal agencies.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, I’m just not going to comment at this time.

Q    On another topic then, so, under this President, under President Biden, you saw student test scores have come — gone backwards; inflation has gone the wrong direction; workers real wages have come down.  You know, we’re seeing programs — spending on programs and promises that at some point in the future, the transition will be over.  What — in the last 20 months, where’s the progress?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as far as the economy — as you know, the jobs report came out today.  You heard from the President as he was giving remarks at his event just now on the American Rescue Plan, the Build Back Better Challenge dealing with 21 cities.  And you heard from some of the folks who received the grant today, which is an important tool.  It’s going to change lives in Detroit; in Greenwood, Oklahoma; in areas that really need it. 

And so that is, again, another important piece of the American Rescue Plan that only Democratic — Democrats voted for.  And also, the American Rescue Plan helped turn the economy back on.  And that’s why we have seen the success of the — of our economic success this past year.

And you’ve asked me this — you know, I know you follow economy.  But, look —

Q    But inflation still outpaces wages.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, here, let me just talk about — let me talk about the report a little bit, because there’s some good stuff in here that kind of touches on what you just asked me. 

So, as you know, the good news is: In August, the economy created 315,000 jobs, which is important.  We have created nearly 10 thousand — million jobs since President Biden took office, which is the fastest job growth in history.

So you’re asking me, where’s the success?  Here it is.  Wait.  Let me finish.

Q    Added back, most of those jobs.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Wait.  Wait. 

Q    Two hundred and forty thousand were created.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Hold on.  Hold on.  Let me — let me — the share of Americans who are working, because that’s part of the question that you just asked me — what economists call the
“labor force participation rate” — went up, and that’s important. 

And for the first time, working age women — this is in the job report that we just saw today — are now back at work at rates not seen since before the pandemic.

So the bottom line is: Jor- — Jobs are up.  Wages are up.  People are back to work.  And we are seeing some hopeful signs that inflation may be beginning to ease.  We saw that in July.  Right?  From July to August, we saw that inflation was starting to ease.  And you’re talking about education.

When the President walked in to this administration, schools were closed, businesses were closed.  And a lot of that is because we were in the pandemic, but not just that.  It was so mismanaged by the last administration that we had to get to work to make sure that we opened up the schools, which we were able to do.  Nearly all schools were opened in the first six months.  Getting small businesses back open.  And that was the work that —

Q    But states like Florida and, at first, New York held off.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That were — that was the work because of this President and Democrats.  The American Rescue Plan helped do that.  And it was mismanaged — what we saw by the last President, what — the way that he was handling the economy, the way they were handling COVID and getting shots in arms, making sure that people were able to get back to work.  That is just a fact.

And so, that is — is there a lot of — is there more work to be done?  Of course, to bring down inflation.  Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons the President works so hard to get the gas prices to come down.  That’s one of the reasons we work so hard to get the Inflation Reduction Act so we can bring down cost of prescription drugs.

So, all of these things took work and it took leadership.

All right, I’m going to keep going.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Can you talk a little bit about — more about COVID, particularly what the White House is doing to make sure that Congress passes the COVID funding package, you know, considering last time it didn’t work out?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So — so, as you know, there remains a pressing need for additional funding for our COVID-19 response. 

In March, to your point, we requested that Congress provide supplemental COVID-19 funding and repeatedly warned that without congressional action, we would be forced to make difficult tradeoffs and reallocate existing funding to meet pressing needs.  That is precisely what happened.

The most recently, for example, because of congressional inaction, the lack of additional funding has prevented us from adequately replenishing our national stockpile, at-home — the at-home tests, which ends today, forced us to suspend sending a free test to Americans and leaves our democr- — domestic testing capacity diminished for a potential fall surge.

So while we have made tremendous progress in our ability to protect against and treat COVID-19, we must stay on our — on our front foot, and that requires additional resources. 

So the updated funding request is for $22.4 billion to meet immediate short-term domestic needs, including testing, accelerating the research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics, prepare for future variants, and support the global response to COVID-19.

So, again, this funding is vital.  We’re going to continue to work with Congress.  We feel that we have the time — some time to make that happen.  And so, that is — in order to continue our progress and build on our progress, we’re going to continue to fight for that funding.

Q    Is there anything, though, that the White House is kind of doing differently to try to, kind of, change the outcome?  I mean, what makes you think that there will be a different outcome?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, we think that we — we think that there is, like last year — we were confident that Congress can reach a funding agreement, just like we did last year.  So this is not new.

And but with one month until the end of the fiscal year, it’s clear that Congress will first need to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the federal government running and provide the time needed to reach an agreement on a fully — on a full-year funding bill.

So, we did it last year.  And so, we’re confident that Congress could do it again.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  At this hour, there’s a report that Gina McCarthy, the President’s Climate Advisor, is stepping down.  Is there anything more you can tell us about that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes, she is stepping down.  Gina is — is indeed leaving us.  She, as you know, has been a leader in what we have seen as one of the largest investments in dealing with climate change.

She is a — not the first time that she’s been in an administration, and we are very sad to lose her.  We will have more to share, I’m sure, in an upcoming — in the upcoming hours. 

But just to give a little bit of Gina, she’s a public service — has a extended decades across local and state and federal government, including as EPA Administrator in the Obama-Biden administration.  And she returned — she returned to public service recognizing the unique moment and eager to support the President at the beginning of this administration, especially as she sought to launch the first-ever Climate Policy Office and 20 — 21-plus agency task force to advance a whole-of-government approach to the climate crisis.

And so, we’ll have more to share.  But, yes, that is something that I can confirm.

Q    I want to ask you about something else.  Yesterday, the Defense Department released a pretty disturbing report on the number of sexual assault incidents in the military.  This report indicated an increase in, in particular, female servicemembers, who said that they have experienced unwanted sexual contact, and a decrease in the women who say that they trust the system to protect their privacy, trust the system to safe — ensure their safety, and trust the system to treat them with dignity and respect. 

Has the President been presented with this report?  And does he have confidence in the Defense Department’s leadership to address these concerns?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I can tell you that the President — this is a priority for the President, as you know.  You’ve heard from him about this before.  One sexual assault is one too many.  And the President has been clear about making sure we implement real change to — to rid our ranks of this crime. 

That is why he signed an executive order in January 2022 making sexual harassment a named military offense, and it’s why his fiscal year ’23 budget request proposed $940 million for sexual assault prevention and response programs, including $479 million and more than 2,400 personnel to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review Commission. 

And for the first time in military history, beginning in December of next year, investigations and prosecutions of sexual assault and harassment will be taken out of the chain of command and placed in the hands of the independent special counsel.

We understand there’s more work to do, of course.  And as this new data demonstrates, addressing the scourge of sexual assault in the military will continue to be a priority for the Department of Defense and this administration, and we’re going to continue to do the work.

I’m going to take — I’m going to take one more question because we actually have to go.

Q    Thank you.  I just wanted to follow up on the oil price cap.  Could you say when that will be unveiled?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I can say this: You know, we believe the price cap will be successful in our goals of substantially curbing Russia’s main source of revenue and lowering energy costs because it offers multiple ways to achieve our goals.

As far as any timing or timeline, as I said moments ago that the U.S. Treasury will have more on that, so I’d point you to them.  But we do believe this is an important big step forward.

Q    Quickly, on the Iran deal.  Are the main sticking points the closure of the IAEA probe and some kind of guarantees for foreign companies that if the U.S. were to leave the deal again, there would be like a wind-down period for contracts?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just give you a little bit on the status of this.  So, you know, we have taken a deliberate and principled approach to these negotiations from the start.  And, you know, if — if Iran is prepared to comply with this — with its commitments under the 2015 deal, then we are prepared to do the same.

And so, you know, that’s going to be our focus.  As it — as it relates to the IAEA investigations, the safeguards, our position is crystal clear.  Iran needs to answer — it’s crystal clear the investigations are not political.  They are not leverage or bargaining chips.

Once the IAEA Director General reports to the Board of Governors that the outstanding issues have been clarified and resolved, we expect them to come to — come off the board’s agenda, and not before.

We are unbending in our support for the IAEA’s independence.  There should not be any conditional –conditionality between reimplementation of the JCPOA and investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  And, of course, it would be preferable to return to the JCPOA without any open safeguard issues.  The power to achieve that is fully in Iran’s hands.

I’ll take one from the back.

(Cross-talk by reporters.)

Q    Karine, can I ask you a quick follow-up on Ethiopia?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m not sure if I have any more on Ethiopia.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  President Biden — President Biden laid out last night the problems that the country is facing: divisions, extremism, polarization.  What is his message to adversaries who — around the world — who are looking at this and trying to leverage the division in the country, and also allies who are dismayed at the state of democracy in the U.S.?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So it’s the same message he has sent to the world since before January 6, about sacrosanct democratic norms and the importance of standing up for democracy as authoritarianism rises around the world.  And so, the same message.  Nothing is new.

This is opposite of partisan and about values — much, much bigger, much bigger, much higher than that.  And that’s — and that’s him working to strengthen democracy in the world.  That’s what he’s going to continue to do.

Thanks, everybody.

1:11 P.M. EDT