Joe Biden

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha

October 25, 2022

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:23 P.M. EDT

Q: (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can I be in on the joke? (Laughter.) No? All right. Well, good afternoon, everybody.

Q: Hello.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. So, yesterday, some of you asked for more on tomorrow's visit -- visit by the President of Israel. President Biden looks forward to welcoming President Herzog to the White House tomorrow, as you all know -- a visit that will underscore the enduring partnership and friendship between the United States and Israel.

The two leaders will consult on a range of regional and global challenges of mutual concern, including the threat posed by Iran and its proxies.

They will also discuss the forthcoming conclusion of a historic agreement resolving the maritime boundary dispute between Israel and Lebanon mediated by the United States.

President Biden will also underscore his commitment to advancing peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond by deepening Israel's regional integration and normalization with the Arab world. And they will discuss ways to promote equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

I also want to address the latest developments with respect to Brittney Griner. Our hearts are with Brittney Griner, her wife and her family, friends, and teammates in light of the appalling news out of Russia today. This news only increases the urgency of our efforts to bring Brittney home.

The Biden administration remains in regular touch with representatives from Brittney's family. And as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said this morning, the administration has continued to engage Russia through multiple channels in recent weeks to urge them to respond to our efforts to negotiate a resolution to this.

We will also continue to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including Paul Whelan.

Our bottom line is that Russia needs to negotiate in good faith.

As Jake said this morning and as you have heard me say many times before right here at this podium, the President has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home. This administration has done it successfully before, and it will keep working to do it again and bring Brittney home.

Earlier today, the President paid tribute to former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. The President recalled Secretary Carter's, quote, "fierce intellect and wise counsel to ensure our military's readiness, technology -- technological edge, and obligation to the women and men of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world." End quote.

And the President spoke about his integrity, his honesty, his many historic achievements on behalf of servicemembers, and his commitment to our nation's veterans in a life dedicated to public service.

We have lost a great American, and the President and the First Lady grieve with the Carter family today.

You just heard from the President about our ongoing fight against COVID and the importance of getting your updated vaccine ahead of the holidays.

The updated vaccines are designed against the COVID we are fighting today. And we are -- we are our -- we have our best protection right now if you do take this new vac- -- vaccine ahead of the winter.

And as the President said: For most of us, you're going to get this protection once a year like we do with the flu shot.

So, with that in mind, we have here today, as you can see to my right, the White House COVID Response Coordinator, Dr. Jha. And he's going to talk to all of you about this further and also take some of your questions.

Dr. Jha, the floor is yours.

DR. JHA: Thank you. All right, thank you, KJP. And good to be back with you all.

You just heard from the President, so I'll be brief, and I look forward to your questions.

But let me start by underscoring the President's simple message: We know the winter is a time when viruses like COVID spread more easily. We're also seeing a rise of other seasonal viruses like flu and RSV. And we know that COVID is still evolving. We're seeing new subvariants. We're seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations in Europe. So we know that there are some challenges ahead.

But the great news here is that, unlike past winters, we are in control. We have the tools we need to ensure folks have a safe and healthy holiday season. And the single most important tool is the updated COVID-19 vaccine.

So, let me just take a minute to summarize what's at stake here: The updated COVID-19 vaccines were designed against the BA.5 variant. That is the dominant variant in the United States. And even some of the subvariants that are concerning, like BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, are derivatives of BA.5.

And therefore, our vaccines -- this new vaccine should provide the best protection possible against sickness and against serious illness this winter.

And let me be clear, as KJP just said and as the President said: For a large majority of Americans, it should be an annual shot, like the flu shot.

Now, when the President came into office, he made a commitment that we have followed through on from day one. That we -- he made a commitment that the vaccines remain widely available, that they remain easily accessible, and they remain free.

Over 20 million Americans have already gotten their updated COVID-19 vaccines, including, by the way, importantly, one in five seniors. That is a good start. Obviously, that is not enough.

So, as the President said, we need more folks to step up and do their part. And today, you've seen and heard about actions that we're taking as an administration to help mobilize key leaders to get their communities vaccinated.

This week, we've launched new national and local TV ads and -- and radio ads. We're launching social and digital ads. We're focused on reaching a broad set of communities, like Black and Latino and AAPI communities, rural communities.

And we are putting a special emphasis on reaching seniors, because we know -- we've known from the beginning of the pandemic and we know now -- that seniors are the ones who are at the highest risk of bad outcomes and they're the ones who would benefit most from these updated vaccines.

We're reaching out to folks through trusted messengers -- doctors, community leaders, faith leaders; meeting folks where they are with information; and setting up locations where people are -- from Head Start locations, to nursing homes, community health centers, even the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at the Phoenix race -- Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, in a couple of weeks.

Medicare is leveraging the network it has to reach millions of seniors.

And as you heard today from leaders of pharmacies, local pharmacies are mobilizing.

Now, this is particularly important because pharmacies are the place where a large proportion of Americans get their vaccines.

So, to conclude, as the President said, we need everyone -- community organizations, doctors, state and local leaders, educational leaders, business leaders, faith leaders -- we need everyone to step up and do their part.

This is literally about saving lives of tens of thousands of Americans this fall and winter.

Now, we know we can do this because we have the tools and we have the knowhow. And if we use these tools, this winter can look very different than last winter or the winter before.

So thank you all for letting me spend some time with you, and I look forward to your questions.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Dr. Jha, on the funding piece of things, in terms of moving forward, you said a couple months ago to one of my colleagues that -- that we're going to enter the fall and winter months with PPE, in particular, depleted and inadequate going into those months. Has that come to fruition? Is there an inadequate stockpile of PPE? And can you kind of walk through the triage operation on the funding side if more does come your way?

DR. JHA: Yeah, so we -- we mentioned there were two areas where we were not going to have the stockpiles that we wanted to have going into the winter: PPE and testing. Both essential parts of a COVID response.

But when Congress fails to do its job, we have to make some extremely difficult choices. We made the choice we wanted to make sure people had the -- we had enough vaccines for Americans. We wanted to make sure we had enough treatments for Americans. And that necessarily meant that we went into this winter without adequate stockpiles of either PPE or tests. That remains true today.

And, you know, the last point I will make about this is that, in my mind, it's unacceptable that Congress is forcing us to make these choices for the American people. The American people deserve a COVID response that doesn't trade off between tests and PPE on one hand and treatments and vaccines on the other. They deserve a COVID response that allows us to have all of those things. And unfortunately, that is not where Congress has landed on this.

Q: The President today talked about those who are immunocompromised, and some of the vaccines may not be able to protect them. Earlier in the pandemic, there was more of an approach it seemed for the collective to try to protect the immunocompromised.

In his comments today, he said if you are in that category, check with your physician, see how you can protect yourself. Has there been a shift in how people who have special requirements medically should be viewed in this? Is it the collective responsibility to protect them when we were doing masking and things like that and other steps? Or is it really now the -- is the burden on the person who has those vulnerabilities?

DR. JHA: Yeah, so I would say as a society -- as a caring society, we care about all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable Americans. So it remains, I think, a collective responsibility for all of us to care about our fellow Americans who are immunocompromised.

And by the way, "immunocompromised" feels like this kind of vague term. What is an immunocompromised person? These are people who are -- who have cancer or undergoing cancer chemotherapy. These are people who've had transplants. These are people who are on medicines for autoimmune diseases. So these are our neighbors. These are us. Right? These are fellow Americans.

What the President was highlighting was that with some of the new subvariants that are -- that are emerging, some of the main tools we've had to protect the immunocompromised, like Evusheld, may not work moving forward. And that's a huge challenge.

And again, lack of congressional funding has meant that it's been difficult for us to replenish our medicine cabinet, you know. We had hoped that over time -- as the pandemic went along, as this virus -- as our fight against this virus went along, that we would be expanding our medicine cabinet.

Because of lack of congressional funding, that medicine cabinet has actually shrunk, and that does put vulnerable people at risk.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, in the back.

Q: Thanks Karine -- oh.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Who are you calling on?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you very much. There are parents who have children going through long COVID around the country. And a lot of parents are finding out that their doctors don't know much about long COVID. There are only about a dozen clinics around the country that specialize in long COVID in kids. What are you doing to help educate doctors around the country so that parents have more resources to treat this?

DR. JHA: Yeah, it's a great question. And it's a real problem. Long COVID is a problem that we had recognized early as a -- as a substantial issue. Let me talk kind of in broad terms, and I'll get much more specific to your question.

Back in April, the President tasked the Secretary of HHS to put together an all-of-government response on what are we doing on long COVID, what's our research agenda. Those reports came out in August. We have continued working to try to think about wha- -- how do we use, you know, everything from disability policies to Medicare, Medicaid to make sure we're treating people with long COVID, that we're supporting people with long COVID.

NIH is running the RECOVER study, which is a mu- -- it's not a single study, it's a multifaceted approach -- building cohorts, trying to develop new treatments and test them.

So, there's a lot of work happening inside the federal government because this is a really important priority. The problem is that the medical community is learning about long COVID, but long COVID is not a single disease. It's not a single condition. It's probably multiple different things that manifest themselves.

So that means that we have to do a lot more research on this. We do have to get out and get more information out to doctors. We recently had a gathering here at the White House of presidents of all the major medical societies where we talked about key things that need to get out to physicians and nurse practitioners. We talked about long COVID is one of those things that we have to educate the physician workforce.

So there's a whole set of effort happening both on physician education, but also on generating the evidence and science to actually figure out how we can do a better job taking care of people with long COVID.

Q: What can you do to get more funding out to those clinics working on long COVID and providing those resources to families going through that?

DR. JHA: So, there's -- there's funding for research that -- that, through NIH. We've requested more funding for long COVID work, and I think that's going to be an important part for Congress to -- to step up on.

And then, if you think about how we fund a lot of these things, we work -- need to make sure -- and we're working on this -- that Medicare, Medicaid, the other sort of payers are paying for providing care for individuals with long COVID.

And you know, there's a whole bunch of policy stuff that goes into that. We have to have the right codes. We have to actually make sure we can identify people with long COVID. We have to make sure we're reimbursing that care.

So there's a ton of policy work that's being done to make sure that we're taking care -- that we identify people with long COVID and we take care of them.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thank you so much. Just going back to the funding request, the White House has requested $22 billion; $4 billion of that is for international assistance. Can you just explain from, like, a public health perspective why the American taxpayer should want to spend $4 billion of their money to accelerate response overseas and why it matters for the health of Americans?

DR. JHA: Absolutely. Global outbreak, right? You heard today from the President it's a global health emergency. Therefore, it needs a global response. And that certainly has been our -- our footing in the administration. The -- the U.S. has gotten more vaccines out than any other country in the world -- I think about 650 million doses.

The -- the problem at this point is not vaccine supply anymore; it is about getting shots in arms. And I'll talk about why it is so important. Every single major variant that has hit the United States has originated from outside the United States. So the notion that we can somehow wall ourselves off and not be affected by what's happening in the rest of the world is just naïve. It's just not how transmissible viruses like this work.

So, even if you think about it from a very narrow self-interest, it's very important that we get much of the world vaccinated, that we help build out the kind of vaccination program.

But beyond self-interest, you know, America is a country that is deeply engaged in the world. The President has restored American leadership on global health in a way that -- that it was very different than the previous President.

And so, for a whole set of reasons, it's very, very important that America continue to lead. Four billion dollars is a small investment to make to better protect Americans and better protect the world.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Weijia.

Q: Thank you, Karine. And thank you, Dr. Jha. Today, President Biden talked about how not enough people were getting boosted. But just a couple of weeks ago, you said there are no internal or external goals; there are no targets or numbers that you're aiming for. So what does it mean when he says not enough people are getting boosted?

And, you know, related to that, can you give us a picture of if there are any parts of the country that are struggling to boost people more than others and why?

DR. JHA: Yeah, it's a -- so we -- as I said a couple of weeks ago, we don't have internal targets. I think what the President meant was he just wants to see more Americans getting the -- the new COVID vaccine. We all do. Right? And that's not because there's a specific target that we're not hitting. It's just that we think it's better for more Americans to get vaccinated.

We see -- when we look across the country, we see lots of variation across the country on vaccination rates. Again, you can go to the CDC website and see that as well. But you know, our job is that at every part of the country, we need to continue working on improving vaccination numbers.

In terms of access, we think there's good access everywhere, with about 95 percent of Americans living within five miles of a place that has a vaccine site. So, I don't think that access is an issue in certain regions of the country. About 70,000 sites have a vaccine -- have vaccination now -- vaccinations now.

So, I think access from a pure kind of physical location point of view is reasonably good everywhere. Obviously, there's some rural areas where we continue to do work to make sure we're getting out to rural clinics. But -- but we need to, I think, continue working on improving vaccinations everywhere.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q: On Paxlovid, do you have an estimate of when the government will run out of Paxlovid -- the free doses?

DR. JHA: Yeah, so I'll tell you the numbers we have. About 8 million doses have gone out to pharmacies. About five and a half million of those doses have already been administered. So there's another two and a half million kind of out there.

Based on all of the estimates we have, we will have plenty of Paxlovid for this fall and winter. And so, we're very confident that we're not going to run out of Paxlovid anytime soon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.

Q: Okay. Thank you. Karine, as we saw today, President Biden take like another shot of the COVID. And we have seen how he has been very focused on the fight against the COVID. We have seen also how he have donate some -- how the United States donate some vaccine to African countries.

But what come to my attention is the Equatorial Guinea. This country has paid $19.5 million to get modern vaccines, but until today, not a single dose of vaccine have been sent to the country.

As we are talking about COVID and we have seen how the United States have been very -- it's been fighting about the COVID, is there any update on when the vaccines for Equatorial Guinea will be sent or if the President is aware that the Equatorial Guinea bought the vaccines -- like $19.5 million dollars of Moderna vaccine -- but never -- the vaccine were never sent to this country? Are you aware?

DR. JHA: Yeah, I don't have any specific updates on that. What I will say is we have continued making vaccines available for free to -- for basically every low- and -- and many low- and middle-income countries as well. There are about 100 countries that are eligible to get free vaccines through COVAX with -- where we donate the vaccines. And -- and those vaccines are still available for donation. But I don't know the specifics of that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steven.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Dr. Jha, I want to ask you for your initial impression of the NAEP report this week -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As a leading public health figure in the country, what was your takeaway from it? What should the public health community's lessons learned be?

DR. JHA: Yeah, so let's talk about what we know. There were obviously substantial learning losses because -- based on all the data we have, because of the fact that we did not have in-person education for many schools. And when the President took over as President in January of 2021, less than half of schools in America were open to full-time, in-person education.

Within months -- I mean, the President made a commitment, and, within months, basically every school -- more than 99 percent of schools were open to in-person education.

So, this President has been very, very clear that in-person education -- in-person, full-time education is the best form of education. And the administration has been committed to it. We -- we did a whole series of things to make that happen: prioritized teachers getting vaccinated; made sure there was funding for schools for testing, for improving indoor air quality.

So the -- the major lesson out of that is, I think: If you're committed to keeping schools open, you can do it with the right tools, you just need leadership. And that's what this President has -- has demonstrated.

Obviously, those learning losses are important. We've got to do everything we can to help kids catch up, to learn, to -- you know, basically, if learning losses were because of lack of in-person education, then -- in-person education -- then we're going to have to, you know, continue to work on afterschool and summer schools and all the things that education experts -- which I'm not an education expert -- have been saying we need to do to help kids catch up.

Q: Do you think -- sorry, do you think the public health community has learned how it might advise the country going forward about this issue?

DR. JHA: Well, there's no monolithic -- so I was, by fall of 2020, advoca- -- pretty vociferously arguing that we needed to get kids back in school. I think there are many of us in the public health community who were arguing for in-person education as safe, doable, really useful for children.

There is not one single view. But I think there is no question about it, many of us believed from relatively early in the pandemic that -- that it was really important for kids to have in-person education and advocated for it. Obviously, I was advocating as an outside -- you know, as an academic expert.

But -- and then, the President was very clear about it from the day he stepped into office.

Q: You had said that Halloween time is, you know, approximately the time by which you should get your vaccine so you can be ready for holiday parties and Thanksgiving and whatnot. This -- this full-court press that is coming on now, is it late? Should you have done it sooner if Halloween is the time when you -- when you thought people should be vaccinated and only 20 percent of seniors are at this point?

DR. JHA: Yeah, so let me be clear. I mean, Halloween is not a magical day. We picked -- I mentioned that day because I was thinking about the fact that many families, including mine, are getting together with -- you know, with their families for Thanksgiving -- and obviously Thanksgiving, about three to four weeks later.

But the bottom line here is that if you miss the Thanks- -- Halloween deadline, getting vaccinated in November is still a really good idea.

But we have been pushing and we've been getting the word out and we've been doing a lot in the last month. So it's not like we've waited until now.

Obviously, today was the day that the President got vaccinated based on his schedule. And when I say "his schedule," three months after his last -- his infection. So that's why today was a moment to be able to mark that.

Q: Yeah. The President seemed to express some level of -- "frustration" may not be the right word, but his remarks seemed to -- maybe "exasperation" is the right word -- about divisions when it comes to people wanting to get vaccinated or not getting vaccinated. I think, at one point, he said, "Yeah, I'm having to talk about this again."

Is there a sense of frustration or exasperation about where things stand with, you know, the willingness of the country to -- to roll up their sleeves again?

DR. JHA: No, I don't think -- I wouldn't use any of those words. What I would say is that these are public health matters. And what the President said, which I thought was exactly right, was this is not a political issue, this is not a partisan issue -- this is a public health issue. Like, we want to protect people. We want to protect Americans. We want to protect American lives.

And right now, what we know, based on the best public health science, is that COVID is going to be this -- if, you know -- by getting people vaccinated, we're going prevent more deaths over the next three to six months than by doing anything else.

And what you heard from the President was a very clear statement that that's what we are focused on as an administration, because that is the right public health response at this moment to make sure we're protecting people -- particularly seniors, who are at high risk of having bad outcomes.

Q: You mentioned the rise that we're seeing in pediatric respiratory illnesses. I think in some states right now, there are limited ICU beds. Seventy-five percent of hospital beds for kids are now filled.

How concerned are you that this limited capacity will be stretched even more? And what can you say to parents who are concerned that they may have trouble finding care if their child has RSV or the flu or COVID?

DR. JHA: Yeah. It's a good question. So, obviously, we were seeing the rise of three respiratory viruses, all of them going up around the same time. That's concerning.

So, here's the big picture. The good news is: For two of the three, we have vaccines that are highly effective at preventing serious illness: COVID and flu.

So, first thing, what I would recommend to parents, which is what I've done as a parent, is gotten my kids vaccinated. Right? Because if you can get them vaccinated against flu and COVID, that takes two of the three issues off the table. It also creates more capacity in the healthcare system, and it just makes it better for everybody.

You know, on -- on RSV, RSV is a virus that has been around for forever, but -- it's been around forever. It is in -- under normal circumstances, about 90 percent of kids end up getting RSV at least once by the time they're two. Because of the pandemic, some of the, kind of, standard patterns have been disrupted, so we're seeing a lot of RSV at once.

What I -- my recommendation to parents is -- you know, for most kids, RSV is very, very mild. And my recommendation is, you know, pretty standard stuff, right? Avoid sick contacts. If your kid is sick, keep them at home to prevent spreading it to others.

You know, unlike COVID, which is purely airborne, with RSV, a lot of it is surface transmission. And therefore, washing hands turns out to be actually quite a good thing for RSV.

So basic, kind of, infection control, respiratory precautions goes a long way to controlling -- controlling the virus.

And, you know -- and again, we're looking at and we're really tracking healthcare capacity very, very closely across pediatric hospitals. And obviously, if hospitals need help, we will step in and help them to make sure that all kids across America get the care they need.

Q: Dr. Jha, would it be more accurate to say that the pandemic has moved or evolved than to say that the pandemic is "over"? The President said that, obviously, several weeks ago, but that declaration doesn't seem consistent with the conditions that you're describing.

DR. JHA: Yeah, what the President said several weeks ago also was -- he said COVID is not over and we still continue to fight COVID. And we do.

And what we're describing today -- what the President described today, what I'm talking about today -- is that COVID continues to kill several hundred Americans every day. Right now, it is probably the third leading cause of death among Americans and probably the number one cause of preventable deaths among Americans. So it continues to be a substantial challenge.

And we are focused on fighting COVID every day. Well, certainly, our team is -- literally that is -- that is what we focus on. And the President continues to be focused on this.

And so, whatever terminology we use, I think the bottom line is: COVID continues to be a substantial problem, and we're out there fighting it.

Q: But it's more than just terminology, isn't it? I mean, there's a message in saying that the pandemic is over that just doesn't seem, at least to my ears, to jive with saying COVID is still a problem.

DR. JHA: Well, yeah, the President even -- even back at the Detroit Auto Show said COVID is not over, COVID continues to be a problem. And that's the way we have seen this -- that COVID continues to be a challenge. And our job is to continue fighting COVID to do everything we can to reduce the number of people who are getting infected, getting seriously ill, and dying from COVID.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ebony, in the back.

Q: Just a couple of questions. The first -- as you were talking about long COVID earlier, has the President or First Lady at all experienced any long-term COVID effects? Can you talk about how he's been doing since recovering from COVID?

And also, I just kind of want to double down. When the President was talking earlier, he said that no one should be dying from COVID and that when they -- if they get the shots, it is 100 percent avoidable. But that was a little different than the message that was being put out earlier during the pandemic, which is that it lessens the chance. Right?

But he said today: 100 percent. That if you do this, that you will not die from COVID.

So I just want to clear that up. Is that what -- how it's -- how it is?

DR. JHA: Yeah. So, in terms of the Pre- -- I'm not his personal physician. I've met with him, chatted with him. He seems to be doing great, but I have not asked him. And again, you'd have to get that from his personal physician. But I'm not aware that he's having any persistent symptoms. But again, I'm not his personal physician, and I have not asked him directly. But he seems to be doing great.

In terms of what the President said on preventability, here's what we know. We know from large-scale studies that if you're up to date on your vaccines and then if you have a breakthrough infection and you take Paxlovid, mortality really does start approaching zero.

Like, we have seen in very large cohorts of patients who have gotten COVID that everybody who's up to date and then, if they have a breakthrough infection, gets Paxlovid, like, mortality numbers are just exceedingly low, to a point where they probably are very, very close to zero.

So, I think I -- I think the President -- I don't remember what his exact words were -- that nearly all deaths are preventable, and I think that's exactly right, which is, you know -- which is, first of all, really stunning, thinking about how much progress that is in a pandemic where you had a virus that was killing thousands of people a day when the President came into office.

We're now at a point where if people use the tools that we have made widely available and free, we can get that close to zero.

Q: What about -- just really quickly, to double back on Paxlovid, because there were reports earlier in the year that it's not as effective in those who are healthier patients. And you just mentioned that you're seeing something different when they take it.

DR. JHA: Yeah, so here's what we know about Paxlovid. The biggest benefits are in the -- in the highest-risk people. By the way, that's true for every medicine, right? Medicines are mo- -- have the largest benefit in people who are at highest risk. Lower-risk people have smaller benefits from Paxlovid.

I think -- and I've said this publicly on multiple occasions -- I think the data is overwhelmingly clear that basically everybody over 50 benefits from treatments. If you're a 52-year-old who's up to date on your vaccines, your benefit is going to be small. But the cost of taking it, meaning the side effects, are also trivial. If you're 75, the benefits are going to be large.

And so, I believe everybody is better off taking it, but the benefit is bigger for people who are higher risk.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. The gentleman in the back with the -- the bowtie.

Q: Here?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. (Laughs.)

Q: I did want to ask about vaccine mandates in light of the CDC's decision from the other day. Should children -- or school districts require COVID vaccines? And should the military require COVID vaccines?

DR. JHA: Yeah, so we believe -- so let's talk about the children -- about children first. So, that is very much a local decision that should be made by local school districts, by cities, by mayors, by local officials who usually make those decisions. And sometimes, they're made by state officials.

But ultimately, I personally -- and I've said this about other COVID policies as well -- that I think it's extremely important that those decisions be made at the local level by local leaders.

In terms of the military, that's a decision that the military leaders should make space on what it -- you know, what the military leadership decides is important for its -- for a ready force. And -- and so the Secretary of Defense has made that decision so far in terms of that.

Q: But what do you think?

DR. JHA: What do I think? I think those decisions should be made by local officials. And I am not a local official evaluating -- right? Because it's a series of factors that go into making those decisions, including community input, including what people want in that community, looking at the data.

I am not a local official. I am not tasked to make that decision. I have not -- so I don't have an opinion on -- on what local officials -- but the key is, though, that local officials should be making those decisions.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just a couple more.

Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about your vision of how India has handled the COVID crisis. And secondly, there was a talk about Quad cooperation with India manufacturing this COVID vaccine and distribution to the U.S., and the Quad distributing to the rest of the world. I think the progress in that respect has been quite slow. Where are we on that part?

DR. JHA: Yeah. So, what we know is that India has been -- because of its incredible manufacturing capacity, it has been a major exporter of vaccines. My understanding is -- and, again, I -- I've not looked at this very closely. My understanding of why it has slowed a bit is because global demand for vaccines has slowed, because, again, we've produced a lot of vaccines.

But I think that Quad partnership is really important -- certainly important to this administration. And I think, you know, India is an important manufacturer of vaccines for the world -- I mean, not just for India itself. It's a really important thing.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Karen.

Q: Just to follow up on your answer to my colleague Mary's questions about RSV. And you'd said for COVID and flu, there's vaccines; you would recommend that for parents right now. Would you also recommend parents go back to masking for kids going to schools? What are some of the other lessons of the last two and a half years for parents as they're dealing with what seems to be pretty rampant sickness right now across the country among that age cohort group?

DR. JHA: Yeah. So, yeah -- so, right now, we don't have a vaccine for RSV. We might in the -- there are a couple I know that are being worked on, but we don't -- I don't have any insights on their timing or when they will be available.

And so, I think the most important things on RSV -- when I think about the data we have on how RSV spreads --

Q: I'm sorry. I just mean broadly, kind of -- not just RSV, because I -- you said there wasn't a vaccine on this.

DR. JHA: Yeah.

Q: But just the flu and sickness that's going around right now --

DR. JHA: Got it.

Q: -- what other things would you recommend, going back and looking at what we've been through over the last two and a half years? Would you say that parents should be masking their kids again in schools just to keep sickness down right now?

DR. JHA: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, what I -- what I would say is: You know, there's a series of respiratory precautions that I -- we know help. So I think the number one thing that is most useful is -- when people are sick, keeping kids -- sick kids home. Right? That's probably the single most important that you can do to prevent spread. And avoiding sick contacts in general.

So I think that's super important. Which, of course, as a parent -- still it's super challenging to keep -- but that is probably the single most important thing.

I do think -- and, again, different respiratory viruses are different -- but both flu and RSV, there's good data that handwashing and hand hygiene is really important. So I think surface cleaning and hand -- and hand hygiene is very important.

We also know masking definitely helps for COVID.

And so, there's a series of things that parents can do. And, you know -- and my feeling is that probably the single most important is, again, that -- avoiding that -- the sick contacts and keeping kids home when they are sick. But there are other things that parents can do as well.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Final two. Go ahead, Phil. And then Michael.

Q: Thank you. I wanted to follow up quickly on a question that my colleague just asked, and then I had another one. Moments ago, you said that it's extremely important that these vaccine decisions for schoolchildren be made at the local level. I'm curious, though: Does the President believe that it's prudent for states like Kansas or Florida to leave that decision to parents? Or is just the White House agnostic on this question and just leaving it to local officials?

DR. JHA: I think most of these decisions have been made. I mean, so when I think about vaccines in general for school-aged kids, my understanding has been that they've always been made at the local level. That's what -- I think where these decisions are best made. Local officials obviously have to engage families and parents and understand their views.

And so, I think, you know, my feeling has been -- and, by the way, I've made this point for last two years before I came to this administration; I continue to make it now -- that these are local decisions made best by local officials who understand the communities in which they work and the communities that they lead.

Q: And then you also mentioned earlier in the briefing that one of the reasons why it's so important for the United States not to neglect the global response to COVID is because each of these variants have come from outside our borders.

I'm wondering: Do you or the White House have any response to the fact that the NIH, just last month, awarded another grant to the EcoHealth Alliance to study bat coronavirus in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam? Is that type of funding -- given some of the questions that we still have, is that prudent?

DR. JHA: Yeah, I -- I will tell you, I don't know much about -- and, again, at the White House, we don't get involved in decisions that NIH makes about what -- what research to fund. But I don't know specifically about those grants, so I just can't comment on that.

Q: Thank you, sir.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael.

Q: Dr. Jha, there's been substantial work on a potential pan-coronavirus vaccine, including by Walter Reed scientists. What are you seeing in terms of the data on these clinical trials, and do you think they're promising?

DR. JHA: Yeah, so it's a really good question, Michael, and gets at a bit of a broader perspective -- right? -- which is, again, so we've updated the current vaccines. They're great. But the virus will continue to evolve. That is one thing we know about this virus.

And if we really want to get ahead of this virus in a very substantial way, we want to build pan-sarbecovirus vaccines or pan-betacoronavirus vaccines that really will be variant proof. And there is really good work being done by scientists at -- within the U.S. government but also being done in academic labs across the country.

And this has been one of the areas where we need congressional fund -- funding and support. We have a project that -- you know, that we've talked -- described, where -- which really speeds up the availability of those vaccines for the American people.

I think, in the long run, it's absolutely essential that we develop both pan-sarbecovirus or pan-coronavirus vaccines and mucosal vaccines, because mucosal vaccines are going to be the ones that are really going to block transmission with a very high degree of fidelity and really -- and bring the level of infections down. It's going to be very hard to do those things without congressional funding.

So one of the things that we have asked Congress for funding for is for support to speed those up, because the science is so promising. And because science is promising and because it will take many, many years for all those to get developed and come on the market on their own, we think it's a really important role for the government to play in both speeding up the science -- speeding up the clinical trials. And then the ones that end up working out and working well, bringing them to market for the American people much more quickly.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Thank you so much, Dr. Jha.

DR. JHA: Thank you.


DR. JHA: Thank you, everybody.

Q: Appreciate your time.

Q: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead, Seung Min.

Q: I just wanted to clarify on the Griner situation. Is it still the case that the Russians are still being nonresponsive to the offer?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I thin- -- I believe the President said this as well, that we're in constant communication through multiple channels with Russia, as I mentioned at the top of my comments of the briefing.

So, look, as I've said many times before, this is a priority for us. It's going to continue to be a priority for us. And -- but what I also said at the end of the statement I made at the top is that we need Russia to negotiate in good faith.

Q: Is there -- since they're not -- since they're not responding to the offer or making a serious counteroffer, is there any consideration of changing the U.S. offer that's on the table?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look -- you know, going back to your first question a little bit: Look, it's -- look, it's fair to say that we have been in contact, right? And the lines -- the lines of communication continue to be open. I'm certainly not going to negotiate from here, from this podium or in public. And so therefore, we're not going to get into greater details.

But again, we have been very clear that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan should -- need to be home. They should be home right away. And the President is going to do everything that he can to bring detained Americans back home.

Q: And on another topic, I wanted to follow up on a question my colleague asked you last week about the -- I was just wondering if the White House has been briefed on the case of the U.S. Marine and his wife who are facing accusations of abducting an Afghan child during the withdrawal.

I know the Pentagon, Justice, and State have -- are aware of the situation. And obviously, the couple says they have legal custody of the child. But has the White House been made aware of the situation? Is President Biden aware? And do you have any reactions to this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, I remember Darlene asking me on -- on the plane, I believe, on Friday. So we do have an update for you here. We are all concerned with the wellbeing of this child, who was, in the first instance, as you just said, offerend [orphaned] in -- orphaned in Afghanistan, to be clear, and who is at the heart of this matter for -- three years later.

I -- I won't have much to say in the situations involving minors. The United States took extensive steps to reunite the child with her -- her next-of-kin in Afghanistan after she was orphaned. The United States has now taken steps to make its position on this matter clear to the appropriate authorities.

Again, I'm not in a position to -- to comment on this any further on any litigation that is currently occurring and would refer you to the Department of Justice for any further comment on this.

Go ahead, Mary.

Q: All right. Thank you.

Q: Following on -- quick questions on Griner. There's sort of a sense that the negotiations couldn't enter the next phase until this appeal process was concluded. So can you discuss a bit how today's ruling may have impacted negotiations?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I mean, we've been very clear about this. We're not going to certainly negotiate in public. Look, we are disappointed, but we -- about -- about what we saw today but not surprised by the outcome.

As we have said multiple occasions, these judicial procedures are a sham. And look, this is a priority for this administration. This is a priority for the President. This is a priority for Jake Sullivan -- National Security Advisor. He put out a statement this morning. And this is a priority for the Department of State.

And we're going to do -- we're going to continue to put -- to make this a priority and get Brittney Griner home as soon as possible and also get Paul Whelan home.

Again, I'm not going to negotiate in public. I'm not going to go into details of the process. But again, this is -- this is a priority, and we need Russia -- we are asking and telling Russia to negotiate in good faith.

Q: A question on Russia and Ukraine. The President -- we heard him say earlier that it would be a serious mistake for Russia to use a dirty bomb. But just to be clear, would the U.S. be forced to respond, and would there be consequences?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So just to be clear -- and the President has said this many, many times. And he's been very clear about this, and he has -- he said it again today: It would be a major mistake for Russia to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, leading to severe consequences.

As -- as for the potential use of a dirty bomb, to your question, Mary: Look, Russia is pushing transparently false allegations. You heard me say that, you heard my colleague over at the State Department say that yesterday -- that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory -- territory. We are calling that false -- false allegations by Russia.

So we must take this seriously, which is what the President said today -- you heard him say that -- because, in the past, we have seen Russia use allegations as a pretext to escalate. And as the President said, we don't know if that is the case here. We -- we don't see that to be the case.

But again, we have not seen Russia make these preparations, as you've heard us say -- you heard me say yesterday, you've heard us say yesterday. But, of course, we will continue to monitor this very, very closely.

Q: But if Russia does use a dirty bomb, will the U.S. respond?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we have been very clear and have in -- through our private conversations with Russia about the consequences. I'm certainly not going to lay them out here. And, look, you know, we have communicated directly with them. I'm just not going to get -- get ahead of any conversations on what we've laid out for the Russians.

Q: Karine, Saudi Arabia's energy minister said today that Saudi had been the mature guys or mature partner in this dispute between the United States and Saudi. Just wanted to see if the White House had a reaction to that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just say a couple of things at the top here. This is a relationship that -- that was built -- and I've said this also many times -- over -- over several decades on a bipartisan basis.

So, the President is going to strategically think through what the review process is and how we move forward with this relationship. He's going to take his time to consult with members of both parties, with party -- with partners, allies, and with -- with the Saudis as well.

We've taken notes since the OPEC+ cut that Saudi Arabia voted against Russia at the United Nations, and also pledged $4 million to support Ukraine's reconstruction and humanitarian needs. These steps do not compensate, though, for the production cut, but they are noteworthy. And we'll be watching to see what Saudi Arabia does over the coming weeks and will inform our consultations and -- and review.

I'm certainly not going to comment on any specific statement that you just laid out.

Q: It seems like a little bit more conciliatory language, though, that you've been using for the last couple of weeks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think we've been very clear: We are noticing some actions that they've taken, as I just laid out, and -- at the United Nations and what Saudi Arabia was able to do in helping Ukraine -- right? -- because that is something that is incredibly important that you see that from our allies and partners and making sure that we support Ukraine in their -- in their fight for their own democracy and for their freedom.

And so, we've always are going to lift that up, because we know how important that is in this time, in this moment.

Look, I'm not going to get into any tit-from-tat [sic] -- tit-or-tat [sic] here from -- from the podium about what someone may have said in Saudi Arabia. But I'm just going to lay out how this President sees this relationship and how this President sees this relationship moving forward.

Q: Secondly, there have been some assertions recently from Republicans and also from progressive lawmakers in a now-withdrawn letter that the U.S. should be more actively involved in meeting peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. What's the White House's response to that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We've been very clear about that. That is up to Ukraine. That is up to the President -- President Zelenskyy. There is -- it's nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. We've been very clear about that. Our job, as we see it today, as we've seen it for the -- this past year -- more than a year -- is to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs on the ground as we see this -- this war happening in Ukraine.

And that's why we've provided the security assistance that we have. That's why we've provided the economic assistance and aid. And you'll continue to -- to see that from us and from our allies. And so, that is our -- to make sure -- and we're doing this to strengthen their hand not just on the battlefield, but if they choose -- if Ukraine chooses to negotiate.

But again, that is up to -- up to President Zelenskyy, and he will make that decision for his country.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Following up on that, did anybody from the White House ask or advise members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to rescind that letter, as they did?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything -- any comment to make about that letter. Again, our -- we are very appreciative to the bipartisanship that we have seen from Congress these past eight, nine months, even over a year on the funding that we've been able to provide -- the bipartisan funding that we've been able to provide.

And so, you know, the President has been also very clear it's not -- it's -- you know, he said this recently: "Our support to Ukraine is a lot bigger than just Ukraine. It's about supporting NATO and all of Europe. It's about making sure that Putin is not able to succeed through his brutal actions," as we've been seeing. Our support for Ukraine will remain strong until the end of this war.

And so, again, we appreciate the bipartisan effort. We're going to continue to be in conversations with members of Congress on how to -- how to continue to move forward in order to support Ukraine in their efforts. I don't have more to say about that particular letter.

Q: When the President was asked earlier about the potential for a false-flag operation, he noted kind of as an aside that he'd been talking a lot about that this morning leading up to the public event.

Do you have any details or context about what those discussions may have been and kind of the process as the White House watches this play out?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the -- the President has been, as you know, very involved for the past several months on what is happening in Ukraine with the war that President Putin -- unprovoked war that he -- that he started. And again, this war can end today if President Putin were to decide to do so.

So, look, as you know, the President is not just President; he's also the Commander-in-Chief, and he is in regular communication with his national security advisors.

And I'm not going to get into any private conversations that the President is having. But this is, clearly, a priority -- has been a priority for this President for several months. And again, we are going to continue to support Ukraine until this war ends.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. President Biden last year likened the new Georgia voting law to, quote, "Jim Crow in the 21st century." But turnout so far in the state's elections has smashed midterm records. Today topped 1 million votes overall. That's about 70 percent more than 2018, on par with the presidential election turnout.

Was President Biden wrong with his assessment of Georgia's -- Georgia's voting law, or does he stand by that Jim Crow comparison?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, I got to be careful; I cannot get into politics from here, so I won't comment specifically on that race or on the elections or the data that's coming out of Georgia.

But the President has been very clear that based on the -- the Big Lie, there have been a host of anti-voter policies forced on states that challenge America's fundament- -- fundamental right to vote -- right? -- the access to voting.

And so this is -- this is against our most basic values, including respect for the law and the Constitution. And speaking generally, of course -- more broadly -- of course, high turnout and voter suppression can take place at the same time. They don't have to be -- one doesn't have to happen on its own. They could be happening at the same time.

But I'll leave it there without being able to really dig into the politics of this.

Q: Is the White House observing instances of voter suppression in Georgia and other states that adopted some of these laws over the last two years?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we -- we have seen, ourselves -- I just laid out we've seen ourselves from what legislation -- state legislations that we have seen across the country that is suppressing the right to vote.

And, look, we believe that people should have the fundamental access to voting.

As you know, very early in this administration, the President signed an executive order on how he can -- what he can do from the federal level to make voting easier for the -- for the American people. He did that on the anniversary of Selma -- the mar- -- the march that we know the icon John Lewis helped to lead. And he wanted to make sure that he took action and not just words.

So, as you know, the President is very attuned to this. But, again, I don't want to get into specifics of what is currently happening in one race. But, again, this is something that we have seen throughout -- throughout this past couple of years on how voting -- the access to voting is being attacked.

Q: But doesn't that record turnout show that Georgia voters are finding ways to vote, even amid the -- with the (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, again, I'm not going to get into specifics of what Georgia voters are doing. What I am saying is that, you know, generally speaking, again -- more broadly speaking, of course -- high turnout and voter suppression can take place at the same time.

Q: Thanks.


Q: Karine, thanks. Back to Brittney Griner. The last time the President talked about whether he would meet with Putin next month at the G20, he said he had no intention to do that, but if Putin were to come to him and say, "'I want to talk about the release of Griner,' I would meet with him. But that would depend."

Has the U.S. proposed a meeting between the two leaders?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That still stands. He has no intention to meet with President Putin. And nothing has changed from that.

Q: But why leave the ball in Putin's court? Why leave it to Putin to come to him and say, "Let's talk about Griner," when this is such a priority to bring her home?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We've made a substantial offer. We have put a substantial offer on the table. And we are asking Russia, we are telling Russia to -- to negotiate in good faith. And that's how much of a priority that we're -- we are putting -- putting forth, is by putting a substantial offer on the table.

And so, again, I don't have a meeting or call with President Putin to announce it at this time. The President has been very clear he has no intention of doing that.

Q: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Today, I asked the President if COVID is still a national emergency. And he said, "It's a necessity to deal with to make sure it doesn't become one." His answer would suggest that perhaps it's not a national emergency right now. So is it fair to call it a national emergency under the HEROES Act to justify student loan cancellation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the student loan cancellation, first and foremost, that was decided by the appropriate agencies that that was the tool that we were going to use to make -- to make sure that we give relief to Americans that need it.

Let's -- we should step back for a second and understand why the President took that action when it comes to the student loan.

When he came into the office, clearly, there were people -- Americans who were -- who were, you know, having a hard time dealing with the economic situation that the pandemic was causing, right? And we had the former administration who mishandled the COVID -- the CO- -- the reaction to COVID, how we would move forward out of COVID. The last administration bungled that, really.

And so the President took action and made sure that people were getting shots in arms and we were moving to a place where things could open -- schools could open, businesses could open.

And so, at the same time as the President is thinking through how -- how this -- how getting out of this -- this -- that phase of the pandemic, there's the student loans. There are people who -- who are really squeezed by the pandemic. And so he wanted to make sure that when we lift up the pause, that we gave people a little bit more breathing room. And that is where the student debt relief comes from.

And we understand once that -- once that pause is lifted, there's still going to be people who are going to have a difficult time. And so, we're -- just because we're in a different phase of the pandemic, as the President has said, COVID is still a problem. And so -- and so that's how we came to that decision to move forward with our assessment on how we're going to provide that student relief to middle-class Americans.

And also, let's not forget: 90 percent of borrowers who are going to be receiving this debt relief are making less than $75,000 a year. And so all of that matters when you're lifting up something and you're -- and you're -- when you're lifting up a pause that has been lifted for about three years, knowing that the pandemic has been a problem, knowing that COVID is continuing to be a problem, knowing what the American people, middle-class families have had to go through, the President was trying to -- making sure that he didn't leave anyone behind and making sure that he didn't forget those middle-class families.

Q: I hear what you're saying on all that. I guess my question is: Is there another -- perhaps a better mechanism to do that, because the whole program is caught up now in litigation. I know a lot of this legal argument is that it can't be a national emergency because of actions that the administration has taken elsewhere.

So I wonder --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I actually disagree with you. What is happening is there are opponents out there of the student loan debt relief who do not want to give middle-class families a little bit more breathing room.

There are opponents out there, many of them are Republicans, who are -- who do not want us to make sure that those 90 percent of Americans who are making $75,000 or less are getting that actual benefit to be able to put money down on a house, to be able to start a family. They are upset that we are trying to help those very, very Americans. So that is what is happening.

This is pure politics that we're seeing out there. It is not -- and the President -- the way the President sees this, this is not partisan.

Q: On the "national emergency" front then, what is the criteria the country would have to meet for it not to be a national emergency? Or is that even a goal?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here's the thing: We cannot forget that COVID is still a problem. We just had Dr. Jha here talking to all of you. He wanted to be here, and we wanted him to be -- to all of you, because you guys communicate with the American people. And we want -- we want that -- the American people to know that there is a new vaccine out there, and they need to get that shot in the arm because that new vaccine is going to help them ahead of the winter months.

So, clearly, COVID is still a problem. We're trying to communicate very clearly with the American people how important it is to continue to get that vaccine.

So, you have -- you have the COVID Response director here, you have the President, who, in front of the American people, took his shot to send a message.

So, again, we are -- we are still dealing with COVID. We're trying to do everything that we can to make sure that it continues to not be a disrupter. Right? And the reason that it's not a disrupter is because of the work that this President has done in the last 20 months.

Okay, I'm going to move on. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. The President last week on Friday said that it would be, quote, "irresponsible" to abolish the debt ceiling -- the limit on debt.

There are a number of Democrats and the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, who have said in the past that that should be considered or they've advocated for getting rid of it altogether to allow Congress to pay for the things that have already been passed into law.

Does the President disagree with the Treasury Secretary? And does he think it would be more irresponsible to abolish the debt ceiling or to allow it to become a political football that Republicans and Democrats negotiate over with full faith and credit of that country hanging in the balance?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as it comes -- as it relates to Secretary Yellen's comments, I would have to see them in full, so -- in order for me to respond. But I can tell you this: The President believes that it should not be used as a political football.

And the -- the thing that we are responding to -- and I just want to be very clear here -- the reason why we're responding -- you heard from the President last week, and he's been very clear about the debt ceiling -- is because what Republicans are trying to do.

They have been clear as well. They have said if we do not put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping blocks -- if they were -- I want to be very careful -- if they were to have to have the majority, that they would hold, essentially, the government for host- -- hostage, when it relates -- as it relates to the debt -- the debt ceiling.

And that is something that should not happen. That is what we're responding to. That is what we're talking about and calling out what Republicans are doing.

And, you know, it is -- it is -- it is -- you know, it is not -- it is a -- it is -- you know, it is reckless. It is playing a reckless game with our economic -- with our economy, and it would be catastrophic if they were to do that. It would not help inflation; it would hurt inflation if Republicans were to do that. You would increase cost for our seniors. You would increase costs for American families. That's what they want to do.

And so that -- that is -- the President has been very clear about that and about not using the debt limit as a political football. And he'll continue to speak to that and speak against that as -- as Republicans lay out -- congressional Republicans lay out what -- you know, what they want to do in the next couple of months.

Q: Is there a world in which the President might reconsider -- based on, you know, the threat that you just laid out -- this thing that a number of Democrats are calling for -- abolishing the debt limit -- and allowing this to not be a political football?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President has been very clear. He is calling out the scheme that he has seen from congressional Republicans when it comes to healthcare costs, when it comes to the economy, when it comes to people's Medicare and Social Security. It is a scheme that they're putting out there to put seniors at their knees, and that's shameful.

And that should be the conversation that we should be having. That should be what he believes we should call out. And again, that should not -- when it comes to the debt limit, it should not be used as a political football.

Go ahead, JJ.

Q: Thanks, Karine. On Elon Musk, I'm wondering if you'd be willing to clarify, please: Are you saying that no one in the government -- you're saying for a fact that no one in the government is considering any sort of national security review, including CFIUS, on any -- on the Twitter purchase, on Starlink, or on any of his other ventures?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm saying I don't know of any such discussions.

Q: Okay. Got you. So do you know, are -- is anyone in the administration concerned about the Twitter purchase with some foreign investors, or Starlink, or his peace plan, or his tweets, or his, you know, somewhat Russia-friendly comments? Do you know if there are concerns about that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on the first -- on the first piece, we would just not -- on the Twitter purchase, that's something that we would not comment from here. We do not comment -- comment on transactions. And so, we've been very clear on that. So, I'll leave that there.

On his comments about Ukraine and giving up territory, I know that Mr. Musk has been very, very vocal about that. Look, he's a private citizen with a private company. And our position and the government's position has been very clear, as I have laid out many times here before, on how we see that process moving.

It is up to Ukraine. It is their decision to make. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. And we've been very clear about that.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. So Jake Sullivan said in September that there would be enormous amount of intensive diplomacy in the region in response to the wave of migration from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. And I was just wondering if there were any updates from the administration on that diplomacy that he said would happen in the coming weeks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: With those specific countries?

Q: Or with the region to handle that problem.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we -- in October -- I believe, on October 12th, we announced this -- we announced a deal that we made with Mexico on dealing with the migration that we're seeing in the Western Hemisphere of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Cubans who are, as you know, fleeing communism.

And I laid out yesterday how effective that has been in really bringing down the -- bringing down Venezuelans, specifically, coming into -- coming -- crossing the border.

And so those are -- that is a diplomacy that came from -- that came from here, and we had that conversation with Mexico. And we're seeing the effects of that.

I don't have anything else to -- to lay out or any other diplomacy coming from here. But that was -- that was a -- diplomacy that -- that was really important and critical to us, to American -- to American -- to American people here, by having that agreement with Mexico to see how we can deal in a -- in a humanitarian way, in a safe way with Venezuelans who were, again, fleeing communism to come to the U.S.

Q: And just to follow up on that, does the White House view that new move as an expansion of Title 42 -- something that many Democrats have called for an end for?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, our -- again, what we have done this past couple of weeks with that particular agreement with -- agreement with Mexico has really -- has really benefited. We have seen the launch of the joint enforcement actions. We've seen the number of Venezuelans attempt- -- attempting to cross the southern border decreased sharply by more than 85 percent.

So, you know, individuals who continue to be expelled, as required by court order under the CDC's Title 42 public health order. We have to remember it's not an immigration order. It is a -- a Title 42 -- CDC -- it is indeed a health public order.

And so that is -- that continues. That does not end.

But, again, we were able to bring together the Department of Homeland Security -- had a series of conversations with Mexico to provide an orderly -- orderly way and limited way for Venezuelan nationals to arrive in the United States. And so, we're encouraged about what we're seeing here because of that diplomacy that we have had with Mexico.

I'm trying to see who I haven't called. Go ahead. I haven't called on you. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Two questions. I previously spoke to a source close to the Brittney Griner camp who said, in addition to wanting to get her home, there was a broader concern about the sanctity of world sports and this worry that other athletes who travel across international borders can be wrong -- detained giv- -- for any given reason because of geopolitics. Is that a concern for the White House? And what is its message to world athletes?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think the State Department has always been very clear on giving -- giving athletes and others who travel guidance on just what to be mindful of when they travel to other countries.

And so, I would -- I would suggest to folks who are not sure or just curious as to -- as to where they can -- are able to travel to just get in touch with the U.S. Department of -- U.S. Department of State. And they've been very clear on this. They -- they are -- you know, send out guidance when it becomes a problem to travel to a certain country.

And we have -- we have announced them multiple times from here at this very podium in certain countries, as to give -- you know, kind of give -- give a laydown of why folks should not be traveling at this time.

Q: One more question. Former Trump administration official Stephen Miller's group, America First Legal, is running million-dollar ads in battleground states like Georgia, targeting Black and Latino communities, that accuses the Biden administration of, quote, "pushing radical gender experiments on children, changing their names, clothes, identities, and bodies."

Does the White House have a response to this? And does the administration see this as an attempt to make trans issues a political wedge issue in Black and brown communities?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I want to be careful here because you're asking about a political ad. So, I can't respond directly to that ad.

But what I want to say is, you know, the President has been very, very clear -- and you've heard us say this from this podium -- and it will continue to be what we believe, which is transgender right are indeed human rights. And I'll leave that at -- I leave that there.

Go ahead.

Q: Last one.

Q: Has the President -- a couple of questions just on the new British Prime Minister. Has the President made any call yet, or has a call been scheduled with the new British Prime Minister?

And given the close working relationship that the two countries -- the two governments have on a lot of issues, is there any concern about the turnover in the Prime Minister's office that the President has?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'm sure you've seen the President sent out his congratulations to Prime Minister -- the new Prime Minister in a tweet earlier this morning. President Biden looks forward to speaking with Prime Minis- -- with the Prime Minister Sunak later this afternoon. It may have happened already, as it's already 4:30 in the afternoon.

And as you all know, once -- we will certainly provide a readout of that conversation when it happens, if I ha- -- if the readout is not out yet.

Look, I want to be very, very clear here -- and I was asked this question yesterday: The way that we see our relationship with the United Kingdom -- it is a -- it is a close relationship that we've had with the people of the UK for some time now. And -- and we look forward -- as the President has said, we look forward to working with the new Prime Minister. I'll leave it there.

Okay, I'll see you guys tomorrow. Thanks.

4:32 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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