Joe Biden

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

September 20, 2022

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:11 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday. Okay.

Q: Tuesday.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Tuesday! Oh, my gosh. (Laughter.) Giving myself an extra day. All right.

Well, good to see you guys on Tuesday.

So, we are closely monitoring the impact -- the impact Hurricane Fiona is having on Puerto Rico. And as the President has said, we are keeping the people of Puerto Rico in our prayers.

I want to provide a brief overview of our response to date. On Sunday, before the hurricane made landfall, President Biden issued an emergency disaster declaration to ensure the federal government has -- was ready to surge resources and emergency assistance to Puerto Rico.

Yesterday, as you all know, the President called Governor Pierluisi from Air Force One to discuss Puerto Rico's immediate needs as the storm made landfall.

And today, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will be on the ground to assess the emergency response. Right now, hundreds of FEMA and federal responders are on the ground in Puerto Rico, including U.S. Army Corps of Engineer, power restoration experts, and urban search and rescue teams. More federal responders are arriving in the coming days.

Power restoration began yesterday, and FEMA is continuing to work with LUMA to restore power and meet needs for generators in the meantime.

President Biden is receiving regular updates on the storm and these emergency efforts, and we will all continue to keep the people of Puerto Rico and all those in the path of the storm in our thoughts.

Also, we have a special guest, as you all know: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. He is here to preview the UNGA -- the UNGA meetings and events that the President will be attending this week -- will be -- the President is going to be leaving later today, as you all know -- and any other foreign policy questions that you may have.

Jake, it's all yours.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Karine. And thanks, everybody. Good to be with you. I'm just going to make a few opening comments on what we expect from the trip in New York, a couple of comments on developments with respect to Russia and Ukraine, and then I'd be happy to take your questions.

As you all know, this evening President Biden will board Air Force One for New York to participate in the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow.

And we believe that the President heads to New York with the wind at his back. We're making historic investments here at home. Our alliances are as strong or stronger than they have been in modern memory. Our robust, united support for Ukraine has helped the Ukrainians push back against Russian aggression. And we're leading the world in response to the most significant transnational challenges that the world faces, from global health, to global food security, to global supply chains, to tackling the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, our competitors are facing increasingly strong headwinds, and neither President Xi nor President Putin are even showing up for this global gathering.

The President will deliver his speech before the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow morning -- this is the traditional speech the President makes annually -- in which he will describe his vision for American foreign policy and principled leadership in the world.

Among other things, he'll offer a firm rebuke of Russia's unjust war in Ukraine and make a call to the world to continue to stand against the naked aggression that we've seen these past several months. He will underscore the importance of strengthening the United Nations and reaffirm core tenets of its charter at a time when a permanent member of the Security Council has struck at the very heart of the charter by challenging the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He will make significant new announcements about the U.S. government's investments to address global food insecurity, and he'll lay out in detail how the U.S. has restored its global leadership and the integrity of its word on the world stage by delivering on the promises that we make and that he has made as President on global health, on climate, on emerging technologies, and so much else.

Throughout the day, the President will hold meetings with some of our closest allies, including his first bilateral meeting with new Prime Minister Liz Truss of the United Kingdom.

In the afternoon, he will host the pledging session for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria for the Seventh Replenishment Conference.

The Global Fund enables programs that prevent, detect, and treat the deadliest diseases that we face and ensure countries have the resources they need to build strong, resilient health systems within their communities for today and for the future.

We expect that this pledging conference will produce a historic outcome in terms of the commitments made -- financial commitments made by our partners and by the United States.

In the evening, President Biden and the First Lady will host the Leaders Reception where they have invited almost every head of delegation from around the world, including some of those few remaining leaders that he has not yet had the opportunity to meet.

In the context of the U.N. General Assembly, I'm also pleased to announce that the President is endorsing Doreen Bogdan-Martin for the next Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union. Ms. Bogdan-Martin possesses the integrity, experience, and vision necessary to transform the global digital landscape.

The next Secretary-General of the ITU will play an important role in making sure that our digital future is inclusive and accessible for everyone, especially in the developing world.

Now, if you'll bear with me, I'd like to just make a few comments on reports we're seeing emerge from Russia today.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion back in February, the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian people have resisted admirably. First, Ukraine repelled Russia's attempt to conquer Kyiv. Then, Ukraine held the line in the Donbas. And most recently, Ukraine undertook a successful counter-offensive in the northeast. It is in this context that President Putin appears to be on the brink of pursuing two actions.

First, as we've been warning for months, Russia appears to be proceeding with plans to hold sham referenda in areas of Ukraine under its control, and even in areas of Ukraine not currently under its control, in direct violation of Ukraine sovereignty. Russia is rushing to hold these referenda in response to Ukraine's gains on the battlefield as well as to prepare for potential mobilization measures.

These referenda are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system and let lie at the heart of the United Nations Charter.

We know that these referenda will be manipulated. We know that Russia will use these sham referenda as a basis to purportedly annex these territories either now or in the future.

Let me be clear: If this does transpire -- and, obviously, it's not a done deal yet -- but if this does transpire, the United States will never recognize Russia's clains [sic] -- claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine. And we will never recognize this territory as anything other than a part of Ukraine. We reject Russia's actions unequivocally. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners to impose costs on Russia and to provide historic support for Ukraine.

Second, we are aware of reports that President Putin may be preparing to enact mobilization measures. Like its sham annexation planning, this is reflective of Russia's struggles in Ukraine.

He may be resorting to partial mobilization, forcing even more Rus- -- Russians to go fight his brutal war in Ukraine, in part because they simply need more personnel and manpower given the success that Ukraine has had on the battlefield, particularly in the northeast, but even pushing into other parts of previously occupied Russian territory around the country.

The bottom line is that Russia is throwing together sham referendums on three days' notice as they continue to lose ground on the battlefield and as more world leaders distance themselves from Russia on the public stage. And Russia is scraping for personnel to throw into this fight. These are not the actions of a confident country. These are not acts of strength; quite the opposite.

And the United States, our allies and partners in the international community will stand against these transparent efforts on the part of Russia and stand firmly with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.


Q: Thanks, Jake. If both of those things do transpire -- the referenda -- the "sham referenda," as you called it -- taking place, and then also President Putin ordering a -- at least a partial mobilization, how does that affect your assessment of Ukraine's ability to hold the gains that it has made and to carry out and continue counteroffensives? Are you worried about Russia, sort of, countering the counteroffensive at this point?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, Russia has made clear that it is going to continue to try to fight. But holding sham referenda that the whole world and everyone who are in those territories recognizes as being shams is not going to actually strengthen Russia's hand on the battlefield.

And, in fact, we continue to see, day by day, the Ukrainians applying pressure against Russian positions both in the northeast and in the south. We expect that to continue in the days ahead.

And we continue to supply Ukraine with the weapon systems that we believe it needs to be able to successfully prosecute those offensives, including an announcement of more than $600 million in weapons just last week, up to a total of more than $15 billion at this point.

That being said, nobody is resting on the laurels of the recent Ukrainian successes. The Ukrainian military is both preparing to consolidate the gains it's already made, continue to try to make further gains, and defend against potential Russian counterattacks in various places. And the United States and all of our allies and partners are providing them with the requisite level of support for them to be able to carry out those efforts on the battlefield.

Q: And just on the mobilization piece, does that change your assessment of how long Ukraine can withstand those Russian assaults?

MR. SULLIVAN: You know, our basic assessment at this point is that between the consistent, steady support that the West has provided and has indicated, as President Biden has said, we will continue to provide for as long as it takes -- between that and the skill, bravery, and courage of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the willingness of Ukrainians to take up arms in very large numbers, that Ukraine, we have confidence, will be able to continue to show on the battlefield that it is not going to fall prey to Russian aggression, that it will be able to continue to push back against Russian efforts to conquer territory and take over the country.

In terms of Russia being able to put more troops onto the battlefield, obviously, that will have an impact on the battlefield equation, but we do not believe at this point that it will undermine Ukraine's ability to effectively repel Russian aggression and to continue making gains.


Q: Jake, can you walk us through how the President's explicit commitment to U.S. defense of Taiwan in the event of an attack by China is not a policy shift from what the U.S. has long held when it comes to Taiwan?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, as the President said in his interview on "60 Minutes," we continue to stand behind the One China policy. We continue to stand against unilateral changes to the status quo. And we continue to stand for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The President has reiterated those basic commitments on every occasion that he's talked about Taiwan, including in this interview where he specifically and emphatically and unequivocally reinforced and reiterated the One China policy.

He was asked a question -- a hypothetical question in this interview. He was asked a very similar question back in Tokyo in May. He gave a similar answer in Tokyo in May that he gave in the "60 Minutes" interview.

After that answer in Tokyo, someone said specifically to him, "Have you just announced a major policy change?" And he said, "No, I have not. I've answered a hypothetical question. I have not announced a policy change."

When the President of the United States wants to announce a policy change, he will do so. He has not done so.

Q: Jake, can I ask real quick as a follow-up: Is there a strategic effort here when it comes to deterrence? Is the President delivering an explicit message by answering a hypothetical, which he often doesn't?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, all I will say is, the President is a direct and straightforward person. He answered a hypothetical. He's answered it before in a similar way. And he has also been clear that he does not -- has not changed U.S. policy towards Taiwan. He stands behind the historic U.S. policy towards Taiwan that has existed through Democratic and Republican administrations and has helped keep peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for decades.


Q: Jake, assuming that this situation in Ukraine is going to be solved at a negotiating table in a diplomatic manner, is your expectation that these referenda will be -- will shift that conversation in some way and give Russia maybe more leverage when those conversations happen?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, from our perspective, the key right now is to provide Ukraine what it needs to be able to continue to make gains on the battlefield because, in our view, that will strengthen its hand at the negotiating table. And that, to us, is the decisive factor in determining how things ultimately play out in the conflict in Ukraine.

And particularly given just how transparent and how, in a way, thrown together this whole Russian political effort is -- I mean, announcing a referendum three days from now in a territory that the Russians are either holding by brutal force of occupation or don't hold it all -- A, it's not exactly a move of great strength on the part of the Russians, nor do we think that it is going to give them some additional authority at the negotiating table. Quite the opposite.

It is the act of a country that has suffered setbacks -- militarily, diplomatically. And those setbacks, we think, are giving momentum to the Ukrainian effort and are creating a circumstance in which Ukraine's capacity to achieve its objectives is enhanced, not diminished.

Q: And the mobilization that you're talking about -- that Russia is planning: Do you have hard evidence that that is taking place?

MR. SULLIVAN: So we have seen public reports. I don't have anything to report from our own intelligence on this at this time that I can share with you. But we have very much taken note of those public reports with respect to mobilization and it's some- -- something we're watching very closely.

Q: Thanks, Jake. I want to ask you about these mass graves that are being uncovered around Izyum. What more are you learning about the Russian invasion, you know, vis-à-vis these mass graves? What does it mean for the war crimes case that's being built? And what's the next step in that process?

MR. SULLIVAN: I had the opportunity this morning to talk to my counterpart, the Ukrainian Chief of Staff, Andrii Yermak, and he gave me a report on what the Ukrainians are discovering around Izyum. And he put it quite bluntly. He said, "This is, in some ways, worse than Bucha. And we will see more of these as we go -- as Ukraine de-occupies towns that have previously been occupied by Russian Armed Forces." We're finding increasing evidence of these mass atrocities.

And the United States has said from the beginning of this conflict that we are going to work with the international community, through every mechanism that is available, to hold Russia accountable for this. That is not a short process. It is not an easy process. It requires the painstaking gathering of evidence, the identification of individuals responsible, and then taking steps to actually hold them accountable.

But we are committed to that process. And we're committed to seeing it through as a critical part of our overall strategy towards Ukraine.

Q: And then you mentioned the "60 Minutes" interview. The President was also asked in that interview whether he had been briefed on the top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago. And he said he had not been, but that his administration is aware of all that and so is the National Security Council. So as a National Security Advisor, have you been briefed on the potential ramifications of these top-secret documents being stored the way they were at Mar-a-Lago?

MR. SULLIVAN: I have not been briefed. The investigation is obviously being handled by the Justice Department, led by the Attorney General, who, of course, is a member of the National Security Council. And then the Director of National Intelligence, also a member of the National Security Council, has indicated that they have been pursuing their own analysis, their own assessment. And they -- each of them have communicated to the press and the public that which they are prepared to communicate, and it's being handled in those channels and not in my channel. And I have not been briefed.


Q: Thanks, Jake. Can you talk a little bit about how the Ukraine counteroffensive will be kind of employed by the President in New York or in his speech? How will he talk about it? What will he use it as an example of? Will he take credit? I mean, will -- what -- how will it be employed for his purposes or for the U.S. purposes?

MR. SULLIVAN: It will feature prominently in his speech -- the -- Russia's brutal war in Ukraine and the bravery of the Ukrainians in pushing back against it not only to defend their territory, but to reclaim territory that had previously been occupied by the Russians.

The main thrust of his presentation when it comes to Ukraine will really be about the United Nations Charter, about the foundational principle at the heart of that charter that countries cannot conquer their neighbors by force, cannot cease and acquire territory by force. And he will speak to every country in the world -- those that have joined our broad-based coalition to support Ukraine and those who, so far, have stood on the sidelines -- that now is a moment to stand behind the foundational principles of the charter.

And he will also indicate that a free people fighting for their land and their freedom -- they are going to fight with a passion and an intensity and a capacity and an endurance that can outlast any would-be conqueror.

And that is part of what he is going to want to communicate in a larger presentation he's going to make -- about an international system rooted in a core set of principles that work for all countries and that pushes back against aggressors who seek to threaten, coerce, and intimidate their neighbors or to violently attack them.


Q: Thank you, Jake. Just to follow up on Franco's questions, specifically on the strengthening the U.N. Charter but specifically on the United Security Council, will the President be speaking on that? I know that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has laid out a series of principles in terms of finding consensus to expanding the U.N. Security Council, but where is the President on this issue in terms of expansion and in terms of veto power?

MR. SULLIVAN: I expect that the President will speak substantively to the question of U.N. Security Council reform while he's in New York. Whether he does so publicly or whether he communicates privately with the Secretary-General and others, we're still working through today. But I think this will be on the agenda and you may very well see him make a public statement that is more specific than the principles that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has laid down -- though, of course, completely consistent with them -- and we will reinforce those principles in all of our diplomatic engagements.

Q: And just a follow-up on Iran, please. Can we have the administration's reaction to Elon Musk seeking exemption to Iran sanctions on Starlink?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, I saw a public statement about that. I have not, obviously, communicated directly with him. And I would refer you to the Office of Foreign Assets Control over at Treasury with respect to how those exemptions work out.

We have, of course, in the past provided for various forms of exemptions for the Iranian people's ability to communicate with each other and with the world. But I can't speak specifically on that case because that has to be handled through appropriate procedures at the Treasury Department.

Q: And to go back to Ukraine --


Q: In Samarkand, on the sidelines of SCO Summit, India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, bluntly told the Russian President Putin that this is not the time for war in Ukraine. In that context, what role do you see for India in bringing peace in the region and in the war in Ukraine?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think what Prime Minister Modi said -- a statement of principle on behalf of what he believes is right and just -- was very much welcomed by the United States and for the Indian leadership, which has longstanding relationships in Moscow, from the very top all the way through the Russian government, to continue to reinforce that message that now is the time for war to end.

And the way this war should end is for Russia to abide by the basic terms of the U.N. Charter and to return the territories that it has seized by force. This is a message that every country -- however they feel about Russia, Ukraine, the United States, everyone should be able to center around this basic proposition: You cannot conquer your neighbor's territory by force, and peace will come fastest and most decisively to Ukraine if Russia abandons that effort.

And we would like to see every country in the world making that case. They can do it publicly if they like. They can do it privately if they like. But sending that clear and unmistakable message to Moscow at this time is the most vital thing I think we can collectively do to produce peace in that region.


Q: Thanks, Jake. Just a quick one on food security. Can you talk about what President Biden is going to announce tomorrow in terms of aid? We heard reports about $100 million dollars to Africa. And what can be accomplished at UNGA to bring down food prices, which continue to be really elevated despite various action plans?

MR. SULLIVAN: So the U.S. is actually a co-host of a significant food security event today. The President had hoped to be able to go to it, but because of the Queen's funeral, he was unable to make the scheduling work.

We're going to make very robust financial commitments on humanitarian assistance, significantly greater than $100 million. In addition, we're going to work on financial facilities to help -- so, beyond just the money for humanitarian assistance -- to help build agricultural systems and resilience in the developing world, in Africa and Latin American and in other places.

In addition to that, the President will be pressing for the elimination of export bans and of hoarding so that there is a better supply of food to the world market and overall prices come down.

And then, finally, he will be very focused on the nexus between climate and food, because the impacts of climate change on the agricultural land of many countries in many parts of the world is significant and severe. And through some combination of technology and adaptation, we believe we can help protect that land so that we can continue to get the level of food production necessary to reduce global food insecurity.

He'll speak to all of those things, both with leaders in New York, and he will have a robust section of his speech devoted to global food security as well.


Q: Hey, Jake. I wanted to try one more time on the U.N. Security Council question. Is there any discussion of removing Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council? You mentioned that their actions were unbefitting and violating the Charter. So I don't know if there's -- the United States is taking the next step or if that's among the things that President Biden might raise tomorrow.

MR. SULLIVAN: It is not something that he is going to raise tomorrow, although I think the world can see that when a permanent member acts in this way, it strikes at the heart of the U.N. Security Council. And so that should lead everyone collectively to put pressure on Moscow to change course.


Q: Hey, Jake. Can you tell us anymore about the President's meeting with Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan's families here at the White House? Has that moved the needle at all? And how will the President incorporate them and that call for their release into his meetings and conversations in New York? Will that be a public message, or will that be in more private conversations?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, the President had a long session with Elizabeth Whelan and then with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner's wife. And they were both very practical, detailed discussions of both what the United States is doing to try to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, what the family members can do to raise the profile of these cases, and also to try to rally the world to send a clear message to Moscow that it is time to end the unjust detention of these two individuals.

And then the President, of course, took the opportunity just to express his empathy, to comfort them, to make clear that anytime they needed to pick up the phone and call just to talk about it, he would be available.

And in that sense, it was President Biden in the way that you've seen him in many other contexts. And it was really important for him to be able to look into the eyes of the family members to just reinforce his own commitment to making sure that we get them home as rapidly as possible.

Fundamentally, the United States, at the direction of the President, has been prepared to take significant steps in order to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. We have communicated that to the Russians. We've had direct discussions with the Russians on it on a regular basis over the course of the past few months. Those conversations are continuing.

I won't say more from this podium about the precise details and nature of them so I can protect the possibility that they will succeed. But the bottom line is that President Biden is prepared to take hard decisions to get them home. The Russians understand what we are prepared to do. And from our perspective, it really is up to Moscow itself to then take the hard decision to actually move forward with this.

And we will continue to keep you posted as things develop and as those conversations continue at multiple levels, including through channels between the White House and the Kremlin.

Q: And, Jake, is the President planning to tell world leaders that his view is that the pandemic is over? Is that the message on the world stage?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think one of the core things that the President wants to communicate when it comes to global health is that from the point of view of dealing with pandemics, what COVID-19 should teach all of us is that we darn well better be much better prepared for the next one. And that means having a financing facility that the U.S. helps stand up at the World Bank. It means making sure that we are more rapidly developing vaccine manufacturing capability in the rest of the world. It means that we have to be able to move testing and treatment to a much larger and more rapid extent than we have so far.

And he will talk in his speech at the U.N. about the need for the world to learn the fundamental lessons of COVID-19 so that we never again face a circumstance like we did over the course of the past two years.

Q: Jake, it sounds like that the main theme of the speech is going to be on the core principles of the international order rather than this passing of democracies versus autocracies. Is that a shift in framing? And is that because you think that's an argument that might be more persuasive to other countries?

MR. SULLIVAN: So this is a speech by President Biden to the world. I can promise you that he will talk about his support for democracy and his belief that democracy, and not autocracy, is the model that best delivers both for its own citizens and against transnational challenges.

That will continue to be a hallmark of President Biden's foreign policy and a hallmark of any major address that he gives around it.

He will also say that for every country in the world, whether they're a democracy or an autocracy, they've all signed up to the principles of the U.N. Charter. So this is not, in our view, a shift or inconsistent with the proposition that democracy is the right system to actually deliver at the end of the day, but it is a way to speak to every country gathered in that hall, including countries who recently have come out and expressed more concern or more distancing from Russia, to say, "Whatever you believe on X issue or Y issue and whatever your current form of government, everyone should be prepared to stand together on the basic underlying principle of the U.N. Charter."

And in that respect, he is both going to be able to set out a vision for how democracies can deliver for the world and what that world looks like -- a world of greater human rights and human dignity -- and also be able to speak collectively to the entire body about an issue of immediate, urgent, global security significance.

Q: Thanks, Jake. I wanted to ask you about the President's meeting tomorrow with British Prime Minister Truss. She indicated on her way to New York today that a U.S.-UK trade deal is years away. Was that a surprise to you guys? And what's your reaction?

And then can you preview some of the meeting tomorrow, particularly what the President might say about Northern Ireland and the post-Brexit talks there?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, on a U.S.-UK trade deal, it's -- I didn't hear her say that, but it's not a surprise to me because free trade agreements take a long time to negotiate. I mean, that's -- if you look back at the record of them, that would just be a fair statement of reality about the sheer level of detail into which one must go to complete a comprehensive free trade agreement.

And that's doubly true with respect to a potential U.S.-UK trade agreement because, as President Biden has said many times, he's looking to move beyond the old model of an FTA to a model that is actually more geared to today's economic realities and to the lessons of the last 30 years. So that's going to require its own work as well.

With respect to the bilat tomorrow, I do think that they will talk about the economic relationship between the U.S. and the UK. They'll talk about the current energy picture facing Europe and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.

They'll, of course, talk about the war in Ukraine, where Prime Minister Truss has indicated her robust and unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

They'll discuss the challenge posed by the PRC.

And they will talk about Northern Ireland. And the President will communicate his strong view that the Good Friday Agreement, which is the touchstone of peace and stability in Northern Ireland, must be protected and we must collectively take steps -- the U.S., the UK, the parties in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland -- to ensure that it is protected.

And in that regard, he will encourage the UK and the European Union to work out an effective outcome that ensures there is no threat to the fundamental principles of the Good Friday Agreement. And he'll speak in some detail with her about that in the conversation.

Q: Jake, on Iran, what is the President going to say in the speech about Iran tomorrow? And is there anything about this week that offers the opportunity to get talks back on track?

MR. SULLIVAN: He's going to communicate what he's been saying for quite some time, which is the United States has been prepared for a mutual compliance-for-compliance return to the JCPOA. And if Iran is prepared to be serious about fulfilling its obligations and accepting that formula, we could have a deal.

And you've heard the same thing, incidentally, from the Europeans, who have made clear that there is a deal on the table and the ball is in Iran's court.

I do believe that there will be multiple opportunities for us to consult with the other members of the P5+1, especially the Europeans, while we're in New York. And Iran, of course, will be having its own engagements, not with any of the American delegation, but with other delegations, including the Europeans.

We'll see if anything comes to that. I don't expect a breakthrough in New York because it's not the main venue for moving the JCPOA forward, but we'll see what happens.

I'll take one more question.

Q: Is Iran invited to the Leaders Reception or not?

MR. SULLIVAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Is Iran invited to the Leaders Reception or not?


Q: Jake, given the latest border cross numbers and the large number of Cubans among those, does -- is the administration planning on resuming migration talks at all with Cuba?

MR. SULLIVAN: We've actually had a series of discussions with the Cuban government about getting visas restarted, which has been previously announced -- that the United States is providing a significant number of visas for Cubans to be able to come directly from Cuba to the United States and not make the harrowing journey. And we will continue to engage with them on the question of migration.

I would make a larger point here, which is that I think the American people need to understand that a significant part of the reason why we're seeing an increase in the number of people who are coming to America's southwestern border is because people are fleeing three repressive dictatorships: Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. And citizens in those three countries are struggling under the weight and yoke of the repressive governments of those three countries, and they are trying to get out.

And that's what makes it so challenging for someone who works in the national security space to see anyone from one of those three countries -- from Venezuela or Cuba or Nicaragua -- be treated as some kind of pawn, because these are people who are trying to escape brutal dictatorships.

Now, from the U.S.'s perspective, we will step up to our responsibility to help the citizens of those three countries, but we also believe that this is a region-wide responsibility.

So what you will see in the coming weeks is an enormous amount of intensive diplomacy as we work with all of the countries of the region to do their part to help deal with the migration issues coming out of Cuba or Nicaragua and Venezuela in particular.

Thanks, guys. I'm sorry, I'm getting the (inaudible), so.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Take -- why don't you take one last one.

Q: On the demonstrations that are happening in Iran right now with respect to Mahsa Amini, I wonder if you could just quickly comment on that.

MR. SULLIVAN: Yes. In fact, I sent out a tweet very shortly after the reports emerged of this shocking event. And from our perspective, it is a reflection of the complete repression and brutality of a regime that a woman simply seeking to exercise her basic rights could die in this way.

And it is not surprising to us that we are seeing people of all walks of life come out in Iran to object vigorously to that and say that is not the kind of society that they want to live in.

It is not consistent with any country's obligations under the U.N. -- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And it's something the United States will speak out fiercely and unequivocally against, as I previously have and I'm doing so again right now.

Thank you.

(Cross-talk by reporters.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Jake. He will be back another time. I promise. I promise.

As you all know, the President is going to speak at about one o'clock, so we don't have a lot of time. We wanted to give you all as much time with Jake since he hasn't -- I think the last time he was here was in July.

So I have a couple of things at the top and then I'll take as many questions as we can.

As you all know, at 1:45, President Biden will deliver remarks on the disclosure act, which Congress will be voting on this week. The disclosure act would create new disclosure requirements for campaign-related spending by super PACs, corporations, unions, political organizations, and others.

President Biden will speak about the importance of protecting our democracy by getting dark money out of our politics and closing off loopholes that allow foreign entities and powerful special interests to influence our elections and courts. President Biden believes that our democracy must serve all people equally and that Republicans should join Democrats this week in passing this bill.

Speaking of ensuring democracy serves all people equally, today marks National Voter Registration Day. Today, we encourage all eligible Americans to register to vote, as well as check their registration location and status.

The right to vote is sacred in our country. Nevertheless, Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have passed laws that make it harder to vote. Recent Supreme Court rulings have made it even harder to counter discriminations.

The Biden-Harris administration remains committed to using every tool as it dis- -- at its disposal to protect the sacred right to vote.

Last year on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Biden signed an executive order directing an all-of-government effort to promote access to voting. President Biden and Vice President Harris also continue to urge the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and to change Senate rules to prevent a minority of sena- -- of senators from blocking action to protect this fundamental right.

With that, Zeke, you want to take it away?

Q: Thanks, Karine. You briefly mentioned the situation in Puerto Rico. Does the President plan to visit and tour the damage there?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything to preview to you at this time on a visit or travel to Puerto Rico.

Q: And then, secondly, there are reports of a plane -- the same plane that that brought migrants to Martha's Vineyard last week -- potentially bring migrants to the President's home state of Delaware. Is the White House tracking that situation? Is it working with state and local partners to help provide shelter and resources to those migrants?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, yes, we've rec- -- we have received word of the flights. And, yes, we are coordinating closely with state officials and local service providers who are prepared to welcome these families in an orderly manner as they pursue their asylum claims.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Staying on the border and the record number of arrests that we are seeing, the President campaigned on addressing the root causes of migration. He's been in office now for almost two years. We are seeing these apprehensions reach record levels. What exactly went wrong here?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just give you -- just to put it into context and talk a little bit about the facts of what -- of what you just mentioned, the numbers that we have seen that was announced by DHS yesterday.

So, first, these people are fleeing communism, as we have said, as you heard DHS say as well. Falling authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are causing a new migration challenge across the Western Hemisphere. So what we're seeing is a new -- definitely a new pattern. So not just our southern border as well, but our Western, clearly, Hemisphere.

But meanwhile, migration from Mexico and northern Central America has come down for three consecutive months and is down by nearly half. And what we saw -- the increase with Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba -- is up by 121 percent. So there is a change in the pattern that we have seen most recently.

But what -- we are doing what we can to work with our regional partners to address this new challenge and process individuals as safely, orderly, and humane way. That is a campaign commitment that the President has made and continues to move forward with.

But you have to remember that not everyone who arrives at the border gets to stay. There is a process in place that we have been moving forward with. You heard us talk about the individual encounters at the border has increased in this year in -- historically, than any other year.

DHS continues to expel migrants as required by court order under CDC's Title 42. And so -- and those who cannot be expelled under Title 42 are screened and processed to have their claims for relief heard by an immigration judge in removal proceedings.

So, again, there is a process that we have been moving forward with. More individuals are encountered at the border and move through and without a legal basis -- those without a legal basis to remain will be removed or expelled.

Q: Just a quick follow-up. You mentioned a change in pattern. Is that a sign that there needs to be a change in strategy from the administration to tackle it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think that what we have -- what we have been able to do -- again, more individuals encountered, yes, at the border. And with -- those without a legal process who remain are removed and expelled this year -- more than any other year. So, you have seen how -- how historic the numbers have been and make sure that we are expelling folks.

But here's the thing, you know, and we have said this many times: There is -- we have solutions. We have brought solutions on day one of this administration. The President has been very clear. He put forth an immigration -- a comprehensive immigration bill, a piece of legislation. And -- and what we would like to see is Republicans decide to come to the table and help us deal with a really systemic problem that we have seen for decades when it comes to our immigration system -- which, by the way, was actually mismanaged and decimated by the last administration.

So, again, we have put forth a solution on how to move forward. But what Republicans want to do -- and we've been very clear; you've heard me talk about this all last week -- is they're moving forward with political stunt.

As Zeke was just asking me, what we're seeing in Delaware today is a political stunt that is being done by Governor DeSantis.

Let's remember, these folks are fleeing communism. When you think about Venezuela -- what's going on in Venezuela, when you think about what's going on in Nicaragua, when you think about what's going on in Cuba: They are fleeing political persecution only to be used as a political pawn by the Florida governor. And that is something that the people in Florida should be asking the governor: Why is he doing this?

Q: The top Senate Republican on the Health Committee sent a letter to the White House related the President's comments about the pandemic being over on the "60 Minutes," saying there are contradictory policies in place, if that's the case, on offset emergency funding, enforcement of vaccine mandates, continued federal emergency declarations. Does the White House have a response to that, in terms of where policies currently stand?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the President said and he was very clear in his "60 Minutes" interview that, you know, COVID remains a problem and we're fighting it. And we have to continue to make sure that we are fighting this once-in-a-generation pandemic.

And so, here's the thing: What he believes is we can acknowledge that -- the massive amount of progress that we have made. Just think about where we were when this President walked into this administration -- where, again, a response to this once-in-a-generation pandemic was mismanaged by the last administration.

Now, if you look at today, a hund- -- 220 million people are fully vaccinated. And now we are in a place where it is a lot more manageable, where we know what works. There are tests. There are treatments. There are vaccine, as I just laid out.

So, we know what works. We know the tools that are out there to fight COVID. And for over six months -- for over six months, Congress has been made abundantly aware -- as have all of you; you've heard us speak of this, you've heard from the experts, you've heard from our doctors -- of our need for the funding to ensure we have access to these tools and continue to have access to these sco- -- tools.

And for over six months, there have been new excuses for why they do not want to ensure that the U.S. remains on the -- on the front froot [sic] -- on the front foot.

Let's think about it -- I mean, Jake mentioned this -- about how about how we have to be prepared for the next generation of vaccines and treatments. We have to be prepared for the next potential pandemic, ensuring that we're leading the way when it comes to research, when it comes to development, when it comes to innovating, and keeping testing readily accessible.

So, ultimately, if we lose these things, we have to ask them -- we have to ask Republicans why didn't they act. And so, that is how we're going to continue to move forward on this. We believe this COVID funding is incredibly important for how we move into the future in fighting pandemics.


Q: Two quick ones, Karine. First, I was just wondering if there were any more UNGA one-on-ones that the President has scheduled besides Prime Minister Truss.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything else to -- to preview from what Jake laid out moments ago.

Q: And then, on Puerto Rico: I was just curious, you spoke at the top about kind of the emergency response, but there is some kind of endemic infrastructure issues that have led to the reasons why Puerto Rico has such a weak grid. And I'm just curious, you know, why, given this administration's focus on infrastructure and the Infrastructure Bill, et cetera -- why more hasn't been done to shore that up and what your plans are there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just on the grid -- just to give you a little bit on the update that we have: As damage assessments are currently underway, but due to the scope and magnitude of the outage, full power restoration will take at least several days. But on anything specific to that and the power and the restoration, I definitely would refer you back to Department of Energy.

Look, to your point, this is why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was so critical and so historic and important as we're dealing with infrastructure and dealing with grids; dealing with, you know, our, you know, our bridges, our tunnels -- the things that is going to just not only make us competitive just globally, but also deal with these types of -- when you have extreme weather, making sure that we are able to endure and have an infrastructure that that holds up.

And so, again, you know, this is the importance of this historic bipartisan infrastructure legislation. We will continue to have conversations with the local government in Puerto Rico. Our team continues to do that. I don't have any specific numbers on how -- on how funding is going to be -- be able to help Puerto Rico in the long run.

But this is something that the President has talked about for some time. We've heard from, you know, the last administration -- it was a joke about how we were going to improve our infrastructure. This is a President, along with a Congress, that made it happen because of his leadership.

So, again, we're going to help Puerto Rico in the best way that we can. We're going to continue to be in touch with them and -- and see how we can get them into a better place as it -- as it relates to their infrastructure.

Q: Thanks, Karine. You said that the White House had received word of the planes heading to Wilmington. Who have you received word from? And has Governor DeSantis or somebody told the White House about this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don't have the specifics of who -- where we got word from. I can tell you that we've been closely coordinating with the folks in Delaware, the officials in Delaware. What I can tell you is that our heads-up did not come from Governor DeSantis, because his only goal is, as he's made it really quite clear, is to create chaos and use immigrants fleeing communism as political pawns. So, it's about creating political theater for him. It's not about getting to a solution.

We have a solution in front of us that we are happy to have bipartisanship on, on an issue that has been a broken system when we look at the immigration system. But certainly, we did not get word from Governor DeSantis. Again, this is a political stunt, but we have been in close contact with the -- with the Delaware government.

Q: But we don't know who the White House got alerted to --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have specifics on where -- on who alerted us. I can tell you we've been in close contact with the Delaware officials on the ground.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Did the White House ever try to get in touch with Governor DeSantis or Governor Abbott about this to try to reach some type of understanding or a solution?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, there's no understanding to be reached. They are using people who are leaving a commun- -- communist countries as political stunt, instead of -- instead of maybe what they should do is call on their senators in their -- in their state. Call on, you know, Senator Marco Rubio. Ask Senator Rick Scott why is it that they did not vote for historic funding when it comes to Department of Homeland Security, making sure that we are dealing with this issue. That's not what they did.

This is, again, a political stunt that they are taking for their own -- for their own political narrative. It is not about really dealing with what is happening and coming up with a solution.

Q: And in terms of -- in terms of that and understanding that the White House does not support the use of people as a political stunt -- but does the White House support the idea or the concepts of states further from the border accepting some more migrants, kind of sharing some of the burden of state resources being used by increasing number of migrants, whether they be from Venezuela, Cuba, or Nicaragua?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the way that we see it is alerting Fox News and not city or state officials about a plan to abandon children fleeing communism on the side of the street is not burden sharing. That is not the definition that we see of burden sharing. It is a cruel, premeditated political stunt. That is not what they're -- that is what they are doing.

And so, we're always -- we're always happy to have conversations about ways to further improve border processing. And we could be doing more if -- again, if Republicans in Congress would stop blocking our efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform and also funding -- historical funding for DHS.

So, again, this is not what border [burden] sharing looks like. They have used the lives of people who are fleeing persecution from communist countries, using them as a political stunt.

Q: If the governors were more open about and transparent, would that be more acceptable?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What we're saying is the President has put forward -- on day one, he put forward a comprehensive immigration reform, ways to deal with what is at stake here days -- the ways to deal with a broken immigration system. He put that forward on day one.

And what we're asking is for Republicans in Congress to help us come up with a solution to look at what this President put forward on day one, and they are not doing that. Instead, they're doing political stunts.

I think I'm being pulled here. (Laughter.) The President is about to speak, guys. Okay. Thank you, everybody.

1:02 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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