Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:31 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello. Good afternoon, everybody. Okay, so today we are joined by John Kirby, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications. Kirby is here to share an update on Russia's activities in Ukraine and answer a few questions.
So, Kirby, the floor is yours.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine. Good afternoon, everybody. So I wanted to let you know that we have information today, including from downgraded intelligence that we're able to share with you, about how Russia is laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls, in direct violation of Ukraine's sovereignty.
We're seeing ample evidence in the intelligence and in the public domain that Russia intends to try to annex additional Ukrainian territory. Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an "annexation playbook," very similar to the one we saw in 2014.
Already, Russia is installing illegitimate proxy officials in areas of Ukraine that are under its control. And we know their next moves. First, these proxy officials will arrange sham referenda on joining Russia. Then, Russia will use those sham referenda as a basis to try to claim annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.
The Russian government is reviewing detailed plans to purportedly annex a number of regions in Ukraine, including Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, all of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
Russia is attempting to set the conditions on the ground by seeking to establish branches of Russian banks, to establish the ruble as the default currency in these areas, and to sabotage civilian Internet access.
Russia's security services continue to target Ukrainians that they believe to be associated with resistance activities. In Kherson, for example, Russia is taking control of broadcasting towers, establishing loyalist security forces, replacing telecommunications infrastructure, forcing residents to apply for Russian citizenship, and issuing Russian passports.
Russia is also installing loyalists in areas of Ukraine that it controls, including a man named Sergei Yeliseyev, a former Russian intelligence officer who has been put in charge of Kherson. Figures like Yeliseyev are Russian bureaucrats with absolutely no connection to Ukraine. No connection.
The Kremlin has not disclosed the timeline for the referenda, but Russian proxies in these territories claim they will take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with Russia's September regional elections.
So what are the implications? At the start of the year, Russia told the world that it was not planning to invade Ukraine, and now we're expected to believe that they're not going to plan to annex Ukrainian territory.
Annexation by force would be a gross violation of the U.N. Charter, and we will not allow it to go unchallenged or unpunished.
We will continue to provide Ukraine with historic levels of security assistance.
Later this week, the administration will announce the next Presidential Drawdown package of weapons and equipment for Ukraine. It'll be the 16th such drawdown to support Ukraine since the President took office.
That package will include more HIMARS — that's Highly Mobile Advanced [Artillery] Rocket Systems — which the Ukrainians have been using very effectively to make a difference on the battlefield. And it'll also include some additional rounds of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and artillery ammunition.
We're also going to continue to expose Russian plans so the world knows that any purported annexation is premeditated, illegal, and illegitimate. And we are sanctioning the Russia-installed puppets and proxies in areas of Ukraine that are under Russian control. For example, just last month, we sanctioned the illegitimate Russian-installed mayor of Melitopol, as well as the chairperson and deputy chairpersons of the so-called government of the DNR.
So what next? If Russia nevertheless proceeds with their annexation plans, we are going to respond swiftly and severely and in lockstep with our allies and partners.
Russia will face additional sanctions and become even more of a global pariah than it is now. We will never recognize any purportedly annexed territory as belonging to Russia. We will support accountability efforts for forced deportations, prosecutions of oppositionists, and other gross human rights abuses carried out by Russia.
And we would remind Mr. Putin that, over time, it may prove unable to hold this territory. It's not a given. The Ukrainian territo- — the Ukrainian military will work to retake that territory, and the Ukrainian people will resist Russian control and seek to drive Russia out as they have been doing the last five months.
Russia already made a grave mistake with this invasion. It's achieved none of their strategic objectives. When they invaded Ukraine, only 4 of the 192 other members of the U.N. took Moscow's side. So the international community, we're convinced, will continue to stand up for state sovereignty. Any sham efforts to legitimize an illegal land grab will only make things worse for Russia. And we're going to help make sure of that.
And one other item before I start taking some questions: Today we announced a series of actions the Biden-Harris administration has taken to expand the toolkit that the U.S. government uses to deter and disrupt hostage takings and wrongful detentions — I think you may have seen this out there — that'll help bring Americans home.
This morning, the President signed an executive order that provides expanded tools to help bring our citizens home. Specifically, it authorizes agencies to impose costs and consequences, including financial sanctions and visa bans on governments and non-state actors and those that provide them with the material support who are involved in hostage takings or wrongful detentions.
The State Department is also introducing a new risk indicator to their travel advisories to inform U.S. citizens about the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government in six countries that have regularly engaged in this practice. This new indicator joins the existing "K" indicator. So it's a "D" indicator, the new one. The "K" indicator, that in- — that covers the risk of kidnapping and hostage taking by non-state actors, as well as a range of other existing risk indicators for a country.
These actions demonstrate President Biden's unwavering commitment to bringing home U.S. nationals held hostage and wrongfully detained, and to try to help prevent more Americans and their families from having to go through this kind of terrible ordeal.
So with that, I'll take questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nancy.
Q: Thanks, John. Given what you've said about Russians anne- — Russia's annexation plans, what is the U.S. assessment of President Putin's visit to Iran and why he was willing to take such an unusual and risky trip at this time to meet with the Supreme Leader?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I'll let Mr. Putin speak for why he decided to go at this particular time. But I would say three things about this trip:
One, it shows the degree to which Mr. Putin and Russia are increasingly isolated. Now they have to turn to Iran for help.
Two, it shows the degree to which his own defense industrial base is having a hard time keeping up with his unprovoked war in Ukraine. We already know that in respect to precision-guided munitions and advanced systems, tanks, even aircraft, he's having trouble — particularly with the micro-electronics — because of the sanctions and the export controls. And we already know that even without that, his defense industrial base is challenged because of the rate of operation, the pace of operations in Ukraine.
And then the third thing I think this indicates is the degree to which he has absolutely no intention of stopping the war and sitting down in good faith and negotiate a settlement with Mr. Zelenskyy. He has every intention quite the contrary, because now he wants to go buy several hundred UAVs to continue to prosecute this illegal war and to continue to kill Ukrainians.
Q: Oh, and what does the U.S. know about the meeting that President Putin had in Iran with Turkish leader Erdo?an and what it could mean for reinstating Ukrainian grain exports?
MR. KIRBY: I'll let them speak to their meetings. I don't know what was on the agenda for that. We are mindful of the talks that have been ongoing between Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine about grain exports, and we hope for progress in those talks. But we're clear-eyed about it. We're clear-eyed about Russia's ambitions here. We're clear-eyed about the fact that there's basically a blockade in the Black Sea.
So while we certainly welcome Mr. Erdo?an's leadership in here — and the President has thanked him for that leadership — we've trying to come up with a negotiated solution here to get the grain out.
It's unfortunate that he even has to have those talks, because there's a blockade that Russia could stop today. They can take their ships out of the Black Sea. They could let that grain go and alleviate a lot of food security problems not just in Europe, but in the Middle East, in Africa, or elsewhere around the world.
So, again, we're hopeful that there can be some sort of arrangement to get that grain out of there, but — but we're not looking at it through rose-colored glasses in terms of the success that they'll ultimately be able to achieve.
The only thing I'd add to that is: It's good to see Ukraine at the table in these discussions, and that — that's as it should be. Ukraine absolutely has to be part of whatever solution is solved, and their economy can't suffer any more than it already has as a result of Russian blockade activity.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let's got to the back. Janne, Phil.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: And let me get my pen. I dropped it. (Laughter.) Because often, when you ask me questions —
MR. KIRBY: — I have to write them down. Go ahead.
Q: It's okay. Don't be nervous, okay? (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: Oh, no. I am always nervous when you're called on.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Next time I know.
Q: Thanks. Thank you. Thank you, John. I have two questions on — one Ukraine and one Russia. The Ukraine recently announced that diplomatic severance with North Korea. And meanwhile, Russia announced that it will be sending North Korean workers to rebuild Donbas in Ukraine. What is your comment? Or is it a violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions?
MR. KIRBY: I'm not an expert enough on sanctions to know whether these actions are violations of resolutions. But again, it just shows the degree to which Mr. Putin remains isolated. Now he's got to turn to North Korea, you know, and he's got to turn to Iran here, rather than just doing the right thing to begin with and ending the war.
And eventually, there's going to be reconstruction of Ukraine. But that's going to be for the Ukrainians to decide, Janne — not the Russians, not the North Koreans, not anybody else but President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people. They're going to get to decide how they reconstruct their country after this war. And obviously, and you've heard the President talk about this, we're going to be there to support them through that process.
The goal right now — and we can't forget what it is right now, as I — well, I mentioned it in my opening statement — is to continue to help Ukraine defend itself against this aggression inside their country, making sure that Mr. Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian Armed Forces have what they need to continue to fight back and to reclaim their sovereignty. That's what matters right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Phil. And then we'll come back (inaudible).
Q: Thank you, Karine. I'd like to ask you, sir, a question about some of the comments that the President made when he was in Spain last month. But before that, rewinding to some of your statements moments ago, you said that Russia, over time, may prove unable to hold the territory that they're annexing. I'm wondering: What does that mean in terms of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine? Are we talking about, you know, backing some sort of military operation for the Ukrainians to take back territory that was taken from them? Or is that a more general statement about diplomatic pressure?
MR. KIRBY: There's no change to our policy with respect to helping Ukraine defend itself.
Now, we help provide them the training that they need with some of these advanced systems and the systems themselves. And I would remind you that it's not just the United States; some 50 other countries. In fact, Secretary Austin is going to be holding yet another iteration of the Ukraine Contact Group this week, and I suspect you'll see additional international contributions to Ukrainian security assistance.
And we give that material to them; we give them the training if they need it. Mr. Zelenskyy and his chain of command, they determine how they're going to use it. And we have seen over the last, it's hard to believe, five months — but five months — where the Ukrainians, sometimes all in the same day, will be on the defensive in some areas and on the offensive in others. And we have seen, just in the last week or two, both of that, depending on where you're at.
The Ukrainians are certainly — they have a right not only to defend themselves, but they absolutely have a right to go on the counter-offensive inside their own country against Russian forces.
Now, where and when they do that, how they do that, and what systems they use, that's for them to decide. Our job, again, is to make sure they've got the tools and the training to be able to defend themselves.
Q: And then my second question: President Biden announced last month that he was going to be sending two more destroyers to Rota, Spain. I think the number is going from four to six.
MR. KIRBY: That's right.
Q: And I guess I'm wondering: You know, why is the President sending these warships to the Mediterranean to defend the Spanish coast there — I mean, this is a country that spends about 1 percent of its GDP on total defense — when there seems to be an increasingly serious threat in the Indo-Pacific from China? I mean, shouldn't Spain step up? Shouldn't the Italians or French, you know, patrol their own waters so that we can have a free hand on the other side of the world?
MR. KIRBY: This is one of the very few questions I'll probably ever get that are right down my lane. (Laughter.)
Q: I knew you were coming today.
MR. KIRBY: I — and I served as a young officer in the Med on a couple of different deployments.
I mean, so — so a home port is just where the ship stays.
MR. KIRBY: It doesn't mean that the ship is just there to sail in the waters off of Spain. And so the four destroyers that we have in the Mediterranean right now, they patrol the Mediterranean, and frankly, there are times when they'll patrol into the North Atlantic. It's just — just having them in Spain is what we call forward deployed. It's like we have — you know, we have an aircraft carrier and warships in Japan forward deployed. We have ships forward deployed into the Middle East, in — based in Bahrain. It's just a place to — it shortens the time and distance to get them on station where they might need to be.
And it's — this decision by the President to add two destroyers to the four that are there I think is indicative of what the President has said many times: The security environment in Europe is different now; it has changed. Not is changing, not will change. Has changed. And we need to meet that.
This is just one of many moves, and that the President spoke to in Madrid and at the G7, that were taken to improve our military posture on NATO's eastern flank. And some of those moves will be permanent, in addition to the two ships, and it's going to take a little while for them to get there, to be permanently homebased there. So it's not going to happen tomorrow.
But we're going to put a headquarters forward command element in Poland — first time ever. We're going to make more regular the — more routine, I should say, the rotational deployments of Army land forces throughout the eastern flank as well.
So it's all part and parcel of a larger effort by the United States to make sure that we are able to meet our Article 5 commitment to our NATO Allies, particularly on the eastern flank.
Q: But we're not emphasizing one theater at the expense of another?
MR. KIRBY: Oh, look, you have to do both. And I'm glad you followed up on that. I mean, we already have 60 percent of the United States Navy either in or based in the Indo-Pacific. There's already a robust military capability in that part of the world. And there's — we have no intention whatsoever of decreasing that focus and that energy there.
You've heard Secretary Austin talk about China being the pacing challenge for the United States military, and that's exactly how they're treating it.
Take a look at the budget that we just submitted for '23, and you'll see chapter and verse how the United States military is really trying to make sure they're investing in the kinds of capabilities that we're going to need in the Indo-Pacific to face that pacing challenge.
Look, the United States military is a global — a global power. And you have to be focused on all kinds of different regions and face all kinds of different threats. The President was just in the Middle East because that too is an important area for our national security interests. We can do — we can do more than one.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nandita.
Q: Thank you, Karine. Quick question, just to sort of follow up on what you said about the U.S. responding to any sort of annexation attempts. What kind of options are available to the U.S. if you were to respond?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I talked about that a little bit in the — in the open. We certainly have additional sanctions we could — we could employ. We could strengthen the ones that are already in place. We can further try to make it harder, squeeze Mr. Putin's ability to wage war. Waging war is an expensive business. He now — his — he's facing inflation of up to — thanks to all the international pressure, he's already facing inflation of up to 20 percent. His — his imports have fallen by 40 percent. The Russian stock market fell by about 30 percent recently.
I mean, this has not been without costs, and we can — we can raise those costs on him.
Q: Are you expecting to do any of that in the next few days, weeks?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything to announce today. We wanted to make it clear today what we're seeing. And we've already, as I said in my opening statement, started to exe- — to sanction some of these so-called officials.
So I don't have any new announcements to make today, but we just wanted to make very plain for the American people what we're seeing and make it very plain to Mr. Putin that nobody is fooled by it. We know he's just dusting off the old playbook from 2014. And we're going to be watching this closely.
Last point — and it's important, and I know I say it all the time, but it's not just the United States. The international community is wise to this as well. And we fully expect that our allies and partners will participate in any additional pressure put on Mr. Putin.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff.
Q: Hi, John. I wonder if we could change topics a bit here. You've long talked about how climate change is a national security issue for the country. I'm wondering if you view this as a national emergency and if you believe that executive actions that will be announced are enough of a message to send to the world that the U.S. is indeed serious about climate change.
MR. KIRBY: I don't have — I'm not going to get ahead of any announcements on specific actions with respect to climate.
But let me take a step back. I mean, the Pentagon has noted not just in this administration, but even the previous one, that climate change is a national security issue.
Geez, Jeff, I mean, not only does it affect our infrastructure — and you're already starting to see military bases like Norfolk Naval Base having to invest millions of dollars to try to improve their infrastructure because of rising sea levels. So it has an impact on our infrastructure. It has an impact on our readiness, because you — and you're seeing it now, even in the wildfires, where so many National Guardsmen are being called out. And — and God love them for that, but they're — those are important tasks and missions, but it takes away from other tasks and missions when it comes to defending the United States.
So there's a — there's an impact on our own readiness just because our — our troops, our sailors, our Marines, our airmen, our Coast Guardsmen are being called out for — to respond to natural disasters, which are getting worse because of climate change.
And then lastly, it's a driver of actual missions, because climate change creates instability, which creates insecurity in some places. And you can end up — the fighting in Syria started, really, as a result of a drought. And so, there's — there's a — it can actually drive military missions and force the military to become involved in places and at times where they wouldn't have had to otherwise.
So, again, I don't want to get ahead of the President or any — any decisions he may or may not make. But the President believes that this is a very important issue for our own national security. And we're going to — we're going to treat it that way.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Karen.
Q: Back to Iran and Russia and then, if I may, one quick one on the executive order from today. Jake Sullivan had said last week that Iran was preparing to train Russian forces to use armed drones in Ukraine starting this month. Does the U.S. have an indication that those training sessions have started or that Iran has actually given those drones to Russia?
MR. KIRBY: We don't have any indications that the — that the sale has actually occurred. And so, therefore, we wouldn't have any indications that there's been training done on them.
And I don't want us to get lost in the details here. I mean, I know it's important. Obviously, we wouldn't have talked about it if it wasn't. But it is an indication of how much more desperate Mr. Putin is becoming in terms of his own defense industrial base and the degree to which he wants to continue to prosecute this war.
Now, a lot of it's going to depend on how many does he buy, what kind of capabilities they have. But the Iranians have a domestic production capability of drones, and those drones have lethal capabilities. We've seen that for ourselves in the attacks that they have — they have perpetrated in Iraq and in Syria against our own troops and against our own facilities there. So we're watching this closely, and we're taking it seriously.
Q: And on the executive order from today: How quickly might we see sanctions on people or countries that the U.S. considers responsible for detaining Americans wrongfully right now? And how might this impact or play into the cases of Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan?
MR. KIRBY: I don't want to get ahead of any decision space here. That's not my role today. These are additional tools that this EO gives us, including the ability to levy additional sanctions. So, again, I'm not going to preview anything or get ahead.
The last thing I'd say on this is that the President remains laser-focused on these cases and in constant touch with his national security team and with our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs on all these cases, including, of course, Mr. Whelan and Mrs. Griner.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui and then Franco.
Q: Thank you, Karine. On the Iran nuclear deal talks, John, I just wanted to get your view on this. Wendy Sherman said last week it's in Iran's deal — best interest to make a deal. "They would get sanctions relief. They would improve their economy and sell their oil again, and the world needs their oil so they could get a good price for it." So I'm asking: Is the White House viewing sanctions relief for Iran as a way to bring down gas prices?
MR. KIRBY: The administration is looking at a return to the JCPOA — the Iran deal — to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That's the goal. And you heard the President talk about this on the trip. No problem in the Middle East — none — gets easier to solve if Iran has a nuclear weapon. That's the goal of the Iran deal.
Now, look, there's a deal on the table. And the onus is on Iran now to decide whether they're going to take that deal. If they take that deal, yes, sanctions relief will be a part of it, as it was before, before the previous administration pulled out of it.
But the goal, the objective, the purpose is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Q: So how should we understand her statement then? Because the President's whole strategy when he was on his Middle East tour was to counter Iran, but her language makes it seem like maybe, you know, they're not so bad if they bring down gas prices, which has been hurting the President in polls, obviously.
MR. KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, there's obviously a tangential — potentially tangential benefit, should they sign into the deal and actually stop spinning their centrifuges and come into compliance and allow themselves to be back inside the most rigid inspection regime ever in an arms control agreement, which would include potentially sanctions relief, which would include obviously some economic breathing space for them to do things potentially on the oil market.
But, again, Jacqui, that's not the purpose here. The purpose is to try to prevent them from having a nuclear weapons capability. That's the goal. That's what it's all about.
Q: One last question. On this statement from Iran that they can produce a nuclear bomb if they want to but they haven't made that decision, it comes after Biden and the Israeli Prime Minister publicly disagreed on the best way to counter Iran.
You know, how concerning is it that Putin is meeting with Iran right after Iran said that they can build a bomb if they want to?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I'll let those leaders speak for the timing of this visit. What we're focused on is making sure Ukraine can continue to defend itself. And, obviously, it looks like, potentially, they're going to have to learn to defend themselves from these Iranian drones.
And as you saw on the trip in Middle East, the President is focused on an integrated, more stable, more secure Middle East. And you can't get there, you can't have that as an outcome if Iran builds a nuclear weapon. And they're closer to it today than they were five years ago.
The President understands that sense of urgency, which is why he wanted his team to negotiate this deal. And now the negotiations are complete. So we're close. Iran just has to agree to accept that deal, come back into compliance.
That won't solve all the problems. Not at all. It'll solve — if they come back into compliance and submit to the inspections and a reduction in their stockpiles, it'll certainly help solve the more urgent problem now of their burgeoning nuclear capability, but it won't necessarily solve their developing ballistic missile capability, which continues to improve. It won't necessarily solve their support for terrorist networks in the region. It won't solve the threats to maritime security in the Gulf that we continue to see out of Iran. And it potentially could — you know, might make — you know, won't solve all problems in Yemen, although we're glad for this ceasefire.
So we're still going to have to stay focused on all those other issues, which is, again, why the President's trip was so important.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Franco.
Q: Thank you, Karine. John, first on the Russian annex, and then if I could ask a China question. On the Russia annexation comments that you're making: Can you talk a little bit more about what specifically is new in the downgraded intelligence that you brought up? I mean, the administration has been warning about sham elections, about referendums since the spring. Kherson has been named in the past as possibly a place this could happen. So what has actually — what are you seeing that is new in the last few weeks that you did not know, before?
MR. KIRBY: I have to be somewhat careful in answering the question because we're talking about some declassified intelligence.
I would — I would point you to some of the specificity in my opening comments about some of the individuals, some of the locations, and then just the modalities, I think, of how the Russians plan to pursue this in time and space. And it's really about as far as I'm able to go.
But we know this is going to be a concerted effort here. And some of it is in con- — is in parallel to the incremental territorial gains that they're making. And some of the designs here are a representation of the frustration that they haven't had as much success in territorial gains as they've had in the past.
Q: But is this more of an incremental advancement in that — in that theory of Russia trying to annex? I mean, we've just been hearing about it for a while. So, I mean, I'm just trying to gauge how much — how different is this than what's been going on for a while now.
MR. KIRBY: They — this is out of the playbook, and we've seen him do it in the past. I think what we're seeing now is a more concerted, more strategic effort. And I think that's really about as far as I can go.
Q: On China, China tariffs — you know, I asked Karine about this yesterday and talked about the efforts of the administration to kind of address that and resolve concerns that they have about what Trump did. Can you talk about — a little bit about where efforts to ease those tariffs is and when we might be able to — when we might see some of the things that Biden has said is expected to come out of that?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything new for you today, and I certainly can't add to what Karine said yesterday. The President is looking at this. He wants to make sure that he makes the best decisions for the American people and for the American economy. And I'm certainly not going to get ahead of that. He's taking this very seriously, as he should.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, I'm going to take two from the back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And then (inaudible).
Q: Yeah, thank you. So I want to ask you about oil and Saudi Arabia.
So should we expect an announcement then from — on August 3rd — from OPEC or Saudi Arabia about increasing oil production because of the President's visit?
MR. KIRBY: I'm — I'm certainly not going to speak for OPEC. They get to make their decisions and speak to them. I would point you to what the President said when we were in Jeddah: that the discussions on energy security were quite constructive and that he expects that it's possible that we could see some movement here in the next two to three weeks.
And so — so we're just going to watch that and see how it goes.
Important to remember, and I think he also reminded, that OPEC+3 has already increased by 50 percent — planned increases in July and August; that's been helpful — in addition to the 1 million barrels per day that the President has released from the Strategic Reserve.
All that oil has helped stabilize the market, and the price still hovers around $100. That's because the market likes stability. And so those additions have created that kind of breathing space for the prices on — at the pump to start — just to start to come down.
So we'll see where it goes. The discussions both at the GCC and bilaterally with the Saudis, again, were very constructive when it comes to energy. And we'll be watching.
Q: And one more on the — so I noticed, on the President's schedule the last two days, there have been no public events. Is he resting after the large international trips (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: Well, the President has been busy. I'll let Karine speak to the President's schedule. But the President has been quite busy. Just because you don't see something necessarily on the public schedule doesn't mean that there's not a lot of work going on.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. The gentleman in the back there.
Q: Thank you. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee just reported out the resolution regarding the admission of Finland and Sweden to NATO, and they're likely to do that before August recess. Can you speak to the importance of getting that done before the August recess?
And also, is there any sort of message regarding the, I think it was 18, House Republicans who last night voted against a non-binding resolution on the admission of the countries to NATO?
MR. KIRBY: I would just tell you that we obviously want to see Finland and Sweden brought into the Alliance as soon as possible. And so we look forward to congressional action that will allow that to be the case, at least from the United States perspective. As you know, every Ally has to ratify; we're not the only ones. But certainly, we believe it's in our interest and it's in the Alliance's interest for accession of those two countries to happen as soon as possible.
These are modern militaries, militaries that we know well. We exercise with them, operate with them; I myself did a long, long time ago. And they've got incredible modern capabilities that will absolutely help bolster NATO's defensive capabilities and contribute significantly to the Article 5 commitment that we all sign into when we come into the Alliance.
So we're looking forward to it. We urge Congress to act as quickly as possible.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Steven, last question.
Q: Thanks. John, I wanted to give you a chance to respond to the families' reaction to the hostage and wrongful detention executive order.
The group Bring Our Families Home issued a statement saying that the order is simply the White House "taking executive action to direct itself to follow existing law." The group says the President should agree to take a meeting with the families. Will he do that?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything on the President's schedule specifically to speak to you today. I would remind that the whole national security team remains committed to staying in touch with these families, and we have routine discussions with them — with all of them. Our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs is in regular contact with them.
We know that they're suffering. We know they're scared. And we know they're anxious. And we know that they want their loved ones back home, and the President wants that too. And this executive order will give us some additional tools in the toolbox.
Is it going to solve every problem? Nope. Every case is specific, and you got to look at each one individually and figure out what the best way is forward. Sometimes turning up the heat publicly is the answer. Sometimes turning it down is the answer. Sometimes, you know, sanctions could be useful. Sometimes not.
Each one is in- — each one is individual and each one is different. Because, you know what? To those families, it's individual as well. They just want their loved ones home, and the President wants that too.
This EO is a useful extra set of tools that we'll have in our toolbox to help bring that about.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Great. Thanks.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, John.
MR. KIRBY: Appreciate it, everybody.
Q: Thank you, John.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, ma'am. Bye, bye.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Okay. Okay. I have a few things at the top. Speaking of climate change: So we are closely monitoring extreme heat conditions impacting much of Europe as well as the extreme heat impacting the more than 100 million Americans who are struggling with extreme heat conditions here at home just this week alone.
The impacts of extreme weather are intensifying across the globe, including here in the United States. No one is immune from climate change. It's why the President has been rallying the world to take the decisive action needed in this decade to tackle the climate change — the climate crisis.
It's also why the President is committed to taking aggressive action to tackle climate change and made clear if the Senate won't act, he will. In fact, as many you — as many of you have seen already today, the President will travel to Somerset, Massachusetts, tomorrow. While there, he will visit the future site of a manufacturing plant located at a former coal-fired power plant that will produce transmission cables for Massachusetts's booming offshore wind industry.
The President will underscore the historic clean energy investments his Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will make in Massachusetts and announce additional actions he will take to tackle the climate crisis and secure a clean energy future.
The President ran on fighting the unprecedented economic and national security threat of climate change. And he has take- — he has been taking decisive action to do so since taking office. Tomorrow's action will be a continuation of that work.
And I have two things, because I know folks in the room asked this question — two different questions yesterday, and I said I would get back to them.
I think, Eugene, you had a question about ACLU. The Department of Homeland Security is committed to complying with the law and respects the privacy and civil liberties of individuals. DHS employs various forms of technology to undertake the — its mission. This includes using tools to better investigate threats to infrastructure; traffickers of deadly opioids on the dark web; and to identify those involved in cross-border, transnational criminal organizations and terrorist activities.
And again, as I said to you yesterday, for further information, I would point you to DHS.
And I just have one more for the Marburg virus disease in Ghana. I have an answer — came back with an answer for you — I think this is from Simon.
Ghana reported two fatal cases of suspected hemor- — hemorrhagic fever in the Ashanti region of Ghana in early July, which tested positive for Marburg virus disease almost two weeks after presentation. These were the first cases ever reported from the country. U.S. agencies, our embassy in Accra have been in close collaboration with Ghana Health Services, World Health Organization. And other partners have engaged with public health working group in the country to share information.
The government of Ghana has not made any request of us, but we stand ready to assist however we can. So that's that answer there for you all.
Will, you want to kick us off?
Q: Sure. I've got two things. It doesn't look like we'll be getting a climate emergency announcement this week. I want to make sure that's still on the table. And I wanted to ask if the White House has any concerns that the President might be relying on executive action too much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the fi- — to answer your first question — look, one thing that I just want to step back and just lay out for all of you: When — the President was one of the first in Congress, when he was a senator, to ring the bell — the alarm bell on climate crisis.
So this is an issue that has been front of mind for him. This is an issue that has been — when it comes to the climate crisis — a priority. And taking action is something that he said he will do if Congress won't. And he has been taking action, as we have — as I had just stated in my opening remarks, since he's taken — since he taken office.
So he's going to take, as I said, additional climate actions in that vein tomorrow, and he's going to continue. He's not going to just stop with the actions of tomorrow. But I would not plan a announcement this week on national climate emergency.
Again, everything is on the table. It's just not going to be this week on that decision.
Q: On another matter, Senator Manchin is rejecting the global tax deal that Secretary Yellen negotiated with, like, 100-plus countries. What will happen if those countries move ahead with the deal and the U.S. doesn't?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I have a couple of things on — a couple of points on that that I wanted to share with all of you.
So we remain committed to finalizing a global minimum tax. It will level the playing field, as you all know, for U.S. businesses, decrease incentives to move jobs offshore, and close loopholes that cooperations [corporations] have used to shift profits overseas, which will benefit American workers, businesses, taxpayers, and middle-class families.
So that is critical and that is important and why we need to do this. But this significant incentive for America to come into — it is — it's significant for America to come into compliance.
Right now, other countries are pursuing legislation that would put them in compliance. If they act and America doesn't, we'll lose out on tax revenues that we could use to invest in the strength of our economy and the middle class.
So it's too important for our economic strength and competitiveness to finalize this agreement. So we'll continue to work always to get it done. So that's going to be our focus, as well.
Go ahead, Ashley.
Q: Thank you. Two related questions on climate. First, why did the White House decide that tomorrow is not the day to declare a climate emergency?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, what I can say is the President is going to do everything that he can to take action. Again, climate — climate crisis — taking climate action is critical, it's important. You heard Kirby talk about our national security — how it threatens our national security, how it threatens the economy. And what the President wants to continue to do is make sure that we're lowering energy costs for the American family. Again, everything is on the table.
I'm not going to go into private discussions that — policy discussions or get ahead of the President at this time. He's going to make some announcements. Today, what I can say: This climate emergency is not going to happen tomorrow. But we have — we have — we still have it on the table. And we'll — I don't have a circle — a date circled on the calendar.
Q: If and when it does happen, can you talk a little bit about what specific tools it would then give the administration and what specifically you would use it for and do?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, one thing that I just wanted to make clear, because some folks were asking about — about the abortion piece — the emergency abortion piece. So I just wanted to just lay out: So, look, we haven't ruled out a public health emergency, as I just laid out. And so, we're just — we're just still moving forward with — with the options that we potentially have in front of us; everything is on the table.
But declaring a public health emergency is very different from declaring a climate emergency. Each unlocks a different set of authorities and a different pot of funding. And so, that's one way to think about that.
So, you know, one of the reasons I wanted to bring this up, because we've heard this — and so comparing one against the other as a reflection of priority would not be — would not be accurate. But again, it's on the table. We haven't made — we haven't — we don't have anything to announce at this time. And, you know, the President will speak more on what it is — how he wants to move forward.
Q: But on those differences, is it a bigger pot of money it unlocks? I know that was one of the concerns the administration had about the public health emergency. And are there any other specifics you can share about how you could use a climate declaration?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don't have any specifics or anything to move further on what I just stated. But you're right: When Jen Klein was here, just almost two weeks ago, she talked about how in the pot of money for the — for the abortion pieces, there was just tens of thousands of dollars there. So we — there was some feeling that we didn't know exactly how that would work. But she did state that it would be still on the table and that we were still thinking through it.
But as far as the — what's on the — in the climate — the climate side, I just don't have more information to share.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q: Are there any downsides to declaring a climate national emergency?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right now, like I said, it's not on the table for this week. We're still considering it. I don't have the upside or the downsides of it.
As you can imagine, and I have said, this is an important priority when it comes to getting to clean energy, when it comes to dealing with climate crisis, when it comes to taking action. So the President is going to continue to make sure he's doing everything that he can to deal — of the threats of climate change. I just don't have specifics on the pros and the cons, but it is still on the table.
Q: When you talk about actions for tomorrow, should we assume that he'll be signing executive actions to announce tomorrow?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jeff, I just don't want to get ahead of the President. Again, he's going to make some announcement —
Q: Will there be a briefing call on this later to explain what he's doing? Or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There — there might be. I just don't have one to announce. We normally do. To your point, we usually have background calls when we're ready, and we usually invite all of you. I just don't have one to announce. There might be in the next couple of hours. I just don't have anything to share at this point.
Q: Has he been involved in these meetings today? Or what exactly has he been doing yesterday and today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So he's been in meetings. I was — I was called — I was scheduled to meet with him today in the Oval Office. So he's been meeting with his senior staff. He's been meeting with staff. I think some of you may have seen him when — when the First Lady of Ukraine was vidi- — visiting with our First Lady. I believe you saw — you saw him very briefly.
So he's just been very busy dealing with the issues of the American people and meeting with his staff and senior staff the last two days.
Okay. Go ahead, (inaudible).
Q: Just a quick one on the climate emergency and public health emergency. How concerned is the White House it may end up, sort of, angering female voters if it does sort of go ahead and announce a climate emergency ahead of a public health emergency, considering we haven't seen such an announcement after Roe? Is that — is that why maybe the timing —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well —
Q: — has been moved? Or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I wouldn't — I wouldn't look into — I wouldn't make that into an issue. I — both of — both of those things are still on the table. We just haven't announced them or made a decision yet.
You know, I just laid out what the difference — the difference is between when you look at a public health emergency on the abortion side, when you look at public health emergency — more so on the abortion side, but the difference between the two. We just don't — they're both on the table. We just don't — haven't made an announcement on that yet.
Q: And the President did say that he's asked his administration to see if he has the authority to declare a public health emergency. Is there, sort of, any update on — into that work to see if he has the authority, ultimately, to declare something like that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we're looking at all options. Everything is on the table. We just haven't made a decision on this yet.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q: Thanks, Karine. The mayors of New York City and D.C. are calling for more federal resources to assist with asylum seekers who are being bused to those cities from Texas and Arizona. They've had thousands of people arriving over the past couple of weeks. Mayor Bowser, here in D.C., said that these people are being "tricked." What federal resources is the White House preparing, if any, to deliver to these cities and other cities that are now dealing with an increase of asylum seekers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can tell you, Karen, that we have been in touch with both of their — both of their administrations, both of their offices. And we're going to continue to look into their requests.
I just — I don't have further than that to share. But we have been in touch with Mayor Bowser's office and we have been in touch with Mayor Adams's office.
Q: And there could be resources that can be given to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right now, I can tell you that FEMA is the lead agency on this. And so I would — I would point you to them on — on any more information or details that they can provide.
Q: And then, on the other end of it, some advocates say that the governors of these states are using these migrants as pawns. Has the White House reached out to those governors and said, "Don't send these people to these cities on the East Coast"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, we're in constant communication and contact with governors just across the country. I don't have anything specific to that — you know, the specific on migrants being shipped to other states.
Q: Is there a message from the White House about —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think —
Q: — what they should be doing or not doing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think we — we have — this has come up before, I believe, a couple of months ago. And I think — we believe it's shameful that — that some governors are using migrants as a political tool, as a political play, when we should be making sure that we're doing everything that we can to help — to help folks who are coming into this process in a legal way and making sure that, you know, we do this in a — in a safe — in a safe way and a respectful way. And I think it's shameful that that is happening.
Q: Thanks, Karine. The Secret Service now says that they are unable to retrieve any more emails from agents from January 5th and 6th of last year. Does the President believe that it's acceptable for a law enforcement agency — a federal law enforcement agency to simply lose such critical communications that are important to an investigation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I appreciate the question. This is not something that I can speak about from here. This is some- — this is a question that has to go to the — any information or details has to go to the U.S. Secret Service. I just can't speak from that from here because it's a — it is a active investigation.
Q: I understand, but this is something the Secret Service is saying publicly that they just — you know, they didn't back up their emails and texts properly, apparently. I'm just wondering: This is the agency that is tasked with protecting the President of the United States. Is he concerned about some gaps in the mission there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand the question, and I hear the question, but we just can't — I can't respond to it from here, from the podium. It's an active investigation.
Q: Okay. And then, has the President been — I know you mentioned Marburg's disease at the top. Has the President been briefed on the situation with Marburg's disease? And is the White House preparing any additional action?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we're ready. We have not gotten, as I stated, any — any ask for assistance, and we are ready to assist when asked.
I would have to check in with the team to see if the President has been briefed about this particular issue.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Josh.
Q: Can you say what role the ongoing reconciliation talks played in the climate decision? For instance, is the climate emergency off the table because you're worried it will upend the applecart in the Senate with Senator Manchin or Sen- — or others by going sort of too big, too fast? Can you talk about what role the (inaudible) are between what to do now on climate and what you're still hoping to get out of Congress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So when it comes to what's happening on the Senate with reconciliation, I will not negotiate in public or speak to any private conversation. I can tell you that our teams are in regular contact with Senator Manchin and other members in the Sen- — in the Senate and in Congress, just as we do on a — on a constant — in a constant way and a constant basis.
I will say that, as I mentioned, I wouldn't expect an announcement this week on the emergency — on the climate change emergency. But what I will say is that it is still on the table. We have not made a decision yet.
Again, this is — what we're seeing — this action that we're going to hear about from the President tomorrow, this is part of multiple actions that the President has already taken from the moment that he walked into office. This is urgent to him. He called the climate crisis one of the four major crisis that he had to — that he was dealing with once walking into the administration.
Again, we're talking about national security, we're talking about lowering energy costs, we're talking about threats to our economy. All of these things are critical. All of these things are important. And he will be — continue to be steadfast in focusing on the climate crisis.
Q: And did he not do these things — the executive actions — previously because he hoped that he would get it in the legislation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President — and you've heard me say this, you've heard him say this: When it comes to the climate change provisions in reconciliation, of course he wants to see it in the rec- — in the bill.
Q: But I guess, "Why not both?" is my question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Pardon me?
Q: Why not both? Like, why did he hold off — he seems to have held off doing executive action waiting for the bill. Could he have not done —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think — look, we —
Q: — walk and chew gum?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think we could still walk and chew gum. No one says — again, I'm not going to negotiate in public. You know, the — the process in the Senate is — is happening. I'm not going to speak to that in public.
Look, this was an opportunity. The President has said that he was going to take action. He said — you know, he's always said if they — the Senate won't, he will take action. He is just taking another step. This is not the final step. This is part of a process that he — that you have seen him take, especially when it comes to the climate crisis.
And so, you know, I wouldn't see this as an either/or. I would see this as part of what he has been trying to continue to do in playing our part in the — in the climate crisis and dealing with climate change.
Q: And finally, can you offer any update on the deliberations on student loan relief and what kind of timeline, if any, there is on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don't have a timeline for you. I know this is a question that comes up often in the briefing room. This is something that is clearly important to the President, and so as soon as we have anything to preview, we will make sure that happens.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thanks, Karine. Two on China. China is warning that relations with the U.S. will be damaged if Speaker Pelosi visits Taiwan. Do you have any comment on the reports that she's going? And has the White House had any communication with her office about — about this (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I'm just not going to comment on travel that the Speaker's office itself has not announced, I believe. That's the last that I've heard before I came to the podium. So we will refer you to the congressional delegation on their travel.
I will reiterate that the United States remain committed to our One China policy, which is set forth in the Taiwan Relations Act, as you know, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.
This has been a consistent U.S. position for decades across multiple administrations. This is nothing new here. U.S. support for Taiwan remains rock solid, principled, and bipartisan, and is in line with our One China policy and longstanding U.S. commitments. But from what I understand, there has been no announcement, and I'm certainly not going to comment on her travels at this time.
Q: And is there any update on when President Biden may speak or have a phone call with President Xi? I know that's been talked about.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. As you know, they spoke recently — not too long ago. We — and I've said this before — we are — we are keeping the lines of communication, of dialogue, open. There has been staff-to-staff communications over the last several months since the last time the President spoke to President Xi.
I just — I don't have anything to preview on the next conversation.
Q: You're at your time, if you need be going. Do you want to do one more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, yeah. I'm at my time. Okay. I'll go around.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Mike.
Q: Karine, a question on the Respect for Marriage Act. The President, after Dobbs, said he believed the right to privacy is at risk. Obviously, you, yesterday, said that the administration supports this bill.
We're seeing some Republican lawmakers in the House come out in favor of it, and McConnell says he won't preview his vote on it until it reaches the Senate. So do you believe that Senate passage is actually in reach? And what is the President doing to get it closer to that?
Q: So, as you know, and I said this yesterday, this is an issue when it comes to the right to marry, loving who you want to love. The President has been supportive of that for many, many years, clearly before he was the President, and he has been very vocal.
And so, first, I want to say that he strongly supports the bill, as you heard me say yesterday. He's grateful that this has bipartisan support in the House, as we're seeing it.
Right now there is a SAP, a statement of administration policy, that we sent out to show — continue to show our support.
Look, the President is always going to continue to speak on equal rights, especially as it relates to this particular piece on LGBTQ rights, equ- — marriage equality. This is not something that he will not stop talking about. He will make sure he is very clear. It's a priority for him, hence why we did the SAP.
But I do want to take a step back, because I know that this has bipartisan support. You know, the exact reason for why this bill is being voted on is because of Republicans' assault on the recognition of Americans' right to privacy, which has been recognized and upheld over decades by judges appointed by a wide range of presidents that puts us here. That is why the House, you know, vote — had to vote — vote for this bill, because — so that we can protect people's rights because of what we have seen these past several weeks.
The judges they've endorsed, for example; the state legislators they work with — they have said the quiet part out loud, which is they are coming for the right to marriage.
Justice Thomas — as I've said many times before, right here in this briefing room; as the President has said — explicitly in his concurring opinion said this. He was very clear about this.
So, we need this legislation and urge Congress to move as quickly as possible. And it's something the vast majority of country supports — of the country supports, just like they support restoring Roe, which is a priority for the President; stopping a national ban that we're seeing from the ultra-MAGA who wants to make sure — who wants to make a national ban when it comes to abortion.
So, we have to keep — continue to speak out. And the President is going to continue to urge for Congress to act.
Q: I just want to follow up on that question. Is the White House speaking to Republicans about this bill — Senate Republicans about the bill? Because we are starting to see even some of the Republicans in the Senate say they would be interested in passing the bill if came to them.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And so we support that. That is — that is something that we are grateful to see.
Q: Are you guys behind the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We are grateful to see. Look, we have multiple conversations with members in Congress, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat. This is something our office does pretty regularly — the Office of Legislative Affairs. I don't have anything specific to share on the different conversations on this. But certainly we are in constant touch with members of Congress and their staff.
Q: And what do you have to say to climate activists who feel like President Biden isn't being urgent enough? So, you know, 20 percent of the U.S. population, about 60 million people, are going to see temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit over the next few days. They're constantly seeing how the Supreme Court is taking some of the power away from the agencies to do that work. And they're — they want to see President Biden do more and do it quick — and do it quickly. We talked about him possibly doing this emergency declaration and that not being on the table. Why not just do it if it is so urgent, as you guys said? What is the hold-up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, he is going to take an action tomorrow. Right? That's why we're going to Massachusetts. I'm not going to get ahead of the President. Hopefully we'll have a background call, like we normally do, to share specifically what that looks like.
So, you know, I would disagree with the characterization of your question. The President has been one of the first — again, first folks and member — amongst the members on the Hill when he was senator to ring the bell — to ring the alarm bell on climate crisis.
He has been — he has taken action. He has been — you know, he has said, when he walked in, that the climate crisis was one of the crises — the four crises that he had to deal with.
He has taken action to meet the goals — very — very big goals, if you will — that he wants this country, our country to make in order to deal with the climate — climate crisis. And he'll continue to do that.
And so, again, this is one step. This is a continuing step of other steps that he has taken this past year, and we'll see more actions from this President.
Q: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, guys.
Q: Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You're welcome.
4:31 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356947