Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell

2 months ago
AMERICA NEWS NOW

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:33 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good afternoon, everybody.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  As you all know, we are closely tracking Hurricane Ian, and the President has mobilized the full force of the United States government to support the people of Florida as they prepare for the storm.

The FEMA Administrator and I just came out of the Oval Office, where the President also held separate calls with Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa, Mayor Ken Welch of St. Petersburg, and Mayor Frank Hibbard of Clearwater.  They discussed planning and preparation for Hurricane Ian.  The administratio- — the Administrator is going to give a little bit more of our conversation in just a moment.

The President underscored his commitment to the people of Florida and made clear that impacted communities will have the full support of the federal government to augment state and local emergency response efforts, and emphasized the importance of encouraging families to heed evacuation orders.

There will be a full readout of the calls later today, in just a moment.  But again, the Administrator will actually share a little bit of that readout in a moment.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell was in Miami yesterday as well to assess the ongoing preparations, and we appreciate her taking the time to be here with us today, provide all of you an update on what those efforts look like and the latest on the storm.

With that, FEMA Administrator, would you?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, everybody.  As you just heard, I did join the President in his conversation with the three mayors in Florida. 

And what he spoke about with them was making sure that he understood what the — their needs were, and he wanted to hear from them on what their potential impacts were going to be.

He asked about their progress with the mandatory evacuation orders that are in place, and he really wanted to make sure that the mayors knew that he has committed the full force of the federal family to make sure that we are there to support them in what they need and that they can reach out to me, they can reach out to him any time with any needs that they may have in the aftermath of this storm.

So, a little bit about the storm.  As of this morning, the National Hurricane Center upgraded Hurricane Ian to a Category 3 storm, which means that’s about 125-mile-an-hour winds.

Ian is moving toward Western Florida at approximately 12 miles per hour.  And at this time, we are expecting landfall somewhere between Fort Myers and Tampa.

By the time it reaches the shores of Florida, the storm is going to slow down to approximately five miles per hour.  And this is significant, because what this means is that Floridians are going to experience the impacts from this storm for a very long time.

I can tell you that our biggest concern as we wait for this storm to make landfall is storm surge.  And I will note that storm surge is a leading cause of hurricane-related fatalities.

Just in 2018, when Hurricane Michael impacted the Florida Panhandle, there were five recorded fatalities as a result of storm surge.

So, therefore, if people are told to evacuate by their local officials, please listen to them.  The decision you choose to make may mean the difference between life and death.

We won’t just see storm surge, though, on the western coast of Florida.  Hurricane Ian’s path is also going to bring some storm surge to the eastern coast, somewhere near the Daytona to the Jacksonville area.

In addition to the storm surge, we are also going to see significant rainfall with a possibility of up to 25 inches in some isolated parts of Florida.  And as always, there’s always a possibility for tornadoes.

So the main message I have for everyone in Florida is that this is going to impact everyone in different ways, so you need to stay focused.

I did speak with Governor DeSantis on Friday to hear his main concerns and his priorities for the response and the preparedness actions.  And we immediately began moving resources and personnel in when President Biden signed Governor DeSantis’s pre-landfall emergency declaration request on Saturday.  This made sure that we were able to immediately start supporting the governor’s concerns that he relayed to me.

The preparation for this storm has been extensive and it has been coordinated.  It has been a coordinated effort between FEMA, our federal, our state, and our nonprofit partners.

So a little bit about some of that forward-leaning posture that we’ve put in place. 

Search and rescue — we know that this is going to be a priority.  We have established a Search and Rescue Coordination Group that’s going to be in Miami, and it includes members from FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Teams, the Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior, as well as the state of Florida.  These teams are going to coordinate search and rescue efforts by land, by air, and by sea.

We have also pre-staged 128,000 gallons of fuel for immediate deployments.  And we have moved a variety of generators of all sizes and types to help restore power to critical infrastructure after the storm passes.

The Army Corps of Engineers has also pre-staged 300 personnel to conduct power and fuel assessments as soon as the storm passes, and we have 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water that are staged in Alabama.  There are also multiple volunteer organizations that are postured and prepared to support feeding operations as soon as it is safe to do so.

The Red Cross, they have established 29 shelters right now for evacuees, and they are also prepared to open an additional 60 shelters if needed.

And we have 200 ambulances from our FEMA contract that are already in the state working side by side with local officials.  And we have four medical — federal medical teams on standby.

So while we are postured and ready to support Florida as they prepare for the impacts of Hurricane Ian, I want to make clear that FEMA’s ongoing support to Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts from Hurricane Fiona, as well as Alaska’s recovery from Typhoon Merbok, is still ongoing.

We remain focused on helping Puerto Rico restore critical services like power and water, and our staff remain engaged with families to help them through the application process.  And I’m happy to say just now that the final four municipalities in Puerto Rico were just added for individual assistance.  So now the entire commonwealth has that available to them.

Our teams in Alaska are also helping the state complete damage assessments and addressing emergency repairs as the state is preparing for their near freeze-up — their nearing freeze-up as the winter season approaches.

As far as Hurricane Ian’s path, it has become more defined.  But as with any hurricane, it can still be unpredictable.  This means that it is more important than ever that communities inside and outside of that projected path that you see, that you stay vigilant. 

And so my message to those who may be watching at home: Get ready, and do not underestimate the potential that this storm can bring.  Know where you are going to get your information.  Listen to your local officials and heed their advice; they are trying to keep you safe.  Have a plan to communicate with your family.

Finally, FEMA and our partners are here.  We are ready, and we are focused on meeting the needs of those that we are charged to serve.  But we need the help of everyone that we are charged — that everyone at home to be as prepared as they can be.  I am confident that we have the right team in place as we work this emergency response to Hurricane Ian.  And together, we have the capability to meet whatever threats may come our way.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, we’ll take a couple questions.

Q    Thank you.  And thank you, Director Criswell.  You briefly mentioned Puerto Rico.  There are still 750,000 customers without power in Puerto Rico.  And you authorized, just in June, $600 million, I believe, for — in equipment for rebuilding the power grid there.  There was something like $10 billion approved back in 2020.  What’s the status of the efforts to try to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid?  And had any of that taken place before this latest storm hit?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, I was just in Puerto Rico maybe about three weeks ago checking on the recovery from Hurricane Maria.  And what I saw when I was there is one cohesive team between the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the federal family that has been really focused on all of the recovery efforts, but primarily the power restoration.

When we were there just last week checking on the impacts from Hurricane Fiona, what I saw there is they were putting power back as quickly as they could.  But I think the important piece and what really stood out to me is what I saw them as they were repairing the downed power poles, they were bringing back more resilient — they were putting them back with more resilient poles to withstand future impacts, like we saw from Hurricane Fiona.

We are committed to continuing to work with the governor of Puerto Rico in his efforts to make sure that we can rebuild this grid in a way that’s actually going to be more resilient for future impacts.

Q    How long do you think it’ll take to rebuild the grid?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I think that we have done a lot of work in making sure that we’ve taken the time right now to do the plans — or the commonwealth has — to do the plans to make sure that as they are rebuilding it, it’s going to be more resilient. 

I think that the time — we’ll get back to you on what the timeframe is, but it takes time, right?  Recovery never is fast as anybody wants it to be, but we will continue to work with them and expedite anything that we can to speed up that recovery.

Q    Has the administration or will the administration waive the Jones Act that would allow for a diesel-carrying ship to dock there in Puerto Rico to help provide necessary provisions of diesel oil to those there?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, we are committed to doing everything that we can within our legal authority to support the people of Puerto Rico.  And we know that the Jones Act waiver is one of those things.

We have a legal obligation to ensure that each waiver request meets the legal requirements of Congress.  And so any final determination on that will be made by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Q    Given the pressure we’ve heard from the Puerto Ricans and the governor in that — in that territory right now, what timeframe should they anticipate that decision should be made, given the urgent need for that oil?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I know that they are actively working on that approval process, or that consideration, right now.  And so I don’t have a timeframe for you right now.

Q    Okay.  And just a curiosity: I know we’ve asked before; you spoke to several mayors down there.  One of the mayors said that one of the primary concerns was complacency.  I’m curious — the President spoke to big leaders.  First question to you is about complacency.  The second is, you’ve spoken to the governor of the state; why hasn’t the President yet?  Or is there a scheduled call for the two men to speak, obviously, as they’re the preeminent leaders of the country and of that state?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I do have concerns about complacency.  We’re talking about impacts in a part of Florida that hasn’t seen a major direct impact in nearly 100 years.  There’s also parts of Florida where there’s a lot of new residents that have never experienced this type of threat.

So my message to them is still: Take this very seriously.  Listen to your local officials.  And those Floridians that have been through this before, help your neighbors that may have not had to go through this.  Heeding the advice of your local officials is the most important.

And as far as the conversation, the President directed me to contact the governor early on, before we even did the declaration; I did that.  My regional administrator is with the governor right now, making sure that we’re understanding what the needs are.  And our focus is on the current life safety needs that need to be met.

Q    Can you describe just the level of communication with state officials, and have there been any — anything unusual or any challenges with that?  How would you describe it?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, I think the communication that we have had with the state officials has been excellent.  My regional administrator out of Region 4, Gracia Szczech, she is in Florida.  She got there yesterday.

She has been embedded at the state EOC, working with the state emergency management director one-on-one to make sure we’re understanding what their needs are.  And she’s traveling with the governor to a few areas today to make sure we’re understanding what those needs.

We’ve had a long relationship with Florida.  We’ve — our Region 4 has had a great partnership with all of the emergency management team there.  They’ve done a lot of work with the different municipalities and the counties.  And I think the relationship is very strong.

Q    Is there anything different about this preparation compared to how FEMA normally prepares for hurricanes that approach landfall?  Is there anything particular about the strength of this storm or where it’s going to land that has changed how you prepare for it?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I don’t know if I would say it’s changed how we prepare for it.  I would say, under this administration, the President has given me very clear direction that we are going to lean in and we are not going to wait to provide assistance.  And that’s exactly what we’re doing for this one.  That’s what we have done for the previous hurricanes that we experienced last year, as well.

We understand that this is going to have some significant impacts.  And we want to make sure that we have the right resources in place ahead of time to be able to respond immediately when it’s safe to do so.

Q    Thanks.  Related to Alex’s last question, I mean, how has FEMA adapted its storm planning preparation or procedures to deal with increasingly rapid intensification of hurricanes?  I mean, does it make it harder to respond to these?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I don’t know if it makes it harder to respond.  I think where the difficulty comes in with this rapid intensification is the time that’s available to notify the public to take the necessary action to protect themselves.

What I find is that we have less time for states to give evacuation orders because of the rapid intensification of these storms.

But what we’re doing, and what I did here, is contacted the governor on Friday to make sure that he knew we were ready to support his pre-landfall emergency needs and giving him the assurance that we would have funding available to support his actions but also our ability to bring in the federal family to be ready to respond to them.

Q    You mentioned the ongoing operations in Puerto Rico and the recovery efforts there.  Are you concerned that your agency is stretched thin right now, dealing with that and preparing for what’s coming to Florida right now?  Do you have the resources and staff to handle the second storm?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  So we do have a lot of events that are going on right now.  We’re still supporting the recovery in Kentucky, and we’re supporting the current recovery going on in Puerto Rico.

We have a very talented and dedicated work staff, team of emergency managers.  And we have enough people right now to come in and support the response for this.  And then we will work to identify what the recovery needs are once we understand what the damages are.  But we are more than postured to be able to support this response.

Q    We heard the President say last week that the federal government will cover 100 percent of the recovery for the next month in Puerto Rico.  Do you have an estimate yet, a ballpark of what that’s going to cost for Puerto Rico?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I don’t have that estimate yet.  But it covers all of the different emergency protective measures; debris removal — there was a significant amount of debris removal that needed to take place; many of their overtime costs that they may have incurred over that.

As far as a dollar assessment, I don’t have that yet.

Q    There’s no dollar assessment yet?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I don’t have it yet.  We can certainly see if we have a better estimate and get back to you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Karine, I wanted just to follow up —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Wait.  Wait.  Let — let — I just called on Matt.

Q    Oh, I’m sorry.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just called on Matt.

Q    I just want to return to what Peter had asked about Governor DeSantis.  In the past, President Tru- — President Biden, excuse me, has made calls to governors in situations of natural disasters — Kay Ivey in Alabama, Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas, or the governor in Texas.

Is there any — can you articulate, I guess, how those determinations are made, and why — why it hasn’t been made in this case to have the President call the governor?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, the President is very focused on making sure that the federal family has the right resources available to support this.  That is why I contacted the governor right away, and we have a team of my senior leadership that are embedded with the governor to make sure that we’re supporting that.

Our focus today is making sure that we have the right measures in place to support the lifesaving activities that need to happen.

Any conversations afterwards would need to be — we need to see what the damages are.

Q    But he’s made conversations with the mayors.  So is there any reason why not the governor?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Again, we have a strong team that’s in place supporting the governor right now, working side-by-side with him and his staff.  We’ll continue to stay engaged with him.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, go ahead.

Q    Thanks.  Just a follow-up to that.  Normally, presidents call governors or the governors call presidents.  But the only thing that really — during hurricanes.  The only real question I really want answered is, is it in any way the fact that they haven’t talked — is there any way that it’s impeded efforts for the federal government or FEMA to implement plans in Florida?  And if so, what would they be?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  No, this — we are very focused on what the needs of Florida is right now.  We do not bring politics into our ability to respond to these disasters.  We’re going to support whatever Governor DeSantis asks of us.  We signed his emergency declaration within hours of him sending it in.  We’ll continue to do that as we see what the impacts of this storm are.

Q    So it had — that — the communication between the President and the government — the governor has no impact on how you all operate?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Zero.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    Just on the trajectory of the storm — I know you said that you expect it to make landfall somewhere on the West Coast.  Is there an expectation that that could change in the coming, you know, day or two?  And if it were to make landfall somewhere else that isn’t the area you described, what steps would need to be taken in order for those resources, I guess, to get quickly moved to other areas?  And is the agency preparing for that?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, I think that’s an important question, right?  We have a tendency to really focus on the cone and where it’s going to make landfall.  But as I talked about in my remarks, we are going to see impacts across the state of Florida, whether it’s inland flooding from the large amount of rain that we’re going to see, tornadoes and tornado watches that we may see in the southern part of the state later today, to the storm surge and the hurricane force winds that may impact the communities near landfall.

We are postured and we are moving our equipment in a place that can support all parts of Florida, because we know that there are going to be impacts across the state.

Q    And just in terms of the agency’s resources, FEMA has obviously been involved in working with the issue of the influx of migrants across the country.  Has that in any way put a strain on the agency and its resources and personnel?  Or do you, at this moment, feel like you have what you need to do that as well as natural disaster relief work?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, the resources that we are providing to support the influx of the migrant flow is through a program called our Emergency Food and Shelter Program.  It’s a reimbursable grant program.  And that’s the main source of our involvement right now.

Q    When you talk about complacency, what are you concerned about?  Are people refusing to heed the evacuation orders?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, what I worry about when I think about complacency is that if it’s been a near miss in the past, they feel like they can just ride this out.  “I’ve been through this before and I’ve had no issues, and so I can do it again.”  That’s a dangerous way to think. 

You need to listen to your local officials, because the storm surge — 10 feet; maybe in some areas, higher — it’s going to be significant.  And you put 20 inches of rain on top of that — inland — you need to be able to listen to your local officials, right?

And I think what we have and what we see is: People that have not had any impacts, they think that that’s not going to happen again.

Take it seriously.  Do not underestimate the potential that this storm can bring.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, last two.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Administrator, thank you.  So, in the aftermath — the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is at the lowest level since 37 years, and you said you’ve set aside some gas for Florida.  Is there a concern that the reserve is not high enough now to handle the aftermath of this emergency and other hurricanes that could come?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  I don’t have any concerns at this point that we’re going to have the ability to handle the fuel needs that we’re going to need in Florida.  We will continue to assess after the storm passes to see what the impacts are.  We’ll make sure that we’re putting measures in place to support any — any gaps that we might identify.

Q    And the rest of the season, you think you’re covered?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  It all depends on what the impacts from this storm might bring on.  And so we need to do those assessments after the storm passes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Last question, way in the back.

Q    Thank you.  The storm is expected to travel north.  Have you had any conversations with the governors of South Carolina and Georgia about the potential impacts there?  And what are you most concerned about?

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Yeah, I spoke with both governors yesterday to get a better idea of what they were concerned about.  They were — again, they were stepping up their postures to make sure that they were prepared to support any impacts that they might see. 

As the storm track continues to change, again, our regional office will continue to engage with them, and we’ll move resources into there if needed.  And then we’ll stay in close contact with the governors and their staff. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Thank you so much, Administrator Criswell.  

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Thank you.

Q    Thank you. 

ADMINISTRATOR CRISWELL:  Thank you. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  One — one quick thing for all of you: This afternoon, President Biden will highlight his and congressional Democrats’ efforts to protect and strengthen Medicare and lower healthcare costs for seniors.

This comes alongside today’s news that for the first time in more than a decade, premiums for Medicare Part B will decrease next year rather than go up.  This will lower healthcare costs for millions of seniors and people with disabilities each year.

The President will be joined today by a Medicare beneficiary with diabetes who will share firsthand how the Inflation Reduction Act will benefit Americans like him.

Of course, the President’s effort to lower healthcare and prescription drug costs and protect Social Security and Medicare stands in stark contrast with what congress- — with what Republican officials are focused on.  Republicans — Republicans officials are focused on repealing the Inflation Reduction Act — that is their first action that they would like to take under their GOP agenda, which would increase seniors’ prescription drug cost and undo the $35 cap on insulin costs for people on Medicare. 

The President will also emphasize the dangers of Republican officials’ plans to put Medicare on the chopping block every five years.  President Biden will remain focused on lowering costs for American families when — when it comes to healthcare and also across the board. 

With that, Josh, you want to kick us off?  We don’t have much time because I know some of you — you all have to gather in about 10 minutes or so. 

Q    That’s right.  Thanks, Karina.  So Poland’s prime minister said that leaks in two natural gas pipelines running from Russia were an act of sabotage.  Does the U.S. have any evidence of sabotage?  What role is it playing in this inquiry? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So I’m not going to get into — going to speculate on the cause of this.  It’s not something that we’re going to do.  I know our European partners are investigating this, so we stand ready to provide — to provide support to their efforts once they have completed their investigation. 

As you all know, these pipelines weren’t pumping gas into Europe at this time.  NS2 was never operational, as you guys know.  NS1 has not been operational for weeks because Putin has weaponized energy.  And we have said this many times before. 

This just drives home the importance of our efforts to work together to get alternative gas supplies to Europe, and to support efforts to reduce gas consumption and accelerate true energy independence by moving to a clean energy economy. 

Q    Secondly, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, removed more than 1,600 accounts tied to Russian disinformation.  It also took down accounts tied to Chinese disinformation.  Does the U.S. believe that Facebook is effectively and credibly policing its own network?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, we’ll say first that — you know, that we — we are confident in the integrity of our elections here.  The U.S. government has been — about the integrity of the elections — the U.S. government has been focused on identifying and exposing foreign influence efforts and information operations. 

For instance, just a few weeks ago, the U.S. exposed how Russia has spent over $300 million just trying to influence foreign politics around the world since 2014.  We are seeing social media platforms take more serious steps independently on their own against coordinated inauthentic behavior in the last few years and enforcing their terms of use.  The report appears to be another example of that. 

Again, we have confidence in the integrity of the elections. 

Q    Have the Europeans requested help in identifying how these leaks began?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have anything to report on what we have heard from — from the Europeans at this time or anything to preview.

Q    And you’ve made numerous efforts to get more natural gas to Europe as they face winter.  How are those efforts going?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, those conversations are ongoing.  We’ve laid out some of the previous conversations that have happened recently.  I don’t have any more to update on where — where we are. 

But we have find — we find it to have been successful in trying to divers- — diversify the energy supply.  And we’ll continue to assist our Europ- — our European partners.

Q    Just on the Puerto Rico Jones Act question that was asked before.  Does the President himself currently have a thought on whether a waiver could be issued for this specific situation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, when it comes to this specific situation: Look, you know, we’re committed to, again, doing everything that we can within our — within our legal authority to support Puerto Rico.  That’s basically what the administrator said, and that is our number one focus — to get them — to get them the — what they need, and to get them back on track. 

And so we’re going to — as a federal government, we’re going to continue to give those resources. 

The Biden administration is close — closely evaluating any waivers requests that come in, including this particular one, as — as Criswell said while she was just here — and to make that final determination.

But that is going to be made by the Homeland — Homeland Security.  And so we’ll leave that to up to them. 

But, again, we’re going to evaluate every one of them very closely. 

Q    And just on a separate matter — just the reports of men in Russia trying to flee the country.  There are even some reports of people trying to harm themselves physically to try to avoid conscription.  I know the White House has drawn a distinction between the Russian government and the people of Russia.  Does the President have a message to some of these men who are sort of desperately trying to flee the country?  Is there anything that you would say to them?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So I mean, we’ve — we’ve spoken about this a couple of times.  And, look, we are seeing protests in the streets of Russia.  We are seeing people sign petitions.  And I think the message that they’re sending to us very clearly is that this war that Putin started, this war that was started by the Kremlin is unpopular.  And there are people out there in Russia — Russians who do not want to fight Putin’s war or put their lives or die for it.  And so that has been made very clear.  Their message has been made very clear. 

You know, we continue to say — to folks — I know there was a question that was asked about seeking refuge from persecution.  You know, we believe that, regardless of their nationality, they may apply for asylum in the United States and have their claim adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. 

So, as far as that, we welcome any folks who are seeking asylum — and they should do that. 

But, again, you know, we have talked about the bravery of the Ukrainians fighting this war for the past six months and how they’re fighting for their freedom.  And what we’re seeing in Russia are the people in Russia who are saying they do not want this war; they do not support Putin’s war. 

Again — and we have said this many times — there is one person who can stop this war, and that is President Putin.  He’s the one who started this unprovoked, brutal war, and it is for — it is up to him to stop it. 

What we’re seeing right now is not strength; it is weakness from President Putin.

Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    Senate —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well — oh, sorry.

Q    Sorry.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And welcome to the briefing room.  I know — I know you’re —

Q    Yeah, thanks very much.  Thanks for taking my question.  A plaintiff in Indiana has filed a lawsuit trying to block the President’s student loan forgiveness initiative, claiming that his tax bill is going to go up and cost more than the student loan forgiveness would be because of the program in Indiana.  Can — any comment on that from the White House?  And do you expect the program to move forward as planned this year?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, look, so — just to step back for a second — this — when it comes to the student loan debt relief, this is a promise that the President made on the campaign trail. 

And this is an opportunity that the President saw to give Americans — American families out there a little bit of a breathing room.  You hear him say that often.  You might hear him say that in just a little bit: how he has worked towards to make sure that the economy works for everyone and not to leave anyone behind. 

And so, when you look at the student — the student loans relief program, it is going to help tens of millions of people.  It is going to help — 90 percent of folks who are on that program are making under $75,000 a year. 

So, look, you know, we want to — we want to be really clear here: You know, opponents of the Biden-Harris administration student loan plan are trying to stop it because they know it will provide much needed, again, relief for working families. 

Anyone who does not want to — to

give

[get] that debt relief can choose to opt out.  It’s not — it’s something that they are able to do.  But, again, the Department of Education website will provide more detail, as you’re asking if it’s going to move forward, on information about how the program would work before it launches. 

But the bottom line is this: No one who does not want debt relief will have to get that debt relief.  So folks have an option to opt out. 

But, again, this is going to help tens of millions of Americans — Americans who now are going to be able to put money down to maybe buy a house or to start a family.  And that matters. 

Q    Thanks, Karine.  How heavily are labor unions’ support for the Jones Act weighing on the administration as it decides whether to grant a waiver for ships around Puerto Rico?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, this is a legal authority that we have to — we are — we are following.  We’re going to evaluate each case. 

And so, again, this is what we’re — what we’re going to lead with is not what, you know — from what others may be asking is what we can do from our — from our, you know, point of view and from the way that we are able to do, again, in a legal way. 

Q    And then, on the Medicare announcement, the cost is — actually, the premium costs last year went up because of the federal government’s plan to purchase this Alzheimer’s drug that turned out to be not quite as effective as people thought.  Now premiums are pretty much going back down to where they were before that.  So isn’t this just getting things back to where they were and not truly lowering premium costs?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, I mean, we see — look, we see this as a win for the American people, when they’re going to get about $60 a year back into their pocket.  That’s important.  You know — and so I think that’s how we see this. 

And as you couple that with what the President has been wanting to do and trying to do and has done with the Inflation Reduction Act, continuing to lower class [sic] — costs.  And if you look at the Inflation Reduction Act, it is the — it is, right now, the number one piece of legislation that’s clearly law that has dealt — that is dealing with an issue that the Americans are feeling every day, which is trying to figure out how we lower costs. 

We’re going to hear from this Pres- — the President speak in just a few minutes. 

And so, look, I think it’s — we think it’s important that Americans are going to get that money back in their pocket.  And we think it’s important that Americans are now going to be able to — that Medicare is going to be able to negotiate and we can cap that cost per year for seniors at $2,000. 

That’s why Democrats, and only Democrats, voted for this piece of legislation.  And we feel like we’re going to continue to do the work to lower costs for Americans. 

But that’s really important.  And I think it’s going to make a difference in Americans’ lives. 

Q    Just let the pool go real fast.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Well, whoever needs to go — oh, that’s including you, Josh.  Bye.  (Laughter.)

Q    I have to go, but can I ask a quick question, Karine?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Let me guess what it’s about.  (Laughter.)

Q    Yes.  The election is coming up this Sunday in Brazil. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes. 

Q    So I know that Democrats in Congress are pushing for the White House to recognize the result immediately, within minutes after it is confirmed or announced.  Is the White House planning to do this immediately?  And is the White House concerned the result could be contested?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, we’re — as you know, we’re going to be monitoring these elections, as we have many elections that have happened in the last couple of weeks — in particular, in Brazil.  We’re going to monitor them closely and have the trust in the strength of the — Brazil’s democratic institution. 

So we have seen recent reports of violence.  And although the right to protest is fundamental in any democracy, the United States condemns any violence and urges Brazilians to make their voices heard in a peaceful manner.  And we believe that is important in this — in this upcoming election.

As a partner — as a partner democracy in Brazil — or to Brazil — we will continue to follow the elections with the full expectation that they will be conducted in a free, fair, transparent, and credible manner with all relevant institutions operating in accordance with the constitutional rule.

Again, we will be monitoring this.

Q    And is the White House going to recognize the result immediately?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, I’m not going to get ahead of any results at this time.  But like I said, we will be monitoring the upcoming elections in Brazil, and I’ll leave it there. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Thanks so much.  The CR doesn’t have any funding that the White House requested on COVID or monkeypox.  Have you — has the White House given up on that funding?  Is there another route for those funds, or is it time to be prepared to move forward without that kind of funding?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, our near-term priority is keeping the government open — we’ve been very clear about that — to ensure that vital services to the American people continue uninterrupted.  And we know that the shutdowns are incredibly disruptive and costly.  There’s still time for Congress to pass a short-term funding bill by this Friday’s deadline, and we are confident they will do so.

Look, so, as you know, you’ve heard us say this many — for many months — that we’ve been very clear since early 2020 — 2022 — about our COVID funding needs and have warned that, without congressional action, we would be forced — we are going to be forced to make difficult trade-offs, as we’ve heard from me recently about the testing and being unable to take action that Republicans and Democrats support to have the United States lead the effort on the next generation of vaccine, the next generation of treatments.  And that is exactly what has happened.

And so, we’re not going to give up.  We’re going to continue every day that we ensure secure funding.  We need to protect and build on the progress we have made.  So we’re going to continue that process.

Q    On another topic: Can you give an update on what is the President’s message going to be to leaders of the Pacific Islands Summit, particularly as it relates to China later this week?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, just to give you a little bit of preview: As we announced earlier this month, President Biden will host the first-ever U.S.-Pacific Island

County

[Country] Summit, which will be held here in Washington, D.C., as you just noted, this Wednesday, tomorrow, and Thursday.

On Thursday, President Biden will discuss with Pacific leaders our broadening and deepened cooperation on key issues, such as climate change, pandemic and economic recovery, maritime security, environmental protection, and advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The President will then also welcome the Pacific Island leaders to the White House where they will take a family photo and join a dinner hosted by the President.

The summit will demonstrate the United States’ deep and enduring partnership.  This is how we see this as we are — you asking me about our message — a partnership with the Pacific Island continues in the Pacific region that is underpinned by shared history, values, and people-to-people ties.  And, you know, we’ll have more to share on that soon.

But again, this is just showing our partnership with the region.  As you — as you have seen the last 19 months, the President has had — has had many — many conversations with world leaders.  This is something that he feels is very important: that leader-to-leader conversation.  And that’s what you’re going to see with this summit as well.

Q    And, finally, if I could: Does the White House plan to nominate someone for the IDB to replace the Trump official who was voted off yesterday? 

And, kind of, in that vein, has the White House been in touch with other shareholders of the World Bank to, kind of, take their temperature about David Malpass’s remarks?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So I don’t — we don’t have anything to preview on any personnel announcement at this time.  Clearly, this is something that we’re going to look very closely.  We are always in constant communications with other leaders.  I don’t have anything to preview at this time.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Students across Virginia today walked out of their classroom to protest the governor’s new guidelines restricting the rights of transgender students.  Does the White House support these students?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I haven’t seen those reports.  But you know this is a President that supports the LGBTQI+ community and has been supporting that community for some time now — as a Vice President, as senator, and certainly as President now.  And he speaks always — always is proud to speak out against the mistreatment of that community. 

Trans- — we believe and he believes transgender youth should be allowed to be — to be able to go to school freely, to be able to express themselves freely, to be able to have the protections that they need to be who they are.

Again, I have not seen these reports, but I can — we can say with all confidence — and you all know and have covered him for some time — when it comes to this community, he is a partner and he is a strong ally, as well as the Vice President.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh, Rob, I — oh —

Q    We got to go.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We got to go.  I’m sorry, guys.  We got to go. 

Q    Oh, but you didn’t answer my question on Pakistan.  Is there any way –.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I know.  I — oh, you want — that’s a question on Pakistan?

Q    Well, I wasn’t going to, but it sounded like you were ready for it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  All right.  Well, I’ll see you guys tomorrow.  Okay.

1:12 P.M. EDT

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