Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, September 2, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. September 2 12:29 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. Okay.
So, I'm pleased to announce that on Friday, September 16th, President Biden will welcome South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to the White House. The leaders, building - the leaders, building on their productive call in April and the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue in August, will reaffirm the importance of our enduring partnerships and discuss opportunities to deepen cooperation on trade and investment, infrastructure, climate and energy, and health. We look forward to a productive visit.
President Biden's Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Mike Hammer, will travel to Ethiopia starting this weekend to engage on the crisis in northern Ethiopia. Special Envoy Hammer will convey that all parties should halt military operations and engage in peace talks.
He - we condemn Eritrea's reentry into the conflict, the continuing TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, and the Ethiopian government's airstrikes.
There is no military solution to the conflict. Prior to renewed hostilities, we were encouraged by five months of humanitarian truce, and are now deeply concerned about the seizure of humanitarian assistance of military use.
All parties should exercise restraint. And we urge de-escalation by all actors, particularly so that there can be a resumption of humanitarian relief and basic services to all parties in need.
Last but not least, I also wanted to share some very sad news to report for the press team. This is the final day of our good friend and invaluable colleague Alexandra LaManna's detail with us.
As you know, we have rotating details from different agencies. Alexandra succeeded Brittany Kaplan at a pivotal time, coming to us from Treasury and taking the lead for the press team on our response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, as well as the ensuing attacks on women's fundamental rights from elected Republicans in Congress and also all over the country.
Her expertise on economic issues has also been a huge asset for us in the Press Office. We're going to miss her talent, her smarts, her sense of - her sense of strategy, her sense of humor, and her work ethic, which speaks to how lucky we have been to have her on our team.
We're going miss you, Alex.
Okay. With that, want to take us away?
Q Sure. A couple on the water crisis in Mississippi. Last night, the President said, quote, "We've offered every single thing available to Mississippi and the governor has to act."
Can you elaborate on that a little bit? What does the President think Governor Reeves has to do now that he has not yet done regarding the crisis?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just say a couple of - a couple of things that give you - give you all an update.
So FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell is in Jackson, Mississippi, today to assess the ongoing emergency response operations. She will be joined by Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu and other federal officials.
I know she will be providing an update from the ground a little bit later today. FEMA, EPA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to deploy personnel to support the state's emergency response and identify longer-term solutions to improve the infrastructure.
As far as water distribution goes - I know some folks had questions about that - FEMA has a number of personnel on site in the State Emergency Operations Center and is coordinating with the Mississippi Emergency Management Team to ensure that everyone has access to water.
As you know, the President took immediate action to approve the governor's emergency declaration request and directed his team to surge assistance to Mississippi. The President and the Vice President both spoke with the mayor of Jackson this week. And that's the - that's the update of where we are.
Again, we are determined to continue to provide all of the the assistance - needed assistance for the people of the state of Mississippi and specifically for the people of Jackson as they go through this really tough time on the ground.
So we're going to continue to do the work.
Q But what did he mean by saying the governor has to act? And so, he issued the emergency declaration, obviously, but what more should Governor Reeves be doing that the White House clearly thinks he's not doing at this point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, I mean, as you know, there is - there's funding that we've provided through the American Rescue Plan for upgrades across the stra- - across the state, which is about $450 million. The city has allocated 250- - $20 million, pardon me, of its ARP funds for water and sewer infrastructure needs. And there is about $30.9 million through the EPA's revolving loan funds for treatment and distribution system improvements for Jackson - Jackson available right now.
So the state has the $75 million this year, through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to provide clean and safe - and safe water this year, with a total of $429 million available to the state over the next five years.
So, we're looking across the federal government to see what else we can do. But, you know, again, this - this administration, we're committed. The emergency that we're currently seeing in Jackson shows how long-deteriorating water infrastructure can quickly turn into an emergency, as Mayor Lumumba said, and this is a result of decades of underinvestment. So that is why the President is making this a priority.
So, look, there's funding there that the state can tap into for infrastructure needs - a bipartisan funding law - infrastructure law that the President worked very hard on, and Congress did as well, to make sure we deal with these types of long-term issues.
And so, we think that, you know - that should be happening, that should be moving forward.
Q Can you talk about why the President has not spoken directly with Governor Reeves at this point? You mentioned he's spoken with the mayor; so has the Vice President. But why has that communication between President Biden and Governor Reeves not happened at this point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, as I said, the FEMA administrator spoke to the governor this week, and the President has spoken to the mayor of Jackson. The conversations are happening. There's communication.
As you mentioned in your question, the governor did ask for our federal assistance, took that - took the official step, doing the declaration. And we responded. We surged the emergency funding - or emergency resources, I should say - to the state of Mississippi - Jackson, Mississippi, in particular, because of the urgent need that they have.
And we'll - we'll keep you abreast if there's any conversation that is coming in the upcoming days or, you know, that may be happening.
But we'll hear from the FEMA administrator later today. But right now, as you just stated, there just has not been a call.
Q Hey, Karine, the President last night argued very forcefully that democracy is under assault. But what kind of concrete actions does he actually plan to take, given that he described this essentially as a fairly existential threat to the American republic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as - as you also heard from the President yesterday, he believes we're at an inflection point. And so - so that's an important thing, why he wanted to make sure he gave that speech. But you also heard the President express optimism - right? - about the future of America, which was something that was important for him to deliver to the American people, that he believes there's nothing - there's isn't nothing we can - we can't do. Right?
He believes that we can do everything - anything, as - as a country. And then, we have seen throughout our history, America has made its greatest progress out of the darkest times. We see that for - before.
One way, of course we can do that is by making our voices heard. And he said that. He said that the American people have a choice.
And - but it wasn't just a policy speech. Obviously, the President believes that we can make great progress out of the darkest moments. And he calls on all Americans, regardless of which aisle - side of the aisle you sit on, regardless which ideology that you may follow, regardless of the political persuasion, to unite around democracy.
And he thought it was an important message - again, an inflection point. And that was the message that he delivered, again, giving people a choice and saying to folks, "We need to come together and make sure our voices are heard."
Q So, other than urging Americans to vote and make their voices heard, the President has no plan to confront this threat that he described very forcefully last night?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, it's not the first time he's confronted - confronted or spoke about this threat. This is - he's done it multiple times at multiple stages during the last three years - during his campaign a couple of times as well, during his administration. And he'll continue to lift that up when he feels it's needed.
But what the President did last night was incredibly powerful. It was clear. It was concise. It was steadfast, which is - and he did it prime time, as you all know, to the American people, speaking directly to them, that this is a time for us to come together.
Q Right. But what I'm asking is if there's any action behind his words.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the action is making your voices heard. That is a powerful action. We have seen it across time, we have seen it throughout our American history that making your voices heard actually can change - actually can change the direction of a country.
So, I would say that is the most powerful tool that we have as a country right now.
Q And I know you guys have addressed this to certain extent, but because you're behind the podium, if you could address the criticisms and the questions about why the President delivered what sounded very much like a politically charged speech as an official White House event, taxpayer-funded, with two Marines in uniform, in particular, flanking him and visible on camera throughout the speech.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll take your first question. Look, the way we see it here - and I would argue, the way many Americans across the country see it is standing up for democracy is not political, denouncing political violence is not political, defending rights and freedom is not political, making clear that the challenges facing the nation is not political. We don't call any of that political. We see that as leadership. And we see that as presidential.
To your question about the Marines. Look, the President gave an important speech last night - a critical speech, in an - at an inflection point. And, you know, our democracy, our values - our values that are - are values that our men and women who protect us every day and fight for every day believe in as well.
The presence of the Marines at the speech was intended to demonstrate the deep and abiding respect the President has for these services - service members, to these ideals and the unique role our independent military plays in defending our democracy, no matter which party is in power - again, no matter which power - party is in power.
And it is not abnormal. It is actually normal for Presidents from either side of the aisle to give speeches in front of members of the military, and including President Donald Rea- - Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush. It is not an unusual sight or is not an unusual event to have happen.
I'm going to - I'm going to move around. You've asked three questions.
Q Just to follow up -
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. You've asked - you've asked three questions.
Q Well, you didn't answer the first question until -
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I did.