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Press Briefing By Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre And Covid-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha – The White House

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:26 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello. Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, so today is National Coming Out Day. And so, I wanted to start by sharing my own coming out story.
Like so many in the LGBTQ community, coming out wasn’t an easy thing to do. My family was traditional and conservative. Being gay in my family wasn’t something that you mentioned out loud or celebrated.
But my family — like many, many other families — grew to accept who I was. They saw that who I loved didn’t change who I was as a person, it didn’t change the things I like to do, and it didn’t change the goals I had for my life.
The beauty of America is its freedoms and the promise that you can achieve your dreams no matter your race, sex, country of origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
This is something we continue to strive toward and fight for, particularly as we continue to see a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country. And it’s why I’m so honored to serve the President and the First Lady, who have stood with the LGBTQ community for many years and will continue to stand with all those who come out.
And we are thinking about those who are coming out or those who are thinking about coming out, and we are here for you, and we will continue to support you.
Thank you.
With that, I now want to turn to our special guest for today. Today, we have White House COVID-19 Coor- — Response Coordinator Dr. Jha back with us in the room.
He is going to discuss the benefits of the updated vaccines and new vaccines that you have heard us talk about here and our work to ensure that all eligible Americans do get vaccinated ahead of the winter.
With that, Dr. Jha, thank you for joining us.
DR. JHA: Thank you. Thank you, KJP, and thank you for your personal story.
Thank you all for having me back. Happy to be back here. I know families around the country are starting to make plans for Thanksgiving. Mine is. We’re thinking about the holidays ahead. It’s going to be here soon — sooner than most people know. And we’re all looking forward to a really good holiday season.
The challenge with holiday seasons every year is it’s also a time where contagious respiratory viruses — like influenza, RSV, and, again this year, COVID — spread much more quickly.
And we have seen an increase in COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths each of the last two winters. And we are carefully monitoring the rise of several subvariants that are evolving rapidly and emerging around the world, including ones that evade some of our treatments.
And given what we’ve seen in Australia this summer — our summer, their winter — it’s reasonable to expect we’re going to see a significant flu season this year. So we have some challenges ahead as we plan and as we look at the winter in front of us.
But the good news is we are not helpless against these challenges, right? In fact, what happens in the weeks and months ahead will have a large impact on how the winter goes. And really what happens in this winter is largely up to us, as the American people.
So let me talk about what tools we have, what we can do to make sure we have a safe and healthy fall/winter holiday season.
We have updated bivalent vaccines that are designed to target both the original version of COVID — I think you should see slides up; you do — great — that target both the original version of COVID from 2020, as well as Omicron, the BA.5 version that’s circulating right now.
And based on everything we know about immunology and science and vaccines, these updated vaccines should provide a much higher level of protection against infection, against transmission, and certainly against serious illness and hospitalizations and deaths.
And just like people get the flu shot each year even if you’ve had the flu in the past or if you got a flu shot the year before, it’s really critical that everyone 12 and older should go get this updated annual vac- — COOVID-19 vaccine so you’re protected this fall and winter and you’re protected year-round.
So, my message today from this briefing room is very simple: Don’t wait. Get your new flu shot and get your new COVID shot today. If Americans did that, we could save hundreds of lives each day this winter.
As the Commonwealth Fund just put out a new report, a new analysis, they estimate that we can save as many as 90,000 lives and nearly a million hospitalizations if most eligible Americans got their updated vaccines.
Now, that is just based on vaccines alone, which are remarkable and going to make a very large difference. But if we do better, that if people get tested when they have symptoms — we know testing leads to a diagnosis, diagnosis leads to treatments. And treatments that we have available today for free keep people out of the hospital, keep people out of the ICU, prevent the worst outcome of all.
And here is the most remarkable fact. Two and a half years into this pandemic — think about where we were in March of 2020 — here is the most remarkable fact: If you are up to date with your vaccines and if you get treated, if you have a breakthrough infection, your risk of dying from COVID is now close to zero. I really think that is remarkable progress.
And as a nation, we are clearly in a much better place as well. Right? COVID is no longer the same disruptive threat it was.
And, by the way, that did not happen by accident. It’s happened because of the leadership of this President — his leadership on vaccines, on treatments, on testing. We’re the first country in the world to authorize a BA.5 bivalent vaccine. The first country in the world to make Paxlovid widely available.
So as we look ahead to our third winter of COVID-19, we are focused like a laser on bringing down serious illness and deaths.
And the single-most important thing people can do to protect themselves, to protect their families, or protect their communities is to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine.
Now let me tell you a little bit about what we’re doing to try to make sure that that happens. First, we’ve made it widely available, easily accessible, and it remains free. That’s point number one.
Now we’re doing everything we can to get the message out about the benefits of these vaccines. We’re focused on reaching people where they are. We set up pop — pop-up clinics in state and county fairs around the country.
Last week, the health — the Healthy Trucking of America hosted a pop-up clinic called “Million Mile Celebration” at the Talladega Motor Speedway in Alabama to help drivers get their updated vaccine. Next week, we’re going to be at the Texas State Fair in Dallas. Week after that, at the Jackson County Fair in Biloxi. And the week after that, at the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport. These are just some of the things.
We’ve been building partnerships. We have a partnership with “100 Black Men of America,” which is hosting a vaccine drive today in San Antonio, Texas, and one in Savannah, Georgia, on Saturday.
And we have — we’re making efforts through both targeted paid and earned media efforts in the — in the weeks ahead. We have partnered with retail pharmacies. And we’re working with trusted messengers, such as faith leaders in communities across the country.
We’re making it very clear that getting these updated vaccines can save your life, because we know these vaccines are safe and they are effective.
And beyond vaccines — let me make one other clear point, because there’s a lot of confusion. When you go on social media, lots of people like to pontificate on what the data says, so let me be very clear about the evidence.
If you are over 50 or otherwise at elevated risk and you get infected, you should be seriously considered for treatments, because treatments are effective, they make a big difference, they can save your life.
Now, let me finish off by saying we know there’s more work to do with real challenges ahead of us as we head into the fall and winter and the holidays. We’re doing everything we can as an administration to stay ahead of this virus. But if we all do our part — not just us in the administration, but Congress and the American people — I remain incredibly confident we can manage this virus for this fall and winter with less suffering and we can have a safe and healthy holiday season ahead.
So, with that, let me stop and take questions. But thank you.
Q Thank you, Dr. Jha. Just in terms of the winter surge that the administration is expecting, can you be a little specific in terms of the numbers — what kind of range, in terms of number of cases, we’re looking at?
And then for the window of time that we have for people to get vaccinated ahead of the winter, like, when does that window sort of close before that actually has a big effect?
DR. JHA: So we don’t have a specific estimate of how many infections. You know, look, there are lots of different models out there. And we are tracking both internal government models, but certainly lots of external academic models.
Most of them expect that we’re going to see more infections as we get into November, December, January. That’s what we saw the last couple of winters, so that’s not surprising.
In terms of when is a good time to get vaccinated, I’ve been very clear about this: I think people should go get vaccinated before Halloween. Why Halloween? Because it takes a couple of weeks for your immune system to, you know, kind of, generate the benefit from that vaccine. And that means you will be ready by Thanksgiving and certainly by the holidays.
If you miss the Halloween, is it too late? It’s not too late. Again, it takes a couple of weeks for the immune system to benefit from the vaccine, so there is no time period where the window is out and you’re no longer going to benefit; you will always benefit.
But the bottom line is: If you do it before Thanksgiving, you’re going to see family and friends before the holidays, a lot of socializing that goes on in December, it’s going to be a really good time to get it done before Halloween.
Q Just a quick follow-up. Since the White House has now said the pandemic is over, can you just talk a little bit about what the message is for Americans as we head into the winter months? Can they behave as though it’s business as usual as long as they’re vaccinated?
DR. JHA: So the President was very clear: COVID is not over. There’s a lot of work to do. We still have 3- to 400 Americans dying every day, tens of thousands of people are getting infected every day. There is a lot of work to do.
What we know is that if we want to keep people safe and protect them from serious illness, which is obviously priority number one, the number one thing that people need to do is get vaccinated. And the number two is if you have a breakthrough infection, you need to get treated.
If people did those two things, it would make an enormous difference in preventing hospitalizations, preventing ICU stays, preventing deaths. And those are the top priorities.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Chris.
Q So, if the administration is laser focused on protecting people from serious illness, why are the booster uptake rates so low? This — does this reflect a failure on the part of the White House, the administration to get people boosted? And lastly —
DR. JHA: Yeah, so let’s —
Q Sorry, one last thing: Why haven’t we heard from President Biden on this directly, given that he has the largest megaphone? You know, we heard from him so much early on in the administration. Why are we — why isn’t he speaking about this?
DR. JHA: So let me — let me start off by talking about where we are with the fall — this COVID — new COVID vaccine uptake.
We estimate that — and, again, we’ll get new numbers from CDC, but, as you know, those numbers always lag. We — we estimate that between 13- and 15 million people have gotten the new COVID vaccine through this past weekend. And we always expected this to build up over time.
September — if you think about how flu vaccines tend to work, not a lot of people get the flu vaccine in September. People are just coming back to school. People are not thinking about the winter so much in September. It’s really October, as the weather starts getting cooler.
I’m from Boston, people tell me this is Washington fall. (Laughter.) But, you know, it is starting to get a little bit cooler here.
I think, as that happens, as people — we tend to see a big uptick in flu vaccines, we’re expecting more people to get the COVID vaccine. And we’re going to do everything we can to get the word out. And all of us are speaking about it. And so, I think you’ve heard about this from the Secretary of HHS, from — from the Surgeon General, me. I’m sure you’ll hear about it from the President as well.
The President has talked about get- — the importance of going out and getting vaccines and getting boosted. So we all are very, I think, synchronized on making sure this word gets out.
Q But rates are so low. Is something not working?
DR. JHA: No, I think, look, we expected — in the beginning when the vaccines rolled out in September, we expected September to be a month where it would just start picking up. And then, again, we’d really expect vaccination to start happening in October.
We’re out there doing everything we can to make sure that that message is getting out there and helping people understand that if you want to stay safe and healthy this fall and winter, the best thing you can do is get vaccinated.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Tam.
Q Yeah, in terms of the President getting out and talking about it, when is he going to get his bivalent booster? And also, what is your advice for people like him who have had COVID relatively recently?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so, the — we’re still working out things. Look, I — the advice that all of us are giving is: People should wait three months after they’ve had their infection.
If you do the math of when the President had his infection, it’s somewhere around late October. We’re going to find a specific date when the President is going to get it, so I don’t have a specific date to mention. But he’s still in that three-month window. Same thing for the First Lady.
We’re following the science here. And the evidence suggests that waiting a few months and — after you’ve had your infection is the optimal for getting the best immunological response.
Q You had asked for $22 billion for COVID funding for next-generation treatments, next-generation vaccines. That money did not come through. Are you in a bad place heading into winter?
DR. JHA: Well, so, no doubt about it that our response has been hampered by that lack of funding, right? And I’ve been — I think even from this podium, I’ve explained that we still went ah- — we thought it was incredibly important to get the new vaccines; we did.
We pulled money from having — we had money allocated for a stockpile of tests and personal protective equipment. If you remember, having enough PPEs for doctors and nurses is pretty critical. We were going to have a national stockpile. We do not have an adequate stockpile of that or of tests because we had to pull resources to make sure that we had enough vaccines.
We do not have funding for the next generation of vaccines and treatments. Our COVID — or, sorry, our vaccine campaign has been more limited because of lack of funding.
So Congress bears a lot of responsibility for the complexities of the moment we find ourselves in. You can’t run a national response to a highly contagious and deadly virus without adequate funding from Congress.
Congress has been a great partner in the past. I remain hopeful that Congress will step up again. But it is undoubtedly true that congressional inaction has put the health and wellbeing of American people at risk.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, April.
Q All right, Dr. Jha. Two questions. When the vaccine first came out, there was a concerted effort for the least of these — low-income, minority people. Is there a concerted effort once again for this booster shot for minorities, low income?
And also, speaking of the positives of the booster shot, there’s a study out talking about women — women and their menstrual cycles, how vaccines — the COVID vaccines have impacted them. Can you speak to that as well?
DR. JHA: Yep. So, on that study, it affected, for the first cycle — affected the menstrual cycle by one day. And then — and then women’s menstrual cycle — menstrual cycles returned back to normal. So there was a lot of — and that was — has been the most definitive study suggesting there are no significant long-term impacts on the health of women or their reproductive health.
On the issue of making sure that we’re both getting the vaccines out to disadvantaged communities, poor communities, communities of color, no question in my mind that is — continues to be a major priority of the administration.
We look at all these data stratified by race, ethnicity, income to make sure that we’re not leaving people behind. That begins, certainly, by making sure these things are widely available and accessible in communities.
But it also — that — that’s not enough. We’re working with community partners, community-based organizations to make sure that we’re getting the message out in those communities as well.
Q And as you’re casting a broad net for the booster shots, is there a community or communities — are there communities that you are really concerned about this winter — going into this winter season — with potential COVID upticks?
DR. JHA: Well, obviously, we’re always most concerned about people who are at highest risk. Right? And so, what we know is that people who are older people who live in congregate care settings, they tend to be the highest risk for poor outcomes.
So, again, when you have limited resources, we’re putting a lot of attention on making sure that those resources are going to the — to people who are at highest risk. And that’s going to continue to be a priority.
Q Dr. Jha, is the thinking after these updated booster shots that Americans should expect an annual COVID booster, or is it possible with any new strains that we should expect this will keep happening every few months? How should people be thinking about that?
DR. JHA: Yeah. So I think for most Americans, it’s a once-a-year shot. And, by the way, people think somehow that’s — we’re making news; we’re really not. If you think about it — take an average 40-year-old: If they got a booster last fall, they first became eligible for a new vaccine just a month ago.
So, essentially, for a majority of Americans, we’ve already gotten into a once-a-year rhythm. All we did by calling it an “annual” COVID-19 vaccine is call it what it already becomes. So I think the science on that is clear. For a majority of Americans who are — who are not in the highest-risk group, a once-a-year COVID vaccine. I’m not saying forever. I don’t know how long. Obviously, we’ll see where the virus goes.
For other people who are at high risk — so I think about my elderly parents who are in their 80s — yeah, they may need vaccines more often than that. And we’re going to track the evidence and data. And if it turns out that, for them, an additional shot — let’s say in the spring — is useful, obviously we’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to make that available.
Q And lastly, President Biden did tell “60 Minutes” that he thought the pandemic was over. Do you share that assessment?
DR. JHA: So let me be very clear: The President also followed that up with “COVID is not over” and said we are doing a lot of work. I am the COVID Response Coordinator. We are doing a lot of work to fight COVID. Right? Hundreds of Americans are still dying every day. We think it’s really important to protect Americans. And I know that for the work we are doing on protecting Americans against COVID, we have the full support of the President, and that continues to be the focus of our work.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. And then Tyler and then Karen.
Q Doctor, can you tell us your assessment of the new variants we’re seeing and how infectious that you think they are, even for people who are fully boosted? And also, just what scale could this winter surge take? Are — do you think it could be like Omicron level, from last winter?
DR. JHA: Yeah, so predictions are always hard on these things — right? — because the virus continues to surprise us and continues to evolve. There are three or four subvariants that we are tracking most closely. They are, you know, in different parts of the world. And they all arise either from a BA.2 or a BA.5 kind of lineage.
And the reason we’re tracking them is because they either have a lot more immune invasiveness or they render many of our treatments ineffective. Those are the two major things that get our attention.
The good news is all of these subvariants do arise from a BA.2 or BA.5. That means our updated bivalent vaccines should provide a much higher degree of protection than the original prototype vaccine would have. Obviously, we’re — we’re going to do the studies to figure out how much protection, but I’m confident that our vaccines will continue to work very well, certainly against protecting against serious illness.
You know, and then the curveball that we got last — last Thanksgiving with Omicron, none of us obviously can predict that with any certainty. So, our job is to not be in the prediction business but to be in the planning business. And so, we have a whole set of efforts that we’re leading in the U.S. government to be ready should Mother Nature throw us a true curveball like what we saw last winter.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Tyler and then Karen (inaudible).
Q In the first vaccination campaign, before you took this role, the Biden administration set goals for the percentage of Americans that they wanted to get vaccinated was 70 percent. Right now, it’s less than 4 percent of U.S. adults. I’m wondering — around that number. I’m wondering if you guys are setting a new target for what you’d want to hit by Halloween or if there’s the goal that you guys are setting (inaudible).
DR. JHA: Yeah, at first glance, we’ve said: No internal goals, no external goals. We just have — my feeling on this is we want to get as many Americans vaccinated with the updated vaccine. We think it’s, clearly, a better vaccine, an important upgrade from what we had before. And the more Americans, the better.
People often ask me is, “Do you have a goal for how many people or how low you want to drive deaths down?” The answer is no. Like, we have about three to four hundred Americans dying every day. Too many. We want to drive that lower. Two hundred is better. A hundred would be better than that. So we don’t — we’re not setting targets. We are focused on driving deaths down, getting more people vaccinated, and with a very simple goal, which is: more vaccinations better, lower deaths better.
Q And then just a quick follow-up. I know you’ve added some context to the comment that the President made on “60 Minutes,” but do you think that his comment saying the pandemic is over has contributed to the lack of uptake in vaccinations for this — this new bivalent vaccine?
DR. JHA: Yet, let me be very clear about this: You know, a majority of American adults go out and get the flu shot every fall. They don’t do it because the President comes out and says we have a flu pandemic. Right? They get it because they understand that the best way to protect themselves during the fall and winter is to get the flu vaccine. In very much the same way, I think a majority of Americans understand that we’re still, you know, in a situation where COVID is around, it’s still infecting a lot of people, getting a lot of people sick. Obviously way better than where we were. And the best way to protect themselves is to get the COVID vaccine.
So, I don’t think the President’s comments has anything to do with what’s happening right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Karen.
Q Two follow-ups, if I can, on topics that you talked about. When you say that you expect there to be a pickup in the pace of vaccines in October, did the White House miscalculate the demand for these new boosters when you asked Congress for the money for this?
DR. JHA: No. Remember, we had no money for this. And we thought it was really important — and I still think it’s really important — that we have enough vaccines for Americans — for any American who wants it. And so, when we — so we had no money. We asked Congress for money. Congress chose not to fund it. We went and had to pull money from other really important programs. We purchased about 170 million doses.
One of the things that we know is if we want to make it available in rural communities, if we want to make it available at Motor Speedways, you’re not going to use up every single last dose. You have to be able to willing and be — open up a dose of 10 and know that only 8 or 9 might get used.
So, you have to have a little slack in the system. And based on all the calculations that we — I think we’ve made sure to purchase enough vaccines so any American who wants a vaccine can get it.
Q And when you mentioned about pulling money from stockpiles of tests, when you were talking about — to Tam’s question — knowing that you can’t answer what might be coming in the fall and winter with a surge —
DR. JHA: Yeah.
Q — should Americans be buying tests now and stocking up on tests so they have them in preparation for what could be coming?
DR. JHA: What I would say is, you know, the — the calculations that HHS had done — again, nothing — these were done before I arrived — suggested that if we got another Omicron-like event, we should have about 800, 900 million tests in a stockpile so we can get it out to the American people because it would take us four to six weeks for domestic manufacturing to ramp up again.
We’re going to have nowhere near that, so that is a real problem. We are going into this fall and winter without adequate tests because of congressional inaction. And I think it’s really important, for — obviously, it’s important that we have enough testing. Again, we’re going to do everything inside the administration to make sure that we have testing capability that we can ramp up as quickly as possible.
But all of this his made just dramatically harder by congressional inaction. You can’t fight a deadly virus without resources. And congressional inaction is really costly.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, Dr. Jha.
DR. JHA: Thank you all. I have to run off. Take care. Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Okay, I have a couple of things at the top. And let’s dive in.
Russia’s latest missile strikes against Ukraine once again demonstrate Russia’s and President Putin’s brutality. President Biden continues to make clear along with our allies and partners that we will not waver from our commitment to support Ukraine as long as it takes.
Yesterday, President Biden spoke with President Zelenskyy and pledged to continue providing Ukraine with the support needed to defend itself, including advanced air defense systems. And today, G7 leaders met virtually for more than 90 minutes to continue coordinating our efforts to impose costs on Russia and provide Ukraine with economic security and humanitarian assistance.
President Biden has also discussed with G7 partners what more we can do together to prioritize air defense capabilities for Ukraine, which has been and will continue to be a U.S. priority. Secur- — Secretary Austin will continue that discussion at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels; that will be tomorrow.
Today, as well, the President also welcomed a historic breakthrough in the Middle East.
After months of mediation by the United Na- — by the United States, the governments of Israel and Lebanon have agreed to formally end their maritime boundary dispute and establish a permanent maritime boundary between them.
The President spoke this morning with Prime Minister of Israel Lapid and President of Lebanon Michel Aoun, who confirmed the readiness of both governments to move forward with this agreement.
We want to also thank President Emmanuel Macron of France and his government for their support in these negotiations.
The President has long believed that energy, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean, should serve as a tool for cooperation, stability, security, and prosperity, not for conflict.
He first worked on this issue nearly a decade ago as Vice President, and is pleased that U.S. mediation and persistent diplomacy finally led to this breakthrough today.
The agreement will provide for the development of energy fields for the benefit of both countries, setting the stage for a more stable and prosperous region and harnessing vital new energy resources for the world.
It protects Israel’s security and economic interests, critical to promoting its regional int- — integration. It provides Lebanon the space to begin its own exploitation of energy resources and marks a new chapter of hope following years of crisis. And it promotes the interests of the United States and the American people in a more stable, prosperous, and integrated Middle East region with reduced risk of new conflicts — all central themes of the President’s visit to the region this past summer.
We are pleased to have achieved this breakthrough today and congratulate everyone involved.
And finally, I also want to recognize that today is International Day of the Girl. Today is an opportunity to celebrate the power of young women and girls around the world by championing their safety and rights.
In particular, today, we are thinking of the brave young women and girls leading the ongoing protests in Iran.
Women should be able to express themselves how — how they want and wear — and wear what they want, free from violence or harassment.
There’s still so much work to be done to create an equitable country and world for our daughters and granddaughters. The Biden-Harris administration has and will continue to pr- — prioritize that work by creating opportunities for economic security and advancing equal access to education, job training, and jobs by fighting to protect and expand girls access to healthcare and by working to address the scourge of gender-based violence wherever it occurs.
President Biden and Vice President Harris will continue to speak out for women and girls around the globe.
With that, Chris, you want to kick us off?
Q Sure. There’s been talk about reassessing your relationship with Saudi Arabia. What is the administration prepared do at this point, as far as reassessing? Would it involve weapon sales, diplomatic relations? Can you talk about some of the options here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, from the beginning of the administration, since taking office, the President has been very clear that United States needs to — needs a different sort of relationship with Saudi Arabia. He has said that from very early on. And I have said this last week — when OPEC made the decision to align their energy policy with Russia’s war — war aims and against the American people further underscores that reasoning to realign that relationship, to reevaluate that relationship with Saudi Arabia.
We are reviewing where we are currently right now. And we’ll be watching closely over the coming weeks and months as well, consulting with our allies and also with our — with members of Congress. And decisions will be made once that — once that — once that policy review is underway.
And so, but — but, to be clear, I’m not going to get ahead of that. But that’s the process that we’re going to take next.
Q What is the timeline for the review?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Don’t have a timeline. But clearly, this is something that we’re going to closely monitor. And we have said from the beginning, we need to kind of reassess and have a different relationship with Saudi Arabia, especially after the decision that was made by OPEC+. And we were very clear about that last week.
Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Does President Biden believe that Saudi Arabia sides with Russia in this war?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we believe by — by the decision that OPEC+ made last week, they certainly are aligning themselves with Russia. And right now, this is not a time to be aligning with Russia, especially with this brutal, unprecedented war that they have started in — in Ukraine.
And we’ve been very clear about that. The President has been very clear about that since the beginning of this war. And so this action that they took, this decision that OPEC+ made last week proves that that’s where they are aligning their energy policy is with Russia.
Q So, given that, Senator Bob Menendez, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee has proposed that the U.S. basically stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Is that something the President would consider?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we’re going — the President has been very clear that we need to find a different sort of relationship with Saudi Arabia. We are going to look at, assess our policies, get a sense of how we’re — what we’re — how we’re going to — the actions that we’re going to take. And so we’re reviewing this. I don’t want to get ahead of the President’s decision.
But again, I don’t have anything specific to that particular question. But we are going to have a review of where we are and take a really, really deliberate, close look.
Q Thanks, Karine. Ahead of the U.N. vote tomorrow on this draft resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine, could you walk us through what’s at stake for the administration, particularly as it relates to President Biden’s push to keep this coalition united this far into this war?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we have — we have been very clear about what we’re seeing — the aggression against Ukraine by Russia. We and our allies — our allies in Europe, our allies across the globe.
You know, when — one thing I would say is: When we started this process, Putin had thought that he would — that he would, you know, bring forth a weaken — a weaker NATO, that there was no way that we would have this strong alliance. And what we were able to prove, the President — because of the President’s leadership, is that now we see an alliance that’s even stronger than it’s been in modern times.
Our coalition is strong. We have held the major democracies together. Putin has been counting on a split, as I just said, and he hasn’t had it. It has not happened.
And so, after the first G7 of this administration, there were questions about whether America is back. And we are indeed back.
So the President has spent a lot of time talking to leaders, as he did today. He’s done that face to face, on the phone in the Oval, again, like he did today with the G7 leaders; yesterday, as he did with President Zelenskyy.
And look, you know, we are going to continue to have these conversations. It is important for this alliance to stick together.
But you heard you — I’m sure all of you saw the — the readout, the statement from the G7 and what they are going to continue to do, continue to provide — economic assistance and — and security assistance — to Ukraine. They’re going to continue to call out Putin and what he’s doing with the annexation, what he’s doing with the nuclear strikes.
And you are seeing a stronger — a stronger — you know, a stronger NATO, a stronger Europe. And we’re going to continue to hold Putin accountable.
Q So if we are indeed seeing a stronger Europe, will we see non-allied countries lend their support to this resolution tomorrow? Are you confident that you’ll have 100 countries signing on?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m not going to — I’m not going to get ahead of what the vote is going to look like at the U.N. But we’ve been very clear — we have been very clear as — as to saying to — to all countries: Now is not the time. Now is not the time to support Russia’s war. Now is the time to speak out as we’re seeing this brutal war that was — that was started by Mr. Putin.
And we’ve said this many times before: This war can end today. It could end today. And it is up to President Putin to end this war.
Q You mentioned “weeks and months” for this Saudi review. Does the President feel under any particular time pressure to act swiftly?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Don’t have a timeline. But we’ve been clear — again, I don’t want to get ahead of this review process that we’re going to go under. We don’t have a timeline.
But we have been very clear. You heard from me, you know, last week. You’ve heard from my colleagues. This OPEC+ decision, you know, on their energy policy was indeed self-serving. And it’s going to hurt, you know, middle and low economies, countries across the country. And that is a problem.
Q And who is leading the review?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — a person in particular to speak to of who is going to be leading the review. Clearly, this an all — you know, an effort across the White House that we’re going to — we’re going to push forward with. Clearly, the National Security Council is going to be involved in this review as well.
But this is something that the President is going to take very seriously, and we will have more to share. I don’t want to get ahead of the review.
Q And last thing, what does the White House make of these reports that Elon Musk has been talking to Vladimir Putin about Ukraine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we’ve been very clear. I was asked some- — a similar question about this last week — about Elon Musk.
Look, the President has been clear as well and believes that decisions about negotiations are decisions for Ukraine to make. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. We have said that for months.
And, you know, as you saw — I was just mentioning the G7 leaders — they put out a statement following their meeting with President Zelenskyy today, you know: “[We] welcome President Zelenskyy[’s] readiness for a just peace,” which would “include the following elements: respecting the U.N. Charter’s protecting of territorial integrity and sovereignty”; and “safeguarding Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the future; ensuring Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction, including exploring avenues to do — to do so with the funds from Russia;” and “pursuing accountability for Russian[’s] crimes committed during the war.
But diplomacy requires — it requires both sides engaging in good faith to de-escalate. And we have seen no signs — no signs at all — from Vladimir Putin that he is prepared to stop the onslaut- — the onslaught and the atrocities.
So he could stop, again, this war today. This is a war that he started, and he could stop it if he wishes.
Go ahead,
Q Karine, the President — (clears throat) — excuse me — has made clear that the U.S. will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” Does that extend into next year? And how much is the White House thinking about how that level of support could be complicated if Democrats no longer control Congress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’ve been very clear — look, it — but let me just be also clear about this: The support that we have seen, it has been bipartisan. Right? The support that we have seen and the — and the funding that has been approved by Congress — the $40 billion not too long ago, the most recent funding that we saw that was with the CR — that was bipartisan as well.
And so, you have seen both sides come together in supporting Ukraine, who is, again, fighting for their democracy, fighting for their freedom. And we will continue to condemn, you know, Russia and their unprovoked war. And we’ll continue to do that. We will continue to hold them accountable.
But, again, I don’t have a timeline for you, because we — as we see this — this could end today if President Putin chooses. Again, this is his war that he has started.
But we will be there for Ukraine to support their brave — their bravery as they are fighting against this aggression as long as it takes. Don’t have a timeline.
As we have said many times along — before, this war has gone on for too long.
Q And can you talk to us a little bit about the thinking on the President’s upcoming travel? He’s going to the West Coast tomorrow. He isn’t visiting Arizona or Nevada. I mean, we have four weeks until the midterms. Should we expect to see him travel to some of the more competitive states, campaign alongside some of the candidates who are in very competitive races?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as I’ve said many times, we, here at the White House — this administration, we respect the Hatch Act. So we’re — I’m going to be very mindful of that. And I cannot speak of the 2020 — 2022 midterm elections or any elections from this podium.
But, you know, we’ve been very clear that the President is going to go out, the Vice President is going to go out, the Cabinet Secretaries. And you’ll see Democrats in Congress — they’re going to talk about the su- — the success that we have seen in this administration the last 19 months.
And, you know, we have talked about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and how that’s going to change — that’s going to change our infrastructure, repair our bridges and roads, and also strengthen our supply chain. So we’re going to talk about that.
He’s going to talk about the Inflation Reduction Act, which is going to help our seniors lower — lower costs, make us — make Medicare be able to negotiate prices. It’s going to help energy costs. That’s what you’re going to hear the President talking about.
He’s going to talk about the CHIPS Act. He did that last week — going to IBM, going to Volvo, and talking about how the CHIPS Act is going to, again, secure us — really secure and protect our national security, make that stronger, but also bring back manufacturing jobs right here in the U.S., and giving the opportunity to those businesses to come back and actually really do — do the things that we have been wanting to see in this country for — for decades now: create good-paying jobs.
And so, that’s what you’re going to hear the President talk about. He’ll talk about his economy, how he’s able to put forth a policy that really doesn’t leave anybody behind, bruil- — builds the economy from the bottom up, middle out. And so that’s what you’re going to continue to hear from us.
I don’t have any specific locations to share in the next four weeks. But, of course, the President loves being out there. And you will see — you’ll continue to see the President traveling.
Q I guess I was just wondering, you know, if he is eager to talk about his accomplishments on a trip like this one, where he is going all the way to the West Coast. Would there have been deliberations over why not go to a state like Arizona or Nevada to talk about those accomplishments?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, he’s going to go to California. He’s going to go to Colorado. He’s going to go to Oregon to talk about those accomplishments. There will be many more trips to announce and for the President to be out there and talk directly to the American people.
I don’t have anything more specific to lay out as to where he’s going in the next four weeks.
But, again, I also want to be very, very mindful of what I say here at the podium as well.
Q He’s not welcome on the trail —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, right here.
Q — correct, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q We get the consumer price index for September on Thursday. What does the administration expect from that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So you’re talking about the CPI? The in- — the upcoming number on inflation? So, look, you know, the President has made — as far as his economic policy, he’s made lowering costs for the American people, bringing it — that — look, the inflation down his number-one economic priority. And that continues to be — that continues to do that.
He — we’re going to — we know that we’re — there’s more work to do, but we have seen some important progress for the American people.
A couple of things that I’ll lay out:
We are — we’ve seen real disposable income and real consumer spending both increase, in part thanks to the strength of our job market.
Gas prices are down over one dollar per gallon since their peak this summer. That’s an overall decline of 22 percent.
And we’re giving families a little bit more breathing room. I just talked about the Inflation Reduction Act that’s going to lower costs when — as we think about healthcare, you think about energy, and healthcare premiums, to be more specific.
And you know, here’s the thing — and we’ve seen this this week and we saw it last week: how Republicans in Congress, as we know, voted against the Inflation Reduction Act. But the first thing that they want to do is repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which means that they would be playing into or supporting or lifting up these — the wealthiest special interest groups.
Why would you do that? Why would you take away an opportunity to lower costs for seniors? Why would you take out — take away the opportunity to lower costs on — when it comes to energy? Why would you take away the opportunity to fight climate change in a way that we have not seen and an investment in a way that we have not seen?
And so that’s how we see, kind of, the important progress that we’ve made. Clearly, we will be paying close attention to that data as it comes out.
Q And then, the Federal Reserve has been responding to these inflation reports by raising interest rates. And the White House’s response to that has been to say, “The Fed is independent; we respect their independence.” Is there ever a point where that might change — where the White House might consider critiquing Fed policy, particularly if we fall into a recession?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we’re — we’ve been very clear about the Federal Reserve. They are independent. We believe that they have the strongest monetary policy to deal with this moment, and we are going to allow them to do the work that they are currently doing.
I’m not going to be responding to — to any actions that they’re taking because we truly do believe in the independence of the Fed.
Go ahead, Eli.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President has condemned racism many times since taking office. I wonder if he’s followed the situation on the Los Angeles City Council with Nury Martinez and the leaked recording of her using racist remarks to describe a colleague’s Black son. She said today she’s taking a leave of absence, but there are others — Senator Padilla, Mayor Garcetti — who have called for her to resign. Does the President follow this? Does he have a reaction to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q — what’s going on out there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He’s followed this. I spoke to him about it yesterday.
Look, the President is glad to see that one of the participants in that conversation has resigned, but they all should. He believes that they all should resign.
The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation was unacceptable and it was appalling. They should all step down.
And here’s the difference between Democrats and MAGA Republicans: When a Democrat says something racist or antisemitic, we would — we hold them — we hold Democrats accountable. When a MAGA Republican says something racist or antisemitic, they are embraced by cheering crowds and become celebrated and sought-after endorsements.
Senator Tuberville — let’s not forget this just happened — saying Black people commit crimes. Doug Mastriano attacking his opponent in Pennsylvania governor’s race for sending his children to a Jewish day school.
The President used to say — and I’ll quote the President right now — quote, “Hate never goes away. It only hides.” But lately, it’s just one in the — one in the open at these extreme MAGA rallies. It’s just out — pardon me — it’s just out in the open at these extreme MAGA rallies. End quote.
Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. So the IMF cut global forecasts today and for the U.S. I’m wondering if that forecast matches what the White House is seeing internally and if you have any concerns about their warning that, you know, “The worst is yet to come.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — I’ve said this before, and I’ll say this again. You know, the — the President has a message for the American people, and he wants them to know the following: Because of Americans’ resilience and the economic strategy we pursued from day one in this administration with his economic policy, the United States of America is in a stronger position than any other country to nagiva- — navigate what we’re seeing currently, these global challenges — and what we have seen during the 19 months of this President’s administration. And so that is the first thing that we want to make sure that the American people understand.
Look, jobs are up, incomes are up, people are back to work, and American manufacturing is warring back. And the economic legislation signed, again, by this President — when we think about the Inflation Reduction Act, when we think about CHIPS — CHIPS Act — are encouraging investment right here in the United States. That will make our economy stronger and more resilient for years to come. And that is also something important to note.
So, now, of course, we’re going to continue to monitor this closely. We’re going to watch this closely. The President continues to meet. He’s going to meet with his senior — senior members of his economic team, as we have sent updates about that these last two weeks, on the global economic development. That is important. We take this very seriously. And he — this is meetings that he regularly does.
And so — but we believe we are in a stronger position than many other of our — many other countries when it comes to dealing with global challenges.
Q And just one more. The President of Poland said that he’s asking to share your weapons with the U.S. Has the administration received that request? And what will they respond?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have anything to share on that at this time.
Q Yeah. Just one quick one. Is the White House concerned that one of the 12 railroad unions that needs to sign on to this contract that the President helped negotiate — one of those unions has voted against the contract, and I believe it needs to be unanimous. So where does that leave this situation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the BW — the B- — the BMW [BMWE] — pardon me — and the rail — railroad employees have agreed to a cooling-off period that extends well into November, giving them adequate time, we believe, to continue their work and ensuring that our economy is under no immediate threat.
The President remains focused on protecting America’s families, farms, businesses by avoiding a rail shutdown. Both sides have said they share that goal.
One union’s rejection, as you were just laying out, Tam, of the current proposed contract does not mean we face an immediate rail shutdown, but it does mean that the union and the employers have additional work ahead to agree to a contract that the union members will ratify themselves.
So, unions are democratic, as we know, organizations. That’s how they function. That’s how they work. And contract ratification is part of that process.
These negotiations have gone on for years — this is nothing new; we’ve seen this before — and have often been — have often been acrimonious. So, it’s not surprising that universal members approve of the new contract and would have — would have challenges.
Again, we stand ready to assist at any time. But again, this is not unusual.
Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just to follow up on some questions from my colleagues about this review in Saudi relations: You said the President is taking it very seriously, but you also said there’s no person leading it or a timeline for it to be completed. Is this more of a rhetorical strategy, or is there actually a review with some sort of substantive plan and action? Because today there’s been no details about that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, he’s already directed, you know, the Department of Energy to deliver another 10 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and he will continue to direct additional release as appropriate. So, he’s taken actions. He took ac- —
Q But that has nothing to do with the Saudi relationship.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I’m just — I — no, I get you. But I want you to know that he is taking this seriously by taking action on day one. You know? And so he will — he will continue to take those types of actions and use the tools that he has to make sure that we’re dealing with this incredibly important issue.
Look, we have said, the President has said from the beginning of his administration that we need to, you know, redefine this relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia. This is something that he has said for some time. And because of their action — they took this action just last week, the OPEC+ decision that they made. And, you know, I have said this — I’ve said this plenty of times at this podium already — is that we see that they’re aligning their energy policies with Russia.
Look, I’m not going to get ahead of this. You will hear from us when we lay out what actions we are going to take. We’re going to review them.
But again, I’m not going to get ahead. And this is something that we take very seriously.
Q And does the President have any regrets about his trip to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with MBS and other Saudi leaders?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I just laid out an agreement — a historic agreement that was made by Israel and Lebanon. And, no, he does not. He does not regret it.
Q But that’s not with Saudi Arabia, that agreement; it’s Israel and Lebanon. I’m just talking about the Saudi portion of that Middle East trip.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’m — what I’m saying is that trip was so important for — for our national interest and also for the American people. There are a couple of things that came out of this — of that trip. That was one of them. But also the focus abroad, as you know, was for the Middle East region.
The President was able to engage, as we all know, with 13 leaders to discuss a range of issues from Iran to Yemen to the 5G. And if you think about Yemen, that is very much a part of — of Saudi Arabia — was — it was very much a part of that Yemen truce that we have seen.
The President has set forth an affirmative agenda for more integrated and stable region, including Israel’s integration over time into the Arab world. And on the trip, we concluded historic agreement opening Saudi-U.S. airspace to Israel — Israeli fights. That is really important. That happened right there when the President was in the region. So, the President was the first to visit the region without Americans in combat operations. And it’s his aim to keep it that way, as well.
So, there were — there were many deliverables that came out of that meeting with — with Saudi Arabia. But also being in the Middle East region, how critical and important it is, as the President is moving forward with his foreign policy agenda.
So, no, he does not regret it.
Q Going back to the rail talks, would President Biden, you know, get involved with negotiations again? Or, I guess, what role will the White House have going forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we stand by to assist in any way that we can. Look, as you know, the Railway Labor Act establishes the process under which we are working in.
Under the law, the President has the authority to establish an independent President Emergency Board, and he did so. He did that back in July.
And once the Board establishes — publishes its report, the onus returns to the parties to resolve the dispute themselves through collective bargaining. So, this is what we’re seeing currently.
So, President Biden continues to support the collective bargaining process as a way to ensure working people have a voice in their pay and conditions of work. It is the best method of ensuring that both sides can live with the contract they had a hand — a hand in developing. And in addition, the administration will continue to take all appropriate steps to ensure that the parties stay at the table negotiation in good faith and continue to put the work necessary to reach a mutual acceptable solution.
And so, again, it is — it is for them to work through this. We have seen this for many years. This is not unusual. But we stand by at the ready to assist.
Q And then, another question on student debt. I saw that the Education Department released a preview of the application for student loan debt relief. Why — if that application seems to be ready, why is it not live today? I guess, why is there no relief going out today for that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we wanted to make sure that we were — we’d give you all regular updates, and that’s what you’re seeing right now. Last week, we shed more detail on our efforts to go after scammers. So, we were very transparent and showed out — showed our policy and what we would do in that regard.
This week, we’re giving everyone a preview of what the form would look like, as you just laid out. And we know that a lot of you were curious about what it would look like, so we did that. So we’re trying to be transparent. We’re trying to lay out how this process is going to work.
In short, you know, the form is — is simple, it’s easy to do. It should take less than five minutes to complete. And it’ll be available on mobile and desktop this month. And we’ll continue to provide regular — regular updates. Look, it’s — it’s just taking — it’s taking some time, but the Department of Education is very much focused on this.
And as soon as we have — as soon as we have information on when that date will be for application sign-off, we will share that.
But again, we’ve — every week, we’re trying to share additional information for all of you because we know the curiosity not just for all of you, but also the borrowers out there who are — who will be eligible for this.
Go ahead.
Q Yeah, thanks, Karine. So, the International Monetary Fund —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. (Laughs.)
Q (Inaudible.) Yeah, the fund director — the International Monetary Fund Director of Research has said that the three largest economies in the world — the U.S., China, and eurozone — will stall next year. Does the President bear any responsibility for the higher inflation or a stalling economy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look — wait —
Q (Inaudible) policies.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait, say that one more time. You’re talking about global —
Q So, yeah, the IMF Direct- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q The IMF Director of Research, with their report — their global report came out. He said that the three largest economies in the world — the U.S., China, and the eurozone —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I see what you’re saying.
Q — will stall — will stall next year. And so I’m wondering if the President bears any responsibility with his policies for the inflation and what they’re calling a stalling economy.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, we got to step back here and look at what the President walked into here, right? When you think about the ni- — we’ve been here for about 20 months. When he walked in, businesses were closed, small businesses were closing down, schools were not open. And we were in a pande- — during a pandemic, or at the beginning of a pandemic, where thousands of people were dying a day. That’s what the President walked into.
What he did is put forth the American Rescue Plan — which, by the way, was only voted by Democrats — that was able to turn back on our economy, that was able to get shots in arms, that was able to get the schools fully open, and that was able to give businesses an opportunity to start back up and give a little bit of more breathing room, those extra dollars back into the pockets of Americans. That’s what the President was able to do.
And he continued that with the Bipartisan Infrastructure legislation. He continued that with the CHIPS Act. He continued that with the Inflation Reduction Act. And let’s not forget the work that we have done, this President has done these past several months to get gas prices down.
Why did this all happen is because of the global challenges that many countries — countries across the globe have been facing. And what we are saying is: Because of the work that this — this administration has done, because of the work that this President has done, we are in a better place to deal with those global challenges.
Let’s not forget: Russia — the war in — in Ukraine, started by Russia, has increased food [prices], increased gas prices. And the President has done all that he can and will continue to do the work to bring those prices down. And the pandemic has also caused these global challenges.
So, look, if anything, his economic policy has been able to get us back on track in a historic fashion — in a historic fashion, creating 10 million jobs. And that’s where I’ll leave that.
I have to take a couple more and then we got to go.
Q Thanks, Karine. Last week, the Haitian government requested an international military force to intervene and create a humanitarian corridor to essentially push back against the anarchy that’s been created by gangs there. The Secretary-General at the U.N. has called for a rapid reaction force that would be created in conjunction bilaterally between Haiti and a third party before a multilateral force could be put together.
So what is the President willing to do? He’s obviously been very reluctant to send troops anywhere, much less Haiti. He’s rejected a request in the past. What’s on the table?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So — so the United States, we’re reviewing the government of Haiti’s request in coordination with international partners. And so, we are working to determine how we can hold accountable those responsible for the violence and increase our support to help address Haiti’s fuel shortage and security constraints as well that are disrupting the flow of humanitarian assistance aimed at halting the spread of
cholera, as you know, which has now become a major issue in the country.
Our highest priority is ensuring that vital humanitarian assistance reaches the Haitian people, including critical medical support, to help address the outbreak. And as — as you know — we have said this before: Look, you know, we have given — we are one of the countries that’s given the most assistance to Haiti. And, again, we are going to review the government’s request at this time.
Q Just to follow up — the significance of this. Obviously, after the assassination of Haiti’s president July of last year, the government requested U.S. or U.N. troops to secure the country, and that was denied. The administration had a special envoy for Haiti who resigned in protest, in part because he advocated for U.S. troops on the ground, and the State Department said it was a non-starter.
So, my question is: Is this actually on the table? Has it reached a point in Haiti where — you know, where you would reconsider that significant policy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, again, I don’t have — we’re reviewing — we’re reviewing the request. Don’t have more to add. But it is something that we have received and we’re going to — we’re going to review.
So, look, you know, what I will say is that, right now, our staff are on the ground in Haiti working alongside Haitian health workers and NGOs to address this outbreak that I just mentioned and deliver care to those who need it. And we have been on the ground for some time.
And since 2021, the U.S. has provided more than $171 million in lifesaving humanitarian assistance and early recovery risk reduction and resilience programming to Haiti. And over the past 18 months, the United States has allocated more than $90 million in security assistance, as well — to your question about the troops — but we have offered that to strengthen the Haitian police capacity to counter gangs and establish a stable security environment under the rule of law.
This support includes advising, training, equipping, and vetting of special police units, as well as programs to reduce violence in Haiti’s most affected communities. And that’s the work that we have been doing for some time now, for the past 18 months.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. All right. Okay. Okay, thanks, guys.
END 4:29 P.M. EDT
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