Aboard Air Force One
En Route Hebron, Kentucky
11:06 A.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello!
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: First trip — first of the new year. We are so excited.
MR. LANDRIEU: Hi, you guys. How you all doing?
Q Let’s rock.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, I got a little thing at the top, and then I’ll turn it over to the Mayor.
So, as you all are aware, we are on our way to Covington, Kentucky, where the President will visit the Brent — the Brent Spence Bridge to announce more than $2 billion in investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to upgrade the Brent Spence Bridge and other economically significant bridges across the country.
As you all can see, I’m joined by White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, who is joining the President for this trip alongside Senator — pardon me — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Sherrod Brown, former Senator Rob Portman, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
The investments the President is announcing today through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Bridge Investment Program are the — are for economically significant bridges with a total cost of more than $100 million. In addition to the Brent Spence Bridge funding announcement, the President will announce three other bridges that will receive funding.
In addition to the President’s travel today, the Vice President, Secretary Buttigieg, and my colleague standing next to me right here, Mayor — Mayor Landrieu, are blanketing the country this week to highlight how the President’s economic plan — including his success of bringing Republicans, independents, and Democrats together — is growing our economy from the bottom up and middle out, making an impact in communities nationwide — (coughs) — excuse me — and proving we can still do big things when we work together.
With that, I will turn it over you, Mitch.
MR. LANDRIEU: Thank you, ma’am.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All yours.
MR. LANDRIEU: Good to see all of you. Happy New Year.
As you know, when the President ran for office, he said that, if elected, he would use the power of the presidency to bring the country together, and when we did that, we could do big things. And there’s no better example than that than the Brent Spence Bridge, and I’ll talk about that in a minute.
But, essentially, the President has spent the entire time he’s been in office — and now has a lot of receipts about his ability to bring Republicans and Democrats and independents together to pass some of the most significant legislation that’s been passed in the last 50 years, not the least of which is an investment in infrastructure, which is a critical bedrock to creating an economic future that’s built from the bottom up and the middle out, as he has said. And so you’ve seen that with the American Rescue Plan. You’ve seen that with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS bill.
And you know the whole story, but it’s part of one larger economic message about building the economy from the bottom up and the middle out and not leaving anybody behind. And as the President has said, and he said it in every speech and he’ll say it again today, that the one word that he uses to describe America is “possibilities.” There’s very few things that are not possible when people come together. And today is an example of a big thing.
So what is this? In the infrastructure bill is $1.2 trillion, as you know, to rebuild roads and bridges and airports and ports and waterways, high-speed Internet, and a clean-energy economy. And part of that is making sure that we have the infrastructure to actually move people from home to work, from home to church, from business to business, and, of course, to get commerce across the country, to get products from ship to shelves, and to lower the burden on the American people. And today is probably the best symbolic example of that.
So there are actually four things that are happening in the next 36 hours. The President, of course, will be at the — at the crossroads of Kentucky and Ohio, which I’ll talk about in a minute. But as Karine said, the Secretary is in Connecticut with the governor talking about refurbishing the New London Bridge, which is a primary corridor to I-95.
The Vice President is in Chicago, announcing an award to refurbish four bridges that are draw bridges that are necessary for the port, which is one of the largest ports in the world, to move ships to shelves.
Tomorrow, I will be — all things planned at the moment — with the Speaker — former Speaker of the House — on the Golden Gate Bridge, which — a massive investment to stabilize that bridge from seismic challenges that they have from earthquakes.
And then, of course, today, the President’s visit to the Brent Spence Bridge.
So let’s talk about that for a minute. This is a potentially $1.6 billion federal investment in making sure that this bridge does what it needs to do. Three percent of the economic activity of this country travels across this bridge — I-71 and I-75. Obviously, it connects two states. It moves people from one side to the other, but it also moves commerce from Florida all the way to Canada.
And so when this bill was designed, it was designed to have big bridges of significance in mind. You all may recall that last year the President made an announcement at Southport [South Court] to fund 15,000 bridges. That was a $27.5 million [billion] tranche of money. And, of course, right now we have 28 [2,800] bridges in the country under some level of formation.
There was another portion of the bill — $12.5 billion of it — that was designed for economically significant bridges. And that’s what this announcement is today. And, of course, the Brent Spence Bridge is right at the top of that.
This is not only a result of bipartisanship that the President promised that he would bring to Washington, where he worked across the aisle with people that he disagreed with all the time, under a very, very tight vote margin to actually get the most significant pass of infrastructure law passed in the last 50 years. But it is also an example of bringing the country together.
So, notice that in order for this bridge to happen, you have to have the federal government; the state government — Governor Beshear will be there, as will Governor DeWine; you have to have local governments, and the mayors of both cities will be there; you have to have the business community, the labor community together in order to do big things, which is proof of the President’s essential and simple message that when you bring Americans together, you can get big things done.
And that’s what today is all about. It’s a great symbol of it. It is a big receipt, you know, for what his commitment was. It is a promise made and a promise kept. And this is just one of many, many, many announcements that have been made.
I’ll end with this: Last year, we had 7,000 projects that are in some level of formation. By the end of this year, we’ll have 20,000. So, the President’s vision of how to bring the country together and teach us that we can do things together again is being proved once again by his presence here today.
And I can’t think of a better group of people for him to be in the presence of to do it with.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead. Do you have a question?
Q Why is it important for Mitch McConnell to be here? I think you sort of said that, but talk about Mitch himself.
MR. LANDRIEU: Well, two — I’ll mention two things. First of all, this is — last year, since this bill was passed, the President, the Cabinet members, and others of us have made over 200 trips to talk about the importance of rebuilding the roads, the bridges, the airports, the ports, and all the things in this bill.
On every trip that the President goes on, he has an open invitation to the congressional delegation — the House members and the senators — to travel with him. And so that’s just an open invitation. And that’s the way that trips get put together.
Secondly, I think it is really important to demonstrate that you have two individuals here that obviously don’t think the same way all the time but have been knowing each other for quite a long time and have put their country first. And the President led the effort, and Mitch McConnell helped make this happen. So it’s critically important for him to be there.
Also, Senator Portman — former Senator Portman will be there, as will Sherrod Brown, both of whom for 25 years have worked on this.
So when you think about it, how does America work? The President is demonstrating how it works. And with good leadership, where you bring people that have different thoughts together to build something that is of common value for the country, then things get better. And when you don’t do that, it doesn’t.
So he’s thrilled that Senator McConnell is going to be here with us today and is really looking forward to seeing him when he hits the ground.
Q You said you’ll launch — or you’ll have in formation about 20,000 projects by the end of this year. There’s 7,000. So you’re launching about 13,000 this year.
MR. LANDRIEU: Yeah.
Q Can you put a dollar figure on the — on the projects that will launch this year? How much is the federal investment cumulatively?
MR. LANDRIEU: Well, remember, the bills — let me — I don’t mean to — to be a good math person. I just went to Saint Matthias. But it was $1.2 trillion. Half of this money has gone out through formula money to the governors that — as it has since Ronald Reagan has been in office. The other half are competitive grants. Between it, amongst all of those things, this money will be pushed out.
Remember, it’s a five-year plan. So if you just took all the money and you divided it by five, that’s pretty much how much we push out every year. And depending on how big the projects are, that kind of gives you some calculation of how many projects can get done.
On the – on the initial bridge formula, $27.5 million [billion], that’s going to fund 15,000 bridges because those are smaller, off-system bridges. When you have big-bridge projects like this, where you’re rolling out a billion and a half, that doesn’t go quite as far. So the number of projects and the scope of the projects change from state to state and from region to region.
Q Some state officials have, including the Secretary of Transportation for West Virginia, have complained that the rules for getting the money is complicated, it’s overly bureautic [sic] — bureaucratic, I’m sorry. Are there plans to streamline the rules process in 2023?
MR. LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, my experience, as you know: I’m the on-the-ground guy. I’ve spoken to all — every governor in the country, and the ones that I have not spoken to verbally, I’ve spoken to their chiefs of staff and I’ve been in communication with them. 99.9 percent of them — of the time are very happy to receive the money. Even people that voted “no” definitely want the dough. And we spend a lot of time working on communication, collaboration, and coordination, even in places that did not vote for the President.
And the President’s directive was: I’m the President of everybody in the United States of America, and this money has got to get down to the ground.
I’m very cognizant, as you know — because I helped rebuild New Orleans — that the federal, state, and local communications have to stay open and robust. And so, we’re available all the time.
Secondly, in order to facilitate what I call this getting the — “getting everybody on the same page of the same hymn book” — I would otherwise call it “vertical or horizontal integration,” but I think people understand the hymn book thing better — is that I’ve asked each of the governors, on behalf of the President, to have an infrastructure coordinator who is not only working in partnership with the feds, but is working across their states, too.
So every day we spent time making it easier to go faster.
Now, what you’re alluding to is a letter that was sent very early on by a bunch of governors that said, “Look, the federal government can’t tell me what to do with the money; if I want to build a new thing, I can build it, as opposed to refurbish that.”
There’s some truth to that. But these are the kind of — kind of discussions that everybody has when I do — when we talk about what I consider to be the hard work of governing: actually make projects happen.
But nothing in the last year that has happened in our communication with any of the governors that has caused me the kind of concern, for example, that you see other folks in politics fighting about that mean nothing. And so I feel really good about the work that we’ve done.
Where we have differences, we get in the room and we talk about them. We try to work them out. And then we figure out who gets to tell who what to do. Most of it is about cooperation and communication. I’ve been really pleased with our work with every — actually every state.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Asma.
Q There’s a lot of money, as you articulated, now going out. Can you explain what mechanisms are going to be put in place to ensure that there are not going to be, you know, abuse or fraud of any of the funds?
MR. LANDRIEU: Yeah, no question.
One of the first things the President directed me to do when I got here, if it wasn’t the first, is to make sure that this money was spent well and wisely and to make sure that we included the inspectors general in everything that we’re doing.
So you may recall, and you can go back and check, the President very early on had a meeting with all the inspectors generals and said to them and said to all the Cabinet Secretaries, “I expect you all to work together. I respect the inspector general’s independence. But we would like you to help, you know, kind of keep an eye on, number one, how these programs are being designed without giving up your independence to hold everybody accountable.”
And so we have — we have had innumerable meetings with them, and continue to do that on an ongoing basis to make sure that everything is open, transparent, and that this money gets down to the ground the way, you know, the voters intended it to and doesn’t get wasted.
Q Karine, can I ask some stuff not on infrastructure? If that’s okay.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Well, (inaudible) done?
MR. LANDRIEU: Do you all — do you all want me — you all want to dismiss me? (Laughter.) All right, God bless you.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
MR. LANDRIEU: All right. Thanks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Okay, slick. Really smooth there, Justin.
But hold on because it’s a bumpy ride.
Q Yeah. You talked a little bit about renominations yesterday. The Senate sent about 175 folks back. You guys have outlined plans for at least 110 of them to be renominated. But my question is: Will everybody that you had nominated in the last Congress be renominated?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we seek — we seek the swift confirmation of many critical, crucial, high-qualified nominees to serve across the administration. And we’ll be renominating a number of officials in the coming weeks. I don’t have a specific number to share with you at this time. But clearly, as you saw, we did — did a good portion yesterday, as you just laid out, and we’ll have more to share in a couple of weeks.
I just don’t have — I know you want a specific number. I know you’re asking for all. I just don’t have —
Q Well, if this is the number, then the question of if everybody is going to be renominated and it’s just a timing issue, or if you’re kind of hiding the ball on folks that you’re no longer interested in nominating.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t say “hiding the ball.” We’re just going through the — our process. You know — and you know how this process works, right? At the end of each Congress, you — you have to — or at the beginning of every new Congress, you have to do the renominations. And just we’re working through that process.
And, look, the folks that you saw us re- — renominate yesterday were folks who are critical to our public safety, critical to our national security, and incredibly important to the American, kind of, the — for, you know, for the American — American people. So that’s how we went forward on those few. We’ll just have — we will definitely have more to share in the next couple of weeks.
Q One more quick one though.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q The U.S. acknowledged yesterday that they had offered mRNA vaccines to China. China clearly didn’t take us up on that offer. I’m wondering if you could at all detail why the Chinese said that they rejected it, knowing that you might not want to speak on behalf of China —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — if the U.S. is disappointed or worried that the rejection of our vaccines might cause economic and medical chaos that we see in China.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, it’s a great question. And like you said — as you stated in your question, Justin, I’m not going to speak for China. Clearly, they have to speak for themselves.
What I will say is, you know, we have pro- — we have offered China vaccines and other COVID-19 support. China has indicated publicly they appreciate the offer and, as you just said, do not need the support.
And so we’ll — you know, we’ll continue to stand by our offer.
Clearly cannot speak for China and their decision on that. We can only speak for what we have done as a leader, globally, in providing the — you know, a majority of the vaccines around the world — all around the globe. And we understand how important it is in that leadership to do that.
Q What’s the President’s message going to be on Friday at the January 6th event?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know — just giving you a little bit here — we’ll have more to announce later this week. Well, it’s almost — it’s Wednesday. (Laughter.) We’ll have more to announce soon on — about how the President is going to mark the anniversary of January 6, as he did, as you all know, last year.
One detail I do want to provide now, as we close in on Friday, in that — an important focus of his remarks will be on recognizing Americans who showed courage and patriotism, who put themselves in danger on behalf of others and on behalf of our democracy. And because, like the President said just last year, as we — as he made — he also marked the anniversary, as I just stated. They — on January 6th were — are — you know, are one of the darkest days. And sometimes — one of the darkest days, I should say — can lead to light and hope. And on January 6th, there were continued — countless examples of Americans who showed up and showed those best values of who we are.
And so you’ll hear from him directly, clearly, on Friday, and we’ll have more to share on what that’s going to look like.
Q Karine, is this going to be a bipartisan event? I know it was described as an event —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible) we’ll certainly have more to share. But like I just stated, the President wants to lift up the Americans who stood up and — stood up on one of the darkest days of our democracy, as you’ve heard me say, as you heard him say many times before.
I don’t want to get ahead of what we’re laying out, but we’ll have something soon to share on what that day — what Friday is going to look like.
Q Karine, can you tell us why the President was wearing a mask when he stepped off Marine One?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. Well — that’s a — I don’t know. I did not notice that, that he — we all wore our masks on Marine One.
Q Yeah, he doesn’t usually wear a mask, or at least we don’t see him wearing one when he gets off the helo. So he was wearing one and so were some other aides who were traveling with him. Like, was he —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I was on Marine One. And I put my mask on in —
Q Yeah. So can you tell us: Was he exposed to someone? Or can you talk about that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I can — I can tell you this: Yesterday, he tested negative on an antigen test for COVID-19. He tested negative. So, that part I know. So, I can share that with you right now.
But I think just out of — I mean, you’re wearing a mask. I’m wearing a mask. Some of your colleagues here are wearing a mask.
Q But he usually doesn’t on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I — I — it’s not something that I noticed. I always try to have a mask and follow the CDC guidance — right? — guidelines. When it comes to transportation, we put on — we put on a mask. I just don’t have anything more to share.
I can tell you —
Q Can you let us know if he was, like, exposed or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Q Okay. Okay.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I can confirm to you that he did — he did test pos- — negative. To be very clear: He tested negative. (Laughs.)
Q Tested negative.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Negative! (Laughter.) Yesterday.
Q And can you tell us — because the President did weigh in on the Speaker chaos this morning — whether the White House has sort of thought through the implications of there not effectively being a House of Representatives right now and there being no actually — actual members of Congress to carry out legislative functions, and we — for an indefinite amount of time?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So you heard the President. He did, as you know, a gaggle on his way out, on the South Lawn, heading into Mar- — heading onto Marine One. He spoke to it pretty extensively. I’m not going to — I don’t have much to add on what he laid out, on what his thoughts were about what currently is happening.
Look, what we can say right now is — what I’ve been saying is, you know, we’re — we’re going to let the process play out. This is a Republican Conference to figure out who they want to be the Speaker.
What the President has said and will continue to say: He is — he is, you know, ready to reach across the aisle, as he’s done as senator, as he has said during his campaign, as we’ve seen him do.
We’re going — we’re about to land in Kentucky to talk about a bipartisan piece of legislation, a historic piece of legislation that works on infrastructure. We’re going to have Mitch McConnell on the ground and — and other — and other Republicans. And we’re going to see that bipartisan. We’re going to see how when we work together — and this is a little bit about what Mayor Landrieu was saying — when we work together, we can do bold, transformative things that really help the American people.
So, that’s going to be his focus. Again, I’m just not going to embellish or go beyond what the President said today on the South Lawn.
Q Beyond this trip, is there anything else that President Biden has done to reach out to Leader McConnell? And how do you expect the President’s relationship with Leader McConnell to change this year with a Republican House, if at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Mitch — Mitch Landrieu talked about this a little bit. It’s — look, you know, they’ve been friends and respected each other and worked together across the aisle for many years. You know, as you know, the President was a senator for 34 years, Vice President for 8, and now, clearly, has been in — is in his second year, going into his third year of his tenure as President.
And while they would be the first to tell you that they disagree on all kinds of things, they believe in cooperating when they have specific areas of mutual agreement for the good of the country. And that’s what you’re seeing.
A significant issue they agreed on was the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. That’s going to see even more implementation this year, rebuilding communities all over the country. We just heard Mitch Landrieu lay that out, what we’re expecting to see this year.
It has strong bipartisan support nationally and in Kentucky because it’s creating good jobs — not Republican or Democratic jobs, just good jobs for the American people — American jobs again. It’s investing in bridges, in airports, in broadband, clean water, and EVs. It’s cutting costs and strengthening our supply chains and competitives.
Again, they have a friendship that goes over decades, and they would be the first to say what they agree on and disagree on.
But this is an important day. I think what you’re going to see today — and I’m just going to repeat what Mitch Landrieu said — you see how the — how government can work for the American people. And that’s what the President wants to continue to do.
Q Two questions. One, does the President plan to call the family of Damar Hamlin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to share on that. I’ll just reiterate what I said yesterday at the podium, which is, you know, our hearts go out to — to Damar’s family, his — his — his teammates. And we are wishing him a very quick recovery. And — and I’ll just leave it there. I won’t go into any — any specifics on any outreach.
Q Second question. In the President’s Christmas address, he called for Americans to reject the poison of politics. But last year, he compared his political opponents to segregationists, he labeled them semi-fascist. Don’t comments like that contribute to political poison?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — look, the President is going to call out what he sees. Right? That is his job as a President. Just like we have seen he’s — talk about how our democracy has been under attack, how we have to protect our democracy — as you know, last year, he made two incredibly important speeches on that. He’s going to call that out.
But at the same time — you know, I talked a little bit about this yesterday: On New Year’s Eve, you — some of you may have seen an interview that he did with Dr. Biden, talking about how he’s optimistic and how he believes there is — there is a — there’s still possibilities to bring the country together. And that’s a lot of — a big reason why he was elected back in — in 2020.
So, the President is going to continue to work on that as well. But he’s also going to call things out.
Q Karine, a quick one. You announced the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit last night. We’ve been working on semiconductors and a export control deal with them. Is that something we can expect to be announced during this visit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have — don’t have anything to share. We’ll certainly, as you know, as we get closer to, I believe it’s January 13th — right? — we’ll — we’ll get closer to that —
Q Friday the 13th.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right. Oh, is it? (Laughter.) Fri- — hey, I was born on the 13th, so be careful there, Justin. (Laughter.) I’m just — I’m just saying.
So, we’ll have more to share, as you know, as we get closer — closer to that date. And, clearly, we’ll — when — when we have those meetings, there’s always a readout that we’ll share as well.
I got to go. Go ahead.
Q Is the President going to meet with the new Speaker, whenever they pick one?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have — (laughter) — I don’t have anything to share on a — on any schedule of — of a meeting.
But — but, clearly, again, the President is — is ready to work with Republicans, with Democrats, with independents who are willing to continue to build on the successes that the President has done the last two years, as we look at his economic policy, to continue to deliver for the American people.
All right. Thank you.
Q Thank you.
11:29 A.M. EST