James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. Hi, hi, hi. Happy Friday. I think it’s Friday.
All right. So, today, the United States will demonstrate our continued enduring commitment to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself with the announcement of over $3 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine, including $2.8 billion drawdown for Ukraine, the largest yet.
My colleagues at the Department of Defense will brief on this in further detail later this afternoon. But the package is expected to include the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles we announced just yesterday, self-propelled howitzers, MRAPs and other armed personnel carriers, GMLRS rockets, surface-to-air missiles as well, anti-vehicle landmines, ammunition, and other items from DOD inventories, as well as $225 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine to build the long-term capacity and modernization of Ukraine’s military.
Today’s assistance also includes $682 million for regional partners and allies on NATO’s eastern flank to incentivize and backfill donations of military equipment.
As the President said yesterday, the war is at a critical point, and we must do everything that we can to help the Ukrainians resist Russian aggression.
With that, I’ll turn it over to my colleague, John, to share more about the President’s upcoming trip to Mexico City and take any questions that you may all have on this new PDA announcement to Ukraine.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No problem.
MR. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. The President is very much looking forward to heading to Mexico City for the North America Leaders’ Summit next week. Our partnership with Canada and with Mexico is crucial to our economic security, prosperity, democratic stability, and, of course, migration management.
And this North American Leaders’ Summit will give us all an opportunity to strengthen those partnerships and advance shared priorities for North America.
As part of the trip on Monday, January 9th, the President will meet bilaterally with President López Obrador of Mexico.
And then on Tuesday, January 10th, he’ll have a chance to meet bilaterally with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada.
And then later that day, later on Tuesday, all three leaders will gather together for the formal agenda of the 10th North American Leaders’ Summit.
Since taking office, President Biden has built and strengthened solid institutional frameworks for cooperation in North America on issues that, of course, span economic development, to security, to migration, all in order to produce concrete results and in a way that will help extend all that security and prosperity well into the future.
As an example, quite frankly, of the strong cooperation that we have in the region on migration, we’ve implemented innovative approaches, just particularly with Mexico, to help address the challenge of irregular migration, which have led to some significant progress. And I think you saw yesterday the President talked about this, as well as Secretary Mayorkas, and I refer you back to their comments about some of the new policies and initiatives that are in play to both expand legal migration and pathways to legal immigration as well as to crack down on enforcement.
And we’re also making strides alongside our partners to address the significant drug issues around the border, particularly with respect to fentanyl and seizing record levels of that before it enters the country. In fact, since August of last year, Customs and Border Patrol agents have seized more than 20,000 pounds of fentanyl.
It’s an ongoing effort. It’s not something you can ever take your foot off the gas on. And we’re going to continue to do that as well. And that will be certainly part of the discussion down in Mexico City.
In fact, as you know, the North American Drug Dialogue, which includes efforts to increase information sharing on precursor chemicals and strengthening our public health approaches for prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services has been very successful. And again, we’re going to continue to work on that.
Redoubling our efforts to address climate and enviro- — climate and environmental challenges by undertaking efforts to reduce methane emissions in the waste sector and decarbonize public transportation also will be on the agenda here at Mexico City, as will strengthening and expanding North American supply chains for semiconductors, critical minerals, and electrical — I’m sorry, electric vehicle batteries.
All these investments in North America will benefit the United States. And by taking advantage of game-changing legislation under the Biden administration, including the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, President Biden will use this North American Leaders’ Summit to keep driving North America’s economic competitiveness and help promote inclusive growth and prosperity.
So, a very, very exciting couple of days in Mexico City. The President is very much looking forward to that.
And I’m happy to take some questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, John. Can you talk about any national security implications of the fact that there are no members of the House who are sworn in at this time?
MR. KIRBY: We have vehicles to continue to communicate with both chambers of Congress. And that communication will continue throughout the foreseeable future.
So there’s no particular worry or concern that national security will be put at — at, you know, significant risk here because we do have ability to continue some level of communication.
Q But there are members who have said, for example, they can’t get a security clearance right now so they can’t receive classified briefings.
MR. KIRBY: Sure.
Q They’ve sent requests to various agencies, like the IRS. They’ve been told they have to wait until they’re sworn in. So what kind of impact does that have on the government’s ability to function?
MR. KIRBY: Well, there’s obviously going to be some impact here as new members are waiting to get cleared and get committee assignments and all that. I don’t want to suggest that there’s not going to be any national security impacts.
But in terms of the American people worrying about whether the federal government and this administration can continue to look after our national security interests, that should not be an overriding concern. There are vehicles and ways in which we can continue to communicate key priorities and developments, even such as the notification over this presidential drawdown package that Karine just announced. All that was done appropriately. So that work will continue.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Can we talk about why is now the right time to send Bradleys to Ukraine? Obviously, the Ukrainians have been asking them — for them for some time. Is there any kind of new security threat that’s motivating this?
MR. KIRBY: So, the aid that we provide Ukraine from a security perspective is very much in keeping with two things: one, the needs that they have in the moment and our ability to provide those capabilities to them, but also taking a look at what the fight is likely to be going forward.
Now, you know, in recent weeks, we’ve all been very focused, rightly so, on what was going on around Kherson, down in the south. But the fighting in the east, particularly in the Donbas region, has been particularly vicious in recent weeks. And we see every indication that the Russians continue to want to propagate their efforts in the Donbas, particularly around Bakhmut. And we’ve talked about that, I think, at some length.
In that area of Ukraine, it’s a lot of farmland, a lot of open ground, and it lends itself well to the kinds of capabilities that are in this particular PDA package. And the Bradley Fighting Vehicles are very significant in terms of being able to do what we call “combined arms maneuver warfare.”
You might remember the Pentagon just recently said they’re going to start training, at a battalion level, Ukrainian troops outside the country on combined arms maneuver, because that’s really what they need to help continue to improve their ability in that area of Ukraine.
So it’s very much tied to the war that we’re seeing on the ground right now and what we anticipate we’ll see throughout the winter months.
We also talked about the fact that we didn’t think fighting was just going to stop in the winter, that these two sides were going to continue to slug it out, and that — and that has occurred.
And I think, again, the Bradleys are just one capability. Take a look at the whole package when you see the Pentagon — they’ll lay it out more in depth this afternoon. But you’ll see that the whole package that goes along with this is well suited to the needs that the Ukrainian armed forces have right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. I have two foreign policy questions, John. First, on — the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the administration easing tension with Saudi Arabia, and they might not go ahead with the review. Can you comment if this is actually accurate? And how far are we in the review?
And second, on Turkey: As you know, there’s this kind of rapprochement between Turkey and the Assad regime, with the mediation of the Russians. Do you believe that this is the right step from the administration’s point of view? And will the Kurds pay the price for this?
MR. KIRBY: To the second question, the answer — short answer is: No. We haven’t normalized relations with the Assad regime, and we — we wouldn’t encourage any nation-state to normalize relations with the Assad regime.
But we’ll see where these talks go and what actually comes out of this. I don’t want to get ahead of where they are. But we obviously don’t support normalization with Assad.
On — I’m sorry, your first question was?
Q On the Saudis.
MR. KIRBY: Saudis. Thank you. The President has been consistent and clear that he wants this bilateral relationship, like any bilateral relationship we have, to be well suited to the interests of the American people and to our national security. And we’re going to continue to take a look at that relationship.
Look, Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner — 80-some-odd years. And — and it’s important that that strategic partnership continue, but it’s also important that it continues in a way that is completely consistent with our values and our interests. And the President wants to continue to take a look at it to make sure that that’s the case.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, two question. One, you outlined a little bit, but I wonder if you could say what specific actions the administration would like to see Mexico take to stop fentanyl production and smuggling.
MR. KIRBY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the actual summit. They’re going to talk about a lot of this.
And Mexico already has taken significant steps. You saw just — I think it was yesterday, addressing — sorry, arresting Mr. Guzmán, a key fentanyl trafficker. That is not an insignificant accomplishment by Mexican authorities. And we’re certainly grateful for that.
So we’re going to continue to work with them in lockstep to see what we can do jointly to try to limit that flow. But it’s significant.
And, again, as I said, you know, we haven’t — it hasn’t — it’s not like we haven’t been — had some success. I mean, 20,000 pounds is a lot, but it just keeps coming. And so we’ve got to make sure that — that we are doing what we have — what we have to do in our own authority and on our own — obviously in sovereign U.S. territory, but that we’re continuing to work with Mexico and partner with them.
Q Just one follow-up. Was the U.S. involved in any way in Guzmán’s arrest? And is there a push for him to be extradited?
MR. KIRBY: This was a Mexican operation, so I’ll certainly let the Mexican authorities speak to that.
And I’ll refer you to DOJ on extradition issues. That’s — that’s beyond my scope.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Karine. John, with the new parole program that you guys announced yesterday, is there any risk that because now those who don’t qualify for the program, they won’t have any incentive to turn themselves in, as a lot of people have been doing when they illegally cross the border, and that that could increase the number of got-aways?
MR. KIRBY: That — first, I would definitely refer you to DHS for more detail on this. What we’re trying to do with this new parole program — because we watched how it worked with Venezuela — by putting in place a process where a legal pathway was available, we were able to reduce by 90 percent Venezuelans who were trying to come into the country illegally. So we have some — we have some tangible results here that we can — that we can apply now to these additional three countries that Secretary Mayorkas talked about yesterday. And so we — we feel there’s great promise here.
The idea, Jacqui — and I couldn’t speculate about your question. But the idea is to increase the legal pathways available to people and put in place a nice, safe, orderly process that is humane and gives them the hope that they — that they’re looking for, at the same time being able to crack down on enforcement. And cracking down on enforcement is not an insignificant part of what the President announced yesterday, including adding now another 300 agents to the border.
And he looks forward to going down there this weekend and seeing that enforcement and that process in place for himself.
Q I understand what the objective is, obviously. But as the pilot program with Venezuela was happening and did reduce the number of crossings by 90 percent over those first few weeks that it was in place, the number of got-aways did skyrocket too at the same time. And so my question is: Does the fact that if you cross illegally, it makes you ineligible for this program — does that now disincentivize people to turn themselves in and then make part of this problem harder?
MR. KIRBY: It’s difficult for me to get in the mind of every individual that may have — may have already crossed over illegally, though what they ought to know is that we are going to be making sure that we’re increasing our ability to enforce these policies and to crack down on illegal entry and end —
Q With more agents?
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry?
Q With more agents or —
MR. KIRBY: Yes, I mean, obviously. The President is going to order another 300 to the border, and he’s working in lockstep with Secretary Mayorkas on whatever other avenues might be appropriate in terms of better enforcement.
But, again, I can’t get in the mind of everybody who may already be in the country. They ought to know that, as Secretary Mayorkas I think said very eloquently yesterday, “We’re not only a nation of immigrants. We’re a nation of laws.” And we’re — we are going to scrupulously follow the law. And we expect them to as well if they want to become legal citizens of the United States.
Q Can I follow up quickly on Ukraine, John? When will those Bradleys arrive? And will they have tank-killing TOW missiles on them?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specific kitting out of each Bradley vehicle. They’re —
Q Is that a part of this package?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t — again, I won’t get — I’ll let the Pentagon speak to the details of how each vehicle may be or may not be fitted out.
It will be some time before they can actually get into country. And I couldn’t give you a date certain on the calendar. What I can tell you —
Q Yeah. Is that days, weeks, months, do you know?
MR. KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is that we’re going to do it as fast as we can. And this is not a system that will require an exorbitant amount of training for the Ukrainians. I mean, it’s a fighting vehicle. And it’s, again, very well suited to combined arms warfare, but it’s not so sophisticated that it’ll take them very long to learn it, not only to operate it, but to maintain it.
And as your question, I think, alludes, there are different ways you can fit these things out for the — for the fight that you’re in. And I don’t know — and, again, I’d refer to my Pentagon colleagues — I don’t know that they’ve made all that — all those decisions per each vehicle just yet.
Q You just asked — you were just talking about training. Just to follow up on that. On Patriot missiles, has that training begun in earnest somewhere in Europe? They wouldn’t identify the third country in which it would occur, but has that training begun of the Ukrainians who would use the Patriot battery?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware that the training has actually begun. I certainly would refer you to the Pentagon for specifics on that.
What I can tell you is that the training will be held outside of Ukraine.
Q Then, let me ask one separate question on the border then, to follow up one she was asking about: There’s reporting that El Paso has cleared the downtown of these expansive migrant camps that have grown there, in advance of the President’s arrival. Is the President going to see a sanitized version of El Paso when he arrives at the border on Sunday?
MR. KIRBY: The President is very much looking forward to seeing for himself firsthand what the border security situation looks like, particularly in El Paso. He’s very much also looking forward to getting a chance to talk to Customs and Border Patrol agents on the ground who are actually involved in this mission to get their firsthand perspectives of it.
Q Thank you, John.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q Thank you. John, so first of all, I would like to follow up on Ukraine. Was the decision to provide the biggest package to the date connected or made in response to a possible new Russian offensive and escalation? And do you think Ukraine is much better prepared now to counter this new offensive if Russia do that — if it comes from north, for example?
And a second one on Mexico. Should we expect any agreement or announcement of funds while the President is in Mexico?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of the President’s trip to Mexico and any announcements he might make. I will reserve that for — for the President.
Again, very important agenda, three big topics: climate change, migration, and drugs, particularly fentanyl. And the President is looking forward to addressing all three. I’ll save the announcements for the President.
As for the timing, these drawdown packages, as you know, have been occurring about every couple of weeks or so. So this is the latest iteration. I think it would be incorrect for you to conclude that the amount — specific amount was sort of driven by rumors or — or reports of a Russian counteroffensive. They are driven by an ongoing, iterative conversation that we’re having with Ukrainians literally every day about the fight that they’re in now and the fight that we expect them to be in going forward.
We said — as I said earlier, we said weeks ago we did not expect the fighting to stop in the winter. It hasn’t. In fact, in some places, it’s become even more vicious, Donbas particularly. And so we want to make sure that the Ukrainians are well kitted out and well suited for the fighting that’s in — that they’re going to be facing in the next couple of months.
Q Do you think Ukrainians are better prepared now to counter —
MR. KIRBY: The Ukrainians have — have — I mean, better prepared? They are — they are and have been able to maintain a quite impressive level of readiness for what they’re facing. And what’s been really impressive to see is the way that they have modified not only their needs, but their abilities in the field to the fighting that they’re facing — obviously, we were all talking — we’re talking about Bradleys today, but recently we’ve been talking about air defense capabilities — and the innovative way in which they’re using what is being provided to them.
So I don’t — they never fail, I don’t think, to surprise or impress with their ability to adapt in real time to the challenges that they’re facing and to be quite candid and honest and forthright with all of their partners, including the United States, about what they need to continue to do that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, MJ.
Q John, I have two questions for you. The first one is following up on Nancy’s earlier question about the national security concerns or potential concerns as there remains no Speaker of the House and not a functioning House of Representatives. Would you be giving the same answer if this process were to drag on for a couple more days, say we ask the same question a week from now? In other words, can you continue to, you know, contain the national security concerns for a while or indefinitely?
MR. KIRBY: I mean, clearly, we’d obviously love — and the President talked about this — we’d — we’d prefer to see all of this resolved as soon as possible. It’s — it’s not — not just from a national security perspective but from a democratic perspective.
I don’t want to speculate about how long things would go before there would be, you know, some — a deeper concern about national security implications. I can just tell you that we’re confident that we can continue to defend the United States of America while House Republicans are working their way through this process.
We’re going to stay on top of that challenge every single day. And we have, again, vehicles in place to communicate as appropriate with both chambers of comer- — Congress right now.
Q And then, just on the President’s visit to the border, does he have a desire to, does he have a plan to meet with asylum seekers while he is there?
MR. KIRBY: I — I won’t get ahead much more of the schedule than what I’ve done. He’s really going to focus on two things. And that’s the migration challenge, obviously, and having a chance to meet directly with those who are in charge of it.
The other thing I failed to say when I was talking to Jacqui and Peter was that he also wants to focus on the flow of fentanyl, too. So I think you’ll see him have opportunities to take a look at that and learn a little bit more about what we’re doing on the fentanyl side.
Q So he may meet with some asylum seekers, but you just can’t —
MR. KIRBY: I — I don’t — I don’t have anything more on the schedule to speak to with specifi- — with specificity.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q So, John, just following up on the — on the border. I — I spent a long time covering immigration stuff during the Trump years. I — I never saw more damning quotes from immigration advocacy groups and human rights groups
during the Trump years than — as I saw yesterday towards this administration.
Just reading one to you, Eleanor Acer, who is one of the leading advocacy people — heads up a refugee group, called what the President did yesterday “a humanitarian disgrace.” And that was echoed across the board in literally scores of emails I got from every humanitarian group.
What do you all — what does the administration say to the overwhelming consensus from people who advocate on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees and migrants that what the President did yesterday was “a humanitarian disgrace”?
MR. KIRBY: Well, obviously, we take a different view. What we would say is that the — this is a President who understands that safe and legal immigration into this country is a key cornerstone of our own security and prosperity, and that he is advancing ways to improve those legal pathways to entry.
I mean, he increased or — dramatically increased the number of refugees that we’re willing to take in from nations in the hemisphere. He also improved the process by which people seeking asylum can do that in, again, a legal, safe way. And we’re also, obviously, have to make sure that — that it’s legal migration we’re focused on and that the illegal migration is curbed as best as we can through more — more stringent enforcement mechanisms.
So it’s a balance, and the President is trying to strike that balance. But he is — and I think you saw it in the — in all the initiatives that were announced yesterday.
I mean, there’s a — you know, striking that balance, you can’t forget that you — we do, as a nation of immigrants, have an obligation to provide better tools and pathways for them to come in.
I will say this: On his first day in office, he put before Congress an immigration reform bill that he — that has yet to be acted on. We are dealing with immigration laws and processes that are decades old, Michael. Decades old.
So the answer to the critics is: First of all, we obviously take a different view, in terms of the President’s priorities. And if you take a look at the package, you’ll see that it is very humane in its — in its structure. But we’ve got to have the help from members of Congress. And this is not something that he hasn’t focused on. In fact, he has been focused on it since the very first day.
Q Do you understand their points?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. John, the parole program obviously was designed to address nationals from Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela arriving at the southwest border. But, as you know, a lot of Cubans and Haitians —
MR. KIRBY: And Haitians, yeah.
Q — in particular are crossing the —
MR. KIRBY: The Strait of Florida —
Q — Florida Strait by sea. Very dangerous journey.
MR. KIRBY: Incredibly.
Q How — how does this plan at all address those individuals? What should the individuals considering that path take from this?
MR. KIRBY: Secretary Mayorkas talked about this, too, yesterday. And obviously, our message to them is: Don’t take that journey.
I myself have sailed those waters, and it can be treacherous, particularly at this time of year. And if you’re in a — an unsafe craft or a craft that’s not made for — for those seas, it’s very, very dangerous.
So the first message is: Don’t take that journey. There are legal pathways. The President is opening up more for people from those countries to — to get into the United States. And we want them — we want them to use those legal pathways, which we are now, again, improving.
Q But will those individuals — they’re not going to be removed to Mexico, for example. So are they more likely to get an interview based on a credible fear claim if they make that journey? That’s the question that a lot of these individuals are asking.
MR. KIRBY: Again, I’d refer you to DHS for more detail on this. I’m not an expert on that particular process. We — the — we want people to use — and, of course, Secretary Mayorkas talked about this yesterday — now, you know, there’s a new app here in place for people to — to be able to apply appropriately for asylum specifically.
And if you choose not to try the legal path, then the United States will, as Secretary Mayorkas said, use the tools at our disposal — tools which are old, but tools that we have — to stop your entry into the country.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, on Mexico, the U.S. energy industry feels that the administration is dragging its feet on negotiations over Mexico’s potential trade violations. Has the administration considered taking the step of calling for a panel to resolve that dispute? And should we expect any resolution on that from the leaders next week?
MR. KIRBY: I — I don’t have any information about a panel that would be stood up. Again, I don’t want to get ahead the President. But, clearly, trade issues will be on the agenda next week.
Q And one follow-up to my colleague’s question on
another Russian offensive. What is — switching topics. What is the U.S. assessment right now of the potential for another Russian assessment as Ukrainians fear?
MR. KIRBY: Our assessment of another Russian assessment?
Q I’m sorry, I meant to say “offensive.”
MR. KIRBY: Offensive. Well, I —
Q Your assessment of an offensive. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: Very eloquently put.
Q Not really. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: I was trying to throw you a bone, buddy. (Laughs.)
Q Thank you. I appreciate it.
MR. KIRBY: Let me put it this way, because I don’t want to ever get in the business of — of being a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry —
Q Well, that’s eloquent.
MR. KIRBY: (Laughs.) They — they have been on the offensive now for 10 months. We can’t forget that. So when I hear all the talk about a Russian counter offense or of a Russian offensive, you guys have seen this the same as I do: They’ve been on the offense every single day for the last 10 months trying to take away Ukrainian lives, Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, and, certainly, Ukrainian territory.
And we’re seeing that play out right now, as you and I are talking, Jeff, in Bakhmut and in the Donbas. They have made incremental gains in the last few days.
Now, we’ll see where it goes in — in Bakhmut, but in certain places along that front, they aren’t — they remain on the offensive.
Now, whether they’re going to redouble their efforts and to what degree that will be successful, I couldn’t possibly tell you, because I just don’t know what their intentions day to day are. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to support Ukraine in the way that we have been, the package that Karine just announced — biggest one ever.
But I — I invite you to take a look at what’s in it. And you’ll see that we really are trying to tailor the support we’re giving to Ukraine for the fight that they’re in and the fight that we expect them to be in over the next couple of months.
And we certainly expect over the next couple of months that the Russians aren’t just going to throw up their hands and stop or just dig in. Now, there are per- — there are places along the line where they are. Down in the south, they’ve largely assumed what we would call a “defense in depth.” They’re not really on the move too much. But that is not the case in the northeast, up in the — in the Donbas region.
So, again, I won’t speak for their specific tactical plans. They have remained on the offense in places in Ukraine. We think that that’s going to continue, certainly for the next couple of months. And that’s why this package was so important today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mary, last question.
Q To follow on Michael’s question about the pushback that the President’s immigration plan is receiving, I guess, to put a finer point on it, one of the central criticisms is that the administration is expanding Title 42 while also claiming to — to be preparing for it to end. So when it comes to Title 42, are you trying to have it both ways?
MR. KIRBY: No. No. I mean, right now, Title 4- — first of all, as you pro- — Title 42 is a public health order. It’s being used and was used — I’m sorry — was used by the previous administration as an immigration policy. It’s not. What we need is real immigration reform. And for that, we need legislation that we have sadly not seen.
It is not designed to be and shouldn’t be used as an immigration policy. But we, in anticipation of it going away, and being able to make sure, under Title 8, we can do the kinds of enforcement activities and mechanisms we need, yes, we are looking at expanded enforcement temporarily under 42, with the expectation fully that it will go away.
And that expansion — again, I beg you to keep in mind — is in response to literally a historic, unprecedented level of migration from south of us in this hemisphere. I mean, people that are escaping intolerable circumstances in places like Nicaragua and Venezuela, Haiti.
So, we do need to keep it in perspective. The numbers and the scale of the migration challenge is really not something we’ve seen any time in the last hundred years or so.
Q And just one more on this. Mexico has now agreed to take 30,000 migrants from these four countries who attempt to cross the border illegally.
MR. KIRBY: That’s right.
Q Did the U.S. provide — or are we providing any assistance, any aid to Mexico to deal with that influx?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific infrastructure improvements or that kind of thing. But I’ll tell you what — I’ll take the question and ask because I just don’t know. I’d also refer you to DHS on that.
Q Thank you, John.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks, John.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Okay, guys.
All right, just a couple of things. And then, as you know, we have an event that the President is doing, so I want to lay this out for all of you.
So, two years after the assault on the Capitol, the President will host a ceremony at the White House where he will deliver remarks and award the Presidential Citizens Medal to individuals who made exemplary contributions to our democracy surrounding January 6th, 2021.
These heroes demonstrated courage and selflessness during a moment of peril of our nation. They include Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police, election workers, and officials at the state and local level from both parties.
Yesterday, we announced the names of 12 patriots who will be recognized this afternoon, and now I have two additional posthumous recipients to announce.
The first one is Howard Liebengood. Was a U.S. Capitol Police officer who defended the Capitol on January 6th. The son of a U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms, Officer Liebengood died after battling insurrectionists at the Capitol and staying on to restore security in the crucial days after January 6th.
Officer Liebengood’s painful loss helped change the law to better honor the unimaginable sacrifice that too many officers and their families face.
Second, Jeffrey L. Smith was a Metropolitan Police Department officer who defended the Capitol on January 6th. As he fought the violent mob, Officer Smith sustained devastating head injuries from multiple assaults inside and outside the Capitol. He died after protecting Congress, guarding the Capitol, and preserving our democracy.
His passing sparked changes in the law that honor the silent injuries of our fallen officers.
All of these individuals reflect the best of America, our shared values, and the President looks forward to celebrating them today.
Now, turning to the President’s week ahead schedule, just a couple of things.
Later today, as you all know, the President will travel to Wilmington, Delaware, and he will return back to D.C. tomorrow. As you just heard — just heard from my colleague — on Sunday, the President will travel to El Paso, Texas, and to Mexico City for the North American Leaders’ Summit.
The President will return to the White House on Tuesday evening.
On Friday, the President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Kishida of Japan to the White House to further deepen ties between our governments, economies, and our people.
Over the past year, the two leaders have worked closely together to modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance; expand on cooperation on key issues from climate change to critical technologies, including through the Quad; and advance a free and open Indo-Pacific.
President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida will build on those efforts.
Afterwards, the President will head to Wilmington, Delaware, later that week.
Seung Min, you want to take us — take us — take us out?
Q I just had a quick follow-up that I was going to ask John about. Does the White House believe the arrest of Guzmán was timed intentionally at all ahead of next week’s summit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’m not going to get into speculation here, or — from here. I would have to refer you to the government of Mexico for — to discuss that particular question. That is from something for them to address.
Q And following up on a version of what Nancy was asking earlier, does the White House, the administration have any clarity on whether members of Congress who haven’t yet been sworn in can actually do services on behalf of their constituents? Can they contact federal agencies? If they can’t interact, then how is the administration stepping in to help people who need help from the IRS or USCIS or other agencies?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, our — our administration is going to do everything that we can, all that it can, to ensure that the House of Representatives is kept informed as needed, right? And including, of course, of — including, of course, on matters of national security, we are going to do everything that we can from here.
Agencies can continue to help House offices with constituent services to extent possible, consistent with the law and House rules and practices. For more specifics on the individual case works or programs, I would refer you to those specific agencies. I know the IRS has come up during this briefing.
But, look, here’s the thing. You know, we hope that the House resolves this soon. It has been a couple of days now. And we have important work to do for the American people. And so, we have to get back to work here.
But, of course, the administration is going to continue to do everything that we can to ensure that the House of Representatives are kept informed and have what they need on behalf of the American people.
Q Just in terms of comprehensive immigration reform, which obviously the President has called on Congress to enact over and over again, what is his sort of theory of the case right now for getting that done? Will he be taking his own actions to do outreach to members? Does he basically consider that a top priority going into the new Congress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, first of all, it is a top priority. I mean, the President put forth a comprehensive immigration reform on day one. So, him doing that that first day of office, the first day that he walked into the administration and sat behind the Resolute Desk clearly states that this is a priority for him and will continue to be so.
And look, we will continue to call on Congress to act. That will not stop.
And look, I also want to just put this in a broader context here. The President inherited a mess because of what the last administration did. They herited [sic] a — we inherited a mess. And, you know, Republicans in Congress made it worse by blocking comprehensive immigration reform.
And so what you’re seeing from this President is he’s acting — he’s acting to protect — to continue to protect the border, secure the border, and also deal with irregular migration. That is what he’s going to continue to do that.
So the enforcement measures we announced yesterday will result in more, not fewer, legal pathways for migration, while easing the pressures on our broken immigration system, which has been broken for decades. And so the NGOs and the border communities that support those arriving at our southwest border.
But, honestly, yes, the President made an announcement. He’s made this a priority. He’s made other announcement before today on what we’re doing at the border by — especially with the historic funding that he’s put forth. But in order to fix what is happening currently is to make sure that we have comprehensive immigration reform. And that’s what he’s going to continue to call on.
He was very eloquent yesterday. He talked about the history of this country. He talked about how we were a country of immigrants. He talked about our responsibility. But at the same time, we have to make sure it is done in a legal way and that we have pathways — additional pathways for folks to do that.
Q I guess we have a pretty good sense of what it looks like, typically, when the President sees something as being a top, urgent legislative priority. So, you know, will we be getting readouts of him making phone calls to lawmakers? Will we see members coming here? Will he sort of throw everything he has at this problem that he says he wants to get fixed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, there’s been many initiatives that we have gotten done, especially historic pieces of legislation that the President has done in the past two years, that we haven’t laid out everything, right? If we think about the Inflation Reduction Act, we didn’t lay out every step of who he was talking to. Matter of fact, most of you all were surprised when that was announced — the Inflation Reduction Act was announced.
So, look, the President is going to continue to have conversations with member of Congress. His team will do that on a array of issues that matter to this White House. And it matters to this White House because it matters to the American people. And so that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
I do want to address something that was asked abo- — that you, Michael, had asked about the lack of support that we have received. Look, I have — you know, we’ve heard from mayors across the country as well who have supported, you know, the President’s announcement yesterday.
And so, for example, Mayor — Mayor Todd Gloria, San Diego, California: The President’s measures “will help expedite legal pathways for orderly migration and increase funding to nonprofits doing lifesaving work in our communities.” That matters.
Mayor — Mayor Ron — Mayor of San Antonio, Texas: “In lieu…” — and this is Texas — “In lieu of much-needed congressional policy” — as I’ve stated, which is so important; and he tweeted this — the President “new action humanely addresses the influx of asylum seekers entering the U.S.”
Eric Adams — Mayor Adams had — who has been critical — right? — of us — said: It’s “an important, positive step.”
And so — and I have a few more. Den- — the Denver mayor; the Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser; and also Mayor Lightfoot — they all have said — have said they support the President’s actions. And I think that’s important to note as well.
Look — look, we know there’s more work to do. We absolutely know that. And what the President is doing is he’s using the tools in front of him right now to address a really critical and important issue.
Q I guess, if I could just — sorry, but —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q Since you (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. I know, since I called you out, Michael. (Laughter.)
Q I mean, the advocacy folks in the community of people who are lawyers and advocates and humanitarian experts, what they would say is the President is using the tools, and he’s using them in a harsh and unbalanced way. I mean, I think John referenced the — you know, trying to balance these — these issues. And yes, that — that’s true.
But they would argue that the impact, in terms of, you know, sort of the long-term functioning of the asylum process in the country is extraordinarily negative. And they — you know, lawsuits are going to be filed in the same way that lawsuits, you know, were filed against the Trump administration over and over and over again about their immigration policies. But, you know —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — this time, it’ll be against you guys. And I guess I just — I guess I just — that puts this President, who spent so much time on the campaign trail talking about how — you know, how he wanted to be different than Donald Trump when it came to immigration issues — I mean, it just puts you guys in a really awkward —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So —
Q — awkward place. Doesn’t it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I have to say, Michael, I take — look, I understand what you’re saying. But I do take — you know, I do take issue with comparing us to Donald Trump, who —
Q It’s not me. I’m just — I’m —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, no — no, I know you are the messenger, and you are giving me the information. I am responding to what you just said, which is: You’re talking about an administration who had a policy — right? — that tore babies away from their moms, from their parents, from their families. That was the President’s — President — the last administration — that President’s philosophy or policies. And that’s what they did. And this is not this President.
And just want to list out a couple of things what this administration has done. It’s increased work visas, including H-2A and H-2B visas, for Central America and Haiti. It restarted the Central American Minors Program. It expanded parolee programs for Venezuelan, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti, as we’ve been talking about these past few minutes. It expanded refugee admissions in the Western Hemisphere. Significantly expanded TPS for Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, and many more. And created renewed unification parolee programs for families from Haiti and Cuba.
These are the things that the President is trying to do to make sure we are doing this in a humane way.
Now, is there work to do? Is this just one step? Yes. And we are going to continue to work with Congress to make sure that we are truly fixing this problem.
I’m going to continue to go around.
Q So I wanted to ask about how the White House is looking at what’s happening in Congress right now, in terms of the prospects of potentially raising the debt ceiling and then, even further, potentially forgetting even government spending deal come next year.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as it relates to the debt limit, our position has been very clear here. We have said that we should not be using the debt ceiling as a matter of political brinksmanship.
We’ve been very clear: If you look at what Republicans in Congress did three times — three times during the Trump administration — is that they were able to — they were able to deal with it in a — in a — in a way that was responsible, right? They voted three times, again, to lift the debt ceiling.
And so Congress must, once again, be responsible. They must address the debt ceiling. It is a shared responsibility to pay previous debts made by presidents and Congress on both sides. This is a — this is not a partisan thing; this should be a bipartisan effort.
And we’re talking about including that $8 trillion in debt from the last administration.
So, again — and let me add — and you’ve heard the President say this, you’ve heard me say this — this is a President that has lowered the deficit in the — in the largest one-year reduction in U.S. history. So he’s putting forth pieces of legislation that is lowering the deficit. So we are doing it in a responsible way, and we are asking Congress to do the same.
Q Yes. You announced, just a few minutes ago, that two additional officers were going to be awarded medals posthumously. Why were they announced today and not yesterday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No — no particular reason. I — we just wanted to make sure that we were able to have something to give to all of you in the briefing room. But there’s no — no particular reason.
We’ve been talking to families, talking to, you know, individuals about what we were trying to do tomorrow — right? — today, sorry; today is Friday — on — on this really critical, important day, on lifting up and honoring the heroes.
There’s no particular reason, but wanted to give you — you all the opportunity to have a little bit of news in the briefing room.
Q Did you guys forget them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. No, no, no. No, we wanted to — look, we wanted to make sure that we gave you guys a little bit of news ahead of the event.
But, also, we’ve had — we’ve been having conversations with families all through this week. And wanted to make sure we did this in a fulsome way, in a real way, that we captured as many people as we can. And we’re not going to capture everyone, right?
But our team has been having those conversations, again, with family members, with individuals. And these were two people that we wanted to make sure that were recognized. And so we decided to do this in the briefing room today, ahead of the two o’clock.
Q And regarding the Mexico trip, the Mexican government is very excited that President Biden will be flying into the new airport that Mexico’s president is very fond of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Really? (Laughter.)
Q — and really, really trying to promote. And I’m just wondering what was involved in the decision and whether agreeing to fly into that airport is diplomacy in action or something else.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, you know, it’s always diplomacy in action. Right? Our diplomacy, our relationship with Mexico, one of our — one of our closest neighbors — is very important to this President. We have been working together with the government of Mexico, at least with this administration, this past two years.
I don’t have any specifics to lay out how it happened and the magic behind the decision. But again, I think it shows how important that relationship is and — and also, you know, how — how we’re looking to strengthen that alliance as well.
Q Hi. Thank you so much.
Q To me? Or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, to — I’ve never — who —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Camilo. Okay, hi.
Q Hi, Karine. Yes. So you’ve addressed some questions about the border announcement yesterday. I wanted to ask about a particular component of it.
We reported today that members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus expressed serious concerns and frustrations to Secretary Mayorkas and some administration officials during a briefing yesterday about the announcement, particularly about this proposed regulation that would disqualify migrants from asylum if they enter the country illegally and did not ask for asylum in a country like Mexico.
Is the administration open to changing that proposed regulation or even scrapping it in response to this feedback? And can you respond to the accusations that this is very similar to what the Trump administration tried to do back in 2019 to enact a similar asylum restriction?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I just want to say: This is just the beginning of the rule- — rulemaking process, with the ample time for comments, further conversations, and discu- — discussion. New re- — no new regulations have been issued, much less finalized. So I just want to be really clear.
Our Legislative Affairs team, as well as teams of the Department of Homeland Security, have been in close touch with Congress. And we’ll definitely continue that to have those — those conversations. But I wouldn’t — you know, I’m just saying that this is just the beginning — the beginning of that.
As far as a comparison to — again, to the last administration, look, you know, I would remind you that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are still working, again, through their proposed regulation. And so — and so want to be very careful there.
But I want to also reiterate what Secretary Mayorkas said yesterday: We’re creating safe and orderly pathways for people who want to seek asylum in the United States, to do so from where they are, without putting their lives in the hands of smugglers. And that is really important. That’s why we always try to make sure that the misinfor- — there is no misinformation out there, because that misinformation actually helps the smugglers and puts people’s lives at risk.
And, for instance, as the Secretary said, people will be able to apply via a DHS app on their phone to make an appointment and arrive at a port of entry to make their asylum claim, or they can seek to enter through the newly expanded parole processes — parolee processes.
That’s not an — that’s not a — I know people have talked — been talking about an asylum ban. That is not an asylum ban. It’s a safe, orderly, and humane process for seeking asylum.
Again, we are going to continue to have conversations with members of Congress, with other — you know, with other, you know, organizations out there to continue to have this conversation. But again, our priority is to do this in a safe and orderly and humane way. And that’s the path that we want to take.
Q Just a quick question about the President’s trip to El Paso on Sunday. Is he open to meeting with frontline Border Patrol agents? Because Homeland Security officials have conceded that morale among those agents is very low.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think — I think my colleague said that that’s one of the things that he is going to do, is meet with Border Patrol agents while he’s down there. I don’t want to get ahead of — of any specifics of that trip.
We’ll — we’ll have more of that stop. We’ll have more to share. But that is something that the President is going to do.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Thank you, Karine. New York Mayor Adams, who you quoted earlier, is requesting a billion dollars from the federal government to help deal with the migration issue in the city. New York has reportedly only been approved for $8 million. Does the Biden administration have plans to increase funding for New York and other cities, especially in conjunction with this new parole program?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as — as — as the Department of Homeland Security announced yesterday, we are indeed increasing funding available to border cities and those cities receiving an influx of migrants.
In addition to strengthening ongoing coordination and collaboration across all levels of government, DHS is also expanding outreach efforts with cities to provide coordination of resources and technical assistance.
We have been, indeed, facilitating coordination between the state and local — I think you’ve heard us say this before, state and local officials and also — and other federal agencies.
But for any specific on that funding to New York City, I would refer you to DHS.
But as I just stated, he — the Department of Homeland Security did announce additional funding. And so. we are going to make those border cities definitely a priority as they’re dealing with increased migration.
Q And just to follow up on something that Mr. Kirby said, he said that the people from these four countries are escaping intolerable circumstances. I looked at the most recent month of data for people who crossed the border and how they’re handled. And it seems that under this new program — and please correct me if the data is outdated — it seems like you might have a better chance crossing the border and being allowed to stay than applying for this program because there are only 30,000 slots per month.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I will go back to what I have said and what the President has said, I think, very passionately yesterday and very precisely, which is that, you know, we are doing everything that we can to secure the border and to deal with irregular migration. That is a priority for this administration since day one.
We understand this is one step. We understand to actually fix what — what is happening, this broken immigration system that we have seen for decades now, is to actually get legislation done.
And so, look, you know, what I have said and what many of us have said, like, we are ready to work. We are ready to put forth plans as we have. And, you know, again, Republicans in Congress and Republicans official — across — across the country who have done political stunts are not.
And if they truly want to deal with this issue, they would come to the table and they would work with us on immigration reform to — true comprehensive immigration reform. And that’s what we’re going to continue to call for. And that’s what you heard from this President.
Q Thanks, Karine. Can you tell us why is now the right moment for the President to visit the border? And what was the thinking that went into El Paso specifically? Did you look at any other locations, or was that always the place he wanted to go?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, he wanted to assess enforcement operations and meet local — local officials who have been important partners in managing the historical number of migrants fleeing political oppression, as somebody just asked me about, and gang violence in Venezuela, in Haiti, in Nicaragua, and in Cuba. This is something that he wanted to see for himself.
He will also — as I said many times, just moments ago — as you heard him say — he’ll call on Congress to fully fund his requests for record resources for Department — for the Department of Homeland Security and to advance the comprehensive, again, immigration reform and border security measures that is going to be needed.
I don’t want to get ahead. You’ll hear definitely from the President, clearly, in a couple of days, on what he has to say — or, you know, the next couple of days. But again, he wanted to see it for himself. And — and — and that’s what — that’s what you guys are going to witness.
Q And one more. You said, earlier this week, the White House would release the results of the President’s physical in the next couple of months.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep.
Q Has he completed his physical yet?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I don’t have any news to share about where he is with the physical.
Q He had said he would do it by the end of the year.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And well, I think I had said, “in a couple of months.” I don’t think I’ve ever said end — “end of the year.”
Q But he — he — he said on Thanksgiving that he had completed part of it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right. And I was asked and I said, “It will happen in a — the next couple of months.” And I’ve also said that it will be transparent and we will share all the information with all of you just like we did in back in 2021. So there will be no change in how we share that information.
Q Is there any reason it’s a later timeframe than in 2021?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, if you were — if you watched the President in November, you saw that he had — he traveled to Indonesia, Cambodia, North — North Africa. He traveled across the country. And so, he had a very hectic schedule.
And I think that plays into what his doctors have said, right? His doctor has said — is that he’s in good health. He’s in very good health, and that he’s — leads an active life, as we saw in November and in December.
Q Yeah, thanks, Karine —
Q I think we have to gather.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, we have to gather? Joey, you’re the last one.
Q Well, real quick. Following up on that question, I just want to clarify: Why make the trip now, not six months ago, not a year ago?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we’re clearly heading to Mexico City.
Q Okay, and —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, it made sense to —
Q And then, second —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — it made sense to go. It made sense to make a stop to see — to see what — what border enforcement operations were like and meet those local officials who have been — who have been impacted.
Q And then specifically, what is the President looking for from Mexico to help with the United States’ immigration and migration challenges in addition to the — what was announced yesterday — Mexico willing to accept 30,000 immigrant migrants from each of those four countries — the return of them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m not going to get ahead of the meetings that will be occurring in the next — early next week. We will have a readout of those meetings and lay out the deliverables. And so, we’ll certainly have more to share.
But look, when it comes to Mexico and Canada, they are our — as you know — our closest neighbors. They have been partners with us on this issue. Clearly, irregular migration is going to come up as one of the — as part of the agenda — the next — early next week. And so we’re going to continue working with them in this partnership, but I don’t want to get ahead of the President and the deliverables.
All right, everybody, have a great weekend.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.
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