James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:37 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know that was a long two minutes. My team would not let me come out. We were bonding in Lower Press.
Okay. As you saw, the President made a bit of news today on our continued support for Ukraine alongside our allies and partners. My colleague here from the National Security Council, John Kirby — Admiral Kirby — is here to take some of your questions. And I will welcome him to the podium.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any opening statement. I am just happy to take whatever questions you have.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. I’m going to — go ahead, Brian.
Q Thank you very much. Hi, Kirby. Thanks a lot for doing this.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q My question is about the direct budgetary assistance the U.S. has supplied to Ukraine. President Zelenskyy recently fired senior leaders in Ukraine over corruption concerns.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q Is the U.S. confident that — that that direct budgetary assistance has been used properly in Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: As you know, that budgetary assistance is directed through the World Bank. And we’re confident in that process.
Look, we — we obviously share President Zelenskyy’s concerns over these corruption allegations. And it’s apparent that he takes it seriously. That’s important. We’ll obviously let him work his way through that.
But in terms of the budgetary assistance, like I said, it goes through the World Bank. We’re comfortable with that process.
Q Have you seen any signs of misuse?
MR. KIRBY: We have not seen any signs that our budgetary assistance have fallen prey to any kind of corruption in Ukraine. And I would go so far as to say the same on the security assistance side as well — the weapons and the systems that we — we are obviously working in lockstep with the Ukrainians on accountability measures on that, and we’ve seen no indication that anything we’ve sent over has ended up in the wrong hands or has been using — or being used inappropriately.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to jump around. (Inaudible).
Q Thank you very much. Thank you for doing the briefing. For a long time, U.S. military officials had resisted this move to send Abrams tanks, saying that they’re difficult to operate, difficult to train people on. And that was essentially what we heard from President Biden today. What changed?
MR. KIRBY: So, a couple of things. We’ve — you’re right, we’ve been completely open and transparent about the sophistication level of the Abrams tank. It’s the, as the President said, the most capable, powerful tank in the world. And a lot goes into making it the most capable tank. So, we’ve been very honest about that.
There’s — there’s training that’s needed. There’s sophisticated maintenance requirements. There’s a supply chain. I mean, it uses a gas turbine engine to — basically, a jet engine — 1,500 horsepower. So, there’s a lot that goes into operating these tanks on the field.
That said, we never ruled tanks out. We have been — from the beginning of this war, now 11 months ago — been evolving the capabilities we’re providing with Ukraine with the conditions on the ground.
And so, when you’re at — to get to your specific question: What’s changed? What’s changed, Kristen, are the conditions on the ground and the kinds of fighting that the Russians are doing right now and the kinds of fighting, more importantly, that we believe the Ukrainians are going to be — need to be capable of in weeks and months ahead, well into 2023 — well into this year.
And that’s why we’re doing the combined arms training outside of Ukraine for battalion-size units. Combined arms maneuver — and it’s a fancy title, but it basically means being able to integrate your ground capabilities — whether that’s armor, artillery, even — even, to some degree, small air defense systems — integrating command-and-control logistics, integrating all that to fight on the ground, particularly with open terrain.
That’s why armored vehicles were so high on the list for the Ukrainians, and tanks are armored vehicles.
So, this very much just follows right along with the kinds of discussions we’ve been having with the Ukrainians for months about making sure that they can fight on the terrain that they’re in and that they can prepare for operations going forward this year.
Q And just to follow up: Was part of the calculation — because, obviously, there had been this robust back-and-forth between the U.S. and Germany — was part of this about giving cover to Germany and other —
MR. KIRBY: No.
Q — European allies to allow them to send in tanks?
MR. KIRBY: I wouldn’t use the word “cover.” What — what this decision does do is show that — how unified we are with our allies and partners, and doing all of this in a coordinated way.
So, today you saw that Chancellor Scholz announced that they’re going to provide immediately a company of Leopard tanks. A company is about 14, and there’s two companies to a Ukrainian battalion. And he’s going to be working with allies and partners to get additional companies of tanks — Leopard tanks — into Ukraine.
It’s about coordination. It’s about the unity here and the resolve that — that we all have together to help support Ukraine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sebastian.
Q Thank you. Thank you very much. Similar question.
Could you get a little more specific about how many tanks the Ukrainians would like to have? I mean, I know you’re going to say it’s their decision, but obviously you’re communicating with them the whole time. How many they would like to have to get what they want to do done — i.e., these counter-offensives? And do you think they’re going to get there with this whole hodgepodge of different Western contributions?
MR. KIRBY: So, you’re right. I’m not going to speak for President Zelenskyy. I think if he was up here instead of me, he would tell you he wants as many as he can as fast as he can.
So, the battalion that we’re going to provide — that’s 31 tanks. And that’s for a Ukrainian-sized battalion. An American battalion has more tanks in it, but the way they’re organized, it’s about 30 to 31 tanks.
And again, the Germans are going to help organize another two battalions, so that’s about 60 more, roughly. And that’s just what was talked about today. The Brits have agreed to send some of their Challenger tanks. You heard the President talk about the French and their contributions to armored vehicles. So, there’s a — there’s a lot that’s being applied to this.
And armored vehicles are important. You know, you — you don’t go after a crocodile with a corn stalk. And — and these — and these vehicles, these tanks, those armored vehicles, they’re — they’re going to have — they’re going to have an effect.
Q Okay, but just given the goals, which are approaching pretty quickly, right? — the — that there’s going to be a spring offensive; they’re talking maybe in a couple months or so — do you feel confident that Ukraine is going to get to where they want to be in terms of the armor for this combined arms maneuver to talk about — that they’re going to —
MR. KIRBY: It is —
Q — have all that kit ready?
MR. KIRBY: I can go so far as to tell you that it is our goal — and a goal shared by our allies and partners, including in the phone call this morning that the President had — that we — that we accomplish exactly that goal: that we get to Ukraine the capabilities they need to be successful on the battlefield today but, just as critically, in the future, going forward this year.
Because right now, I mean, it’s wintertime, so the conditions are not great. There’s some fighting in the Donbas. But the — but other than that, there’s not been a whole heck of a lot, at least around in the — down in the south.
But as the weather conditions improve, you can expect that the Russians are going to pick up the tempo. We have to be — we have to be ready for that. And I know the Ukrainians feel they have to be ready for that.
So, it’s about helping Ukraine defend itself but also, as you heard the President say, helping Ukraine be able to go on the offense when the weather conditions and when the — when the operational conditions are permissive.
Does that answer your question?
Q Yes. Thank you very much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Phil.
Q Thank, Kirby.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And then I’ll come to the back.
Q This is kind of a follow-up to everybody’s question. How much of the U.S. announcement today was a diplomatic effort versus actually the battlefield capability effort in the months ahead when these 31 tanks can be delivered?
MR. KIRBY: Both. Both. There was a lot of diplomacy that went into the announcements today. And — and, you know, I know we’ve all been focused on the last few days and things that have been said publicly. But actually, I mean, the effort that — the decision you saw today by both Germany and the United States was — was several weeks in the making through many, many discussions with the Germans and with our allies and — allies and partners.
But it also — there’s a military component here too, Phil. I mean, I get it. I get, you know, where you’re kind of going — is that these tanks are not going to get there for many months. And I understand that.
But those Leopards won’t take quite as long to get there that — as the Abrams. And we’re not wasting the time. I mean, even as we procure these tanks, we’re going to be — the Pentagon will very soon start doing the training for Ukrainian tankers, Ukrainian troops that man tanks so that they can be ready to receive once those tanks are on the — on the battlefield.
Another point that’s worth making is it’s not just about how to operate the Abrams — to Kristen’s question. It’s how to maintain them. And it’s how to build in — have an organic supply chain process, a logistical sustainment process so that you can keep them maintained and in the fight over the long haul.
Q If I could just ask one quick follow-up. We always hear after announcements like this — and you’ve talked about the progression as the battlefield conditions have changed — the Russian threats of escalation or talking about crossing red lines.
Do you feel like those threats at this point are both just par for the course but also somewhat empty? In the sense that —
MR. KIRBY: You mean the Russian threats?
Q They don’t seem — yeah, they don’t seem to stop anything that you guys are consider- —
MR. KIRBY: Well, we don’t — I mean, look, we don’t just take anything for granted when they say it. And we’re not dismissive.
That said, these tanks are meant to help Ukraine fight effectively on open terrain, to defend their sovereignty and their territory, and to win back territory that the Russians have taken from them.
And as the President said, they don’t represent an offensive threat to Russia. Do they represent a threat to Russian soldiers? You bet they do. But not to — Russian soldiers that are in Ukraine, not — not to — not to Russia proper.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thank you, Karine. Hi, John. Actually, Phil asked my question, but —
MR. KIRBY: Oh, good. So, we can go to the next one. (Laughter.)
Q No, no, I have a follow-up on that. You know, the expectation that these tanks will be delivered within months — at least four months. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong. But the — also, the reports that the Russians might launch a counterattack now, do you see this as a catalyst for the Russians now to launch an attack, to escalate the war in a way to stop them before they reach — before they receive these tanks, if they are going to make any change in the war —
MR. KIRBY: I —
Q — (inaudible) Ukrainians?
MR. KIRBY: I never do well if I try to speak for the Russians and try to get inside their head and what their intents are.
What we do believe — all I can tell you is what we believe, and that is that the Russians, Mr. Putin, will use the winter not only to conduct operations — which he is in Bakhmut and Soledar — but to use it to regroup, to retrain, to reequip, and to prepare himself for continued fighting when the weather improves.
So, we want to make sure that we’re using this time as best we can, A, to help the Ukrainians in the fight that they’re in today, but make sure that they’re ready for the fight tomorrow, that they’re ready to defend themselves against whatever offensive operations the Russians might be planning to do when the weather improves.
So, I — again, I can’t predict perfectly how this is going to go, but this is very much — you know, the — some of the criticism I’ve heard — and I’ve heard it when I was at the Pentagon, too — is, you know, it’s “hand to mouth” and “you guys aren’t thinking ahead,” and it’s just whatever — whatever the need is for today.
And this decision today is very much indicative of the President’s long-term commitment to Ukraine and how he has tasked the national security team to think ahead, to plan ahead, to help the Ukrainians get ahead of what’s coming down the pike.
Q Can I follow up on this, please?
Q Thanks. Two quick follow-ups. You noted that our military aid to Ukraine has evolved with conditions on the ground. And the President previously said that these M1 Abrams were needed to liberate Ukraine. Does the administration expect any operations moving forward that would include retaking Crimea or lands that were lost during the Russian invasion of Crimea?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about Ukrainian operations. I would just never violate their operational security and certainly wouldn’t divulge from the podium what their plans and intentions are.
I will only say this: that we do not dictate to the Ukrainians how they operate, where they operate, what missions they conduct, what targets they choose. We help them with usable information and intelligence as best we can so that they can be successful. But these are their decisions to make. It is their country, their war. Our job is to make sure that they can prosecute that war successfully.
Q And then, I want to follow up to make sure that I understood you correctly. You said previously, in your assessment of both military and economic aid to Ukraine, that at this point, thus far, you haven’t seen any signs of corruption or misuse?
MR. KIRBY: Correct.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nancy.
Q Can I follow up on the numbers?
Q Thanks, John. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the U.S. settled on the number of tanks it’s providing: 31?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q That’s a very specific number.
MR. KIRBY: I kind of got to it a little earlier. It’s basically the size of a Ukrainian tank battalion. In Amer- — and I’m getting a little bit astray of my knowledge; I was a naval officer. But as I understand it, an American tank battalion has about 50 tanks in it, and it’s organized with more companies to comprise the battalion than in Ukraine.
That’s just the way the Ukrainian army is organized. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just that their battalions are basically, I believe, two companies. So, they’re just smaller. And — and so, two companies — that’s about 15 tanks a company, and that’s how you get to 30, 31.
And then, usually, at least one of these tanks is — the commander is in there. And so, you got a command-and-control tank that sort of is in charge of how they’re operating on the field.
And now I’m really, really going astray of my expertise. But I think that’s about as far as I can go.
Q If the Ukrainians said today, “Thank you very much. Now, how about some fourth-generation fighter jets?” — what are the chances of that happening?
MR. KIRBY: We’re in constant discussions with the Ukrainians about their capabilities. And as I’ve said, we evolve those as the conditions change. Can’t blame the Ukrainians for wanting more and more systems. It’s not the first time that they’ve talked about fighter jets. But I don’t have any announcements to make on that front.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Christina.
Q Is there a concern that if any of these tanks were to fall into Russian hands, they would have access to the latest U.S. technology?
MR. KIRBY: There’s always what we call “tech transfer” concerns. I mean, that would be the case with other systems that we have provided to Ukraine.
But — and this doesn’t — it kind of gets to the corruption question, but not really. We just haven’t seen any indications that any of the material that we have provided Ukraine isn’t being stored appropriately, used appropriately, maintained appropriately, and certainly — and being fought with appropriately. We’re just not seeing that — that happen.
But is that a potential risk? It’s always a risk in war. It’s a risk when we fight a war. But that’s why we’re working so closely with the Ukrainians on accountability. And we’ve really increased our efforts, through the defense attaché’s office in Kyiv, to work with the Ukrainians on accountability so that we have a better sight picture on where these things are at any given time.
But it’s a war. And you can’t forget that. I mean, it’s a war.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Catherine.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, why not take the Abrams out of existing stocks to get them there faster? Is there a reason that you want more training before that happens? Or is there some U.S. need that you want to keep them in inventory?
MR. KIRBY: The Pentagon assesses that they don’t have any excess Abrams in their inventory, that all of them are gainfully employed, if you will, to — for our own national security defense.
And even if there were excess tanks, the process of getting them to Ukraine to prepare them for use by the Ukrainians, to train the Ukrainians, put all the parts and supplies in place, it would take many months anyway.
So, it’s not like this procurement process is really costing us any time than if we just drew them down out of our own stocks. But the real reason is we just don’t have them; we don’t have excess tanks.
The second thing is — and this is not unimportant — is that — and I mentioned this a little bit earlier: When — when they get there, we want to make sure that they fall on ready hands and that the Ukrainians know how to use them, they know how to keep them running, and they’ve got the supply chain in place for spare parts and supplies and anything else they need so that they can be more effective on the battlefield.
Q And given the process, what’s the soonest the Abrams could get there?
MR. KIRBY: The Pentagon, I think, talked about this earlier today. There’s no date certain on the calendar. I think what we’re looking at is what’s probably going to be many months before they’re actually there.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Patsy.
Q Thank you. John, so to your point about longer-term planning and absorption rate from the Ukrainians, and also picking up from Sebastian’s question about the number of tanks: The Ukrainian advisor to — the advisor to Zelenskyy’s office, Mykhailo Podolyak, actually told my colleague after this announcement that what they want, what they need is about 200 to 350 tanks from the West.
So, is that a realistic number? If not now, maybe in the future, if they — if the Ukrainians should happen to prove that they can absorb these initial tranche of tanks and they can maintain it?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think it’s wise to get ahead of where we are right now. We are focused on working on this program to get them — procure them these 31 Abrams tanks to include all the supplies and parts that go with it and the training that’s required to operate and maintain them.
And we know, certainly based on the conversation the President had this morning, that our allies and partners in Europe are likewise focused now on moving additional armored capability to include these, now, German Leopard tanks in — in a — in a shorter period of time.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q So, just to be clear: The future shipments of tanks is not off the table?
MR. KIRBY: We’re focused on the announcement the President just made today.
Q And just one more, really quickly. He also said that the next step for Ukrainians will be to request extended range missiles. Is that also under consideration?
MR. KIRBY: We are in constant conversation with the Ukrainians about their capabilities. I don’t have any announcements to make.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Aamer.
Q With “many months” being the timeframe, is it fair to say that these tanks will not be available for use for the spring offensive?
And secondly, one of the concerns in the lead-up and the debate about this was fuel concerns. How is that being dealt with?
MR. KIRBY: Well, that’s part of the supply chain issue, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a jet engine. It’s a gas turbine engine, which needs jet fuel. So, there’s a specific type of fuel that — that powers the Abrams, and we’ve got to make sure that that pipeline, literally and figuratively, is — is available to Ukraine. So, that’s going to take some time, as well.
And, look, I’m not going to predict date certain on the calendar. It’s going to take many months before the tanks get there. And let’s not get ahead of specific spring offensives.
We do think, as the weather improves, the Russians are going to want to increase their tempo. We want to make sure that the Ukrainians can not only meet that tempo but be capable of their own. And what that looks like and when that starts or where, that’s really up to President Zelenskyy and his military advisors. We wouldn’t speak to that.
I will — only thing I’d add to that, Aamer, is that those Leopard tanks won’t take quite as long to get on the ground. And again, I’ll let the Germans speak to this. But they won’t take the same length of time that the Abrams will —
Q Go ahead.
MR. KIRBY: — in order to arrive.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q To — follow up on —
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’ll go after.
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I — I screwed up the flow. (Laughter.)
Q To — to follow up on Aamer’s question about the — the “many months” timeline, can you articulate, then, why this decision was not — why it did not take place sooner, given Ukrainians’ demands and given the demands of a potential spring offensive?
MR. KIRBY: We — we could — we could — you could ask that question about almost any system that we’ve provided, and my answer will always be the same: We are — we are in constant conversation with the Ukrainians about their needs and doing the best we can to address those needs, both short term and long term. And the decision that the President announced today was a result of a lot of conversations with the Ukrainians, as well as with our allies and partners.
And it is very much — as I answered before — it’s very much about forecasting. It’s about trying to get ahead of the kinds of fighting that we see coming — in coming months here in the spring, in the summer of this year.
Q Can I ask one quick follow-up? To broaden it out, actually, beyond the situation in Russia and Ukraine, I was struck by something the President said today about ensuring that neighbors cannot steal other neighbors’ territory. It’s something you all have brought up many, many times.
And I’m curious if you can kind of help us understand why the administration has not changed course on your predecessor former President Donald Trump’s position on the Golan Heights and what makes that situation distinct from what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine.
MR. KIRBY: Look, the — different scenarios completely. And — and I’m not here prepared to talk much about that, except to say: We’ve been very consistent that we — we want to see a two-state solution. And we believe, the President believes that a two-state solution is possible and could be viable.
But it takes both sides to be willing to commit to that. And we don’t want to see — we don’t want to see either side take unilateral actions that would decrease the possibility of actually reaching a two-state solution.
Q Could you please bring us a little bit behind the scenes about the negotiations —
MR. KIRBY: You’re behind her. I couldn’t see you. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. I was wondering if you could — you could give us some details about the negotiations behind the scenes with the Europeans? What kind of —
MR. KIRBY: You want me to talk behind the scenes at the podium?
Q Yeah, a little bit. (Laughter.) Especially what type of conversations have there been with the European Union and with the government of Spain. Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: (Laughs.) The discussions have been very robust with our European allies and partners, again, for many weeks here. And, certainly, the discussion today that the President had with the — with his counterparts in the UK, France, Germany, and Italy was, again, very productive, very candid.
All — all of these leaders are rightly focused on doing what they can to help Ukraine and rightly focused on the — the future.
And I can’t speak for Spanish decision-making here. Spain, obviously, has been a contributor and a supporter of Ukraine. And that’s always welcome. And I think the President addressed some of their contributions today. And we look forward to continuing to work closely with Spain going forward.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: James, in the back.
Q I’m sorry, I didn’t have a question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, okay.
Q I — I have a question —
Q Karine —
Q Thank you. Thank you, Karine.
MR. KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait. You don’t have a question, James? Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? (Laughter.)
Q This is just a tribute to the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can we just have this for the record —
MR. KIRBY: Oh, my goodness. Yes.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can we have it for the record that I called on you and you didn’t have a question?
MR. KIRBY: I’m going to frame that transcript.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: For the record.
MR. KIRBY: Holy mackerel.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q This is simply a tribute to your own loquacity and thoroughness in briefing us today.
MR. KIRBY: “Loquacity” is James Rosen for “eloquence”? Is that —
Q I have two questions for you.
MR. KIRBY: All right. Go ahead, sir.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, go ahead.
Q So, we don’t know how — yet how Russia will respond. But if Moscow chooses a major escalation and decides to strike NATO — either Poland or the Baltics — does the NATO — do you have enough troops in the region right now to respond? And — from day one, not five months ahead.
And the second question would be: Many of those who called for sending Leopards and Abrams to Ukraine argued that Russia right now is too weakened to — militarily too weakened to respond conventionally in a significant way. How confident are you in this assessment that Russia is so weak that — or maybe you have a different assessment. But many people thought that Russia — think that Russia is too weak to respond in a significant way to the move that was just announced about tanks.
MR. KIRBY: Let me take the second one first. There’s no question that Russia’s military is weaker today than it was 11 months ago, when you talk about their resources and the casualties that they have sunk into this unprovoked war of theirs and the, literally, thousands of missiles and rockets and now drones that they have launched into Ukrainian territory. I mean, they have — they have burned through a lot of inventory. And they have suffered a lot of casualties — killed and wounded. So there’s no question that their military is weaker for Putin’s folly here.
That said, you don’t have to look very far — just the news coverage — to see that the Russian military and their thugs are still pretty lethal, because Ukrainians continue to die every day. So, I think if you were to ask a Ukrainian here, “How weak is Russia?” I don’t think that they would tell you that there’s not still fight left there. And that’s why we’re so focused on making sure that Ukraine can continue to defend itself and to have the capabilities to fight back and to succeed on the battlefield.
And on your first question, all I can tell you is we’ve seen absolutely no indication that Mr. Putin has designs on striking NATO territory.
And President Biden has said, since the very beginning of this conflict, that we take our Article 5 commitments to NATO seriously. Article 5, of course, is the notion that an attack on one is an attack on all. And we take that seriously.
In fact, we take it so seriously that President Biden ordered an additional 20,000 American troops alone onto the European continent, and they still are there. Now, we’ll be rotating them in and out, but it’ll — the net number of 100,000 American troops on the European continent has stayed the same and will stay the same for the foreseeable future.
Make no mistake, the security environment in Europe has changed. Not “is changing,” not “will change.” It has changed because of what Mr. Putin did.
And the United States anted up for that and made clear to our NATO Allies, particular on the — particularly on the eastern flank, how seriously we take our responsibilities to those Article 5 commitments. And Mr. Putin needs to understand that.
Q But do you have enough troops? Because many of those countries send its own tanks, missile systems to Ukraine.
MR. KIRBY: Well, we — we’re sending missile systems and now we’re sending tanks to Ukraine as well. Every nation is making these decisions as best they can to support Ukraine, but they also still have sovereign responsibilities to their citizens to defend their countries. And so they’re all making that calculus, as are — as are we.
I can tell you that, from our perspective — I can’t speak for every NATO Ally — we are confident that we have the capability, the energy, the talent, the manpower, the resources to meet our Article 5 commitments to our NATO Allies.
Q Thank you.
Q Are there any signs on the nuclear front?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, right next to you. Right next to you. We’re going to get around, guys. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine and John. Got two questions about China. First, Karine told us yesterday that the U.S. has been communicating with China about the implications of helping Russia. Can you tell us what China’s response was to U.S. communication? And if China continues to provide economic support, and including by selling non-lethal military aid to Russia, would the U.S. impose stronger measures than just communicate?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made. And I’m certainly not going to detail diplomatic conversations. We’ve been very clear publicly, and we certainly have been clear in private settings with Chinese leaders, that we don’t believe that now is the time for business as usual with Russia and that we want to see every nation sign up to the strict sanctions regime and — and abide by those sanctions, meet those sanctions and do nothing to support Russia.
Now, every country makes their decisions for themselves, just like I said before. You know, and China is going to have choices that they’re going to have to continue to make here about what side they want to be on. We know they’re still buying Russian oil, for instance. And it’s not clear whether they will abide by the cap.
But this is the time for the international community — and you’re seeing so much of it today in this decision — to really continue to rally around Ukraine and to make the right decisions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, Mary, Nandita, and then (inaudible).
Q A follow-up on China. Sorry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary. Go ahead, Mary.
Q So China has been saying that there is 70k COVID deaths in just over the month, up from just dozens reported earlier this month. Does the U.S. believe that new number by the Chinese government saying that there’s been 70k deaths?
MR. KIRBY: The Chinese — we have continued to encourage the Chinese to be cooperative with international reviews and studies about COVID, and they have not been fully transparent. And we cannot speak to the veracity of those numbers.
We urge China to be fully transparent about what’s going on.
Q And (inaudible) — sorry —
Q Just back to the timeline.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got to move on.
MR. KIRBY: I think — ma’am — ma’am, I got to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary.
MR. KIRBY: I got to move on.
Q I appreciate it. We all have questions. If — back to the timeline, if I may — you saying repeatedly today that it’s going to take many months for all these tanks to be delivered. Taking a step back, should Americans see that as a sign of a harsh reality that this war is nowhere near from over?
MR. KIRBY: I think we need to prepare ourselves that — to — to continue — to have to continue to support Ukraine for — for quite some time. I can’t be perfectly predictive on that.
And I, obviously — and you heard the President say this today — we’d like to see this war end today, and it absolutely could. All Putin has to do is pull his troops out of Ukraine and call it a day, and it’s over.
But he has shown no signs of being willing to do that, and so we got to make sure that Ukraine can succeed on the battlefield so that they can succeed at the negotiating table. And it’s difficult to be able to predict how long this is going to go on. But we have to be prepared.
And this is the — I think, to get to your question: While I can’t — can’t tell the American people exactly how long it’s going to take, we have to be prepared to stay at this task of supporting Ukraine, as the President said, for as long as it takes, with the expectation, clearly, that we want it to end quickly and we want it to end now.
But again, we’ve just got to — we have to stay at that task. And there’s been terrific bipartisan support here in town — bicameral and bipartisan support here in town for support to Ukraine. And the American people, as the President said, they too have been supportive of this. They understand what’s at stake, and it’s — it’s, obviously, Ukrainian sovereignty and Ukrainian lives, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about the principle of sovereignty.
Q There’s also been — if I could, really fast — there’s also bipartisan outrage and frustration over the last few days that there are just more and more disclosures of classified documents showing up in places where they were not supposed to be.
From a national security perspective — you work in national security — how concerned are you? And does this system need reform?
MR. KIRBY: I’m going to defer most of the document questions to Karine. The only thing I’d say here is that —
(Looks at Ms. Jean-Pierre.) You’re welcome.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: The — obviously, the President, you’ve heard Karine say, takes the treatment of classified material seriously. I can assure you that everybody here does too. And the National Security Council staff, we deal with classified material every single day; you have to do that.
We all know what the rules are. We follow the rules. And the procedures exist for a reason. And they’ve been developed over many, many years as the nature of classified material has changed, now down — to now include electronic capability. And so, we’re working at that very, very hard.
I don’t have any changes to speak to. The — the process of classified material handling — you know, not “process,” but the guidelines change over time as technology changes. And we’re always reviewing those — those procedures to make sure that they’re fully appropriate.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nandita.
Q Is there a problem then with over-classification?
MR. KIRBY: Is there a problem with —
Q Over-classification of documents.
MR. KIRBY: Look, I think — you know, it’s always a balance, and you’re always trying to meet that balance about whether things are classified appropriately. And the — the intelligence community works at this. Obviously, we work at this.
I wouldn’t go so far as to slap a Band-Aid on and say, “Yeah, everything is over-classified.” But it’s — it’s a balance that we try to strike to make sure that everything is appropriately marked and appropriately handled.
But, you know, it varies from document to document and from issue to issue.
Q And a quick one on Germany. At any point during the conversations with Germany, did they make the Leopard deployment contingent on the U.S. sending the Abrams? And can you give us some sense of what led to the joint decision?
I mean, I’m just trying to understand. You didn’t want to send the tanks; then you decided to send the tanks. What happened?
MR. KIRBY: Tanks were never off the table. We have been nothing but honest and transparent about the particular challenges of the Abrams, which — there are still — those challenges still exist.
I mean, it is still going to require a unique supply chain and maintenance requirements and jet fuel. I mean, all that stuff is still valid. We’ve been very honest about that.
The decision today was the result of many, many discussions with the Germans, as well as our allies and partners, about what Ukraine is going to need going forward and how we can all best address that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just a couple more. Go ahead, Michael.
Q Mr. Kirby, can you take a question —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael.
Q — on Africa?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael. Go ahead, Michael.
Q I know Karine Jean-Pierre will not (inaudible) —
Q Could you talk a little about the training process for learning how to operate these tanks? What is involved in that? How long do you think it would take the Ukrainians to get up to speed? When do you think it — expect it to start? Where would it be? Would it be in Ukraine or somewhere else?
MR. KIRBY: We’re still working our way through the details of that, and I — I’ll refer you to the Defense Department for more granularity.
I can tell you a few things. One, the training will absolutely not occur in Ukraine, but they haven’t landed a location for where that would take place. But it won’t be inside Ukraine, clearly.
And they will run an ambitious training program for them as we have on every other system. The Patriot battery training is ongoing right now at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and — and they’ve been able to accelerate parts of that so — to get Ukrainians trained up on it at a pace that’s a little faster than what we would do, because the need is exigent. And I think you can expect that the Pentagon will take that same approach on the training on the Abrams.
But how long is it going to take? I really am not able to say. They’re still working their — their way through that.
We don’t think that it will take too much longer. You know, I’d say, probably, you know, weeks, not months, before they’re able to really nail down the details of this and start to — start to put it in place, the training regimen.
Q John, how hard is it to walk out of a SCIF with classified material?
MR. KIRBY: Everybody who goes into a SCIF knows what the requirements are to go in and knows what the requirements are to go out. You know, there’s — you can’t bring personal devices in. And you certainly can’t leave with material unless that material is appropriately secured.
Q And usually, what happens to someone in the chain of command if they do leave with a piece of classified material that they’re not supposed to have or that is not secured?
MR. KIRBY: I think if you do it inadvertently or you do it and you realize, you know, you don’t have it secured in a locked bag, you know, you — you self-report, which is exactly what the President did: self-reported.
But you self-report, and you — you make sure that that you get the material back, secured where it belongs, and that you’re transparent about it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Two more questions. Alex, in the back. Alex. And then you can go.
Q Thank you, Admiral. I understand the distinction you’re making between offensive weapons and defensive weapons, but the Russians are not seeing that subtlety — perhaps intentionally, right? They’re calling — I mean, one of their propaganda — propagandists is calling for, you know, the annihilation of Washington and Berlin and London and Paris.
Now, I’m just — that’s just indicative of the mood in Moscow.
MR. KIRBY: Because of this announcement?
Q Well, because of this announcement, and then, I think, they’re quite irked by the German announcement, given the history.
So, is it — is it possible that they see this as a provocation to escalate? And I heard one of my colleagues ask about tactical nukes. Could this give them a pretext to use those either on the battlefield or against the Baltics or Poland, elsewhere?
MR. KIRBY: The propagandists in the Russian media can say what they will. The President put it very plainly today that these tanks pose no offensive threat to Russia. They do, as I told Phil, pose a threat to Russian soldiers in units that are in Ukraine. They’re very powerful, very capable. And not just the Abrams, but the Leopards that are — that are going to be coming soon too — very, very powerful.
But they don’t pose a threat to the Russian homeland. They are designed to help the Ukrainians in what we believe is going to be a need for combined arms operation in the coming — operations in the coming months.
Q The nuke threat specifically, do you see that worsening?
MR. KIRBY: I — I would just tell you we don’t have any indication that Mr. Putin has any intention to use weapons of mass destruction — let alone nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise.
We monitor as best we can, and we believe that — that our strategic deterrent posture is appropriate. But we have seen no indication that that’s in the offing.
Q Mr. Kirby, what was the President’s reaction when he learned —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: One last question —
Q — on October 29th —
MR. KIRBY: (Addressing Ms. Jean-Pierre.) However you want to go. Wherever you want to go.
Q — the American intelligence agency missed their target by 3,000 (inaudible)? What was his reaction?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. You have the last question.
Q I’m just wondering, you know, how and when it was decided to send the Abrams. I mean, was there a final, you know, call with Chancellor Scholz or a meeting with officials that really pushed that decision across the finish line?
MR. KIRBY: I think, just in general — I’d rather not get into specific interagency internal deliberations. But — but in general, this decision by the President was made in the last several days, this particular one.
But it came, as I said earlier, on the heels of dozens of conversations at various levels of the chain of command, not just between the President and the Chancellor, but Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his counterpart, and Secretary Austin and his counterpart.
You know, they were just out in Ramstein on Friday as a part of this Ukraine Defense Contact Group. And the issue of tanks, particularly Leopard tanks, was absolutely on the agenda last Friday at Ramstein.
So, I mean, it builds on weeks of discussions and conversations with the Germans, with our allies and par- — other par- — other allies and partners, as well as, quite frankly, with the — with the Ukrainians.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, John.
MR. KIRBY: All right. Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate it. Thanks, guys.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, John.
MR. KIRBY: Stay dry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks, John.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, ma’am.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, so just a couple of things at the top, and then we’ll get started.
Today we announced data from the 2023 Open Enrollment Period. In this year’s Open Enrollment Period, a record-breaking 16.3 million Americans signed up for affordable healthcare through the Affordable Care Act. That’s over double the number of Americans who signed up for health insurance coverage through the marketplaces during the first open enrollment season in twenty-twenty-fou- — in 2014.
Four out of five consumers looking for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act could find healthcare plans for $10 a le- — or less per month. That’s because of the lower health insurance rates that were delivered as part of the American Rescue Plan and were locked in through the Inflation Reduction Act.
In all, these lower rates are allowing millions of Americans to continue to save $800 per year on health insurance coverage.
President Biden promised to lower costs for families and expand access to quality, affordable healthcare, and he is delivering on that promise.
(Reporter sneezes.) Bless you, Nancy.
And finally, as you all know, tomorrow, President Biden will deliver remarks on recent proof that his economic plan is working, including a record nearly 11 million jobs created — the two strongest years of job growth in history; 750,000 manufacturing jobs created; the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years; the best two years for small business applications on record; annual inflation falling and wages rising over the last six months.
The President will then contrast his plan with Republicans’, as you’ve heard us do many times from here.
The President is building an econ- — an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. Congressional Republican — Republicans want to cut Social Security, want to cut Medicare — programs Americans have earned, have paid into — and impose a 30 percent national sales tax that will increase taxes on working families. That is what they have said they want to do, and that is clearly their plan.
His remarks will be in Springfield, Virginia, with Steamfighter [Steamfitter] union workers who are benefiting from his economic plan.
With that, Aamer, want to kick us off?
Q Sure. Thank you. Does the administration think it’s time for all former Presidents to do a scrub of their homes and offices to make certain they don’t have any classified documents in their possession?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I think I was asked a version of that question yesterday. And I — it remains the same as what we’re going to do from here: Again, be prudent, be consistent.
I would refer you to the White House Counsel Office. I’m just not going to comment on any change of procedur — procedure, how things should move forward. I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office.
Q On a separate matter, any reaction to Senator Joe Manchin moving to delay on new tax credits on EVs?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I haven’t seen — I haven’t seen those reports. Clearly, when it comes to electrical vehicles, that’s something that is incredibly important to this President. We saw that in the bipartisan infrastructure legislation. Remember, it is a bipartisan piece of legislation.
And he is committed to really tackling climate change by making sure we’re moving forward — one of the processes is making sure that we’re moving with electric vehicles.
I don’t have anything specific to — to say about this particular action that the senator is making.
Q Just one — one last thing. Any updates on when Speaker McCarthy may be coming to visit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, the President is very much looking forward to meeting with Speaker McCarthy. We haven’t locked anything in yet. They — they have a working relationship, as we’ve said before. They want to continue and build on that relationship.
Don’t have anything here to share. You know, we’re expected — they’re expected to talk on a range of issues. When we have locked in that meeting, we certainly will let you all know.
Q Thanks, Karine. Another question about Senator Manchin. He had a meeting with the House Speaker and reportedly said after that meeting that he wants the White House to negotiate over cutting spending in exchange for raising the debt limit. Has he conveyed that position to the White House? And does the White House have any response to Senator Manchin about that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, I’ll say a couple of things. And I’ve been asked this question over the last two days in different — in different variations.
Look, I don’t have a — any conversations to share that was had in this — in this — on this campus with Senator Manchin.
As you know, we talk to congressional members from both sides of the chamber very regularly.
What I will say is: The President has been always very clear. If folks have ideas on how to deal with the national debt and bring down — lower the debt, he’s happy to hear that — hear that conversation. He’s happy to hear those policies and those ideas.
And as you know, you’ve heard me say this many times, $1.7 trillion, which is a record number that the President has been able to do to bring down the deficit.
When it comes to default, we see this as a separate matter. We see this very differently. And it should be done without conditions. We’ve been very clear about that.
And if you think about just the basic — just to — kind of the basic action that the Congress should be taking, we’re talking about the debt that has been acquired, that has racked — racked up by Congress.
We’re not talking about new spending. We’re not talking about anything new. We’re talking about Congress just paying their debt, which is a basic responsibility. Ninety percent of the debt that has been racked up happened before the President walked into the office.
So, again, it should be done without conditions. We’ve been very clear about that. And will continue to share — to share that with whoever wants to listen.
Q And then, on a separate topic, there are some House Democrats who are now calling on Speaker McCarthy to limit Congressman George Santos’s access to classified information based on some of his connections and some of the lies that he’s told about his background. Does the White House share that view, that he should be restricted from viewing classified information?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what we have said about Congressman George Santos is that this is something — as it relates to — as it relates to committees or any actions that — that members need to see — feel that they should be — should be happening, that is something for Congress to decide. That is something specifically for the Republican conference to decide. They are the ones who should figure out what is owed to the American people.
We’re not going to comment from here. We’re not — we’re not going to comment on actions that they’re taking on other congressional members from here.
But again, we believe that is something for Republican conference. They have, as you know, the majority in the House, and they should be deciding on how to move and what is owed to the American people.
Q So, you don’t have any concerns about him viewing classified information?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This is — this is something, again, that should be decided by congressional members. We’ll leave it there.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q Can you assure the American people that when President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris leave office, no classified documents will walk away with them to places they shouldn’t be?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m going to be very careful here, as you can imagine. What I can say is repeat what the President has said multiple times. He takes classified information, he takes classified documents very seriously. His team, currently, is fully cooperating with the legal procedure that is happening under the Department of Justice and also the Special Counsel.
I’m just not going to go beyond that. I’m not going to predict or — or — or lay out anything that might happen in the future.
What I can say is this is something that the President — this is a matter, an issue that the President takes very seriously.
Q On another topic. Any reaction from you, from the White House about Speaker McCarthy’s decision to keep Representative Schiff and Swalwell off the Intelligence Committee?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this: Representative Schiff, Representative Swalwell, and also Repres- — Representative Omar are — you know, are expertise and bring a lot to the table when it comes to foreign policy and national security.
And we’ll say this, you know — we’ll say this: We’ll say that, you know, when it comes to that committee, it should not be politicized. It should be independent. And — and, again, those congressional members bring a lot of expertise to that committee, and I’ll leave it there.
Go ahead, Nandita.
Q Thanks, Karine. The White House has not confirmed the appointment of Jeff Zients as the next Chief of Staff. Is there a reason you’re not doing that? Is — can you give us a sense of when you are planning to announce that? And how soon will Ron Klain be leaving his position?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We — look, I’m not going to talk about an internal process from here. What I can say is that we just don’t have any personal announcement to make at this time.
And, look, I do want to say that Jeff is currently a colleague here of mine, and I’ve known him for many years. And I’ve spoken to Ron and his leadership just the other day, as — as the Chief of Staff and how we were able to get to where we are with the successes in — with the legislation — historical legislation — in part because of his expertise.
And he’s been — he has always been a pleasure to work with. And we’re going to continue, clearly, to work with — with Ron as long as he’s here.
When it comes to Jeff, I’ve known him, as well, for a very long time. He’s a great implementer. He’s a — great with operations. And he’s also an amazing human being, which I think should matter as well.
Just don’t have any personal announcements — personnel announcement to make from here. And when we do, we certainly will share that with all of you.
Q Will Ron Klain at least be staying on until after the State of the Union?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t — don’t have anything — I don’t have anything to share, any personnel announcements to share at this time.
Q Thanks, Karine. I was wondering, is the White House concerned or keeping an eye on what’s happening in Memphis right now, in terms of — there’s a federal civil rights investigation into the death of a man who had a confrontation after a traffic stop. I know his family and lawyers have seen the body cam footage; there’s an expectation that will be released publicly in the coming days. Are you guys watching that or doing anything to prepare for that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I — again, I want to be very careful here. That is an ongoing investigation, so don’t want to comment on an independent investigation.
I will say this: Our — our hearts go out to — to his family. And I’ll just leave it there, without stepping over the line here and commenting on something that’s ongoing.
Q And just one other. There was an announcement today that the President and Vice President will be doing a joint event together in Philadelphia. They aren’t often outside of Washington together. Any context you can provide in terms of what they’re planning —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely.
Q — for that and what you guys are intending with that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. We advise — we advised this recently. It’s going to be next Friday. They’re — both the Vice President and the President will travel to Philly, which will be on February 3rd. And they will discuss the progress we have made and their work implementation, the Biden-Harris economic agenda, that continues to deliver results for the American people. And we will have more additional information as we get closer to that date.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael.
Q In the back?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll go to the back.
Q The House Judiciary Committee is planning its first hearing next week on what it’s calling the “Biden border crisis.” I wanted to see if you have a reaction to that.
And also, can you talk a little bit about the Wh- — how the White House is preparing for all of these investigations that House Republicans are planning?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, this is something my colleagues at the White House Council has been dealing with and responding to the committee.
And, I mean, look, I’ve said this before — I’ve sa- — and I’ll say it again: You know, during the midterms, you — we’ve heard from congressional members, Republicans in particular, that their focus was going to be on lowering costs for the American people, dealing with inflation, which is something the President has been doing for the last — for the last two years.
And in — on brand, they decided to do the opposite of that: to not deal with inflation, to not work with us in a bipartisan way to continue to — to — to really, truly work for the American people.
That’s what we’re seeing. My colleagues have said this before; I’ll repeat what they have said: We are — we are, you know, willing to work with — with the — with the committee in a good-faith fashion.
But again, it has to be in a good-faith fashion. And — and certainly talk about items or — or talk — talk about anything that — that is pertinent, that is appropriate. But again, in a good-faith fashion.
And so, I’m not going to get ahead of — of what my White — my White House Counsel colleagues have said.
But again, this is — you know, this is — they are doing the complete opposite of what they said that they would do during the midterms. And we have to remember: The — the American people spoke very, very clearly on what they wanted to see. They wanted to see Republicans and Democrats work together to deal with the issues that truly matter to them.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q You’ve announced some of these day trips that the President is going to be doing over the next week and a half. Obviously, in less than two weeks, the President will be doing the State of the Union. Has he started preparations for that speech? And is there anything you can tell us about that overall message that we might hear from him that night?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’ll have more details on the State of the Union. I can say this is — the State of the Union, this is something that the President takes very seriously. And he knows this as an opportunity not just to talk to the congressional members that will be in front of him, but also the American people. And talk about the successes of the last two years and how he sees his vision in the next — in the next year, especially as we go into — further into 2023.
So, he sees this as an important opportunity to talk about: How are we lowering costs for the American people? What else are we going to do to make sure we deliver what he promised? Right? An economy that’s built from the bottom up and the middle out. What else — how else can we work in a bipartisan way?
I don’t want to get too far into — into what he was — he’s going to say. Clearly, we’ll have more to share.
But this is an important — he sees this as an important moment not just for him, but for the American people to hear directly from the President of the United States.
I’m just going to — go ahead.
Q You said the President would have his physical finished by the end of this month. Is that still on track?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s still on track. When we have a date to share, we certainly will.
Q Okay. Just one other quick one. The House Oversight Committee is looking into Hunter Biden’s art sales or the sales of his own art. Is the White House concerned about that? Does it have any response to it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I will refer you to Hunter Biden’s representatives on this.
Go ahead, in the — right behind you.
Q There are concerns that the Big Tech layoffs and the banking layoffs will spill over into the broader economy. When the President speaks about the economy tomorrow, how will he address those fears and the fears of a recession?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ed, look, we understand — we understand, you know, the fears. But what I will say is that — and I’ve spoken to this a couple of times — that there is data — job data that we have seen — job opening data that we have seen where layoffs remain record low. And so that is important to look at those numbers as well.
We — I’ve talked about the consumer price index. I’ve talked about the PPI numbers that we have seen, as we’ve seen inflation continue to come down over the last six months. And that is important as we talk about the economy, as we talk about how the economy is building — we’re building jobs — building back up.
And so, those are all important data points that we watch as well, that all of you do as well. You look at the GDP. It’s growing — it grew by 3.2 percent. All of that is important as we speak to this, as we speak to what we’re seeing across — just across the board.
I don’t want to speak dir- — specifically about, you know, private companies and tech layoffs.
But there is, again, data out there that shows that the economy is growing, that shows that we are indeed going to a stable and steady — steady growth, which is important, which is something that the President has worked — and you’ve seen this with his economic policy — has worked towards over the last two years.
Q To follow up, you said the President wants to work in a bipartisan way. He said this week that he has “no intention of letting the Republicans wreck our economy” was his — his words. Does the administration view calling out Republicans as an effective tool when dealing with recession?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this — and I’ve talked — I’ve talked about this before: We are willing and the President is willing to work with the — with — with Congress in a bipartisan way, as he has in the last two years. We have seen results of that.
But he’s also going to call out Republicans — in particular, in the House — who are saying they want to cut Social Security, who have said very clearly they want to cut Medicare, they want to clu- — cut Me- — Medicaid or defense spending.
This is what they are saying. This is what’s coming out of the Republican Conference.
And the President has said that he’s going to fight every day to protect — to protect those programs that taxpayers pay into.
And we have to remember: Those programs — they benefit veterans, that benefit our seniors and taxpayers, who, again, have earned the right to be part of those programs.
So, yes, he is going to call that out when he sees there is real danger to — against those programs.
Go ahead, Niels.
Q Thank you. Two quick questions. Just — when the meeting with Speaker McCarthy happens, is it the expectation that it will be here at the White House? Or is there any — I know the President is scheduled to go to Camp David this weekend. There’s not a — there’s not going to be a possibility that the Speaker is going to appear to meet with the President at some other off-campus —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just say this, just as a reminder to all of you: It is very common, it is tradition — right? — for a Speaker to — to meet with the President as — especially in this — in this instance, as we go into the 118th Congress. So, there’s nothing unusual, and we are looking forward to — for that to happen.
I don’t have a date set here. And I don’t have, clearly, the expectation that it will happen here at the White House. But as soon as we have more information, certainly, we will share that with all of you.
Q And then one question I had asked, I think, about a month ago: if there is any update on the Architect of the Capitol. There’s been an ongoing investigation. And I know that members of Congress are trying to figure out if there’s anything they can do. But the Architect is actually a presidential appointee, so I’m wondering if there’s any developments here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, that’s a very good question. I forgot to — I don’t remember the question, but, certainly, we will take it back and come back and reach out to you with where we are on that.
Go ahead. I know —
Q President Biden has tried to decriminalize — deschedule marijuana. And in the interim, companies — legal marijuana businesses in New Jersey and elsewhere can’t open checking accounts. They’re doing it in cash. They’re being robbed. And minority businesses can’t get the money they need to open and compete with the big people.
Has the President talked about doing anything administratively to try to ease some of these banking regulations that allow these businesses to flourish?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I — I don’t have any new policy announcements to make from here. As you know, this is something that Congress is working on. And we understand that there’s interest in legislation and action, but I would refer you to Congress. Because, again, this is, again, what — what they’re working on. I just don’t have anything to preview on any new policies from here.
Q Karine, thank you so much. The President said last week that he has no regrets in his handling of classified documents. When he saw how forthcoming former Vice President Mike Pence was and his team was about the fact that they did find classified documents in his Indiana home, did the President regret not telling the public about this immediately and instead letting it leak in the press?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this — and, again, I’m going to be very prudent. I’m going to be very consistent here. We have seen statements from the President’s personal lawyers. We have seen statements from the White House Counsel’s Office that laid out — I believe there was a timeline that laid out how this process went on from — from our point of view. I’m just not going to go beyond that. I will refer you, again, to those documents.
And I will just reiterate what the President has said: He takes this — he takes classified documents, classified information very seriously. And I’m just not going to go beyond what he has said. I’m not going to go beyond what has been shared in statements by his lawyers.
Q Karine, a number of lawmakers reacted yesterday to the revelations by former Vice President Mike Pence with some disbelief, saying that, writ large, the system is broken when it comes to top officials handling classified documents. Does the President, does the administration agree with that assessment? And does the President, as the Commander-in-Chief, feel it’s his responsibility to do something about it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I know my colleague was just asked this question, and I do want to be very careful. This is an ongoing legal matter here.
Q Well, not — I’m not asking about the President —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but it is actually —
Q But broadly speaking here, we have a number of current and formers who have now acknowledged, yes, they found classified documents in their possessions in places that are not secure — the nation’s deepest secrets.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I hear the question.
Q Does the President feel like he needs to address this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — no, I hear the question, and we’re talking about the system. You’re asking about how do we move forward. You’re asking, like, “What does the President think?” And I’m telling you that because there is a really — I have to be really careful, because there is — there is — this is a legal matter that is happening currently.
And any- — for me to comment on anything that’s related to an ongoing investigation, that is not something that I can do from here.
Q Very quickly, the President had said he was going to talk to us about this soon. He did make brief comments last week. But does he have any plans to answer the questions that we’ve been posing to him, to perhaps hold a press conference so
that we can ask him a range of questions —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Understand —
Q — that he can answer some of those questions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I totally understand the question. I don’t have anything to preview right at this time on — on any any opportunities for the President to address this. But as you all know — and I know questions were shouted earlier — there’s many opportunities that you all have with him where he takes your — takes all of your questions, and he has over the past two weeks.
Q But he hasn’t answered questions about this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I understand.
Q We’ve been shouting them.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, he’s answered. Actually, when he was in California, he took a ques- — he took a question.
Q Yeah, in California. In California.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: When he was in Mexico City, he was asked. He took a question the day after that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but the day after that he took a question. So, I’m just saying that — it’s not that he hasn’t addressed this at all. He has. I just don’t have anything to preview on a, you know, potential press — press conference or anything like that or an opportunity that you all will have to hear from him directly.
But, again, he has been asked a question a couple of times, and he’s answered it. And you all have heard from him on that.
Q Any comment, Karine, on the reports that President Biden is considering Fed Vice Chair Lael Brainard as the next head of the NEC? Is there any timeline for that decision process for him?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’ll say this: Don’t have any personnel announcements to make. You know, the President would — would love to see and wants to see Brian Deese stay as long as he can in the administration.
I just — and he has been here, as you all know — he’s been many times to this podium, but he’s been at the White House for more than two-plus years and has been an integral part of the President’s economic policy of bringing — of building an economy from the bottom up, middle out. Just don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time.
2:41 P.M. EST