James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:06 P.M. EST
Q Hey, hey.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, hi. Hey, Steve. Hi. Feel like I walked in on a conversation.
Good afternoon, everybody. We have Admiral John Kirby here today. He’s going to give a preview of German Chancellor Scholz’s visit tomorrow and take any foreign policy questions you all may have. And after that, we’ll continue the briefing.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Karine.
Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MR. KIRBY: Tomorrow, as you know, President Biden is going to welcome German Chancellor Olaf Scholz here to the White House to discuss our bilateral cooperation on a range of global security and economic issues.
The President looks forward, of course, to welcoming him back here to the White House where they last met February of 2022, soon after the Chancellor took office.
Over the last year, they’ve seen together — they’ve seen each other on the margins of the G7 Summit in Germany, at NATO, at the G20 Summit, and, of course, they’ve talked on the phone regularly. They most recently spoke last week as part of the G7 leaders call on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
The visit comes as we mark one year since that invasion started, and we’re proud of the collective efforts that we’ve taken together to provide Ukraine with the capabilities they need. And we’ve worked hand in hand with Germany and the Quad, the G7, and allies and partners all over the world, including through the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, to do exactly that.
We’ve closely coordinated our support to Ukraine throughout this conflict, including through joint announcements in January to provide infantry fighting vehicles and tanks.
Germany has provided significant air defense support to Ukraine, including a Patriot battery; the IRIS-T air defense system, which is an infrared seeking system; and five multiple — multiple launch rocket systems.
As you all know, Germany is also a close NATO Ally and host to our largest U.S. military force presence in Europe, which has been pivotal this year as we have again tried to reinforce our NATO Allies and bolster the eastern — eastern flank of NATO and the deterrence there.
A large portion of U.S. training of Ukrainian forces occurs at our bases in Germany, and our German colleagues have also conducted their own training of Ukrainians also in Germany.
And just last week, we worked together to rally global support at the U.N. for Ukraine’s resolution on a just peace.
And we’ve also been supportive of the Chancellor’s efforts to implement policy changes to respond to the changed security environment, including increasing Germany’s defense spending and rapidly transitioning from Russian energy sources.
I’m sure the leaders will discuss their recent engagements with Ukrainian officials, including the President’s trip to Kyiv and meeting with President Zelenskyy, as well as Chancellor Scholz’s meeting with President Zelenskyy in Paris last month.
We anticipate that the two leaders will also exchange views on the upcoming NATO Summit and other global issues like the challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China.
All in all, we expect that this will be a true working visit between these two leaders, and we’re looking very much forward to getting some things done.
We also announced earlier this afternoon that President Biden looks forward to welcoming, next week, President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission here to the White House on Friday, the 10th of March. Another working visit.
We expect their discussion to cover a range of international security challenges, of course including support for Ukraine. They will also discuss U.S. and EU coordination to combat the climate crisis and clean tech, and take stock of the joint task force on Europe’s energy security that they both established a year ago.
Just one quick follow-up here. I think you also saw that, today, the President released the administration’s National Cybersecurity Strategy. This administration has taken an aggressive approach to strengthening our nation’s cybersecurity since day one, and this strategy builds on the President’s work over the last two years in that regard.
The strategy released today will set forth a new vision for the future of cyberspace and the wider digi- — digital ecosystem. It will rebalance the responsibility for managing cyber risk onto those who are most able to bear it, including large enterprises and the federal government, and away from those who can and should not have to bear it, including local governments, Tribal territories, small businesses, even individual citizens.
The National Security Strategy, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and other major administration initiatives are moving the nation toward a more equitable economy, a clean energy transition, a stronger democracy, and a more competitive workforce.
With the National Cybersecurity Strategy, we will protect all of these investments by increasing our collective security and systemic resilience. That strategy and the factsheet are now available on WhiteHouse.gov, and I hope you guys go take a look at it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, Steve. You got it.
Q John, with Ukraine preparing for this offensive, are the two leaders going to discuss accelerating military assistance to Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: I think for — without question, Steve, they’re going to talk about the kinds of capabilities that Ukraine continues to need in the weeks and months ahead.
You’ll see us tomorrow — just unilaterally, the U.S. will have another round of assistance for Ukraine come in tomorrow. And it will include mostly ammunitions and munitions that the Ukrainians will need for the systems that they already have, like the HIMARS and the artillery.
So, I can’t predict a specific outcome tomorrow. I wouldn’t look for that. But certainly, they will be discussing additional support for Ukraine going forward. And we know that —
Q Do you have a number? Do you have a number for tomorrow’s announcement?
MR. KIRBY: Well, just stay tuned. And we’ll have more detail on that later.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Justin.
Q Thanks. Just to follow on Steve a little bit, do you expect a discussion of or announcement of Germans moving tank shells or ammunition production to the United States?
That’s been kind of an issue that’s floating out there because it’s more difficult, I think, to produce in Europe because of regulatory and other issues. And so, it might come here. And I’m wondering if —
MR. KIRBY: We’ll have a full readout of the meeting after it’s over. Again, clearly, they’re going to talk about Ukraine and how we can all work together to help support them as quickly as we possibly can with as much as we can.
But I don’t have anything specific on that proposal.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thank you. Thanks, Karine. Hi, John. Iran is reported to be enriching uranium up to 84 percent of weapon-grade level. What is your response to that? Is there any consequences for them? And how does it complicate any chances of going back to the JCPOA?
And I have another question.
MR. KIRBY: I’m not in a position to confirm those reports. Clearly, one of the reasons why, when this administration took office, we wanted to get back into the Iran deal was because without the Iran deal in place, Iran was free to continue enrichment and free to further decrease the breakout time to weeks and months from what had been more than a couple years. And that’s why we wanted to get back in the Iran deal.
The Iran deal right now is still not a focus of the agenda. As Iran continues to supply military equipment and capabilities to Russia so that they can continue to kill Ukrainians, as they continue to crack down on protesters in their own country, and as they continue to support terrorists throughout the Middle Eastern and Levant.
So it’s just not a focus for the administration right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q And after the settlers — Israeli settlers attacked the village of Huwara in the West Bank, next to Nablus, the Israeli Finance Minister has called for the wipeout of this village. Is this a language acceptable from one of your closest allies?
MR. KIRBY: No, it’s not. And we’ve already talked about that. We’ve spoken to that. That’s not acceptable language.
And we continue, as always, to urge both sides to take no steps and certainly not to participate in rhetoric that are only going to escalate the tensions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mary, go ahead.
Q On the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, this was obviously the first time that they’ve spoken face to face since Russia invaded. Why did the U.S. feel now was the right time to have this conversation?
And also, the Russians say that it was at Blinken’s request. Is that correct?
MR. KIRBY: It was a pull aside. They were in the same room at the G20 in New Delhi, and Secretary Blinken took the opportunity available to him to — to make three key points.
One, we want — we don’t want Russia to suspend their participation in New START, because that treaty makes both our country safer.
Two, we want Paul Whelan back. We got a proposal on the table. They ought to take it.
And three, we’re going to continue to support Ukraine.
Q China, though, was not on that list. Is there a reason why it didn’t come up?
MR. KIRBY: It was a 10-minute pull aside; it wasn’t a pre-scheduled long bilat kind of a meeting. I mean, it was — it was an opportunity that Secretary Blinken took advantage of.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Peter.
Q To follow up on a couple of topics on that — in that neighborhood. Any evidence that China has been any — made any further decisions or actions, either way, whether to provide lethal aid to Russia?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve seen no indication that they’ve made that decision.
They haven’t taken it off the table, Peter, but we haven’t seen any indication.
Q It remains as it was then.
Let me ask then if I can: The President said to us a couple of weeks ago, when he was speaking about the aerial objects there, that he expected to “speak soon” — was his language — with President Xi. Is there any update on that? Any formal outreach? When would that take place?
MR. KIRBY: Not — no former outreach that I’m aware of, Peter. And no call on the schedule.
Q Okay. Then just one last one to punctuate. Several months ago, the President promised Saudi Arabia would suffer, quote, “consequences.” That was his language after the Saudi-led OPAC une- — OPEC unexpectedly announced it would cut production. Is it fair to say now, this many months later, that that’s not going to happen?
MR. KIRBY: I addressed this the other day when I was at the podium here with Karine a few days ago. We talked about this. There’s — first of all, there — there already had been consequences because, as you know, Congress took action to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
But we noted on Monday — whenever it was that I talked to you about it last — that they had visited Kyiv, they agreed to contribute $400 million of energy infrastructure support to — to Kyiv, to Ukraine. We found that a welcome development. We’re focused on the future right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Patsy.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, I have a question on the cybersecurity strategy. But first, on Taiwan: The administration has approved $690 million potential arms sales to Taiwan that includes hundreds of missiles, including for F-16s. Can you clarify the administration’s goals to provide these weapons?
And can you address concerns whether you’ll be able to fulfill this package considering the U.S. defense industry is already struggling to fulfill munitions request for Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know that there’s anything to clarify. I mean, this — this most recent announcement on arm sales is very much in keeping with our responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act to make sure that Taiwan has sufficient self-defense capability. These munitions designed for F-16 aircraft will exactly help do that.
And as for the impact of it on what we’re providing to Ukraine, there won’t be. The — completely two different systems the way this is — I mean, arm sales is a whole different process and methodology than what we’re doing for Ukraine, which is largely through presidential drawdown authority, where you’re basically taking stuff that are already — that are already on your shelves and providing it to Ukraine directly. So, it’s a completely different process, different system altogether.
Q So, but is it the same — is it the same kind of munitions but just provided by a different practice? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
MR. KIRBY: The — the types of — I don’t want to get into too much detail here from the podium, but the types of munitions are the kinds of munitions that will allow Taiwan to continue to modernize their fleet of F-16s. So, it’s largely designed for F-16 delivery.
Q Okay. And on cybersecurity. Would the new cybersecurity strategy allow the administration to authorize U.S. agencies to implement hack-back operations to networks of criminals or foreign governments to preempt attacks on U.S. networks?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think we’re going to get into the tactics here from the podium on something like cybersecurity. I mean, I’d encourage you to take a look at the strategy. It’s pretty fulsome. It covers a wide range of issues, largely bringing back onto the federal government a responsibility that we think is more appropriately us and that shouldn’t be laid at the feet of small businesses and individuals as well as the Tribal territories, and also gives us more tools and more flexibilities with going after bad actors.
And I think I really do need to leave it at that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Zeke, go ahead.
Q Thanks, John. Just on — to follow up on the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, is there any discussion or consideration of what it would take for a conversation between the President and President Putin? Is that off the table?
MR. KIRBY: The President — the President already
spoke to this several months ago, I think, when President Zelenskyy was here. He said if Mr. Putin were to be sincere and dedicated to actually sitting down and talking about peace, the President would consider talking to him. But there’s been no change to that.
Q And then, back on Ukraine. The Russian government in the last 24, 48 hours has been pre- — publishing reports about alleged Ukrainian saboteurs in its territory fighting with them. Is there any U.S. government assessment of that and the veracity of those claims?
MR. KIRBY: Seen the reports. Can’t confirm them.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead,
Q Yeah, thank you so much. One other question on the visit of Chancellor Scholz. According to my excellent colleagues from Reuters, the administration is, you know, consulting with allies regarding further sanctions against China if China decides to deliver weapons to Russia. And Germany comes to mind, given their very close, you know, business relationship with China. So do expect that to be a topic and maybe a difficult topic in the conversation tomorrow?
MR. KIRBY: I certainly would expect, in the context of talking about what’s going on in Ukraine, that the — that the issue of third-party support to Russia could come up. They have reached out, as you know, to Iran. They’ve reached out to North Korea.
But I don’t want to get ahead of where we are here. We haven’t seen the Chinese make this decision. We don’t think they’ve taken it off the table, but we haven’t seen them make a decision to go forward.
We’ve communicated privately, certainly publicly, our concerns about that. We believe it would — it’s not in China’s best interests to move forward in that regard. And they should see it the same way.
I just don’t think it’s helpful right now to hypothesize about what — you know, what consequences might result. Secretary Blinken has talked about the fact that there would be ramifications, and I think that’s probably better if we just leave it at that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Raquel, in the back.
Q Thank you so much, Karine. Hi, John. So, President Zelenskyy just spoke with Lula now. And he just tweeted that they discussed diplomatic efforts to bring peace to Ukraine — with Ukraine. And he invited Lula to come and visit Ukraine.
Do you believe that any efforts to mediate peace at this time could be successful?
MR. KIRBY: Only if President Zelenskyy is — and his government are fully brought into the process and fully supportive of it. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Zolan.
Q Thank you. I have a question about refugee policy, as well. The President often — the President was — praised Poland for assisting refugees during his trip. When it comes to the United States, we often hear about the United for Ukraine program.
There was also for — between April 11th and April 21st, about 10,000 Ukrainians who came in across the border were not covered by TPS or United for Ukraine but parole that’s set to expire next month. Is the administration considering — I don’t — any option for — to extend that legal status? And if it’s not extended, what would happen to those 10,000 Ukrainians in the United States?
MR. KIRBY: Let me take the question. I’ll take that question, and we’ll get back to you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Tam.
Q Is there any chance that we could get you in the White House to reconsider not having a 2+2 press conference with Scholz? We would love for there to be the regular 2+2 press conference.
Similarly, are you planning to hold one of these press conferences when President von der Leyen visits?
MR. KIRBY: So, I think Karine addressed this issue — yesterday? And I don’t have anything to add to what she told you.
This is a working visit. And it’s very — the agenda, which is tightknit because it’s just not an expansive — he’s not going to be meeting with the President all day. It’s a — it’s a tight visit, working-level visit on pretty significant issues. And it just wasn’t part of the schedule for either leader here to do a press conference.
And it’s not, as I understand it — and I’ve not been here for long — but we don’t always do that. I mean, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. It depends a lot on the agenda and the schedules by both leaders.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you very much. Hungary has further delayed a vote on ratifying Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — this time by two weeks. Are you concerned about this delay? Are you confident that Hungary, at the end, will accept expansion of NATO?
And since Turkey says it’s not ready to approve Sweden’s membership in NATO, would President Biden support Finland’s admission first, before Sweden’s?
And one question on yesterday’s meeting between —
MR. KIRBY: Hang on, before you — because I’m going to forget.
So, first of all, what we are confident is that Finland and Sweden are going to be great NATO Allies. Two modern militaries. We know them well. We operate and train with them all the time. They’re going to be welcome additions to the Alliance. The President remains confident that they’re going to be NATO Allies.
Now, we’re also encouraged by the fact that there are still discussions going on between Turkey, Finland, and Sweden, as well as with Hungary. We’ll let those nations speak to the specifics of their concerns and the process.
But the President is confident that these two countries deserve to be in NATO and will be in NATO.
And as for your second question on the choreography, what matters to us is that both nations become NATO Allies. The Texas two-step that goes into doing that, that’s — that’s not our main concern.
Q The second question — I’m not sure if it’s to you or to Karine. The First Lady, Jill Biden, met with Poland’s First Lady, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, yesterday at the White House. Could you give some details about the meeting, how it happened?
MR. KIRBY: Karine, do you want to take that? Do you want me to?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, John. Go ahead. (Laughs.)
MR. KIRBY: No, it was a terrific opportunity for the First Lady to meet with the First Lady of Poland and to be able to thank her personally for all the support that Poland has given to our men and women in uniform who are operating out of Poland right now, as well as the just incredible humanitarian work that Poland has done for Ukrainian citizens.
I think we’ve talked about this, but, essentially, they have all the rights of Polish citizens. Their kids can go to school. They can get jobs. They can qualify for healthcare. And they’re living in homes — Polish homes. Families are taking them in.
We’re talking about more than a million and a half refugees. That’s the kind of generosity that the Polish people are demonstrating.
And it was really important to the First Lady to be able to — to thank the First Lady of Poland directly on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter.
Q Thanks, John. So, a bill requiring the DNI to declassify the COVID origins intel passed the Senate. If it passes the House too, would President Biden sign it?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of the President’s decision-making, Peter.
But, look, we — a couple of things to keep in mind. Right after taking office, the President declassified and had — and made public the DNI’s initial findings here about the source of COVID. So, he already very swiftly and unilaterally put information out there. That’s one.
Two, the intelligence community continues to assess the origins of COVID. I know I’ve seen press reporting about some preliminary findings that — of a classified nature. But there’s still no consensus.
And that’s why the President has directed the team to stay at that work because he wants to know. He wants to know as best we can know what the origins were so that we can work to better prevent a future pandemic.
Q But we’ve got the FBI Director saying, “Most likely a potential lab incident” in Wuhan. If — if a foreign country came to the United States and killed 1.1 million Americans with guns, would the President just let that slide?
MR. KIRBY: Nobody is letting anything slide. That’s why the President wants the intelligence community to work so hard to — to get to — hopefully, to get some — to some answers that — that we can rely on.
Right now, there’s just no consensus. It’s hard to take a look at what the President has done here — in terms of declassifying and making public information already; in terms of the constant and consistent briefings to members of Congress in a classified and unclassified setting in just recent weeks on what the origins of COVID were; and on his tasking, again, to the intelligence community to keep at that work — and come away from that thinking that he’s not taking this seriously.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Three more.
Q As many as 900 schoolgirls appear to have been poisoned in Iran. Does the U.S. have any information about what could be behind those poisonings? And if it was the government, is that something that could prompt American sanctions?
MR. KIRBY: It’s deeply concerning news coming out of Iran, these — what could be the poisoning of — of young girls that are just going to school.
The truth is, we don’t know right now what caused those ailments. We see reports that the Iranian government are investigating it. That’s the right course of action. We want those investigations to be thorough and complete, and we want to be transparent.
Little girls going to school should only have to worry about learning. They shouldn’t have to worry about their own physical safety.
But we just don’t know enough right now.
Q Would the U.S. take that investigation at face value? Or would you try and conduct your own —
MR. KIRBY: Well, let’s just — let’s see what the results are here first before we make some kind of snap judgment. We don’t really know what’s going on with respect to these hundreds of — of schoolgirls.
And we — I think where the President is is “we need to know,” and the world needs to know. Certainly, the families of those little girls need to know.
So, let’s — let’s see where it goes before we make some snap judgments. But obviously, very deeply concerning reports.
Q On Paul Whelan, was there any progress made in the conversation between Lavrov and Secretary Blinken? Have they signaled any willingness to release him?
MR. KIRBY: It was a short conversation where the Secretary had an opportunity to remind Minister Lavrov that we want Mr. Whelan back, he belongs with his family, and that there is a proposal on the table. We want the Russians to take it.
I really — for reasons I’m sure you can understand, I don’t want to get into what the back-and-forth was on that or detail the conversations that we’re still trying to have with the Russians about getting Mr. Whelan back.
Q Just briefly, on Ukraine aid, should we expect anything on that in the budget next week? Or will that just be toplines on defense —
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s budget announcement.
Q Thank you, John. China and Belarus conducted high-level talks yesterday and expanded their defense partnership. Is the White House concerned that China may channel weapons to Russia via Belarus?
MR. KIRBY: Again, we have not seen the Chinese make a decision with respect to providing lethal weaponry. We don’t believe they’ve taken it off the table, but we don’t believe they made a decision to do that. So, I really don’t think it’s helpful to get ahead of where we are here in this process.
We’ve communicated to the Chinese our concerns about this. It’s really not in their best interests, and they should believe the same thing.
So, let’s — let’s just not get ahead of where we are.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, Janne, and then you have the last question.
Q Thank you very much. Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John. I have two questions. What is the President Biden’s reactions about North Korea recently Hwasong-15 ICBM launching (inaudible) large rocket launchers? Do you have any comment on that?
MR. KIRBY: We have reacted in real time to each and every one, Janne. I think you know that.
And in — in response to the most recent ones, we conducted some — some exercises with our ROK allies. We’re continuing to stay vigilant on and around the Peninsula. And, of course, we’ve publicly condemned these launches, as had our U.N. colleagues.
Q And Ukraine. Ukraine requested arms aid from South Korea. Does the United States want South Korea to provide weapons other than ammunition to Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: We want all nations to support Ukraine to the best that they can, and we don’t want any nation to help Russia kill more Ukrainians.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
MR. KIRBY: But it’s a sovereign decision. Each nation has to — I’m sorry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, it’s okay.
MR. KIRBY: I’m —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m waiting. I’m like — (laughs) —
MR. KIRBY: No, yeah, yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You got it. You got it.
MR. KIRBY: We — now you made my — I forgot my train of thought.
These are sovereign decisions. And we want every nation to act in accordance with what they believe they can handle from their own national security perspective.
The South Koreans have already been very helpful. They’ve been attending these Ukraine Contact Defense Groups, and we’re appreciate — we appreciate that and we’re very grateful for that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I was trying to catch your rhythm, but I got —
MR. KIRBY: That’s all right. I haven’t got much rhythm today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, last question.
Q John, given what you were saying earlier, that the administration doesn’t think China has taken off the table sending weapons to Russia and — but that you haven’t seen any movement towards doing that, how serious then do you think China is about sending weapons to Russia?
MR. KIRBY: Difficult to know, Carol. We actually don’t know the answer that question. Certainly, we were concerned enough to bring it up privately with our Chinese counterparts and publicly with all of you and the Vice President speaking to it in Munich. Took it — we took that seriously.
But what their next step is or — and what’s going to affect that, really that’s a question only they can answer.
The President’s strong belief — and he said this himself — is that this is not a move that would be in the best interest of the Chinese and their standing in the international community, which we know, you know, they highly prize.
More critically, we don’t believe that they should see it as being in their best interest.
Q But it sounds like, from what you’re saying, that you don’t want to lean into the idea of threating sanctions. Is that because you don’t think that they will ultimately move in that direction? I’m just trying to get a sense of why there’s a — seems to be a little bit of a hesitancy to talk in detail about how the U.S. could sanction China.
MR. KIRBY: Secretary Blinken has been clear that — that —
Q He mentioned it, yeah.
MR. KIRBY: — that there will be consequences. And he mentioned that sanctions could be one of those consequences.
So, I mean, we’ve — we’ve laid out that — you know, that there are tools available to not only the United States, but to our — our allies and partners, should — should China move in that direction. But, you know, ultimately, it’s their choice to make, and we really strongly urge them to make the right choice here.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Admiral.
Q Thank you, John.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Ms. Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Okay, I have one thing at the top, and then we’ll get going.
I just wanted to follow up on yesterday’s good news from Eli Lilly heeding the President’s call for companies to lower their prices and cap their insulin costs at $35.
Data today shows that Americans in all 50 states, especially in communities of color, will benefit from the President’s cost-cutting actions.
Through the Inflation Reduction Act, close to 4 million sectors — pardon me, seniors on Medicare with diabetes are protected. Seniors started to see their insulin costs capped at $35 per month this past January, saving some seniors hundreds of dollars this past — hundreds of dollars for a monthly supply this past January. Combined with Eli Lilly’s announcement, which is the largest insulin manufacturer, we’re making serious progress to cut insulin costs for approximately 26 million Americans living with diabetes.
The data today shows that these
cost-living [cost-saving] measures will also disproportionately impact communities of color, as Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native adults have higher rates of diabetes in the United States than whites — white Americans.
And, of course, this also builds on the tireless work the President has done to lower healthcare costs for Americans, and call on — that call on — that call that was heeded in North Carolina, where they announced an agreement to expand Medicaid today.
The President has been calling for all remaining states to expand Medicaid programs. And today, North Carolina became the 40th state to answer that call.
Expanding Medicaid improves quality of life for Americans, and we thank Governor Cooper and bipartisan work in the North Carolina legislature to expand access to quality healthcare. We are excited to see the state move quickly to get half a million North Carolinians covered, which is incredibly important.
Zeke, before I go to you, I forgot to tell Peter to welcome back and congratulations on being a dad. And how is baby Karine doing? She’s doing good? (Laughter.)
Q Ha! (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ed — (laughs) — Ed had, like, this delayed reaction.
Q It’s — I — I do have a lot of hard questions for her when I get home. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. Are they hard or are just — are they seriously hard or — (laughs) —
Q You tell me.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t want to say the next word that I want to say to that. (Laughter.) Okay, I’m —
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Zeke, the floor is yours.
Q Thanks, Karine. And welcome back, Peter.
The President just tweeted a couple of — maybe two minutes ago regarding the D.C. Home Rule, saying he would sign the resolutions, if they pass the Senate, to overturn the changes to D.C.’s criminal code.
The President has spoken a bit about his support for D.C. statehood in the past, but, you know, why does he believe that he should step in where the D.C. — where the residents of D.C.’s elected representatives, you know, pass these changes — why does he believe that his — he should substitute his wisdom and judgment for theirs?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I mean, just to double down and triple down on what the President has said for decades, which is that he believes every — every city should have their — the right to self-government. That is — still is the same case. That hasn’t — that hasn’t changed anything. He has long believed that D.C. statehood should be something that the residents of D.C. should be allowed. Again, that hasn’t changed.
But this is different. The way that we see this is — it’s very different. This is — the D.C. Council put changes forward over the mayor’s objections. And the President doesn’t support changes like lowering penalties for carjacking. So this piece is different.
But, again, it doesn’t change the administration strongly supporting H.R. 51, which would have made D.C. the 51st state. That is something that he still very much supports. And we’re going to continue to call on Congress to provide a swift and orderly transition to statehood for the people who live here in D.C.
Q I was hoping you could explain a little bit why this is different though. Just because it’s different — the President believes that every city should have the right to self-government except if he belie- — if he disagrees with the outcomes of their — of their governing process?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, one thing that the President believes in is making sure that the streets in America and communities across the country are safe. That includes D.C. That does not change. That’s why he puts forward a historic piece of — a historical plan that he hopes Republicans in Congress would support, which is his Safer America plan. That is something that the President has led.
When you think about keeping communities safe, when you think about making sure that we’re also protecting our law enforcement and making sure that we have law enforcement in communities that continue to keep communities safe, that’s something that he has led on.
So when it comes to what this proposal brings forth, which is, you know, really lowering penalties for carjacking, that’s not going to — he doesn’t believe that’s going to keep our communities safe. So the — if the bill comes, he’s going to take action, as he said.
Q Just another stab at this, because the principle of the matter — the President is making a principled statement that he supports a city self-governing —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think two — I think those two things —
Q — and then — and then, he’s over- — trying to overturn — overturn their governing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Those two — those two things can both — two things could exist at the same time, right? We’ve heard that throughout our lives, right? When we hear — when we hear things that we may not disagree — we may not agree with, that they both could exist at the same time, which is: The President still thinks that D.C. should become the 51st state. That is something that he has supported for decades, not just these last couple of years.
But there is — he feels, as President, he has the obligation as well to keep America’s cities safe, to keep communities safe. And this is one step and a way to do that. That’s it.
Go ahead, Justin.
Q Sorry, I just want to loop back on that really quickly.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q So, is the principle here that the President believes in self-rule and autonomy, except if he believes that D.C. is passing laws that would leave its residents not safe in some way?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think — I don’t think — I don’t think it’s every piece of legislation. This is going to come to his desk, and he has a decision to make for the people of D.C. Right? He has — he actually has a decision that is going to be put in front of him on —
Q Well, it’s not just a decision now. It’s a precedent that he’s setting. You know, in the — in the SAP that you guys issued, it said, “Congress should respect the District’s autonomy to govern their local affairs. For too long, Washington residents have been deprived for representation and the principle of taxation without representation.”
There is obviously a sort of immediate question about whether these changes done by the D.C. Council are smart or good policy. But there’s also a principle about when the President would intervene to overrule the elected representatives.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I get the que- — I get the question, Justin. I really do. And what I’m saying to you is that the President supports D.C. statehood. That has not changed. That is something that he has supported for the past two decades or more.
Certainly, he’s — he was very clear about that during the campaign. We’ve been very clear about that the last two years.
The President is being put — this piece of legislation is being put forward to him that’s going to become law, clearly — right? — once he signs it. And it’s a decision that he gets to make — right? — to protect communities — to protect communities across the country.
And this is a way that he believes that he can do that. He believes, by signing this into law, that it will protect communities. And so, that matters. That matters.
We — you all were asking me —
Q But it matters more than the self-governance issue.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I’m saying — I’m saying both things can exist at the same time.
Q I’m not sure that they can — (laughs) — if I’m being honest.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — no, no. Look —
Q Either “you can make decisions for yourself” or “I will make decisions for you that I believe are in your best interest.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But he’s — he — the decision that he is making, he’s making — he’s making it for the people of D.C. — right? — by making sure —
Q But he’s opposed to that. He just said that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, but — no, I understand that. But he — this is being presented to him, right? This is being presented to him on signing this into law.
And if you look at what is being presented to him, the mayor actually disagreed with what the D.C. Council put — put forward. And so now this is an opportunity to protect the community. That’s the way the President sees this — to protect the community.
Q Okay. I wanted to ask about the Willow project. Can you talk to some — kind of detail the extent to which the White House has been involved in deliberations about this project at this point? And is it accurate, the reporting that White House officials have been telling folks that they’re looking at banning drilling elsewhere in exchange for offering approval of at least part of this project?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have anything to share on that. That’s a decision that’s going to be made by the Secretary of Interior. That’s for her to decide. I’m just not going to get —
Q So the White House is not involved in this —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just — I’m just not going to — I would refer you to a decision that is made by the Department of Interior. That’s her decision to make.
Q Could you tell us a little bit more about what the President talked about at the lunch? Did they talk about the debt ceiling? Did they come up with any legislation they want to get done this year?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you all know, the President went — went over to the Capitol, met with the Senate Democratic Caucus, folks that he has known for many times and have worked — we’ve worked really closely with them over the past two years on delivering historic pieces of legislation that’s going to really continue to grow the economy and build the economy, as the President has said many times, from the bottom up and middle out.
So they talked about an array of issues — important, critical issues that matter to the American people. Debt ceiling, as you know, is always something that’s at the forefront, especially as what we’re seeing House Republicans are trying to do, trying to hold our economy hostage.
And we’ve been very clear. We’re not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling because this is something that is a constitutional duty that Congress has, and they need to move forward and lift the debt ceiling. That is something that is not negotiable. And we’ve been very clear about that.
The President next week is going to put forward his budget on March 9th. He’s going to lay out how he sees it — how he sees his responsibility to be fiscally responsible, if you will. And we’ll see that from the President.
Now, the President has also said if there is a real conversation that congressional members want to have about how we continue to lower the deficit, that’s something that he’s willing to do, which he has actually done over the past two years — $1.7 trillion. You heard him say during the State of the Union that his plan is going to — is going to lower the deficit by another $2 trillion.
So, I’ll leave it there as to their — what has been clearly important to the American people and what has been discussed.
Q Yeah, just back to the crime bill. If the President was planning to sign it, why did the administration put out that statement saying that he opposed it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I want to be very clear about this. And I think I have.
Look, the President does not support the D.C. Council — the changes that they — that they put forward over the mayor’s objections. And those changes, like lowering penalties for carjackings, he thought was — was unacceptable.
And so, he wanted to make sure that, again, we’re keeping communities safe. And this is — he believes, you know, the D.C. community deserves that; they deserve to feel like — as if they are going to be safe.
And we’ve talked about — just last week, we talked about how the President inherited an increase in crime when he walked in, into this administration. And this is a President who has led on that, who has led on making sure that we keep — that we put forward public safety and law enforcement policies to make sure that we keep our communities safe.
And so, he’s done that through the American Rescue Plan. And he’s — he did that with his Safer America plan. Again, you know, Republicans have refused to fund this plan. And so, he’s going to continue to make sure that he puts Americans first. And that’s how he’s seeing this — this particular piece of legislation that’s going to come before him.
Q And can I ask about a moment in the President’s speech last night in Baltimore? He was talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene, and he mentioned a mother that had lost two of her sons to fentanyl. He said, “The interesting thing is that the fentanyl they took came during the last administration.” And then he seems to laugh.
The mother is demanding an apology. And I’m wondering if he regretted how that came out.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, I want to be very careful here because this involves a mom, as you just stated, who lost two sons. And when it comes to this President, I believe the American people knows who he is fundamentally, because he’s been around for some time, and they have watched him go through grief, they have watched him deal with really personal loss.
And so, this is a President that understands that. He expressed sympathy for her last night. And his heart goes out to any person — any person who has to go through that type of trauma, that type of hurt.
I will say, his words are being mischaracterized by someone who is regularly discredited for things that she says that are, really, conspiracy theories. And those lies are being parroted by a certain network. And — and, you know — and, you know, I’ll just leave it there.
I’ll say one more thing — is that conservative parents on fentanyl — of fentanyl victims have been very clear. They have blasted the congresswoman for these dishonest kinds of statements and kinds of attacks.
But again, our hearts go out to anyone who loses — who loses a person that they love.
And this is something that you’ve heard from this President over and over again when — when that has occurred and has been presented to him.
Q Retired U.S. Army Colonel Paris Davis is receiving the Medal of Honor tomorrow, which is nearly 60 years after his commanding officer first recommended that he get it. The paperwork for his recommendation disappeared at least twice. Does the White House think that race was a factor in why his honor took so long?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we were going to have some — some information to share with you on the Medal of Honor recipients. We’ll have more of — we’ll have that tomorrow. So we will go through who’s going to be getting the Medal of Honor. I don’t have anything to share specifically on anyone at this time. I just don’t want to get ahead of the team.
But I’m happy to answer that question tomorrow once we have more information to share.
Q And if I could also ask an immigration question. The governors of Indiana and Utah have proposed that states be allowed to sponsor immigrants — what types of jobs they need to fill. Is this something that the President would be interested in exploring with them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any — any policy — policy preview to share from here or any reaction to that at this time.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q I just want to follow up on Kevin’s first question about the D.C. crime law. Again, and just to be clear, the White House put out a statement saying that the President did not support it. But now from the podium, you’re saying that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, not — the President as well, right?
Q Well, the — yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Not just me.
Q Right. Fine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q You, the podium — you represent the President but fine. To be clear, why —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but you heard directly from the President. I just want to make sure —
Q Understood. So let me —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — that that is — that is clear.
Q So I’m following up on his statement. Even better. It makes it even better for me.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That — right?
Q So why would the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s what I’m saying. (Laughter.) It makes it even better. You heard it directly from the President.
Q I’ll ask you cleanly: Why would the White House say he does not support it and then he would say he is not vetoing it — instead, he is signing it? Which is to say, why should Americans believe the White House when it says it doesn’t support something if the President is going to sign it no less?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand the question, Peter. I’m just telling you, at this moment where we are currently with this piece of legislation that is going to be coming — this — that’s coming from the Senate, that’s going to be coming to the President’s desk, he will — he will sign it.
And, you know, it is because what is different about this — signing it — is it, as I mentioned before, the D.C. Council put forward — was put forward over the mayor’s objections. And the President wants to make sure that communities, even in D.C. — the Americans in D.C. feel safe.
Q So let me get to the second half of that question, which is: Why should Americans believe the White House when it says it doesn’t support something, when the President is going to sign it no less?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think what the American people, who I’ve — I just mentioned is to — to one of your colleagues, I think the American people know who Joe Biden is. I think they fundamentally —
Hold on. No, let me — wait. You got — you have your eyebrows moving and leading in, so I just wanted to make sure you give me a second to answer.
Q I haven’t spoken, so go ahead.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. I’m just — you have this — this — you get — you get really excited, Peter. So I just want to make sure. I — I —
Q These are exciting briefings.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. Oh, my gosh, they’re so exciting. Thrilling. Thrilling.
No, but in — with all seriousness, look, the — the American people know who Joe Biden is. He’s been around for some time, right? They fundamentally know who he is as a person.
The President, especially these last two years, have always, always put the American people first. And that’s what they should know. That’s what they should take away that he’s putting, in this case, the safety of the people of D.C. first, and he is always going to do that.
Q Let me ask you one separate question —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q — if I can then. I apologize. Thanks for letting me follow up.
The President — yesterday, from the podium, you said that there was “no other plan”; the President was focused on the plan that exists, as it relates to student loan forgiveness right now before the Supreme Court.
The President told us on the lawn yesterday, we’re “confident [we’re] on the right side of the law, but… not confident about the outcome of the decision yet.”
So because the President himself said that he is not confident of the outcome of the decision, what is the White House doing? Or why is the White House not preparing a plan B to help those who have student loans know what they need to do to prepare themselves if it’s rejected by the court?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because we’re confident in our legal authority.
Q Well, he just said he’s not confident in the outcome, though, so it doesn’t matter —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because — but who —
Q — if you’re confident in your authority.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But who — but, of course, who would know how the Supreme Court is going to go? No one knows how the Supreme Court is going to rule.
Q Well, you have a pretty good sense because it’s a 6-3 conservative lean right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But it doesn’t mean that we can’t be confident in the merit, in our standing, and we are. We’re confident —
Q So we’re going to have faith because of the — I’m just — I didn’t meant to interrupt, but you’re going to have faith that — that your argument is the one they — that the law supports, even if you don’t think they will support it, and not make an alternative plan?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I’m saying is — and that the President does not know how the Supreme Court will rule. That’s — of course, we do not — we never know on any case how the Supreme Court is going to rule.
What we are saying is that the solicitor gener- — general did an amazing job, we believe, in — in really defending the program that the President has put forth. And he laid —
Q So if you’re someone with —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But do you see — you see why I —
Q No, I get it. No.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me — let me finish. No, let me —
Q All right, I thought you were finished. I’m listening.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me finish.
Q Of course.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This is why I was saying earlier, because —
Q My eyebrows moved.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — you tend — yeah, there you go. (Laughter.)
Q I know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What — (laughs) — what this — what the SG made very clear yesterday, and we believe this — and I actually spoke to the President about this this morning — is that our opponents don’t have the standing or the merits on their argument. That is — that is because she put forth such a forceful, forceful argument for the President’s plan.
Q I guess I’m asking because we’re hearing from those who have student loans right now, who are wondering, if this is rejected, they have to make a plan B.
So simply put, what is the message to those Americans who have loans right now? Because whether or not the White House thinks it’s going to get through the court, it may not. What should they be doing actively right now? Or what can they anticipate from you on their behalf?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here’s what they can anticipate from us on our behalf. And they — and many of those millions of borrowers received an email from the Secretary of Education yesterday, basically stating that we have their backs. So we are going to continue to fight —
Q For two months, right? You would —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re —
Q — extend it for two months, he told us.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to — well, there’s two parts to that, right? We’re going to extend it for two months, depending on the decision — right? — that’ll be two months after the decision — or January 3rd — 30th. Right?
So that is what we’ve put up —
Q June 30th?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ju- — I’m so sorry. June 30th.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re correct.
But our messages is — to your other question that you asked — is that we’re going to have their backs. We are going to continue to have their backs, as the President has had the backs of Americans whether you’re in a red state, blue state, rural America, urban America. We will have your backs and continue to make sure that we fight for you so that you are not left behind. And that is what this plan is about.
Q Thanks for indulging me. I — (inaudible), sorry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — well, you’ve been in — a lot of indulgement. Oh, boy.
All right, Ed. Go ahead, Ed.
Q Just — just three actually. (Laughter.) Would — there is a separate House Republican — congressional Republican proposal that would override legislation allowing non-citizens to vote in Washington, D.C., elections. If that passes the Congress, would the President sign it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can say that the President does not support that.
Q Okay. The reversal here comes in the wake of a handful of senators facing reelection in 2024, saying that they were seriously considering supporting this legislation or had planned to vote for it: Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, Bob Casey, Angus King.
Some might look at this and say the President is choosing to give political aircover to vulnerable Democrats in 2024 and make a point on criminal justice issues that he has had an opinion on since the 2020 election when there was a disagreement in the Democratic Party about whether or not to support defunding the police or whether to be tougher on crime and continue to support police agencies.
So, is the President playing 2024 politics with this local Washington, D.C., issue at the expense of his longstanding, decades-long support of D.C. statehood?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I — what I’ll say here is — I’m not going to get into 2024 analysis or political punditry from here. We are covered — I am covered, we are covered by the Hatch Act, as you know, and so I’m not — certainly not going to get into analysis from here.
I will always be very clear about what the President believes. The President believes in making sure he continues to deliver for the American people. That his — that is what he wakes up thinking about every day, and you see that in his historic pieces of poli- — policies and laws that are now in effect, and it’s going to continue. That’s our — our focus at this time.
Q Related to this, you — a few weeks ago, we talked about whether or not the White House would ever swap the D.C. license plates. And you said you’d get back to us on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, yeah, you did ask me that. I — I — I still have not gotten back to you. We — I will — I will work on that.
I think we actually were trying to dig in and get some information. We just haven’t popped any further information at this time.
Q And as he left the meeting, he said — about Ohio — he was asked about East Palestine and supporting legislation that’s in the works. He said, “I will be there soon.” Is there a plan for him to go?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any trips to preview for you at this time. The President also — if I — if I’m remembering correctly — moments ago, he also talked about how, essentially, this has been a priority. He’s talked to governors, the governor of Pennsylvania, governor of Ohio, the senators at –multiple times throughout these past couple of — couple of weeks.
As you know, when it hap- — when the derailment happened on February 3rd, hours later — within hours, we had folks on the ground from the EPA making sure that we were dealing with this chemical spill and making sure — and since then, we have had a multi-agency reaction to this, an operation on the ground, making sure that the community in East Palestine was getting what they needed to get back on their feet and to make them whole.
And we’re going to — you’ve heard this from Secretary Buttigieg, you’ve heard this from Administrator Regan — we are going to make sure that we hold Norfolk
Suffolk [Southern] accountable and make sure that they clean up their mess.
I’m going to go to the back because I haven’t done that.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. On the 58th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, also known as Bloody Sunday, we know that President Biden will be in Selma on Sunday to give remarks.
Last year, Vice President Harris gave remarks and traveled. Why was it important for the President to go this year? Is there anything you can preview about his speech, whether he’ll talk about voting rights or even an issue that’s important to Black — the Black community, which is the censoring of Black history in the classrooms?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll have more to preview about Sunday, hopefully, tomorrow. So we’ll work on that to make sure that we have some — some — something for all of you to preview.
But the President what — did do the march back — if I’m — if I remember correctly, back in 2019, with then John — with then icon, leader — clearly, a hero — John Lewis. And he had an opportunity to go to the bridge, had an opportunity to go to church and do this with then-Congressman John Lewis, as I just mentioned.
And he — it was an honor for him to do that. This is someone — if you think about how the President got involved in politics, it was very much connected to the civil rights movement. So this is important to the President.
Bloody Sunday, as we know, is a part of our history that is tragic, that is clearly deadly, that led to — that helped lead to the Civil Rights Movement, getting voting rights done and on the books, and to protect a group of Americans who — to give them the right to make sure that they felt safe and gave them the right to vote.
So, clearly, this is something that’s incredibly important. He looks forward to going to Selma — Selma on Sunday, again, on a historic day that we should not forget — a part of our history that we should just not forget — and continue — continue to remember those who fought very hard for — for — for the rights of many Americans.
Q My other question. The COVID-era SNAP benefits expire this week. Some policy experts have expressed concern that many households, especially Black and poor and minority communities, will not have enough funds to pay for their groceries. What is the White House’s message to those who are concerned that they won’t have enough funds to pay for their food?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, this is a White House, as I’ve stated many times before, that really cares about all Americans and making sure that no one is left behind. And we see that. We’ve seen that time and time again in the President’s, you know, pieces of policies and legislation.
And that’s what the President is going to continue to do, whether it’s policy that’s coming out of an agency that we are really dealing with communities that are dealing with a hard time, especially as we’ve — as we’ve seen the last three years of COVID.
That’s why the President passed the American Rescue Plan, to get us back on our feet, to deal with — to deal with communities and families who were not able to put food on the table or help them put food on the table; making sure that our kids were being taken care of; as — as schools were closed, making sure those schools were being open.
And so this is — again, from the first piece of legislation to policies coming out to different agencies, it has taken this very seriously on making sure that families who were hurt the hardest, you know, continue to get that relief.
I’m just — I’m going to try and go around because I haven’t. Okay.
My gosh. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Earlier today, the Congressional Black Caucus held a presser going over their legislative agenda. And in that, Representative Horsford talked about a letter that was sent to DOJ wanting an update on what the administration has been doing on the executive orders that the President put out on police reform.
And one thing he did say was that one of them in particular was the National Law Enforcement Accountability Database that was supposed to be done by January the 20th. Is there anything that you can give in an update about where we are in that process?
As the President touts — you know, goes throughout the country and he touts these executive orders, what is being done on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I want to take a step back for a second. While Congress was not able to deliver on — on the policing act — as you know, that was worked in the last — in the last session — the President took action. He took — he took historic action to deal with an issue that was affecting communities. That has gotten support from civil rights leaders. That got support from police unions.
This was — this — the executive order that he put forward was incredibly important, as you know, and touted by many — many — many folks from both sides.
So, want to make sure that is clear, that this was a historic action when Congress could not act. I don’t have an update for you. Department of Justice was clearly — would have more information. I know you just — you just — you just stated them. I just don’t have anything to share for you at this time.
Q Let me follow up really quickly. At the beginning of the briefing, you talked about Eli Lilly slashing the insulin prices. Is there any conversation or pressure that the President is putting on Nordisk and Sanofi?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President used the bully pulpit to make himself very clear on how we should be putting the American people first.
You heard him — the — one of the reasons we saw Eli Lilly take that action is because, during the State of the Union, the President put out there that pharma companies need to make sure that they followed his lead as he passed it — as he helped sign and helped, tooth and nail, get Inflation Reduction Act passed.
And because of that, we saw — we saw a cap for seniors and Medi- — for Medicare at $35. And the President said pharma co- — pharma — pharma companies should follow suit. And we saw that with Eli Lilly.
So the bully pulpit that he speaks from very often and calls that out is a powerful tool that we believe has been very effective.
Q Okay. Thank you. I just want to seek to kind of understand the President’s opposition to the bill a bit more and the reasons for it. One, is it just the lowering penalties for carjackings, or are there other aspects that he disagrees with?
On carjackings, too, is it broadly the message that would be sent by lowering the mandatory minimum? I’m looking at the bill and, basically, right now the minimum sentence is 7 years with a maximum of 21. And the revisions would be 4 to 18. Does he just — does he believe that seven years is the minimum sentence someone should receive for carjacking? Or is it more so the message that would be sent here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m not going to go line by line of — of the — of the legislation. What I can say more broadly, to your point, as you are asking me this question, is that the President wants to make sure that we have communities — that communities across the country feel safe. He feels that this is an — incredibly important for him to do as President.
This is an op- — this is something that is being presented to him. This is not a piece of legislation that he put forward. This is something that has been presented to him, and he’s going to take action on behalf of a community here — right here in D.C.
Q Maybe not line by line but, like, just that line —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I’m — I’m just —
Q — since — since you mentioned carjacking.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I know. I —
Q — I just —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just used carjacking as an example, but I —
Q But he also mentioned it in his tweet, so —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — no, totally understand. I’m just not going to go line by line. It was just an easy example to give — to give you all and the American people of how he sees this. He wants to make sure that communities feel safe. And this is a way that he believes that we’ll see — that we will see that.
Q On another criminal justice — the President, during the campaign, opposed the death penalty, said that he’d want to end it with a few exceptions, as well. The number of people with the death penalty has steadily gone up over the past couple of years, including President Biden’s time in office. Does he still support ending the death penalty?
And also, just where does the administration go now to actually ensure that happens?
As a follow to that, just also, what — what do you attribute the rise in people that have been — oh, excuse me. I said the death penalty. I am talking about solitary confinement. Excuse me.
The number of people in solitary confinement has gone up in recent years while President Biden has been in office. He opposed solitary confinement during the campaign. What do you attribute the rise of people in solitary confinement during his time in office? And also, what steps will he take going forward to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, not the death —
Q Not the death penalty.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q I was confused on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q A separate question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. His — his policy has not changed on this. Don’t have anything to preview on how to move forward or the next steps.
I cannot speak to why we’ve seen an uptick in this during his administration. Clearly, that’s for experts to — who follow this to speak to. I just don’t have anything further to share.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead, Karen.
Q Did the President talk to Mayor Bowser and tell her that he would sign this bill if it came to him, if the Senate passed it, before he talked to Senate Democrats about this (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I don’t have any call to preview. We don’t have a call to preview with — with Mayor Bowser. As you know, she’s mayor of D.C, so we have a close — a close connection with her. We — my — our team here speaks to her often. Just don’t have anything to preview as a conversation with the President or not.
Q And she’s talked to people here at the White House about this legislation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can’t speak to this particular legislation. What I can say is that we are in regular touch with her. She is — because she is right here in D.C., she is — you know, she’s here often. There’s regular conversations that’s had with our team here, with her team.
I just don’t have a specific conversation on this legislation to read out to you at this time.
Q So, going back to Zolan’s question — first question. The — if you’re not going line by line, I guess my question is: What is it about this legislation specifically that the — is the President opposing, other than the broad concept of (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, that’s the answer. The broad — the bro- —
Q What about it does he — do he feel like makes D.C. unsafe?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I understand. The broad concept of it is that he wants to make sure that, you know, communities feel safe. And he feels this is a way — a step forward in doing that.
And so, look, we u- — I used the carjacking as an example — just as a quick example so people can understand. I’m not going to go line by line. That’s not something that we tend to do here, go line by line on every piece of legislation. We tend to lift up things that make sense, things that can be easily understandable for the American people. So that’s just an example that I used.
But, more broadly, this is a President who has led on making sure putting forward historic — historic plans to make sure that pub- — there’s — public safety is a priority, to make sure that law enforcement are able to — that we have law enforcement that go into communities and make — make sure communities feel safe.
If you think about it, this is a President, during — when he was senator, started the COPS program. Right? That is another — another kind of apparatus that he put forward to make sure that communities felt safe. And that’s what he’s going to continue to do.
Q Is there something besides carjackings that make people feel unsafe about this specific piece of legislation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I can tell you is this is a — this is a piece of legislation that the mayor objected to, the D.C. Council moved forward on. But the President feels very strongly on this. He feels that we need to make sure that all communities, including D.C., here — the folks who live in D.C. feel safe. And he feels that this — taking this action does exactly that.
Q So the other thing I wanted to ask about was conceptually about statehood. There are all kinds of instances where legislatures override a governor’s veto; they’re at odds, but a law passes. And presumably the President doesn’t feel like that imperils their statehood.
What is it in this instance that — I’m still sort of struggling how he can support statehood for D.C. and their right to be able to pass these kinds of laws, even if he disagrees with it, but then, in this instance, he’s deciding not to allow them that opportunity.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because this — this — this is just different. This is different, again, because the D.C. Council put these changes forward over the mayor’s objections. And so this is just a uniquely different situation that the President has been presented with and is going to take action on.
Q But if they had statehood, then the Council could pass this and it would become law.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And that would be great. And that — that would be fine. Right? Because the statehood would allow them to be the 51st state, and it would allow them to act as their own — as their own entity. And the President is continuing to fight for that. He’s been calling for that for the past 20 years.
They don’t have that yet. So this is an op- — and — this is a piece of legislation that’s being presented to him. And he’s going to take action on beha- — on behalf of the American people, including in D.C., on beh- — on behalf of keeping the public safe, including in D.C. And that’s what you’re seeing the President do.
That doesn’t mean he’s not going to call on making sure that D.C. is indeed a statehood.
So, this — again, this has been presented to him. He’s going to take action on behalf of the American people. But, of course, he wants to make sure that D.C. does have statehood, as he’s been calling for for decades.
Q Thanks, Karine. I know you say you don’t want to get ahead of the President’s budget release next week, but does the President believe that there is reckless spending in the federal government that needs to be addressed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m — so let me first say that this is a President, for the first two years, who has put policies forth that has lowered the deficit by $1.7 trillion. So he’s taken that very seriously to make sure that we continue to do that work.
And he talked about it during the State of the Union — I just mentioned it — that he’s going to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion over 10 years by asking the wealthy and the big corporations to pay their fair share. And he’s going to do that without cutting programs Americans have paid into.
If you think about Social Security, you think about Medicare — something that Republicans continue to say, or have said, and have said for years now, they wanted — they want to cut. So the President is going to continue to fight for those important pieces of — important programs.
And so, what the President is also going to focus on is continuing to lower costs for families. That’s what he’s going to do. I’m not going to get ahead of his — of his budget. It’s going to come out a week from today. And you all will get to see it.
We’re going to continue to ask Republicans to do the same, to put forth a budget to see — put forth a budget that’s fiscally responsible and that lays out for the American people a transparent budget so we can see what is it that they’re calling on — what is it that they’re calling for in their budget.
Q Real quick. You know, some fact checkers believe that that $1.7 trillion was because the COVID relief funds ran out. Does the White House have a response to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What we know and what we have seen from the data is: Because of this President, because of the plans that he has put forward, $1.7 trillion. That’s what we’ve seen in the last two years. That’s how the deficit has — has decreased. And that’s important.
And, again, the President is committed, for the next 10 years, to do — to — to bring down the deficit by $2 trillion. And so that is the commitment that this President is going to have.
Q On student loan forgiveness, you know, you mentioned to Peter that your message to borrowers right now would be that you have their back. But if you’re one of 40 million Americans whose, now, financial fate is up in the air, essentially, don’t they deserve to know if “having their back” means that there’s an actual backup plan in the works? Or if it’s simply that, you know, you feel that the way that you’ve gone about this now is your best shot at this, do they deserve to know that too?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I can tell you is, yes, we have their backs. That’s why the Secretary, on the same day of the arguments, made sure that we sent out an email to millions of borrowers to let them know that we will have their backs and the President will continue to do so.
We are, again, confident in our legal authority — as the President said yesterday, as I said yesterday as well, as I’m saying to all of you, in our — in our legal — you know, in our legal argument here.
We think the SG — she did a fantastic job defending the President’s program — the President’s plan.
And so, again, we’re going to see how this plays out. We’re certainly not going to get ahead of the Supreme Court and what they decide.
But, again, we feel that they do not have — the other side do not have the merit to — to — you know, to really — merit to stand forth with their argument. They truly don’t. And so, we’re going to continue to make a forceful defense for the President’s program.
It is unfortunate that folks on the other side — you have elected officials who do not want to protect or give a little bit of a breathing room to those 40 million Americans that will get that.
Let’s not forget, 90 percent of folks in the — that’s going to be — be able to participate in the President’s plan are making less than $75,000.
Q So, it sounds like plan B is plan A, right? And so, I guess, to just be really practical about it, do borrowers need to be making other plans?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is not for me to speak to.
What I can tell you is what we’re going to do. What we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to defend the President’s plan. We believe we have the legal authority to — to be successful here.
The solicitor general proved that, showed that yesterday. That’s what we believe.
And our plan is a good plan. It’s a very good plan that’s going to give relief, again, to work — working families, to middle-class Americans. And so that’s what we’re going to continue to fight for.
Q And not to beat a dead horse on the D.C. crime bill, but I think there just still is some confusion here. Because given the difference between the SAP that came out earlier last month and the announcement today, what led to this change of heart? Because it does seem there was a change of heart.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I can tell you is what the President said himself and just repeat that. Which is he — he — you know, he believes that every city has the right to self-govern — government. That never changes. He’s been saying that for some time.
And if the Senate sends the bill — this particular bill to his desk — he will sign it. And he said that today. I’m repeating it from the podium.
And he believes, you know, this is a way for him to keep the community safe in D.C. and the people of D.C. safe — the residents of D.C. safe and protected. So that is why he’s moving forward in this way.
Q So nothing changed in his mindset between February 6th and today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just going — I’m just laying out where the President is today as this is coming — this is going to be coming before him, and he is going to sign it.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
Q Thank you, Karine.
4:15 P.M. EST