Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:51 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Okay. Following her visit to Ohio today to meet with military families, the First Lady will travel to Nashville, Tennessee, to join a candlelight vigil this evening to honor and mourn the lives of the victims of the Covenant School shooting.
As you heard the President say throughout this week, we continue to call on Congress to act to pass an assault weapons ban and take additional actions to make our kids and communities safer.
Today, we have — we have really important news to share, on a different note, from the FDA, which has approved Narcan, a form of naloxone, for over-the-counter use. This is news that will literally save lives.
Naloxone can reverse overdoses caused by opioids like fentanyl. It is a critical tool that has saved thousands of lives, and now the FDA is making this lifesaving medicine more accessible to more people across the country.
This historic actions President Biden has taken to tackle the opioid epidemic have resulted in a decrease or flattening in overdose deaths for seven months in a row, and the President is surging our efforts to continue this trend.
In his budget, he has called on Congress to significantly increase funding to protect our communities from drug traffickers and get people the care that they need.
Our work is not over, and we will stay focused on actions that will — that we know will save lives, but today’s action is a very important step forward.
Also, on the Vice President’s trip to Africa, I have a few updates for all of you on the Vice President — on that trip.
She is going — as you know — she just finished up in Ghana. Tanzania is next. And Zam- — Zambia is also this week as part of her six — seven-day trip.
The Vice President is now en route to Tanzania after completing a productive visit to Ghana. In Ghana, she met with President Akufo-Addo and laid out a number of areas where our partnership has been strengthened, from security in the Sahel to economic growth.
President Akufo-Addo hosted the Vice President at a state banquet, which a number of prominent members of the African Diaspora attended — including actors, artists, academics, and activists — in recognition of the longstanding ties between our people.
Vice President Harris met today with women entrepreneurs and announced nearly $1 billion to support the empowerment of women in Africa. The investments will help digitize women-owned businesses; provide access to capital, healthcare, and education; and combat gender-based violence.
The Vice President also announced a new fund, the Women in the Digital Economy Fund, alongside — alongside Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will help close the global digital gender divide.
Yesterday, the Vice President underscored to 8,000 young Ghan- — Ghanaians the importance of investing in innovation and entrepreneurship across Africa to unlock growth and opportunities for the entire world.
She also visited Cape Coast Castle and gave remarks on the brutality and legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and the importance of remembering the — teaching this history.
And now my colleague, John Kirby, is here to share more about the Summit for Democracy.
And also, as you know, there’s going to be a bilat this afternoon with the president of Argentina.
And with that, Admiral, the floor is yours — or the podium.
MR. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
Q Hi! (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: You never know what you’re going to get when you say that. Right?
Q Oh, I’m just practicing. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: As I’m sure you all saw, the President just addressed the Summit for Democracy. In the last 15 months, we’ve demonstrated here in the United States that our democracy can still do big things.
And as the President said: Around the world, we’re seeing concrete indicators that we are beginning to turn the tide here and democracy is on its front foot.
Today the President announced the United States is making another significant investment in promoting democracies abroad: up to $690 million in additional funding for the presidential initiative to expand new and existing programs and policies that support free and independent media, help combat corruption, bolster democratic reformers and human rights activists, defend free and fair elections, and ensure that technology works for and not against democratic societies.
The United States is also making a series of announcements this week about how technology can work for, not against, democracy — an agenda for advancing technology for democracy at home and abroad. And the events tomorrow will — will spotlight that effort. I’m sure you’ll see that.
Lastly, of course, we are also pleased to pass the baton to the Republic of Korea for the next summit.
Now, Karine mentioned briefly that the President is looking forward to meeting with President Fernández of Argentina here at the White House later this afternoon — in fact, in just a little bit, about an hour.
Argentina is a key partner of the United States in our hemisphere. And in light of the second Summit of Democ- — for Democracy taking place, given recent events, of course, in the region, the two leaders will highlight the importance of upholding and protecting democratic values in the region and around the world.
We’ll have — certainly have a readout of — of that bilat when it’s — when it’s over.
And then, as you also know, this week, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen begins transiting the United States today. This transit is consistent with our longstanding, unofficial relationship with Taiwan, and it is consistent with the United States’ One China policy, which remains unchanged. It is Taiwan’s decision to make these transits based on their own travel. Transits are not visits. They are private, and they’re unofficial.
I would also remind everyone that this is not the — this is not new. Every Taiwan president has transited the United States. President Tsai Ing-wen herself has transited the U.S. six times since taking office in 2016, each time without incident.
In all previous transits, she met with members of Congress, as well as state and local officials, and had public appearances. She has also transited through both New York and Los Angeles before. Not uncommon.
The People’s Republic of China should not use this transit as a pretext to step up any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait. The United States and China have differences when it comes to Taiwan, but we have managed those differences for more than 40 years.
President Biden and this administration has been keeping the lines of communication open with Beijing. We want to see that continue on this issue and other issues across the board. And we’ll continue to strive to do that.
With that, let me take some questions.
Q Hey, Kirby. On the transit, Jake Sullivan talked with his counterpart last week. This issue was, I think, among the top issues discussed. Why did you decide not to make that call public?
MR. KIRBY: I have nothing to confirm in terms of the press reporting regarding that particular phone call.
I will tell you two things. One, Mr. Sullivan routinely has discussions with counterparts around the world. That’s not uncommon for him and for his job. And number two, we have definitely had multiple diplomatic discussions with Beijing about this particular transit on — at different levels.
Q Just to quickly follow up: First, yes, I know he has those conversations, but usually you read it out and, you know, in writing and just say he had — held a telephone call with his counterpart. So, on this — in this instance, this didn’t happen. But —
MR. KIRBY: It’s actually not true that we read out every single phone call that he has with counterparts. That — we don’t do that for every single one. Again, I’m not confirming these press reports.
Q Okay. In all of your conversations you’ve had with the PRC leading up to this transit, are you confident that
you have communicated or you’re in a good spot that they might respond with heated rhetoric but that’s it? Or are you at all afraid that this might be sort of a Pelosi 2.0 scenario?
MR. KIRBY: I’ll certainly let Beijing speak for itself. We — as I said in my opening statement, there’s no reason for them to react harshly or overreact in any way. This is a common occurrence. President Tsai Ing-wen has done it, as I said, six times before. Other presidents of Taiwan have transited the United States. Nothing unusual about this. Certainly, we’ll let them speak to their schedule and Beijing speak for itself.
But as I said quite clearly at the top, there’s absolutely no reason for Beijing to react differently in this regard.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Hello, John. I have a question on the Summit for Democracies. Iraq is the only Arab country that is participating. How do you encourage — how does the White House encourage other Arab countries to be more transparent and more adhere to democratic values?
MR. KIRBY: One of the great —
Q And I have one more question on Israel.
MR. KIRBY: One of the great things about the Summit for Democracy is it gives us a chance to speak in a — on a multilateral platform with many nations about what we’re all doing to enhance transparency and accountability and abide by the consent of the governed. And we’re delighted that Iraq can participate.
You know, and we’ll see what the next one looks like and who gets invited to attend and who participates. But we would hope that — that all democracies, as they look at the outcomes of this week, will — will want to follow suit.
Q Also, on Israel, do you see the attitude of Prime Minister Netanyahu disrespectful of the President? I mean, he’s known to not have a good relationship with Democratic presidents, including President Obama, when he used to address him publicly in the Oval Office.
So how do you see this personal relationship playing a role now in Netanyahu responding to the White House call to find a compromise?
MR. KIRBY: Well, if you look at his statement that he put out, I mean, there’s — there’s a lot to — there’s a lot to like about it.
I mean, he talked about searching for compromise. He talked about working towards building consensus here with respect to these — these potential judicial reforms. He talked about how unshakable he knows the relationship is between the United States and Israel. And he talked about his great respect for President Biden.
That’s a respect that President Biden shares as well. These two gentlemen have known each other for 40-some-odd years.
And the great thing about friends — and I’m sure you all have friends; you don’t always agree with everything your friend does or says — and the great thing about a deep friendship is you can be that candid with one another.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Kristen.
Q Thank you, Karine. John, I hear you saying that there’s no need for China to respond, and yet they have threatened retaliation if the House Speaker meets with the leader of Taiwan. So, what is the administration bracing for?
MR. KIRBY: We — what we hope to see here is a normal, uneventful transit by President Tsai Ing-wen, because that’s what’s happened before, and there’s no reason for it to be any different this time, Kristen.
I will let Beijing speak for itself. And I’m certainly not going to speak for Speaker McCarthy or his agenda. There is no reason — none — for the Chinese to overreact here.
Q But if past is precedent and we saw what happened when former House Speaker Pelosi visited Taiwan, there was a very robust backlash in response from China. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that the administration is bracing for something similar, some type of reaction?
MR. KIRBY: We’ll have to see what — what Beijing does. We’ll have to see what — what they do. I don’t want to hypothesize or speculate about reactions here to reactions. There should not be a reaction to this since it’s a normal activity.
Q Let me ask you one on TikTok, if I could. The President has warned about his national security concerns with Americans using TikTok. Does he also have national security concerns when it comes to other apps that are owned by ByteDance, the parent company?
MR. KIRBY: The President always — when we look at apps that we allow on our government devices, you’ll always want to take a look at whatever national security concerns might — might be prevalent there, particularly when it comes to data transfer, as well as privacy concerns and — and just secrecy concerns.
I don’t — I don’t want to go beyond what we’ve said in the past here. We certainly have concerns over this particular app on government phones. The President has banned it from government phones. And we’ll leave it there.
Q I have one on classified documents. Is that best for you or for —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can take it in a second. I’ll take it when (inaudible).
Q Okay, thanks.
Q Two quick questions. President Zelenskyy told the AP in a pretty extensive interview that he believes President Xi should visit Ukraine. Does the White House agree?
MR. KIRBY: We certainly support, at the very least, a conversation between President Xi and President Zelenskyy. And, my goodness, we’ve been saying that for weeks.
Q And you responded to every part of the Prime — Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement except for the part that he said Israel will not make a decision “based on pressures from abroad.” I was wondering if you could respond to that part of what the — (laughter) — what the prime minister said.
MR. KIRBY: You think it was a selective response, huh?
Q Well, you got every part of it except for that. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: Israel is a democracy and a sovereign state, of course, and — and sovereign states make sovereign decisions.
Our whole point about this and our whole concern is — the President has said this himself — that we want to — we’d like to see decisions made there with a good friend like Israel — and Israel is a good friend — that — that are in keeping with a consensus of — and that can be done with the broadest possible base of public support, because that’s what — that’s one of the key components of a democracy.
And Israel is a democracy, and it’s one of the great things that we share — our two countries share are some basic fundamental democratic institutions and principles. And one of them is, again, the broadest possible base of public support for major changes like this, changes which affect the system of checks and balances.
Q Thanks. One question, first, on the summit. The administration has said that an invitation to the summit is not some sort of stamp on whether the country is a democracy or not. But when it comes to those who were not invited — for example, two NATO Allies, Hungary and Turkey — what was the reasoning behind not inviting them?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I think I addressed this a little bit yesterday. They are two NATO Allies, and we value that — the — that — their participation in the Alliance, of course. And that’s important.
Again, decisions about invitations, as you rightly said, we’ve said, it’s not some sort of mark of approval or disapproval, but it’s based on a lot of things, particularly progress towards basic human and civil rights and freedom of the press, of free assembly, peaceful assembly — those kinds of commitments.
And we — we look at a lot of factors here when — when we put together the invite list.
Q And if I could, I have one on Argentina. Senator Ted Cruz, this morning, introduced — or announced that he was introducing a bill to require the President to investigate, among others, the Vice President of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner. Is this something that the administration is considering, since you’ve done this with other South American leaders in the past, just recently with Paraguay’s Vice President earlier this year?
MR. KIRBY: I’ve not seen that report, and I’ve not seen the comments made by Senator Cruz, so I’m not going to get ahead of where we are right now.
Q Thank you, Karine. Happy Ramadan to you, Mr. Kirby.
(Mr. Kirby looks for reporter.) Here.
MR. KIRBY: Okay.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right here.
Q My question is about — Pakistan is not participating in the Summit of Democracy.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q And beside that, there’s a lot of turmoil in Pakistan, whether its economic, political, judicial. Is the U.S. concerned about it at all —
MR. KIRBY: Oh, we’re certainly —
MR. KIRBY: We’re certainly sorry they decided not to participate. That’s, of course, their choice. They are also a sovereign state and can make these kinds of decisions for themselves. It’s not going to change our willingness to continue to work with Pakistan. We share a lot of mutual security concerns in the region, of course, when it comes to counterterrorism, and all that work will continue.
Q One more thing —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, quickly.
Q Is — is it true that Pakistan is providing some weapons to Ukraine, or not?
MR. KIRBY: You’d ha- — you’d have to talk to Pakistani leaders.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nandita.
Q Thanks, Karine. Quick question on the — on the democracy summit. How would you respond to concerns that the U.S. is boost- — is offering a reputational boost to these participating countries for their democratic credentials without even knowing if they fully bought into the idea of democracy in the first place?
I mean, India is a participant, for example. Everything we’ve seen come from India since ‘21 cannot be argued as steps towards, you know, maintaining a democratic form of government. How would you respond to some of those criticisms that have started to come up?
MR. KIRBY: It’s not a popularity contest. That’s not why we do this. It’s not about building somebody’s reputation or not. It’s about having meaningful discussions about the power of democracy and how democracies can be strengthened, deepened, and how they can grow — grow in — for themselves and grow as a — as a multilateral collection of — of likeminded nations. And there’s a lot to discuss on the agenda with that regard.
And — I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought. (Laughter.) I was on a — I was on a roll there.
There is a — there’s a lot that goes into this. And so, it really is about making progress toward strengthening democracies around the world. And that’s the goal here.
And the invites change from year to year, as you would expect them to change from year to year.
Q But there is no meaningful way to measure progress, right? You’re monitoring progress, but there is no way to measure progress.
I mean, India, again, did not even submit their commitments during the last summit. And here they are, getting praised for just participating in the summit.
MR. KIRBY: Again, this is a — the Summit for Democracy is really all about rolling up sleeves and doing the hard work.
And if you — you know, back to the comments that were a little earlier about — about Israel — if you agree with another democracy on every single issue, then why do you need a summit? I mean, the summits are valuable because democracies around the world are facing unique challenges.
And sometimes they don’t get the answers to those challenges, you know, perfect every single time. That’s why you do these things — so you can have those kinds of discussions, and you can work to improve their democracy and the idea of democracy around the world. It’s a — very much a working summit.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We — we have to move on. Go ahead, Phil.
Q Thanks, Kirby. Just — just a few quick ones.
First, on — on Israel, for clarity in terms of the President’s remarks yesterday, you had — you’ve been consistent about urging the Israeli government to find a compromise as quickly as possible.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q But the President also said yesterday he hopes that he — the prime minister walks away from it, in terms of the proposal that’s been put on the table. Are those the same thing? I’m trying to see if there’s divergent. Walking away, just generally taking it off the table?
MR. KIRBY: No, they’re — they’re completely consistent.
We obviously have urged Israeli leaders to — to come up with a compromise as soon as possible, and the President’s comments yesterday about walking away from it are perfectly consistent with — with finding a compromise that — that, again, preserves checks and balances in Israel.
Q And then, in terms of a potential conversation between Presidents Biden and Xi — I know this is — we’ve been going back and forth about this for the last several weeks — I think the concern at this point is that there are, in the months ahead, a series of potential irritants, whether perceived or real, that are only going to make it more unlikely.
Do you still feel like it’s something that can happen on the near term? Or is this something that’s pushed off indefinitely at this point?
MR. KIRBY: I would not agree with your assumption that — that things will make it more unlikely or less likely. The President still wants to keep those lines of communication open, Phil.
And he has said himself that he looks forward to having another conversation with President Xi. And that will happen. It will happen at the appropriate time. And, of course, when it does, we’ll — we’ll let you all know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m going to go to the back. Raquel, way in the back.
Q Thank you very much, Karine and John. Two questions.
One, is the White House ready to sit down with Maduro’s government to solve — to try to solve the political crisis in Venezuela, as the State Department suggested today?
MR. KIRBY: We’re interested in certainly having continued discussions here, but I’m not aware of any formal meeting.
Q And about this tragic fire that killed dozens of people in Mexico — migrants who are waiting for asylum here in the United States — can the White House do anything to avoid these kinds of tragedies and actually having a more humane immigration system, as President Biden promised during the campaign?
MR. KIRBY: We are working towards that. First of all, I mean, just tragic what happened to these individuals. And a lot of grieving families here as a result of that. And certainly, should Mexican authorities need any support or assistance from us, we’d — we’d happily provide it.
They’re investigating, of course, as is appropriate. But one of the reasons why — I mean, this underscores — this event underscores why President Biden is working so hard on trying to open up more legal pathways for people to come into the United States and to do it in a way that’s safe and secure.
And that’s basically a foundational element of the migration — immigration policy that the President has been trying to — to pursue and, again, urges Congress to — to act on immigration reforms that he put forward at the very beginning of the administration.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, John.
Q Yeah, thanks. Senate Democrats are saying that national security is being threatened by Senator Tommy Tuberville. He’s up holding more than 160 military promotions over abortion policy in the Department of Defense. Does the White House — sorry —
MR. KIRBY: That’s all right. Take your time.
Q (Inaudible.) I lost my — lost my place here.
MR. KIRBY: I know what it’s like to do that. (Laughter.)
So, I think you all know he’s blocking Defense Department nominations, including the promotions of over 160 senior military leaders — admirals and generals — and nominees for top acquisition and sustainment positions, civilian positions at DOD right at a time when budget has gone forward and you got the top leaders of the Defense Department testifying on this budget — biggest budget ever for DOD — and at a time when we are still trying to support Ukraine while we’re still facing challenges in the Indo-Pacific — a wide range of challenges; it’s not just all about China. I mean, look at what North Korea has done in recent days.
And when you hold these promotions up, you — there is, as Secretary Austin said, a real ripple effect downstream because now people can’t move on to the next job and they can’t leave the one that they’re in, and they can’t assume these new jobs of responsibility.
And it absolutely — if it goes on too long, it could absolutely have an effect on U.S. military readiness around the world.
We noticed that there were some Senate Republicans yesterday who urged Senator Tuberville to drop these blocks themselves, and we certainly welcome that and agree with them.
Q Okay. And I’ve got one other on Ukraine. Three inspectors general overseeing U.S. aid to Ukraine have received 189 complaints of alleged misconduct as of the beginning of March.
They said that they don’t see any evidence of diversion so far. But in any case, are you aware of those reports? And are you concerned about —
MR. KIRBY: Sorry, the reports of — I missed the first part of your question.
Q A hundred and eighty-nine complaints of alleged misconduct.
MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware of — of those specific reports. We haven’t seen any evidence that — that there’s been any egregious misconduct when it comes to managing the security assistance that’s gone into Ukraine.
I would note that the Ukrainian officials also share our concerns about making sure there’s proper accountability and transparency of things getting in and moving around the battlefield.
We have welcomed congressional oversight of this, as well as their calls for — you know, for additional work. In fact, we stood up now three, I think, inspectors general — general at DOD to help manage accountability oversight. We think all that’s a good thing, and we’re going to keep working at it.
It is important to remember — I would add just one last point — it is a war. And we all want to have as much oversight and accountability as possible. Of course, we do. It’s taxpayer-funded equipment and systems that are going to Ukraine, but it is a war. And real people are fighting and real people are dying. And in battle, you can’t predict every single — the perfect, secure movement of every single item that every single sol- — soldier takes into the fight with him or her.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steve.
Q Thank you, Karine. I have a press freedom follow-up on the President’s democracy remarks, and then I’d like to ask you about fentanyl in China.
On press freedom, the journalist Matt Taibbi this week said that the IRS visited his home on the same day as he testified to a house select subcommittee on the alleged weaponization of government. Taibbi worked on the Twitter Files project that revealed government cooperation with Twitter to censor disfavored speech.
President Biden said just now in the pro-democracy gathering that we should, quote, be “better protecting activists and journalists from cyber threats, harassment, [and] abuse.”
There of course been domestic issues with the U.S. treatment of journalist, as a colleague in our sixth row could attest, but I was wondering if you could respond to this Taibbi visit by the IRS, and say whether this is part of a campaign to harass or intimidate them related to his journalism.
MR. KIRBY: I’m afraid I’m going to have to refer you to the IRS on that.
Q Okay. And regarding —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And we don’t have a lot of time.
Q — regarding China and then —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Really quickly.
Q –regarding China and fentanyl, Congressman Mike Garcia today called for the U.S. to, quote, “Put a finger on the chest of China to address the root of the crisis.” President Biden talked about fentanyl in Canada recently. He did mention that it’s coming mostly from China. This has been kind of a recurring feature, including in the State of the Union.
President Biden often talks about wanting competition and not conflict with China, but with nearly 3,000 — 300,000 Americans dead over five years, many people — including Senator Cotton, former U.S. diplomats, and victims’ families — have likened this to a modern-day Opium War.
Do you have thoughts on that characterization of this being a war waged by con- — by China? And does — is there a reason why President Biden doesn’t often mention that it’s coming from China?
MR. KIRBY: The President, I think, has just — he’s been exceedingly clear about the dangers of fentanyl and opioids in this country. And — and — now let me finish now, shipmate. He’s been very, very clear about the — sorry — the challenges — the challenges of fentanyl and opioid — opioid use here. And he’s never backed away from wanting to find innovative solutions, cross-cutting across the administration to deal with that.
Q But why not — but why no mention of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, we — we got to — we got to move on.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Karine. Just one follow-up, John, on the migrant fire question. Customs and Border Protection said that they’re going to be granting parole to some of these fire victims so they can enter the U.S. illegally and receive emergency medical care.
MR. KIRBY: That’s right.
Q But since the Mexican President said that this fire did start as part of a protest when the migrants heard that they were going to be deported, is allowing them into the U.S. now on an expedited basis — does that at all risk incentivizing more of this kind of bad behavior?
MR. KIRBY: This is about trying to take care of some folks that are badly burned and — and really hurt. And we know we can help them. That’s what this is about, Jacqui.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, Weijia.
Q Thank you so much, Karine. And thanks, Kirby. I want to follow up on an earlier question about Taiwan and the visit. I know you have said it’s “common,” “there’s nothing new here,” but the state of affairs between U.S. and China has changed since those other meetings. China has made clear that context matters. Are you saying it doesn’t?
MR. KIRBY: What I’m saying is that there’s no reason for China to react any differently towards this transit, as they haven’t reacted in the past.
We’re certainly mindful that the relationship between the United States and China could be in a better place. We know that. I mean, they’re — you know, in the wake of the spy balloon flying over the country and other things. And the President is committed to — to keeping those lines of communication open.
We still want to get Secretary Blinken on a plane to Beijing. And we’ve been talking to the Chinese about a potential visit to Beijing of Secretary Yellen and Secretary Raimondo to talk economic issues. So, I mean, there’s a lot of work left to do. We’re mindful that things are tense right now.
And there’s absolutely zero reason — and the whole — the whole purpose for me coming up here to talk about this is there’s no reason for this transit to contribute to any of those tensions.
Q But given what China has said about potential retaliation, has anyone from the White House spoken with Speaker McCarthy about the potential implications of his meeting?
MR. KIRBY: We — we leave Speaker McCarthy to talk to his schedule, his agenda, and what he intends to do or not do, particularly in relation to this transit. That’s — that’s really for his office to address.
Q Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks. Thanks, Admiral.
Sorry, guys, we’re running out of time, and I know some of you are going to — we’re going to gather at 2:35.
Seung Min, you want to kick us off?
Q Yeah, I just had one following up on the letters exchanged yesterday between the Speaker and the President.
So, obviously, Speaker McCarthy had asked for a meeting on the debt limit. The President responded by saying, you know, “Obviously, there’s no point in meeting until you produce a budget so I can see what your proposals are.”
And I’m just curious, because the White House have made it pretty clear that they see the debt limit and any conversations on the long-term fiscal outlook as two separate issues. But doesn’t that exchange yesterday show they’re somehow kind of inextricably tied together, inextricably linked?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we — and the President said this yesterday, I’m going to make sure I quote him right. Basically, he said, “I don’t know what we’re going to meet on” if the House Republicans haven’t put forth a budget. And we also saw Speaker McCarthy say — agree with us that the debt limit is separate issue from the budget, and we hope that means he will move promptly to remove the threat of the default.
Like, we’ve been very, very clear here. We are happy to have a conversation about the budget. The President put out his budget three weeks ago. And three weeks before that, he announced to House Republicans, to the American people that he was going to put a budget on — on March 9th. It’s been about — what? — six weeks now. And they have yet to put forth a budget.
What did the President say? “Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
And so the President has done that. He’s put forth a budget for the — for the next fiscal year that laid out how he was going to cut the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years. And that is showing responsibility; that’s showing fiscal responsibility.
And yet we have not seen anything from House Republicans. What we have seen are — is and heard are excuses after excuses after excuses. But they should be transparent to the American people. They should lay out what is it that they want to cut. How do they see moving forward in a fiscally responsible way?
And so Speaker McCarthy said it himself. It is two separate issues. We are not going to put the full faith and credit of the United States — when you think about the debt limit, it is not negotiable. We’ve been very clear about that. We should do that without conditions.
Republicans and Democrats joined together in the last administration and voted to — to deal with the debt limit three times. Three times. And so, we’ve been very clear, and we’re going to continue to be very clear about it. We should — that should be done without political games.
Again, happy to have a conversation about the budget. But it’s been about six weeks, and nothing has — you know, no- — no- — nothing has come to fruition from that side except excuses.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Thanks, Karine. I want to ask you a question about guns and get your response to some of the arguments that Republicans are making now about the push to ban semi-automatic weapons. One of the things they’re saying is that there are 25 million of these devices out there in circulation in the homes of millions of Americans and therefore you can’t ban them. What’s the — what’s the President’s response to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s unacceptable. That’s our — that’s our response. It’s unacceptable that Republicans are saying that there’s nothing that we can do.
Our schools, our churches, our places of worships have now become deadly places for many Americans who have lost their lives just this — just this past year.
So, I ask Republicans, what are you going to say to the families in Nashville at this elementary school who lost their loved ones? Three kids, through [sic] adu- — three adults. Three nine-year-olds.
Is that what they’re going to say to them, that there’s nothing else that we can do?
You going to say that to the Uvalde families, the parents? “There’s nothing else that we can do.”
Are you going to say that to the people in Buffalo, in that grocery store on a Saturday, doing what many Americans do on a Saturday across the country? That there’s nothing that we that we — we’re going to do?
Republicans in Congress need to show some courage. And if they had courage, they would be introducing legislation on assault ban- — on banning assault weapons today. That’s what they would be doing today.
And we know — and, Steven, I know, because we’ve had this conversation back and forth about assault ban — assault weapons ban — that has — when — when there was one, when there was legislation that turned into law, that the President led on 30 years ago, we know that it saved lives. We know that to be a fact.
But yet they refuse — they refuse — to move forward. And yet, guns, as we know, is the leading cause that is killing our kids. And they refuse. They refused to show some courage and do anything about it. And that’s shameful.
Q I just want to ask you a quick follow-up. In the last presidential campaign, one of the Democratic contenders said that what he would do is come for AR-15s. Does the President support not just banning the sale and manufacture of semi-automatic weapons but, further than that, confiscation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let’s — let me just be very clear: What we’re talking about — AR-15s, the assault weapons ban — they are weapons of war, and they should not be on the streets across the country in our communities. They should not be in schools. They should not be in grocery stores. They should not be in churches.
That’s what the President believes. And he has done more than any other President the first two years on an executive order.
And as you know, we all know how government works. There’s only so much that he can do. And so now it’s time for Congress to do the work.
And he’s happy to sign — once that happens, he’s happy to sign that legislation that says, “Okay, we’re going to remove assault weapons. We’re going to have an assault weapons ban.”
Go ahead, Lucey.
Q Karine, last year, President Biden said, ahead of a lame duck session, that he would count the votes to see if he could do anything on an assault weapons ban, and we never heard any more on that. Did he count votes or make any outreach at that time? In retrospect, should he have done more during that window?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President has had more executive actions on dealing with gun violence than any other President in history. He has used every tool that he can on the federal level to deal with this epidemic that is killing families and Americans across the country. He has taken action just recently. As you all know, when he was out West, he signed another executive action.
So, again, he has done everything that we can. The reason that there is no assault weapons ban is not because of this President. It’s not because of Democrats in Congress. Republicans in Congress need to look in the mirror.
Q Karine, thanks. Quickly, on Nashville, can you update us — the President said he was trying to talk to the victims’ families. Has he been able to do that? Are there any more details about when he might visit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have any — I don’t have any details to lay out or preview about any travel for the President. As you know, he’s spoken about Nashville a couple of times already. He did a gaggle outside, as you all know, when he landed after coming back from North Carolina. He spoke about it in Durham, North Carolina. He spoke about it on the day of, laying out — giving out his condolences and being very clear on what the next steps need to be — again, assault — assault weapons ban. I just don’t have anything else to read out to you.
He has spoken to — to the mayor and to some other elected officials in Nashville, in Tennessee, just to offer up any assistance that we can provide. As you know, there’s an investigation currently going — going on.
Q And let me just — in terms of what we’re talking about, what may be able to be done in the wake of this. He obviously, as you referenced, passed the executive actions, among them, calling on the Attorney General to expand background checks to the extent possible. Effectively, does that mean that there will be an attempt to close the gun show loophole? Is that something that the President expects to see happen?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the universal background check, which is the EO that the President signed just a couple of weeks ago, and it’s the close — it comes close as possible to universal background checks as we can be, absent of new federal legislation.
Again, the President is do- — is doing everything that he can from his perch, using all the tools that he can, but it needs federal legislation. But this directive is enormously significant.
The DOJ, they’re going to figure out — they’re going to go through the process and figure out how they’re going to move for- — forward on this, and they’ll have a better purview. So I’m not going to get into details on that.
Q But, I guess, does the President think that the DOJ will ultimately have the authority legally to do this, to close the loophole?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And that’s — and that’s something legally the Department of Justice — that is — that is in their purview to figure that out.
Again, the pers- — the President is doing everything that he can without legislation. It takes legislation to get this done, using every tools that he has, in his — in front of him to do what he can.
Q Let me just ask you quickly, Senator Warner was just talking to my colleague, Andrea Mitchell. And Andrea asked if he’s had access to the substance of the classified documents from either Mar-a-Lago, from the President or from former Vice President Pence.
And Senator Warner said, “This is where the Biden administration gets an absolute failing grade. Their position is outrageous…We have a constitutional responsibility to see the documents, the classified ones…” to make a comment on whether the intelligence community acted appropriately.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, we have a very good working relationship with Senator Warner, somebody that we respect on the Hill when it comes —
Q But he gives you guys a failing grade on this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I totally understand. And we’re — we’re going to have disagreements with — you know, with elected officials that we work with, with our partners and friends. That happens all the time. Nothing new there, as you know, covering — covering the White House and — and how the Hill works for so many years.
I will say this: I’m going to be very careful from here. This is something that belongs in the purview of ODNI. And so, I will refer you to them.
Q To the back, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. I’ll come to the back in a second.
Q Thanks, Karine. Regarding the fire at the detention center. We know the Mexican President said it was started by protesters there, but as — have Mexican officials given the U.S. any information as to — or, solid information as to actually how it started?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m going to also offer our condolences, a tragic loss of — of life that we saw in Mexico. Devastating. I’m sure many of you have seen the video. It’s heartbreaking. Our prayers, of course, are with those who — who lost their lives and their loved ones, of course, and those who are still fighting. There are many who are still fighting for their lives.
We have been in touch with the Mexican — Mexican officials on the ground, and they are working very seriously, obviously, bri- — individuals trying to get them medical — trying to get them medical assistance right here in the United States. There is an investigation currently going on. So we’ll let that investigation go through.
And I’m not going to comment beyond that. But clearly, we’ve been in touch with folks on the ground there.
Q Has President Biden spoken with President López Obrador?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — I don’t have a call to read out at this time.
Q And one more regarding the app — the CBP One app. There are reportedly many issues with that app. We’ve spoken to organizations that say that are — organizations that are helping migrants that say the app is glitchy and it’s failed. Are more resources being poured into that app to make it simpler to ma- — in order for migrants to be — to actually be able to use it and file their claims for asylum?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me — let me just say that policy that we put into — into effect — the parolee program that — that the President put into effect to make sure that there’s more legal pathways for migrants and to make sure that we have a system that’s a little bit more humane in dealing with a system that needs a lot of work — and, again, he is using the tools that he has ahead — in front of him to — without the help of Republicans, to deal with a real issue that we’re seeing at the border.
But that policy, I do want to say, is indeed working. Unlawful migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba is down by 97 percent and is down 71 percent from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. So, the policies that we have put forward has — has had an effect.
I understand that there’s glitches in the app. That is something that we’re always looking at, something that we’re always wanting to make sure that we fix and deal with the issues because we want to make it easier for migrants to apply and to go through this process.
But, again, the policies are working. We would like to do more, if Congress — if Republicans in Congress didn’t get in the way and actually stepped up and helped us deal with a real issue that we’re seeing at the border.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q This has to be last one.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q Thanks. I just wanted to follow up on that question about the app. Senator Booker sent a letter to DHS earlier this week saying that not only were there glitches, but he called the app discriminatory and said that there were a lot of, you know, privileges in just having a cell phone, being able to use the app, having consistent Wi-Fi and Internet service. I was wondering if the White House had a response to that claim and if there’s any plans on continuing this through May, when Title 42 lifts?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we are always looking for ways to improve. When it comes to the app, of course, we’re looking for ways to improve it. And we’re aware of the senator’s letter.
I don’t have anything to say beyond — to — beyond what I just laid out. But we do know that this policy is a policy that’s working, and we see that in the data. We see that in the numbers. And there’s always going to be some glitches in apps, as we’ve seen in the past.
And so, we’ll continue to — to deal with those issues as well.
All right. I’ll take one last one in the back.
Go ahead, Brian.
Q Thank you very much. What is the President’s response to the Senate repealing the authorization for the use of military force in Iraq 20 years after it was first passed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things there —
Q Does he want the House to pick it up and pass it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So — so, as you know, we put out a statement — a statement of administration policy. We released that earlier this month. The Biden administration supports the Senate repeal of the 2002 and also the 1991 AUMF. We’ve long supported the repeal and applaud the Senate for taking action.
We urge the House to move quickly as well.
Repealing the 2002 and 1991 AUMF would support the President’s commitments to continuing a strong relationship with our Iraqi partners and to working with Congress to ensure an outdated authorizations for the u- — for the use of military force are repealed with a narrow and use of military force are replaced — I’m sorry, with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats.
So this is something that we support. We know that there’s
an [no] ongoing military activities that rely solely or primarily on the 2002 AUMF, so — nor any ongoing military activities that rely on the 1991 AUMF, has [as] a domestic legal basis. Their repeal would not impact current military or counterterrorism operations.
And as the Commander-in-Chief, as — the President has no higher priority than ensuring the safety and security of the American people and defending the nation.
And I will leave it there. I will see you guys tomorrow. Thank you, everybody.
Q Thanks, Karine.
2:37 P.M. EDT