Aboard Air Force One
En Route Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
12:47 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. So, good afternoon, everybody.
President Biden has just completed a call with the family of Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was wrongfully detained by Russia nearly two weeks ago.
The President made it clear that his national security team has been and will remain focused on securing Evan’s release as well as that of Paul Whelan, both of whom are wrongfully detained in Russia.
The charges against Evan are completely baseless. He should be released immediately. The State Department continues to seek consular access to him.
I have two other pieces of — of news before I — I hand it over to my colleague at the NSC.
This morning, the Biden administration unveiled a stronger approach to disrupting the trafficking of illicit fentanyl into Amer- — into America — American communities.
The news we’re announcing today will build on the progress we’ve made to reduce overdoses, seize historic amounts of il- — illicit fentanyl, and target traffickers.
We are building on ongoing efforts by focusing and coordinating all of our ava- — available tools to disrupt global illicit synthetic drug production and trafficking.
Specifically, we will coordinate federal actions across the following key areas: leading a coordinated global effort with international partners to disrupt the illicit synthetic drug trade, strengthening coordination and information-sharing between U.S. intelligence and domestic law enforcement, working with the private sector globally, protecting the U.S. financial system from use and abuse by drug traffickers, and calling on Congress to close legal loopholes for illicit synthetic drugs.
The administration is also accelerating an evidenced-based public health approach to save lives by expanding access to opioid overdose reversal products and launching a national campaign to educate young people on the dangers of fentanyl.
Also today, President Biden released a statement commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, a landmark law that guarantees that all people in America have the right to obtain the housing of their choice, free from discrimination.
The importance of this law cannot be overstated, but we have far to go to meet its full promise. Many neighbors — neighborhoods across the country remain as segregated today as they were 55 years ago. Disparities in homeownership rates by race and ethnicity persist. And the racial wealth gap is wider now than it was when the Fair Housing Act was passed.
President Biden believes that a fair housing market is critical to the fulfillment of the American Dream. As a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored the 1988 Fair Housing Act amendments that extended the law’s protections to Americans with disabilities and families with children.
And in the final week of his administration — sorry, in the first week — whoops — (laughter) — in the first week of his administration — not making an announcement from here — but in the first week of the administration, he directed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fully implement the Fair Housing Act’s requirement to “affirmatively furthering fair housing,” which was weakened during the previous administration.
As we celebrate the ways in which the Fair Housing Act has empowered millions of Americans with a fair shot at accessing housing opportunities over the last 55 years, we continue to work to ensure everyone has free and fair housing choice.
So, one update before I turn it over to the Admiral. I have a — I have an update on specifically who will be greeting the President when we land in Belfast.
So, in addition to Prime Minister Sunak, who we mentioned yesterday, the President will also be greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim, His Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, U.S. Consul General of Belfast, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the Commander 38 Irish Brigade and Northern Ireland Garrison.
And with that — thank you for your patience. Where is the Admiral? Oh. (Laughter.) Admiral Kirby, go for it.
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any — anything at the top. Karine covered it all. But I’m happy to take a couple questions if you have them.
Q I think there’s been new leaks even since we’ve been in the air. So I guess I wondered what kind of action is the White House taking to protect intelligence products in light of these, sort of, consistent leaks?
MR. KIRBY: There’s a couple of things going on. I’m not aware of these reports. But as you know, the Department of Defense acted very swiftly to try to get their arms around whatever national security implications are at risk here with these — with these leaks. They’ve also taken immediate action to look at the distribution of the material on a regular basis.
And then, very, very quickly, one of the very first things that Secretary Austin did was refer this to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. So, they’re looking at that. And I think that’s really where things stand right now.
Q Are the leaks damaging to relationships with allies and partners?
MR. KIRBY: We’re reaching out, as I said yesterday, at very high levels with relevant allies and partners and communicating with them. And I’ll certainly let them speak to — to the context of those conversations, and we’ll continue to do that as — as appropriate.
Q On the — on the Gershkovich case, the — when the United States was in negotiation — discussions with Russia over Brittney Griner, there was some discussion of the Russians wanting one of their people who was being held in Germany.
Have — now that he’s been designated as — as officially wrongfully detained, have those discussions begun internally among the United States about, you know, trying to find somebody to swap for him and for Whelan that might be acceptable to the Russians?
And obviously, it’s just a couple of weeks old, but, like, at what point do those discussions begin with the Russians in ad- — as well?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. So, I just want to make a couple of things clear that his — the determination of wrongful detention doesn’t start the clock necessarily on communicating with the Russians about getting him released. We’re very early in this process here.
And I certainly — I think you can understand why I wouldn’t talk about any discussions we might be having with the Russians about his release or Paul’s release. We certainly wouldn’t do that.
But this is all — I mean, his detention is pretty fresh. So there hasn’t — well, we’re just — we want to make sure we get consular access to him, which we haven’t had. And we want to get — we want to see him released immediately.
But I’m just not at liberty to talk about the context of any specific conversations that we — we might or might not be having with the Russians about him. Again —
Q What about just internally inside the Biden administration? Do you — do you now begin the discussions — again, besides not communicating with the Russians but just internally — about what you all — who you all might have and who allies might have to trade?
MR. KIRBY: Internally, we’re — we’re certainly having discussions about what we can do to get him released. Again, I don’t want to go into details about these internal deliberations. Having things out in the public sphere this early might actually make it harder to get — to get Evan and Paul home. And that’s what we’re focused on. So I — I think I need to just leave it right there.
Q Okay, that’s fine.
Q Why has it been so hard to get consular access? Is it just the nature of being detained? I mean, it’s — it’s been however long since he has been detained now and still there’s nothing —
MR. KIRBY: That’s a great question for — that’s a great question for Russian officials. It’s not for a lack of trying, I can assure you that. The State Department has been trying to get consular access to him ev- — since the moment we found out that he was detained.
Q Can you tell us anything about the conversation with his family?
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry?
Q Can you tell us anything about the conversation with his family — what they said? (Inaudible.)
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I — I think I’m going to protect their privacy. The President was very grateful that they were willing to take the call and grateful for the time that they — that they gave him, but I’m going to respect their privacy.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, JJ. I know. Go ahead, JJ.
Q Can you — what is the status of the U.S. relationship with Egypt right now?
MR. KIRBY: Egypt is a significant security partner and remains so in the region. And, as you know, the United States military has a longstanding defense relationship with Egypt that goes back many, many years.
And Egypt has helped play a useful role in terms of some of the negotiations that have been going on in the region, particularly with — with the — with these meetings that — that happened between Israel and — and Saudi Arabia. So — and Egypt played a role in that. And we’re grateful for that.
Q Has the U.S. confronted Egypt about this report about Egypt planning to supply 40,000 rockets to Russia?
MR. KIRBY: So, look, I’m not going to — I am not going to talk at all about the details of diplomatic conversations that we’re having. We are reaching out and speaking appropriately to relevant allies and partners. I’m not going to detail who and I’m not going to detail the details of — of those conversations.
What I can tell you is — and I’m not going to — also I don’t want to speak to the validity of these leaked documents. But we have — what I will tell you is we’ve seen no indication that Egypt is providing lethal weaponry capabilities to Russia.
Q How long do you think it’s going to take to track down where these documents came from?
MR. KIRBY: Difficult to know, Steve. I mean, obviously, we’re all working at this very, very hard. We’d like to get answers as quickly as we can so we can find out, you know, where this breach occurred. But I don’t know. And I think it would be foolish for anybody to try to guess how long that’s going to take.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Hi. I had a — I had a question on some other documents today. We found out that the “Gang of Eight” on Capitol Hill has — now have access to those today. What’s your level of cooperation with that? Has anybody —
MR. KIRBY: Access to what?
Q Access to the documents obtained at the President’s home as well as former President Trump and former [Vice] President Pence.
MR. KIRBY: That’s — that’s all under investigation by the Justice Department. I’m not going to speak to that.
Q What — what’s the President going to do to try to get — break the impasse in Northern Ireland?
MR. KIRBY: Well, you mean — talk- — talking about the assembly?
Q Yeah. Yeah.
MR. KIRBY: So, look, the President’s message — he’s going to have a chance to engage tomorrow with the political party leaders.
And really, the message is twofold. It’s congratulations on 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement, which has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity. And — and that kind of goes to the second goal, which is to talk about the importance of trying to work on trade and economic policies that benefit all communities, as well as the United States. That’s really what he’s focused on.
Q What’s he going to say at Ulster University? What’s his message there?
MR. KIRBY: I think his message, again, is going to be sort of threefold. I don’t want to get too far ahead of the President’s speech, but one is, again, putting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement into some sort of historical context, talk about the importance of that.
And that kind of leads to a message about the youth generation in Northern Ireland and how they are literally just changing the — the face of high-tech innovations in Northern Ireland and the impact that they’re having economically and domestically, politically inside their own country.
And then the third thing kind of gets back to what I said before: He’s going to talk about trade and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland and all the opportunities that opens up between our — you know, between the United States and the UK.
That’s really sort of the — the three pillars of his remarks.
Q Will he meet with the DUP leaders? Will he ask them to return to governing?
MR. KIRBY: So, he’s going to meet with the political party leaders of all the parties, all together in an engagement. And, again, the message is really: congratulations on this anniversary, and a focus on trade and economics and improving that across the board.
But, look, you’ve all heard him say — in fact, he said it on St. Patrick’s Day: We’d like to see the National Assembly returned, clearly.
Q Karine, if I can ask you, the President — are we — is everybody done with him? Sorry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Is everybody done?
MR. KIRBY: Done with me? All right. See ya.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Kirby doesn’t have to stand around and — and do this part. What’s up?
Q If I can ask you, the President signed legislation ending the COVID emergency. What does that functionally, practically mean?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, a couple of things there. As you just stated, that — so the national — the national emergency will not impact the planned winddown of the public health emergency on May 11th, as you’ve heard us talk about many times.
But since Congress moved to undo the national emergency earlier than exp- — intended, we’ve been working with agencies to address the impacts of ending the declaration early.
So I have a couple of examples — because I know folks have asked — of what that — those impacts might look like.
So, one of them — if you look at HUD, mortgage forbearance was made available to people during the national emergency. So HUD has now issued guidance to make COVID-19 forbearance available through May 31st, 2023, for people who may be impacted.
And another example is that the Department of Veterans Affairs has ro- — has relaxed its requirements for in-person home visits to assess eligibility for caregiving — caregiver assistance. And that flexibility — that will end. They have worked to notify people who may be impacted.
So, that’s kind of two examples of what that might look like. Again, we had to act swiftly because Congress moved quickly on this — or moved before — early, I should say, on this. And — and so, we’ve been kind of taking actions and making — and alerting people in the —
Q Will the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — way that it needs to be.
Q Will the White House change its testing cadence or policy for people coming in and out of the White House as a result?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I know that question has been asked in different variations. I don’t have anything to share at this time.
And so, once we — once we have more information on the testing or how it looks like in either — you know, in different — I guess in different variations, not just at the White House or more broadly, I will — I will certainly let you guys know.
Q Does this —
Q I’m sorry.
Q Yeah, if you’re (inaudible).
Q Yeah. Does it impact the May 11th deadline for Title 42 or anything like that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all.
And as you know, the Department of Homeland Security announced in January how they were going to move forward on Title 42, so that hasn’t changed at all. And two — two kind of — two separate — two separate things there.
Q Axios had a story about the White House possibly creating a new briefing room for social media influencers. And I am curious whether that is real and —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I wonder why you would be curious, Tam. (Laughs.)
Q I might have a vested interest in protecting the rights of the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, no —
Q — press corps.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — I get it. I totally get it.
Q The interests of the press corps, I will say.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, don’t — don’t have anything to announce on that or anything to share on that or confirm or anything like that.
As you know, we — here at the White House, we met — very often use influencers to try — to try to meet Americans where they are.
We’ve seen those reportings. I just don’t have anything to share on that.
Q So, does that mean you’re not denying it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t — I mean, I just — there’s — I can’t confirm those stories. I just can’t confirm or say — all I can tell you is something that we do all the time, from the President on down, is talk to influencers and try to meet the American people where they are to reach them in a different way. But —
Q But that could be anything. But that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah?
Q — talking to them is different than —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right. And that’s why I’m saying —
Q — giving them a briefing room.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right. We’re not — look, that is not — that is not in the works. Okay?
Look, what I’m saying is we do talk to them — you know, different influencers, as you know, as you’ve seen over the last two years and also during the campaign, just trying to meet Americans where they are.
Q Karine, any — any chance you guys have reconsidered the decision not to have a press conference while you’re in Ireland?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I know and — and I appreciate the question. I know you guys asked —
Q I’m thinking “no.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) So a couple of things. Look, as you know, the President regularly — and takes questions from the press informally — informally as well at different locations and different formats.
Right before he got on Air Force One, he took about five very newsy questions for all of you, which I think was very important for all of you. And it’s also for the American people to — you know, to — to hear from him directly on.
So, the informal and informative Q&A that the President Biden engages in the — in with the press corps is more than — more than the last three Presidents [as of. If you think about the informal questions and the formal questions.
And I told — I mentioned to all of you yesterday that we actually had some — some data to share. It’s more than Presidents Trump; it’s more than Obama — Obama — combined —
Q What measurement?
Q How — yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re happy to share that. I’m just letting you know.
Q Well, I would just ask — I mean, just — like, is it minutes spoken or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s questions. I just said
questions [question-and-answer sessions].
Q Number of questions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Number of
questions [question-and-answer sessions]. Yeah —
Q So — so, that’s what I’m asking is what the metric is.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. No problem. That’s what I — but I said —
Q Number of questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — number of questions. Just number of
questions [question-and-answer sessions].
Let me — let me finish, and then we can continue —
Q Oh, yeah, sure.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, [in the first 20 months of their presidencies], it’s more than President Trump and Obama combined, or President Obama and George W. Bush.
And here you go. To your question, he has answered over 320 questions, and that’s not even including more — more formal press conference and interviews.
So look, we’re going to try and — we’re going to keep — be consistent in his engagement with reporters.
And to — as we know, the job that you all do is very important as you inform the American people. That will not stop.
I just don’t have anything else to share with you on that.
Q So that’s — so that’s a no on a press conference?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There will not be a press conference on this trip.
But, again —
Q Do you have an update on the — anything new on the abortion ruling? Are you urging companies who produce mifepristone to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, nothing — nothing more than what I shared —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Nothing more than what I shared.
Look, I’m not going to get — as I said yesterday, I’m not going to get ahead of the courts.
As of Friday, the Texas decision has stayed for seven days, as you all know. This is — the status quo is still in place as it relates to mifepristone, and providers and women being able to access that drug. And so, that remains.
DOJ has already appealed — has requested a stay, as we just said, and we will continue to fight in the courts to maintain that they stay — that they stay so that women can continue to access mifepristone.
So, again, we are prevail — we are ready to prevail in the courts. There’s a process that we’re going through that we’re going to make sure that — that, you know, we win this — we win this on behalf of women across the country.
Q Any updates on what the President is doing at the front of the plane — phone calls he’s making with foreign leaders or domestic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, he felt it was really important to connect with Evan’s family, his parents. You guys heard him. I think — I think you asked the question, and he had said —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — he had tried. And as I just mentioned at the top, he actually connected with Evan’s parents. So, clearly, that was something that was — been top of mind for the President and thought it was incredibly important to do. So, I’ll say that.
And secondly, you know, the President is very much looking forward to this trip for personal reasons, but also work reasons, as — as we just laid out moments ago.
So, per usual, he’s meeting with his team, his staff; going through his speech; talking about the different steps at different events that he’ll be — that he’ll be doing throughout the next four or five days. And so, it’s the normal cadence that he does when we’re on a flight heading — heading overseas.
Q Who is traveling with him? Is it just — from his family — is it just Val and Hunter? Or are there other family members?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can confirm — I can confirm that his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, is traveling. I can confirm that Hunter Biden is traveling as well.
Q On the Supreme Court, do you think that Chief Justice Roberts should order an investigation into the luxury trips taken by Clarence Thomas?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, this is not — we’re just not going to comment on that. That’s going to be up to the Supreme Court to look into or do whatever it is — whatever process that they put in place. We’re just not going to comment on it.
Q I just wonder would the White House — you know, with our government as a system of checks and balances, how does the White House — I mean, sort of, staying removed from it — like, what does it gain when we’re trying to — you know what I mean? Like, with — each sort of government is trying to sort of check and balance one another.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand the question. It is the Supreme Court. And so, we’re just not going to comment on — on this. And I’m just going to leave it there. I’m just going to leave it there.
Q Just before we took off, the DNC announced that it had chosen Chicago for the — for the convention. Do you guys have any thoughts on — and in what role the President played in pushing that decision?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I know there’s a lot of excitement about this. As you just mentioned, Michael, it was just announced this morn- — this morning. Right? Either right — we were on the plane or right before we got on this flight. This is something that the DNC is running and is — and is kind of operating. So I would just have to refer you to the DNC.
Q Al Roker yesterday — or the interview with Al Roker said that the President plans to run for re-election. Was that anything different than what he’s been telling us?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you for the question, Steve. There — there’s nothing different there. I always say this at the top: going to really careful. We follow the Hatch Act here.
But the President has many times said he intends to run, plans to run. Nothing has changed. That — he clearly — he continued and said he had not made a decision yet. It’s up to the President to decide.
But we’ve used those two words interchangeably the last — I don’t know — year and a half or so. So nothing has changed.
Q When’s he going to announce it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.)
Q He said he’s not ready — he’s not ready just yet, but he seems like he’s got a plan.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, he intends to run, so I’m just going to leave it there and let the President make his decision.
Q Are any other members of his family meeting him in Ireland?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The only two that I can confirm at this time is Hunter Biden and Valerie Biden Owens.
That’s it? All right. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.
1:09 P.M. EDT