Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Senior Director for Europe Amanda Sloat on the President’s Trip to Ireland
9:30 A.M. IST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good morning, everybody.
Q Good morning.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. President Biden had a packed day meeting with Prime Minister Sunak, speaking — speaking about the importance of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace and stability it has brought, and our readiness to build on those gains by supporting Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential so that peace leads to prosperity for all communities.
President Biden then flew to Ireland and, as you all saw, had the time of his life in County Louth last night, where he had the chance to meet so many Irishmen and speak about the close ties between American and the Irish peoples.
Today, the President will have several engagements focused on strengthening those close bonds between America and Ireland, meeting with President Michael Higgins of Ireland and participating in a tree planting ceremony and ringing of the Peace Bell.
After that the President will meet with Taoiseach Leo Varad-kar — Varadkar, pardon me — of Ireland and attend a youth Gaelic sports demonstration.
In the afternoon, the President will address a joint session of the Irish parliament about the U.S.-Irish cooperation to advance democracy, peace, security, and prosperity, as well as the deep shared history between the U.S. and Ireland.
And then, tonight, President Biden will attend a banquet dinner hosted by Taoiseach at the historic Dublin Castle.
With that, I’d like to open it up to questions, and I’m joined by Amanda Sloat, our Senior Director for Europe, who can take any trip-related questions at the top. And when she is done, I’m happy to stay a little longer and take any domestic questions that you may have.
MS. SLOAT: All right. Thanks, Karine. And good to see everybody again. As she said, happy to talk about anything related to the trip, and then we’ll leave all of the hard stuff to her.
After I saw all of you yesterday, the President had a great day in Northern Ireland, and everyone is feeling really good about that stop. In addition to the meeting with the Prime Minister, he, of course, gave a major address at Ulster University. And I think all of you were there. It was a very positive reception. We’ve gotten incredibly positive feedback from all communities and political sides there. I think a really important message for the President to be able to deliver to the people of Northern Ireland.
And then also, as we had talked about yesterday, he had the opportunity to engage with the political leaders and some of the other dignitaries, as well as the actor, James Martin, who was there as well before the speech.
So, happy to answer any other questions about the trip, and then we’ll turn it back to Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Any questions?
Go ahead, Colleen.
Q Has there been any indication on how the President’s “get back to work” message went down with the DUP? He met with them before and then gave his speech.
MS. SLOAT: So, I — like I said, all of the feedback that that we’ve heard from all channels in response to the President’s message yesterday was incredibly positive. So he had the opportunity to speak with Jeffrey Donaldson, with the other leaders of the political parties in advance of the speech, and then deliver his message publicly, where I think, as we talked about yesterday, he was very clear on where he saw things going.
And like I said, everything that we have heard back through various government channels and also directly has been very positive and receptive to the messages he laid out.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Catherine.
Q Any new policy announcements we should expect today in the meetings with the Taoiseach or the — or in the speech today? Is there anything we should expect?
MS. SLOAT: So, I — you know, I think the President obviously had a good conversation with Taoiseach Varadkar when he was in Washington a couple weeks ago for St. Patrick’s Day. It’ll be a good opportunity for him to connect with him again.
He’s met with President Higgins twice: 2016 when he was here as Vice President, again in 2017 when he was here on a private trip.
I think — in the meetings, I am sure they will have a good discussion about the situation in Northern Ireland. I’m sure they’ll both be interested in hearing what the President’s impressions were based on his visit yesterday. The President will be very interested in hearing from both of them how they see the situation and developments there.
Ukraine is something I expect will be high on the agenda in both of those meetings, as we talked about a bit yesterday, given Ireland’s participation in various aspects of U.S. support for Ukraine on the humanitarian side — assistance side, on the imposition of sanctions, as well as what Ukraine is doing on the security assistance piece.
And then, in the President’s speech to Parliament, I think he’ll be doing a couple of things. One, I’m sure he’ll be reflecting on the long, close, and shared history between the United States and Ireland. Second, he’ll be discussing the areas in which we partner closely today, including Ukraine. Ireland, for example, is very active in peacekeeping missions around the world. Both of our countries have a very vested interest in what’s happening in Northern Ireland. And then also setting out a shared vision for the future.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead, Rob.
Q We heard (inaudible) his English roots yesterday, and also mentioned the contribution of Ulster Scots to American life. Was that — was that adlibbed? Was it part of the script? And to what extent was that a deliberate attempt to placate some of his critics in Northern Ireland who see him as anti-British?
MS. SLOAT: So, this is something that the President has spoken about before. If you look at his St. Patrick’s Day remarks from a month ago, he made similar reference to Ulster Scots.
I think the President is very aware, when we are talking about immigration from the island of Ireland, that includes people from coming both from the north end and the south. And so, this is something that he has spoken about before, including very recently, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, and then also, more broadly, in speaking about his heritage, which, as he said, includes both English and Irish elements.
Q But you were peppered yesterday morning with questions about whether he was anti-British, hated British, and then it came up in his speech. It looked like that might have been a specific response to the conditions in Northern Ireland that he encountered.
MS. SLOAT: I think, like I said yesterday, we were coming with a very even-handed and balanced message. And I think if you look at the President’s own track record, he has a history of engaging with unionist and nationalist leaders of British and Irish leaders. And so I think that’s what the President’s track record reflects, and I think that’s what his remarks yesterday in his speech reflected.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Anybody on the Zoom have a question? I see a few folks on.
Q Yes, hi. Antonello Guerrera from La Repubblica. Thanks. Thanks very much for this. I just activated my (inaudible) as well. Hi.
Just, I have a question on what’s been going on with the leaks. Because are you — is the President and the United States concerned about — that some European countries may be concerned about these leaks as well? And do you think that this might have an impact on the relations with these nations? I’m talking about European nations, especially in terms of the challenges the coalition has had. Thank you very much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, so we’re going to see if there’s any other trip questions, and then we’ll get to that. I
know there’s —
MS. SLOAT: So I don’t know that — for those that couldn’t hear, it was Antonello asking about leaks and how European governments were perceiving those. So I will save that one for Karine after we’re done with the trip.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But anybody have questions about the trip specifically before we move on — online? And then we’ll see if there’s any more in the room. Okay, I don’t see anybody from the Zoom.
Go ahead, Emel.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thank you, Amanda. During the meeting with Prime Minister Sunak, was there any discussion about Taiwan and how both countries will work together to lessen tensions over the over the island, given its strategic importance to both countries?
MS. SLOAT: So, the meeting yesterday between the two leaders was one-on-one, so I don’t have a full readout. But I know they had a broad, general discussion about a number of global challenges, but don’t have the specifics of their conversation yesterday.
Q Do you have any comment to make about the planned boycott of the President’s speech today by certain left-wing Irish lawmakers and the protests planned for today and tomorrow?
MS. SLOAT: So what I can speak to is how the President is approaching today’s events. I think, as Karine said at the top, he has received an incredibly warm welcome here in Ireland. He is very much appreciative of the invitation to address the Houses of Parliament today, is looking forward to touching base with the leaders of Ireland’s main political parties ahead of his address, and is looking forward to what really is a historic opportunity for him to set out his views to the Irish people and to the Irish legislature.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: JJ, go ahead.
Q I know you said you didn’t get a full readout on the Sunak meeting, but do you know if anything about the security of classified intelligence came up in the — in that meeting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll take that, JJ, when she’s done.
Q And then also, the biggest Northern Ireland unionist party was pretty emphatic in dismissing the President’s remarks. Two things: Can you say whether you think his remarks at the university did make any sort of progress in the impact — impasse? And if not, why not?
MS. SLOAT: I don’t — who from the largest unionist party was emphatic in dismissing? Because the feedback that we have gotten, like I said, from political parties, from political leadership, and from government was universally positive across the board.
You know, like I said yesterday, the President was coming as a friend, as a supporter, as an encourager, and came in very much wanting to set out some top messages: setting out the support of the United States, a recognition of the progress, and then really a reminder, especially for the young people in the business community, about what a very positive, forward-looking vision could be.
And I think the feedback we have heard from everybody, including the students in the audience to the political leaders who were there, was that the President’s remarks really hit the — hit the mark.
And so, I think he achieved what he — what he set out to do.
Q Okay. And then, on the comment about Black and Tan — the rugby comments that have gotten some attention in Europe — was he aware that he misspoke there when he was —
MS. SLOAT: I think for everyone in Ireland who is a rugby fan, it was incredibly clear that the President was talking about the All Blacks and Ireland’s defeat of the New Zealand team in 2016.
Q Did he realize that right after he said it, do you know?
MS. SLOAT: You know, I think it was — it was clear what the President was referring to. It was certainly clear to his cousin sitting next to him who had played in that match.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Okay. Anybody else? Oh, go ahead, in the back. And then we’re going to wrap it up.
Q Hi. Dominic Waghorn, Sky News. As soon as he got south of the border, the President has been out shaking hands amongst the people, meeting people. And yet, in Northern Ireland, people waiting to do the same didn’t really get a glimpse of him. Why that contrast? Why was he kept away, it seems, from ordinary people in Northern Ireland?
MS. SLOAT: I don’t think it was that he was kept away from people. It was just a briefer stop. I mean, the President had the opportunity to engage with the leaders of the parties and others ahead of the speech. And I can say as one who sat in the motorcade for about an hour before we left after the speech, the President was on the rope line in Belfast for, I think, almost an hour engaging with virtually everybody, it seemed, who was sitting there. And we had very intentionally invited a broad cross-section of people, from civil society to youth groups to business leaders.
And so the President, I think, really enjoyed his time in Belfast and was able to engage with a broad variety of people in that setting.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, one last time — anybody on the Zoom, before we let our guest go? Okay. All right.
MS. SLOAT: Over to Karine for the hard stuff.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Amanda.
Okay, let me start off with the question on leaks. And I know you had asked specifically about the Prime Minister and the President’s meeting yesterday. It did not come up, the leaks — the leaked document, in that conversation. So I can confirm that for all of you.
As far as our relationship with — that came from Antonello — on our relationship with allies — and we have said this before. My NSC colleague has — was asked this question, and I believe my DOD colleagues — Department of Defense colleagues also answered this question as well throughout the week — is that we have U.S. officials who are engaging with allies and partners at high levels on — having these conversations.
I’m just — we’re just not going to read out any private conversations. So I’ll leave it there.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q I’m sure you’ve seen the Washington Post reporting about the alleged leaker. What does it say about the security of our nation’s top secrets if they’re able to be posted online like this, in a chat room, apparently for years, undetected?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’ll first say this: As you know, there’s an ongoing investigation that’s being led by the Department of Justice. That’s something that the Department of Defense quickly asked for once they learned about these documents. And I will also say the Department of Defense has said they have taken steps to further restrict access to sensitive information.
Look, we are — we are certainly reviewing the national security implications of the disclosure, and I can add that, you know, to mitigate the impact the release of these documents have on our U.S. — U.S. national security and also on our allies and partners as well.
And so this is something that we are taking very seriously. There is an ongoing investigation. DOD has taken steps to restrict access to these documents, and I definitely don’t want to get ahead of what’s currently happening.
Q And just one more. Does the President feel the Pentagon needs to reassess how it monitors social media, these kinds of platforms, or maybe even the activities of its own employees on these platforms?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So — and I think we’ve mentioned this before — you know, this is something for the intelligence community; they have conversations, clearly, at that — at that level. Don’t want to get ahead of that.
And, you know, just want to be very careful here. We do believe that social media companies have a responsibility to their users and to the country to manage the private sector infrastructure that they create and now operate. So we do believe that they have a responsibility.
But I’m just not going to — and we urge — right? — we normally urge companies to avoid facilitating those circulation of material determina- — detrimental to public safety and national security.
But any further conversations or how changes are going to happen as it relates to that, I’m certainly not going to speak to that here.
Q An appeals court ruled overnight on the abortion pill matter. They blocked part of the ruling from Texas, but they kept other parts in place, including restrictions on receiving it by mail and a requirement to visit a doctor in person.
Can you comment specifically on those elements that will remain in place and perhaps say how the White House and the administration will respond?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So it goes back to what I said earlier this week, which is that we are going to continue to fight in the courts. We believe that the law is on our side, and we will prevail.
So, that — that, I can reassure the American people that that is our commitment to women — millions of women across the country — and also providers who are, you know, at the frontlines working every day to make sure that women are able to make decisions for themselves about their own body.
So what we can say is we’re going to continue to fight. We’re going to promise to do that for Americans across the country. And we believe we will prevail because we believe that the law is on our side.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just following up on that and then one other. You’ve been asked this before but worth asking again: Is the White House aware of any contingency planning that’s taking place in the event that these court rulings go against the administration’s wishes?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, a couple of things. We have said, when the ruling came out on Friday, DOJ moved swiftly. And they are doing — going through the process that you would go through when there is a legal process just like this one. And we believe, again, the law is on our side, we’re going to prevail, we’re going to continue to fight. That is the commitment that we’re going to make.
Yesterday, there was an announcement that you all may have heard. I know some of you have been busy here on our side, dealing with this trip. But there was an announcement that was made that — from the Biden administration that I can lay down for you a little bit, which are new actions that’s going to safeguard reproductive health privacy for women across the country. And so — and we also held our third taskforce that was led by the Vice President yesterday.
And these — the important thing about this is that HIPAA, as you know, currently provides important privacy protections for patients receiving reproductive healthcare. But we’ve — we’re seeing efforts across the country — and many of you have asked this of me the last several months — to criminalize doctors and other healthcare providers in the wake of Dobbs, making it more likely than before that patients’ sensitive reproductive health information will be disclosed.
So what these new actions will do: It will propose a rule from HHS that ensures patients’ medical records cannot be used against them and their doctor or their loved one, that just because they receive law- — lawful reproductive healthcare and new guidance from the Department of Education that protects students’ private health information as well.
I would refer you to HHS for any specifics. But these are new actions that we took yesterday that was announced by the administration. And clearly, we also held our third taskforce.
So we are taking this very seriously. We’re laying out how we’re going to move forward. When the Dobbs decision came out in June, as you saw and you all remember, the President came out with two executive actions to show our commitment, again, to protecting women’s reproductive healthcare.
Q One other. Overnight, Senator Feinstein asked that the Democratic Caucus temporarily appoint somebody else to the judiciary committee in order to help with the backlog of judicial nominees. And there are increasing calls for her to resign, from members of the California delegation — other Democrats.
First to her decision to temporarily step down — what does the White House make of that — and the broader calls for her to step down.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as it relates to the committee, I will say that the President, you know, is deeply appreciative of her support for his extra- — extraordinary qualified and diverse nominees. So that is something that he — that he is thankful to her for.
What — and what I will repeat is that the President and the First Lady wish Senator Feinstein the very best and a speedy recovery.
And, look, I’ll go back to what the President said when the senator announced her upcoming retirement very recently, not too long ago. And he talked about her late husband, Richard, and how he became very close friends with her late husband, Richard, and clearly the senator, and really appreciated how they’ve worked together very closely. During his time as senator, they worked closely on the 1994 crime bill and — and other — clearly, other important issues that matter to the American people.
And he truly, truly respects and appreciate her — her commitment to public service. I just don’t have anything else to add to that.
Q About the leaks. How bad is it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as I mentioned, there’s a DOJ review right now, so I’m not going to get ahead of that review. Again, when DOD learned about this, they quickly asked the Department of Justice to step in and to review and to look into the process. I’m just not going to get ahead of it.
But we also have said that, of course, we are concerned about the potential national — national security risks. We’ve been very clear about that from the White House, from the Department of Defense. But again, there’s a review going on, so I just don’t want to get ahead of that.
Q But — so this Afghanistan report last week found that the intel was bad there. And now some more reliable intel is leaking out. Is President Biden satisfied with the people who are handling American intelligence?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So what I’ll say is, again, DOJ is reviewing these documents. We cannot speak to the validity of these documents. So I want to be careful that we don’t get ahead, because the way that you’re asking me the question is asking about the kind of — goes into the specifics of the documents, which I cannot do from here.
The DOD is certainly — has — they’ve announced that they’re taking steps to further restrict access to these sensitive information. And we’re going to let DOJ do — move forward with their process.
Q And you said that social media companies have a responsibility to prevent this kind of stuff from circulating. Would President Biden meet with Elon Musk to talk about social media company responsibilities?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — I don’t have any meetings to read out to you. Obviously, this is something that the intelligence community is going to — is — you know, they’re the ones who are — can speak to this more. But I’m just not going to speak to that as it relates to classified information.
Q And one more. The Federal Reserve economists are now predicting a recession starting this year. Is President Biden going to do anything differently to try to head that off?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, and you’ve heard me talk about this, our economy, because of what the President has put forth — his economic policy that makes sure that we don’t do trickle-down economics, that we do — we have an economy — economic — economy, pardon me — that grows for everyone from the bottom up, middle out, that does not leave anyone behind.
And we’re seeing the success of that — of his plans. And recent economic indicators are not consistent with a recession or even a pre-recession. And you can just look at the data: 12.5 million jobs have been created since he took office. 12.5 million jobs. We’ve gained all the jobs lost during the pandemic and created 3 million more jobs.
And so, unemployment is a near 50-year low, and Black unemployment is at a record low. Annual inflation has fallen over the last nine months. Wages are higher than they were nine months ago. Incomes are up, and consumer spending is strong.
Those are the indicators that show us that we are not headed to a recession or a pre-recession. That is because of the work that this President has done over the last two years.
I’m going to also see — but go ahead.
Q NPR said yesterday that it’s going to be quitting Twitter, Karine, over this label that they are state-affiliated media. Wondering if the White House has any comment on both the label that was put on them and their decision to leave the platform.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, media outlets and social media companies are going to make their own independent decisions about where to share their content moderation and where to share that content. So that is up to them. We’re certainly not going to comment on that. And so I’ll just leave it there.
Q But how about the characterization of them as, you know, state-affiliated media?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I’m not going to comment on Twitter’s content moderation, but I will say this: As it relates to NPR, it is an independent news organization. That is clear. If anyone were to follow their coverage, it is clear that they are indeed an independent news organization. So I’ll leave it there.
I want to — I can’t tell if anybody is on. (Looks at Zoom screen.) It went dark.
AIDE: Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, we got to wrap it up? Okay.
Oh, go ahead.
Q I know you say you don’t want to speak to the validity of any of these documents that have been leaked, but the New York Times has new reporting about a level of dissent and infighting among Russian officials over the conflict in Ukraine. I wonder if you can speak to whether that assessment is one that is viewed as accurate within the administration or what that potential disunity within — just broadly speaking, what this kind of dissent within the government might mean towards the future of the Ukraine conflict.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, these — these slides contain sensitive information. We are aware of that, and we have said that. And because of that, I’m just not going to speculate, get ahead of the review or the investigation that’s currently ongoing, or even potential outcomes on the battlefield. I want to be very, very careful. And so, I just have to leave it there.
Q And then, part of the reporting about how these documents have become public speaks to the fact that they were appearing in more obscure corners of the Internet on, you know, channels of discord that were reserved for gaming and the like.
Is part of the review that is going on in the administration an assessment of whether there were enough of a scope in terms of the kind of sites that intelligence officials monitor for the leak of documents?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, there’s a review happening. We are certainly reviewing the national security implications of the disclosure and the mitigation of the impact the release of these documents could have on the U.S. national security and also our partners and allies. That is something that is being reviewed and looked into. So I’m going to allow the review by the Department of Justice to move forward.
DOD is — clearly has spoken to how they’re moving forward with their process now in restricting access to these — to these sensitive documents. Just not going to get into it. But of course — of course, we’re going to look into it because we think this is incredibly important.
Q And if I can, one last question. I mean, the Post reporting about the individual and the sort of conversations within this channel is quite extensive. Can you say whether the review that’s going on within the administration knows as much as the Post seems to know about this individual?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not going to comment on that, on the Post story.
Okay, I think we have to — do we have anybody online? Okay. So we have to wrap.
Q Last one?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We have to wrap up. I’m sorry.
Q Sorry, just last one about the incident between a British aircraft and a Russian aircraft in September. One of the leaks seems to reveal that it was much more serious than we think: that if the Russian missile had not malfunctioned, the British plane would have been shot down. What does that say, do you think, about the risk of escalation in this conflict?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The risk with escalation with us and Russia or in general?
Q Well, this could have been a British plane, a NATO member plane being shot down by a Russian plane.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. So, look, I’ll say this: As we know, Russia is the aggressor here. They’re the ones who — they’re the ones who are — you know, are — started this war, right? Started this war with Ukraine. And this war can end today. It can end today if Russia would just leave.
And what we have seen over the last year is the Ukrainian people fighting bravely to protect their democracy, to protect their sovereignty. And what you have seen from NATO, what you have seen from the West is a — is a — you know, is a strong — a strong collaboration, a commitment to making sure that Ukraine gets what they need when it comes to security assistance, when it comes to making sure that they’re able to fight on the ground. And that’s what we have seen.
And so that is our commitment. And the U.S. is going to continue to commit to the Ukrainian people to do everything that we can to make sure that they have the assistance on the ground to fight for their freedom. I won’t say more than that.
9:59 A.M. IST