James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:24 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Happy 4/20.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) What is that? (Laughter.)
Okay, I have a few things at the top today, so please be patient with me.
This morning, the President convened the Major Economies Forum to galvanize global leaders into taking strong action against the climate crisis for the fourth time since taking office.
We know that to tackle the current climate crisis, we need strong global ambition and stronger global action. That is why we continue to call on the world’s largest economies, who have the means and resources to implement green solutions, to come together and discuss how we can collectively take steps to address this challenge.
At today’s meeting, President Biden announced that the United States will work toward limiting the rise in temperatures, including putting the power sector on a path to net zero emissions, reducing emissions and fossil fuel use by accelerating zero-emission vehicle deployment, and decarbonizing international shipping.
The President also announced significant new steps the United States is taking to support developing countries in taking stronger climate action, including providing $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund and requesting $500 million over the next five years from Congress for the Amazon Fund and related activities.
And tomorrow, ahead of Earth Day, President Biden will announce additional actions to advance environmental justice and protect communities from the health and environmental impacts of climate change.
He’ll also highlight how Speaker McCarthy’s extreme MAGA agenda would be a disaster for American families, killing all the manufacturing jobs created thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, letting China outcompete us buil- — b- — us building the future of clean energy, and making it easier for big corporations to pollute the air that we breathe. We’ll have more to share on tomorrow’s event soon.
But while I’m on the topic of Speaker McCarthy, I have more to say. As you all know, yesterday Speaker McCarthy unveiled his plan to cut benefits for American veterans and take a two-by-four to America’s manufacturing resurgence.
Not only would the Speaker’s proposal cut funding for our veterans, it would repeal the Inflation Reduction Act’s investment in manufacturing in clean energy — investments that have created 100,000 manufacturing jobs, many of them in Republican-led states and congressional districts.
The Speaker’s plan raises crucial questions for dozens — dozens of House Republicans:
Will they vote to kill manufacturing jobs in their own home districts and reverse the reshoring of manufacturing from China? And will they vote to cut benefits for veterans in their own districts?
Will Congresswoman Majority [sic] — Marjorie Taylor Greene vote to eliminate the investments helping to create 2,500 solar manufacturing jobs in her district?
Will Congressman Mike Carey risk the more than 2,000 electric — electrical vehicle investment-related jobs coming to his district?
Which Republican members of Congress will back McCarthy’s plan to cut benefits to veterans in their districts?
President Biden has fought to create American manufacturing jobs and ensure our veterans get the respect and the benefits they earned. And he’ll keep fighting for them even as Republicans in Congress put forward these proposals to cut jobs and benefits so the super-wealthy and big corporations can enjoy a tax welfare.
Now, on the other side of Capitol Hill this afternoon, Acting Secretary Julie Su had her hearing in front of the Senate Health Committee.
We are working hard for every vote and feel confident about Julie’s confirmation. She has a proven track record of working across the aisle, sitting down with the business community and organized labor, and delivering strong results for the American economy.
That’s why Julie was unanimously supported in her confirmation vote as Deputy Secretary of Labor by all Senate Democrats. And that’s why Julie’s nomination has been endorsed by a range of business groups, from Small Business Majority to the L.A. Chambers of Commerce and labor leaders from the United Mineworkers to NABTU and LIUNA to IBEW.
She served as Secretary’s Walsh right hand for the last two years as they helped produce historic job growth and built strong relationships with both unions and employers as well.
I also want to say a word about the decision yesterday made by the Florida Board of Education to expand the state’s dystopian “Don’t Say Gay” law.
As this measure takes effect, it will prohibit all students, up to seniors in high school, from learning about our — learning about or discussing LGBTQI+ people in the classrooms.
Teachers in Florida have already faced the devastating consequences of the existing law. Under threat of having their licenses revoked, gay teachers have been forced to take down pictures of their spouses from their desks and censor their classroom materials.
Censoring our classes is not how public education is supposed to work in a free country. Conservative politicians love to complain about the so-called “cancel culture,” all while threatening teachers with losing their jobs if they teach something that the MAGA extremists don’t agree with.
President Biden believes teachers and students should not be pawns in a political game or a political stunt. We will continue to fight for students across the country to receive a world-class education, including free from discrimination and also censorship.
And finally, I want to speak to something else that urgently needs addressing in our schools, which is gun violence.
Twenty-four years ago today at Columbine High School, 12 students and a teacher were gunned down, their lives ripped away in what was, at the time, the deadliest school shooting in American history.
The massacre took — shook the nation, and it should have been our last school shooting. Instead, in the near quarter century that has flo- — followed, hundreds of thousands of American students have experienced gun violence in schools.
In the United States, the number one cause of death for children is firearms. Let me say that again: The number one cause to children is firearms in the United States.
This is a choice. If Republicans in Congress come to the table — if they were to come to the table, we can take action to end the epidemic of gun violence as we know it.
The President is doing his job. He enacted the most significant gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years, and he has accomplished more through executive action to reduce gun violence than any other President in history.
State legislators are doing their jobs. Yesterday, we saw in the state of Washington legislative pa- — legislature passed an assault weapons ban. Commonsense measures are advancing in states such as Colorado and Michigan.
Congress must do its job: ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazine, require safe storage of firearms, require background checks for all gun sales, eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity for liability.
We must move this country forward so that tragedies such as Columbine are forced into history books forever and our nation’s children can live without threat or fear of gun violence.
All right. Finally, thank you for your patience and bearing with me.
I would like to welcome Admiral Kirby, the NSC colleague, to the podium. He’s going to preview the President’s bilat today with President Petro of Colombia and answer any other foreign policy questions that you may have.
Admiral, the podium is yours.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine. Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MR. KIRBY: As Karine mentioned, President Biden is looking forward now to welcoming President Petro of Colombia to the White House this afternoon. In fact, just about an hour from now.
Colombia, I think as you know, is a country the President has often referred to as the keystone to the region because it is a country that is emblematic of the optimism and the potential of the Americas, and one that has, over more than three decades, been characterized by strong bipartisan support here in the United States.
The United States-Colombia relationship is a true partnership that spans trade, where we actually remain Colombia’s largest trade and investment partner, but covers a wide spectrum of other issues that address our shared regional migration challenge, combating transnational criminal organizations trafficking drugs, and, of course, people.
We are aligned in our ambition to address climate change and are — we’re working closely with Colombia to expand private-sector investment in renewable energy.
The United States is proud to support implementation of the Ethnic Chapter of the 2016 Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, otherwise known as the FARC.
It’s emblematic of our commitment to ensure equal access to opportunity and to promote prosperity in some of the communities that are most affected by violence.
Colombia and Colombia’s future, their security, their prosperity, remains a national security interest of the United States. And during the conversation today, President Biden and President Petro will continue to make progress on these and many other issues.
I also want to note just a couple of other things. You probably saw a readout that we issued. The President had a chance to talk to Pres- — the European Commission President, President Ursula — Ursula von der Leyen. They talked about her recent trip to Beijing. The President was interested in her perspectives being over there. They certainly talked about the need to maintain peace and security around and across the Taiwan Strait. Certainly, they talked about ongoing support for Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression. And again, they talked about how we can together continue to work with our European partners for a clean energy transition.
The President will also have a conversation later this afternoon with President Macron of France. He looks forward to that. And we’ll have a readout for you when that’s complete.
With that, I’ll take some questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you, Admiral.
Q Karine, thank you. John, thank you for being here. I want to start off by asking you about Sudan — the decision to send U.S. troops there. And can you update us on the status of the embassy and trying to get U.S. officials out of the embassy?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. So, obviously, we’re still very concerned about the violence there, the continued fighting. There was a so-called ceasefire last night that didn’t — didn’t hold very long, and so people are still being hurt.
And what I can tell you is that we have good accountability of all our government personnel there working in and out of the embassy. They are all not still co-located, so the State Department is still — the embassy there is still trying to get them all colla- — co-located together for their own safety. They are still sheltering in place where they are.
And as you probably saw, the Pentagon did announce that they are moving forward to pre-position some military forces and capabilities nearby just for contingency purposes in case they would be needed for any kind of evacuation. But again, no decision has been made on that.
The focus right now is on urging both sides to stop this violence, to abide by a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to get to people that are — that are — that need it. I mean, there’s already shortages of food; there’s concern over shortages of medicine and water. The situation is dire in Khartoum. And we continue to urge both sides now to stop this violence.
Q What is the timeline for making a final decision? And are sanctions on the table against these rival factions?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t get ahead of any sanctions decisions. I mean, we’ll always look at a range of tools and capabilities that we have to try to — to compel both sides here to stop this violence.
As for timeline, I think I’d refer you to the Department of Defense and the State Department on that. They — they would have to work in tandem here.
But we want to make sure that we’ve got the capability ready in case it’s needed. And again, DOD can speak to the timeline on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Janne.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Karine. It’s too early for you to point to this side. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: You’re not used to getting the second question, huh? (Laughter.)
Q Should be happy.
Q Yeah, usually you (inaudible) part. Thank you so much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Shine, my friend. Shine. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Karine. And thank you, John. I have a couple of questions. South Korean President Yoon announced that South Korea would provide military aid to Ukraine if Russia launched a massive attack on the Ukraine — on the Ukrainians. How does the U.S. evaluate this? And I follow up this —
MR. KIRBY: We would certainly let President Yoon speak to — to — to his comments and to whatever aid and assistance South Korea would want to give to Ukraine. We — we’re grateful for the support that South Korea has already provided Ukraine, in the tune of $100 million of humanitarian assistance. And, of course, they’ve been very vocal in supporting Ukraine, and they’ve been very vocal in speaking out against Russia’s aggression. We’re grateful for that.
They’re a terrific ally, terrific friend. And as I think you know, we’re very excited to be welcoming President Yoon to Washington, D.C., next week for an official state visit, where I have absolutely no doubt that they will talk about a range of challenges, not just in the Indo-Pacific but across Europe and in Ukraine.
Q And one — Russia is now claiming — a spokesman said that it will provide weapons to North Korea and warned that South Korea would pay the price. How do you view Russia threat of retaliation against the South Korea?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. Look, I’ve seen those comments. You know, I’ll let Mr. Peskov speak for himself and speak for Vladimir Putin and the — and the Kremlin here.
I would just remind that we have a treaty alliance with South Korea. We take that commitment very, very seriously. And I’d leave it at that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nancy.
Q Thanks, John, so much for doing this. The U.S. has a lot of recent experience extracting embassy personnel both in Kabul and in Kyiv. How does this situation differ or how similar is it to those? And what lessons has the U.S. learned from those experiences that can be applied here, if necessary?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I think just my answer to Kristen’s. I mean, you know, you might recall back in the — a couple of months before the evacuation out of Kabul, the President ordered the pre-positioning of military forces nearby so that they could be ready. And they were. They were actually able to get onto the Karzai International Airport within 48 hours and, within 72 hours, basically had control of it.
Pre-positioning forces is not a new idea for the U.S. military so that they can be ready, that — you want to be as close as you can get so that you can close down that time-and-space factor — it’s a physics problem at that point — so you can be there as quick as possible.
So, certainly, this is an outgrowth of things we’ve learned over the last year, year and a half. But it’s also not something that the military is not used to doing.
Q It sounds also like it’s an incredibly dangerous environment for anyone to drive around and be outside. Why the decision not to potentially provide military assistance to U.S. citizens who might need to flee Sudan and only direct that potential help to embassy personnel?
MR. KIRBY: The focus right now is making sure that we’ve just got — so I don’t — let’s not get ahead of where we are. The focus right now is just to pre-position military forces nearby in the region in case they’re needed. No decision has been made to evacuate anybody.
And what we said early on was that we advised Americans not to travel to Khartoum, not to travel to Sudan. And we made it clear that they should be making their way out of the country.
So, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. No decision to evacuate anybody now has been made. It’s just really about pre-positioning military forces. If and when there’s a decision to move towards some sort of military evacuation, then we’ll have more to say about that at the time, in terms of size, scale, scope, and what we’re doing.
But right now, the best thing that can happen is for the fighting to stop, for the two sides to lay down the arms, to abide by these ceasefires they keep saying they’re committed to, and let humanitarian aid and assistance — food, water, medicine — get to the people of Khartoum, who are growing increasingly desperate for it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, President Petro came to the White House today saying that his message on Venezuela is less sanctions, more democracy. But Nicolás Maduro says that the sequencing of that has to be sanctions relief followed by, you know, democratic progress. What’s the U.S. response to it? What is the President going to be saying to Petro about it?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve long been clear that — that we’ll — we would review our sanctions policies in response to constructive steps by the Maduro regime and if the Venezuelan parties can make meaningful progress and return to a democracy in the country.
But I think we’ve also been very, very clear that we’re not afraid to take action should the Maduro regime fail to negotiate in good faith or to follow through on its commitments.
Q Karine, in the back?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, go ahead. One second. Go ahead, Arlette.
Q Could you talk about how President Biden has been involved in these discussions about Sudan? Was he briefed on the deployment — the positioning of these military forces nearby?
MR. KIRBY: Yes, he was. Yes. He’s been, obviously, following this very, very closely — the events in Khartoum and in Sudan. He has been in touch with his national security team regularly since the violence started. And he authorized the military to move forward with pre-positioning forces and to develop options in case — and I want to stress, right now, “in case” — there’s a need for an evacuation.
Q And when did he authorize that? Today? Or yesterday?
MR. KIRBY: This was in the last couple of days.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff. And then we’ll go to the back.
Q Thank you. John, you mentioned the state visit next week. To what extent do you expect China and North Korea to be discussed during the President’s meeting with his counterpart?
And on the same issue. As China — the Major Economies Forum — or, excuse me, on the same topic: The Major Economies Forum happened today. The Chinese climate advisor was there. Can you give us any update on what he said with regard to their plans on methane or other climate change policies?
MR. KIRBY: I’d refer you to the Chinese authorities, the PLA, to — I’m sorry, PRC — to speak to whatever their comments were or how they phrased it.
But as Karine noted in her opening statement, I mean, the Chinese are moving out and moving out of aggressively on the transition to clean energy.
And when you look at the strategic competition that the President believes that we’re in with China — and we do want to keep it on competition and not conflict — this is an area where the United States can absolutely compete and win because of the innovation here in the United States of America and the opportunity that we have before us to really grasp on to a clean energy transition. Because there’s — not only is it good for the climate, it’s good for our economy, because it’ll mean more jobs. So this is absolutely an area where we can compete with them.
Now, on your first question, I — I know of no conversation that we ever have with our allies in the Republic of Korea where we don’t talk about the threats posed by North Korea to the Peninsula and to the region. And I know of no discussion that we have with those very important allies where we also don’t talk about the challenges posed by China in the region and globally. And I fully expect that both will be — will be matters of discussion.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Way in the back. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. John, a — right over here. A couple —
MR. KIRBY: Thanks.
Q One on Russia and one on Mexico. On Russia: There was a hearing up on the Hill yesterday, and we heard from the prosecutor general from Ukraine, and he had asked the United States to designate the Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization. Does the White House believe that group should reach that designation?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve made no such determination. And I have nothing to preview for you on that.
But make no mistake, this paramilitary contractor that Mr. Putin increasingly relies upon is certainly continuing to try to take Bakhmut, for one thing. And they continue to throw bodies — a lot of prisoner bodies — at that fight.
Mr. Prigozhin clearly has some personal gain here at stake in wanting to take Bakhmut, not only for his personal prestige and a way to try to maybe embarrass the Russian Ministry of Defense, but also for perhaps his own economic gains, since there’s a gypsum mine there. Not entirely clear, but it — he looks like he’s got more than one motive.
Q And on the issue of Mexico, U.S. prosecutors within the past week here announced the arrest of 28 members of the Sinaloa cartel. And Mexican President AMLO described that as spying and as interference. He said it was “abusive, arrogant interference that should not be accepted under any circumstances.” I guess, what is your reaction when you hear something like that? And, generally speaking, how can the U.S. rely on Mexico as a partner in the fight against the cartels when an arrest like that is viewed as a negative?
MR. KIRBY: I’ll certainly let President López Obrador speak to his comments, and broadly speaking, I’d refer you to the Justice Department on this. But the President had a great discussion when in Mexico City with both President López Obrador and Prime Minister Trudeau about the need to continue to put pressure on drug traffickers and the cartels.
And what you’re seeing here out of the Justice Department is a step in that direction here by this administration. We’re going to keep doing that because it’s that important to the safety and security of the American people.
And we’re also going to keep having these discussions with our counterparts, particularly in Mexico, who likewise suffer from the — the activities and in some — in some cases, the unimpeded activities of these cartels in Mexico.
Q Quick follow-up on Mexico.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Good afternoon, Admiral. The — should I —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, go ahead. Go ahead.
Q I apologize — okay — if I took someone’s turn, I apologize.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, go ahead.
Q I’d like to ask about the — the genocide against the Uyghurs in China. It’s been declared a genocide by the U.S., as you well know. Representative Smith of New Jersey — he just wrote to China’s President himself asking to visit Xinjiang. Smith says he wants to see for himself what’s going on concerning mass detention and forced labor. Simply, what’s the administration’s reaction to that request by the congressman?
MR. KIRBY: Members of Congress are entitled to travel where they want and ask questions of whoever they want. We don’t take a position on their travel.
Q And just to follow up on that: More broadly speaking, the world promised to never let a genocide like the Holocaust in World War Two happen again. We have a Holocaust Museum right down the street. Does the administration believe there’s enough urgency right now in helping the Uyghur Muslims?
MR. KIRBY: I think this is the kind of thing, whether it’s the Uyghurs or elsewhere around the world, where we — we have to continue to apply constant and unrelenting pressure to — to protect basic freedom of worship and human and civil rights around the world.
It’s not something you can ever let off on. And it’s not something that, you know, we snap a chalk line and say, “We’re done, and we fixed it and it’s over.” It’s the kind of thing that we’re constantly working at.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, sir.
Q Japan is our greatest ally. It hosts the largest number of U.S. military of any country in the world. And there’s a lot of concern about this recent spate of leaks. Can you update us on — on if that — if you’ve been able to track down what happened and an assurance for the future that the conversations will be protected?
MR. KIRBY: You’re talking about the — the doc- — documents? Look, again, there’s a criminal investigation going on by the Justice Department. You’ve seen work out of the Pentagon to already restrict some access. And they’ve got — the President has asked State, the Department of Defense, and the intel community to take a — a broad review of security protocols, practices, and procedures to make sure that they are appropriate and that we’re — we’re not missing something that — that we — that we — we should have caught.
But I don’t want to get into speculating about what happened here. All I can tell you is we’re taking this seriously. And across the interagency, we’re taking steps to make sure that the protocols and procedures are appropriate.
Q And then just to follow up. For — for — I know we keep bringing this up, but for the people that we left behind — for example, there’s a man, Ashur Eskrya. He’s an Assyrian. It’s been two years. His family still hasn’t been able to get out. They’re in grave danger.
There’s still a large number of people, in spite of the discussions, that have not been able to get out that supported us. For example —
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know what you mean by “in spite of the discussions.” As I was up here a couple of weeks ago telling you, we’re still getting people out. They’re still coming out on a routine, regular basis. I can’t speak for this particular case. There’s a process and — that the State Department runs that I would highly encourage anybody who feels they have a case to be made to leave Afghanistan to — to —
Q These are even for Iraq.
MR. KIRBY: Sorry?
Q This is even for Iraq — still hasn’t been able to get out.
MR. KIRBY: Again, I don’t know anything about that case, but when it comes to Afghanistan — because I think that’s what you were asking about — we continue to get people out.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q Colombia next week is going to be hosting an international conference on Venezuela to promote talks between the political forces. Can you tell us, if the U.S. will be sending a delegation, what type of delegation?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, we fully support this international process, as you know. And we certainly welcome the fact that Colombia is hosting it this time around. I don’t have a delegation to announce or speak to today.
Q Follow-up on the question about sanctions on Venezuela. Are there any concrete conditions or steps that would, for the U.S., warrant those easing? What are you expecting? Is there something that you have communicated that would lead to an easing of sanctions?
MR. KIRBY: Without getting into, like, a specific menu here — again, I go back to what I said before: We want to see concrete steps taken by the Maduro regime to make good on its commitments to negotiate in good faith and to help, you know, transition to a democracy that all Venezuelans deserve.
And, you know, we — we have in one case — I think you remember — there was sanctions relief provided with respect to Chevron down in Venezuela, and that was indicative of, again, our view that some steps had been taken by the Maduro regime. We’d like to see more.
But I don’t think it would be helpful for me to sit here and give you, you know, what the cafeteria list is of all of — of those things. I mean, again, we — we just, in general, want to see the regime move here in the right direction.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re running out of time. Go ahead.
Q On Sudan — and thank you, Karine. On Sudan, beyond an immediate ceasefire, obviously, what is the U.S. objective? What’s the preference once the hostilities — if the hostilities end?
MR. KIRBY: Our preference is to see the — the democratically elected civilian authorities govern Sudan. And the Sudanese armed forces — General Burhan says he supports that. So we would continue to urge him to move in that direction, to stop this fighting, and — and seek the civilian authority.
Q Is the U.S. providing any sort of support or anything to either side?
MR. KIRBY: No.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Two more questions. Go ahead.
Q John, just given the fact that the American convoy came under fire this week, is the sense here that the Americans were targeted?
MR. KIRBY: There’s no indication that either side is deliberately going after or trying to hurt or target Americans. I can’t speak to exactly to what happened in that instance.It’s true that some — some vehicles of ours came under fire. But it’s not clear that — that the people firing at them knew that — that it was a U.S. convoy. And again, there’s no indications that Americans are being specifically targeted.
But it’s obviously a dangerous situation. And that’s a good example of how even if there’s not a deliberate targeting, that somebody could still get hurt or killed, which is why we want these ceasefires to be observed. We want the violence to stop. We want civilian authorities to be seated so that the people of Sudan can have a — and particularly the people who live in Khartoum — can have a peaceful future.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: In the back.
Q Thank you so much, John. That was me. (Inaudible) take (inaudible)’s question. Sorry.
I’ve got a follow-up on today’s bilat and then a Russia/China question. First of all, can the two leaders reconcile their different approaches on the war on drugs?
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry, can —
Q Can the two leaders reconcile their different approaches on the war on drugs in today’s bilateral? And can you tell us a little bit about how they might go about doing that?
And then, you said earlier that we’re not afraid to take action should the Maduro regime fail to negotiate in good faith. Can you tell us what actions you might take?
MR. KIRBY: All I’ll tell you is that we’ll continue to hold any actor that engages in corruption, violates U.S. laws, abuses human rights in Vene- — in Venezuela, we’re going to hold them accountable. But I don’t have a — I wouldn’t give you a specific list there.
And as for the — you called it the “war on drugs” — this effort to go after drug trafficking — I mean, both President Petro and President Biden agree it’s an issue, agree it’s a challenge. And they’re looking forward to having that discussion today.
I fully expect that climate, drugs, and certainly migration will be three big topics that they talk about today.
Q And then, on Russia and China, the two militaries just recently said that they were going to strengthen strategic cooperation. And we’re seeing reports that China is expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal with help from Russia.
So, is the U.S. concerned about these increasing ties between these two countries? And will the U.S. respond by expanding its own nuclear arsenal?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the nuclear arsenal one way or the other here today. We’re very comfortable and confident that we can continue to protect and defend our national security across a range of capabilities.
And you can look at the defense budget and see for yourself that nuclear modernization is something we’re heavily invested in, and we know we got to continue to work on that.
As for their relationship, we’ve spoken about this before too. These are obviously two countries that share opposite values that — than the United States and our partners and allies do in terms of the international order in terms of peace and stability around the world. They want to challenge that order. They want to undermine that order. They want to rewrite the rules for themselves.
And as the President has said, we — we’ve got to consider this a strategic competition, and it’s competition that we can win.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. We have to do last question. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. John, just a quick follow-up on Sudan. And I’ve got two questions.
First, what — what exactly is the — so you said that we don’t know for sure what their motivations were. Fine. But what are we doing to assure that, in the future, any belligerents think 30 times before attacking a U.S. convoy?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to talk about that particular issue too much because I don’t — I don’t know exactly how it transpired.
We have communicated to both sides directly through diplomatic channels that this violence has got to stop, that we need a ceasefire that everybody can observe so that the people of Khartoum can — can move on and we can get a civilian authority seated. That’s the focus.
Q Okay. And my second question, I’m going to kick over to Brian.
Q What? (Laughter.)
Oh, thanks. Hi, John. I guess I’ll just follow up on the leaks. I’d like to drill down a little bit on that. Have — you said you were going to take a look at the protocols that led to that particular person getting the information. Is — that include possibility of sanctioning those who allowed him to get this information in the first place? Is that under consideration? Because what I hear out of — out of Defense is that, look, you’re going to make a scapegoat out of the 21-year-old, and whoever made the decision is going to get away with it.
MR. KIRBY: Right. Well, let’s be clear: What I said was that the President wanted the intel community, DOD, and the State Department to take a broad view of security protocols and practices writ large, not necessarily with respect to this particular case. I think you heard that the Secretary of the Air Force has already ordered a specific Air Force review into the — the unit to which that individual was assigned. And I certainly would let the Air Force speak to that more specifically. That’s more for them to talk to.
Q But do you think that that will be part of — do you anticipate —
MR. KIRBY: Again, I think you really got to talk to the Air Force, Brian. I mean, they’re — they’re taking a look at that particular unit, and that’s really for them to speak to.
But the President’s direction to the interagency was take a wide look at protocols and procedures for — for security classification.
Q Can you take one on Colombia, please?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible.)
Q Thanks, John.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I appreciate it. Thanks, Admiral.
Sorry, guys. We tried to take as many questions as possible, but we’re running out of time.
Q Hi. So, Senator Joe Manchin is calling on the President to negotiate with Speaker McCarthy, accusing him of a “deficiency of leadership.” What is your response to those comments from Senator Manchin? And is there a point where the President’s unwillingness to negotiate becomes unsustainable?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, we have a strong and productive relationship with Senator Manchin. He’s someone that we have been able — the President has been able to pass some historic pieces of legislation because of the help of Senator Manchin. So, again, they have a strong relationship.
The President’s message is pretty simple and has been — it has been very simple this past several weeks, several months: The way to have a real negotiation on the budget is for House Republicans to take threats of default, when it comes to the economy and what it could potentially do to the economy, off the table. We’ve been very clear about that.
He’s put forward his budget. The President has said, “Here’s my budget.” He was very clear; he showed his values. His budget is going to decrease the deficit by an additional $3 billion over the next 10 years. It’s going to make sure that we invest in Americans, that we lower cost.
So the President has said, “Here’s what I’m going to do.” And not only that — make sure that the super-wealthy are — are paying their share.
And so, are — we — look, the President and Senator Manchin agree we must avoid default. And just as President Reagan said and just as President Trump said, that — when they were in office — we have to avoid default.
That means House Republicans need to get to work and stop the delay and put a bill on the for- — on the floor that’s going to avoid default.
Q At today’s Major Economies Forum, the United Nations Secretary General was very critical of countries, including the United States, of expanding fossil fuel production. What is your response to that criticism? And was his message played for the President and other participants today at the forum?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’ve been very clear this is a President — this is the fourth time that we’ve held this forum. We believe that is important for these — that we need — in order to deal with this issue, we need global collaboration and global action — and that’s what you saw this President do — and make sure that we bring the world together to deal with an incredibly important issue like climate.
And so the President is going to continue to do that. He’s going to continue to have these conversations. I’m not going to speak directly to every country and their — and their statement and their comments, as the Admiral was being asked about China specifically.
But we believe these have been really important forums — again, this is the fourth one since the President has taken office — and we’ll continue to have them.
Q And the last question is: An IRS special agent wants whistleblower protection to talk about the investigation on Hunter Biden’s taxes. What is the White House’s message to employees who wonder if there should be political considerations when things affect the President’s family?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I want to be very clear here. As you know, the President respects the rule of law and the dep- — the independence of the Department of Justice. He believes that’s what they should be. In this administration, we believe that it should be independent. So I’m not going to go beyond that. The Department of Justice will certainly deal with this issue. Again, he believes in the rule of law. He believes in the independence of the Justice Department.
Q Thanks, Karine. I know you — just to follow up on that. I know you won’t comment on the investigation, but is the President confident that his Attorney General has upheld all the ethical obligations here when it comes to this investigation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, the President has always been clear — during the campaign, during his presidency — that the Department of Justice should have independence, they should not be politicized, and they should be able to do their job independently, essentially.
And so I’ll leave it to them. I’ll leave it to Department of Justice to make their decision to do to — to move forward with this particular case. We’re just not going to comment from here.
I — I know, actually, my colleagues from the White House Counsel’s Office actually put out a statement on this and addressed this more — more specifically. But again, I would refer you to the Department of Justice on anything else.
Q On the debt limit, what will it take for the President to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with House Speaker McCarthy at this point to try to hash out some of this in person?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’ve been very clear when it comes to the debt — the debt ceiling — sorry, there’s something flying around — that should be done without conditions. That should be done, just like Speaker McCarthy, himself and other Republicans, when they got together with Democrats the last — three times in the last administration, they should deal with this. This is their constitutional duty to make that happen.
As it relates — as it relates to the budget, we saw what Speaker McCarthy and MAGA wing of the Republican Party put forth, which was — we believe is cruel, we believe which will be — really harm American families who are struggling every day to make ends meet. That’s what — what they put forward — their plan, their blueprint — that’s what it tells us.
If you look at the 22 percent cuts in veterans — in veteran services, if you look at how they want to cut Meals on Wheels, they want to cut law enforcement funding, that’s what it shows.
So we’re going to take a look at it. We’re going to look at the impacts of the plan, the blueprint that they put forth. And we appreciate that the Speaker put that — put that together.
And, look, the President has been very clear: You know, show me your budget, and I’ll show you what you value. We have seen what the Republicans in Congress, in the House specifically — along with the Speaker, Speaker McCarthy — value. And this is what they put forward yesterday — something that we believe will harm American families.
Q Karine, can I ask a follow-up there? When the President announced his budget, he said, quote, “I’m ready to meet with the Speaker anytime — tomorrow, if he has his budget.” He has now put forward a proposal. So will there be a meeting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I just said we’re going to look at the impact of the plan that they put forward. We’re going to take a look at it; I’ve said that already.
Right now, what we are — what we see with the 22 percent spending cuts that they put forward: It’s going to hurt education, it’s going to hurt veterans’ meda- — veterans’ medical — medical care, Meals on Wheels, food safety. So that’s what we’re seeing right now.
But we’re going to take a closer look. We’re going to analyze that. We appreciate the Speaker for putting this forward.
But again, it doesn’t stop them for acting right away, immediately, to put a — to put a piece of legislation on the floor to make sure that we do not default. We should not be — Congress, specifically Speaker McCarthy, and the — and the right wing, the MAGA extremists, should not be holding our economy, you know, to — to put forth programs that’s going to hurt American people.
So, again, we’re going to analyze what they put forward to us, and we’ll have more to share.
Q So you’re not ruling out a meeting but you’re also not accepting a meeting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just saying that one thing that we know for sure is they need to make sure that we do not default. That is something Republicans in Congress need to act on now. They can do that right away. We’re going to look at the impacts of this blueprint that they put forward.
Go ahead, Nancy.
Q Thanks. So just to follow up on that, it sounds like you’re saying that there’s a possibility that the President won’t sit down with the House Speaker.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not saying — I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying we’re looking closely at the — at the proposal that they put forward. We’re going to analyze the impact of the — of the 22 percent spending cuts that they put forward.
And — but what we are saying at the same time — look, I don’t have a meeting to announce, but we’ve been very, very clear we need to make sure that we avoid default. We’re going to look at the impact.
Q But you’re also no longer saying there will be a meeting at some point.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just saying we don’t have a meeting to announce at this time.
Q On another matter, the House passed a bill this morning that would amend Title 9’s definition of sex to be based entirely on an individual’s genetics at birth. Does the White House have a position on that bill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a position on that bill. But we’ve been very clear that the administration is committed to protecting LGBTQI+ kids at school. That’s why, last year, the Department of Education proposed a rule to clarify that LGBTQI+ kids have fundamental civil rights protections against discrimination in our nation’s schools.
Last week, as you know, the ED proposed a rule that helps clarify how those protections would work in the context of the — of the athletics. Clearly, the Education Department could certainly lay that out more.
But we believe that we are committed and we want to make sure that we’re protecting LGBTQI+. I don’t have anything specific on this particular legislation.
Q And on that topic — the transgender actor and influencer Dylan Mulvaney has been the target of a barrage of attacks from anti-trans individuals online after she did an ad with Bud Light a couple of weeks ago. She’s someone who has been here to the White House. She interviewed the President last year. He had a lot of warm words for her. Has anyone here at the White House reached out to her since she became the target of these attacks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, don’t have any calls to review at this time. And I don’t have anything to say specifically about this report. But what I can say: When a transgender American posts a video about a brand of beer they enjoy and it leads to bomb threats, it’s clear that that level of violence and vitriol against transgender American has to stop.
And the President has been very clear; I just laid this out: The administration has a — is going to do everything that they can to protect LGBTQI+ people who are under attack. And that’s what we’ve been seeing across the country, especially in statehouses.
And so we’re going to fight alongside them to protect their rights. They should be allowed to be who they are, who they want to be. And they should be able to speak out against — and we should be able to speak out, and others should be able to speak out against hate and discrimination.
But, look, that type of dangerous rhetoric, that type of vitriolic language and violence, that needs to stop.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Karine, thank you. A couple. First on Hunter Biden and then on McCarthy. Just to be very clear, for the sake of transparency, which the President says he values: Does the White House support giving this IRS agent whistleblower protections?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: For the state of transparency and so that we do not politicize any of this, the President has been very clear that this is something for the Department of Justice, which is independent. And we have been very clear since the campaign that this is something that they need to speak to. And that’s why we refer you to the Department of Justice. We’re just not going to speak for — to it — about it from here.
Q Can I just have you respond to some Republicans, though, who suggest that the fact that the IRS agent is seeking whistleblower status could show that the administration is slow-walking or somehow obstructing justice?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re — we’re letting Department of Justice handle this. That’s what — that’s what an administration does when they believe in the rule of law, when they believe that the Department of Justice is independent. That’s what the President believes.
This is something for the Department of Justice. This is an issue that they’re dealing with. And we leave that to them.
As I mentioned, my White House colleagues at the Counsel’s Office put out — put out a statement on this. They were more specific on that. And so I certainly would refer you to — to my colleagues and to the Department of Justice.
Q Just on the debt limit — at the risk of dating myself, I was here back in 2011 during the debt ceiling fight then. And due in part to the gridlock over that issue, S&P downgraded the nation’s credit ratings, markets plummeted, interest rates increased, the country’s borrowing costs went up by more than a billion dollars. Is the President risking the same by — and Congress — by dragging out this process?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s not the President that’s risking this. It is —
Q Well, it’s everyone, right?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it is Congress —
Q I mean, everyone is responsible.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — it is Congress that is risking this. These political stunts that you’re seeing from Speaker Mc- –McCarthy and the MAGA wing — this is dangerous. These are political stunts that will have long-lasting effects, as you just laid out.
This is something that they can easily deal with immediately by putting a piece of legislation on the floor to deal with not defaulting. This is their constitutional duty. We should not have to negotiate on this. We should not be doing this with conditions.
They were able to do this three times under the last administration — a Republican administration.
Q But doesn’t everyone bear responsibility, including and especially the President?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The responsibility to make sure that we do not default, it sits in the hands of Congress. And right now, it is Speaker McCarthy and the MEGA wing — the MAGA wing — pardon me — of — of the Republican conference. It is — it is up to them to get this done. They are wasting time. And we’ve — I’ve already laid out what they did propose, how much that’s going to hurt American families who are trying to make ends meet.
Q But the President said, “Show me your budget.” He didn’t say, “Show me a budget that I agree with.” Speaker McCarthy has put forward a plan.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we — well, you have to finish —
Q Why not pick up the phone —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You have to finish the statement.
Q But —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He said — well, you have to finish what he said. The — the statement that he made — his quote is, “Show me your budget, and I’ll show you what you value.” That’s what the President said. And by looking at this blueprint, by looking at the plan, they are certainly showing us their value.
Q I guess the question is: Isn’t the ball in the President’s court?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I already answered the question, Kristen, many, many times. This is a constitutional duty that Congress has. And Speaker McCarthy is playing games. He’s — he is wasting the time of the American people. This is a political stunt. And he has to act. He has to act.
And what he showed us yesterday — he aligned himself with the MAGA wing of the party.
Go ahead, Ken.
Q Just, the — the Problem Solvers Caucus wants the suspension of the debt limit to be paired with this creation of a bipartisan fiscal commission. Is the President in favor of some kind of commission that would look at the long-term spending debt, how to corral that problem?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we have a very good relationship with the Problem Solving Caucus. I don’t have anything to say about this specific matter. We believe — we believe that it is up to Congress, whatever tools they need or mechanism they need to move this forward.
But again, I’m just not going to comment on any specific mechanism.
Q And then, just on the call with Macron that you mentioned at the top. Do you have a rundown of what they’re going to talk about? And is this in response to some of Macron’s comments earlier in the month about Taiwan and China?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t — I don’t have anything else to add to the readout. There was a readout. And so I will share that the President will have the opportunity to speak with President Macron later today. So there will be a readout, but I’m just not going to go — get ahead of that conversation and what may be discussed.
I’ll try to go to the back.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you so much. On guns, following the recent tragedies, there is a renewed debate about so-called, like, “stand your ground” laws. Quite a number of experts and activists say that these laws actually promote violence, fuel gun violence. So what’s the administration take on this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what — what our take on this is that Congress needs to act. I laid out at the top of my — at the top of the briefing what we have seen statehouses do in some states who have taken action in banning assault — assault weapons, which we lift up and we — we appreciate.
But now we need to see congressional members — Republican congressional members take action. We need to see them put forth commonsense — commonsense laws when it relate- — as it relates to gun — as guns.
And so we need to see that type of reform. We need to stop what we’re seeing — the- — this epidemic of gun violence across our country, in our schools, in our churches, in grocery stores. We have to do everything that we can to stop.
This is a President who’s taken action over and over again. He’s taken historic action, taking — doing — putting forth executive actions in the first two years, more than any other President.
And so what we’re saying, and we’re going to be very clear: The President is going to use his bully pulpit to continue to pressure Congress to take action. That’s what we need. That’s what the American people deserve. That’s what our kids deserve. That’s what our communities deserve. And that’s what we’re going to continue to call for.
I’m going to continue to the back. Go ahead, Phil.
Q Thank you. I’ve got two quick questions. The President ended the COVID emergency earlier this month, and one of the things that House Republicans are calling for is for some of the unspent pandemic emergency funding to be clawed back. Would the President — I know he has a reputation during the Obama administration as being the sheriff when it comes to rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse — would he at least be interested in reviewing whether there is some of that money that could be returned to Treasury?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, here’s the thing: What the President has been able to do in this first two years of this administration is deal with a pandemic, a once-in-a-generation pandemic, by putting forth a comprehensive plan.
You think about the American Rescue Plan, what it was able to do. No Republican voted for that. And so, we used that money to actually be in a different place than we are today. COVID is not over, but we are in a different place.
And so, it is — it is bizarre, after the progress that we have seen, for Republicans to be asking this. But we — we — the President — when he came in, nothing was being done. He made sure that our — he made sure that the economy came back — came back in a way that — that it was — that we haven’t seen in some time by — by making sure we created more than 12 million jobs. He made sure that people had shots in arms. He made sure that we were to come out of this pandemic.
Again, COVID is not over, but we are certainly in a different place than we are — we have been before because of what the President has done and the action that he took.
And so, to say — to claw back money after having — having the successes that we have seen because of this President’s action, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Q I — then just —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I got to keep going.
Q I got a follow-up from earlier this week.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, yeah. Okay, go ahead. Go ahead.
Q You know, I wanted to follow up on the White House’s proposal to mandate that two thirds of all passenger vehicles by the year 2032 be electric. That’s a lot of batteries, obviously. So does the administration have a concrete plan to ensure that those raw materials for these new EVs, either through federal support or some type of motivation for the private sector — that those EVs don’t end up coming from China and we don’t become dependent on a foreign power that might not be friendly to us?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here’s what I can say: Every step that the President has taken is to build more here in America — that’s every step that he’s taken: to bring investments and jobs back to America, to build supply chains here in America. And that’s what’s happening.
And already, the private sector has invested more than 120 bill- — million dollar- — billion dollars to build more electric cars and batteries here in America. And that is because that is what the President has wanted to do and put forth, and he wants to make sure — right? — we are building here, right here in the United States.
I’m going to keep going.
Q So he has a plan to ensure —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m going to keep going. I’m going — I’m trying to call up someone I haven’t.
Go ahead, Alex. In the back. Go ahead.
Q Karine, there’s — there’s been a devastating gas shortage in South Florida. Is this administration working with Governor DeSantis and other Florida lawmakers to alleviate that and to make sure people are able to, you know, fill their — fill their tanks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we are closely monitoring the situation in Florida right now. And our administration has been in touch with the state to offer assistance.
The EPA is quickly processing a request it received from the state today to expand the available supply of gas in the region. And so, we stand ready to — to do the same for any additional request assistance that comes from the states or that the state makes.
And so, again, we are monitoring. We are offering assistance.
And then let me just continue to go around.
Q Thanks, Karine. You’ve been talking about the President and McCarthy meeting, but are there conversations taking place at this point between White House staff and House leadership staff — House Republican leadership staff?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ve said this before: We have been in constant communication.
Q And that still continues now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is — that is still continuing. We have been in constant communication at the President’s direction with — with House leadership for many — many weeks now, for months now. And so, of course, that’s continuing.
Q` And any reaction to the SpaceX Starship rocket that exploded after launch today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I saw those reports. I don’t — I don’t have any — I don’t have a reaction at this time.
Q Senator Durbin has said that they’re going to ask Chief Justice John Roberts to come testify about judicial ethics. Does the White House think that that would be a useful thing for the justice to go do?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m going to leave that to — to Congress to deal with. We’re not — we’re just not going to comment from here.
Q And then, top donors from the President’s 2020 campaign been invited to D.C. to meet with him next week. As it seems like a campaign decision is approaching at some time, can you kind of lay out how the President plans to separate his role as a political candidate versus his day job here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, first, I’m not going to comment on 2024 or potential plans or whatever is going to happen in 2024. As you know, we follow the Hatch Act here in this administration.
What I will say is that any announcement or anything that — that is related to 2024 certainly will not come from here.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thanks, Karine. Back on the budget, one of the items that House Republicans are pushing is to take back this $80 billion that has been marked for the IRS. I’m just wondering how important is this to the President. I know he’s talked about it, but how important is it to him? Is this something that he would be willing to give up to get a budget deal?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, not — we’re going to look at the impacts of this blueprint, this plan that — that Speaker McCarthy and MAGA Republicans put forth. I’m not going to speak to sp- — specific items in — in their — in their plan.
What I can say more broadly: The 22 percent spending cuts is going to hurt American families. You think about veterans, you think about Meals on Wheels, you think about education, you think about law enforcement. That’s going to hurt everyday families who are trying to make ends meet.
I’m not going to go into piecemeal of the plan. Again, we’re going to take a look at it and see what the impacts of the — it will be to the American people.
AIDE: Karine, we have to wrap.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know we have to wrap. Okay, I’ll be back tomorrow.
Q Time for one more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’ll be back tomorrow.
Q Time for one more?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, everybody.
Q Just invite the President to join us anytime.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know, you guys would love that.
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