James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:28 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, good afternoon, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. Thank you there, Ms. Ryan.
So, first, I want to wish a very happy birthday — I’m going to embarrass him right now — Justin Sink. Happy Birthday. Happy 21st Birthday. (Laughter.) Don’t look —
Q Nowhere I’d rather be. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — a day over 21. So, Happy Birthday, my friend.
And I also want to congratulate Scott. Scott, this is your last day — right? — in the briefing room. It’s been a pleasure having you here. I know your new role — and congratulations on your new role as the weekend host of “All Things Considered” and “Consider This.” Very exciting. We’ll be listening. W- — I’ll be looking out for your voice.
But today, as I said, is your last day in the briefing room. We will miss you and — around here. And we wish you the best in your next chapter. So, congratulations, my friend.
All right. So just a couple of things before we move forward with the briefing.
Today we launched Invest.gov, which shows how President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is bringing jobs and investments to every state. Invest.gov features an interactive map that shows the $470 billion and counting in private sector investments in manufacturing and clean energy mobilized by the President’s agenda.
It also shows the 32,000 infrastructure projects announced or underway thanks to the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The President’s Investing in America agenda is bringing manufacturing back to America, strengthening America’s energy security and supply chains, repairing roads and bridges, delivering clean water, deploying high-speed Internet, and so much more.
The site brings this — the site breaks this down by state and territory with detailed stats about how the President’s agenda is rebuilding infrastructure, spurring investments, creating jobs, and lowering cost.
The bipartisan budget agreement the President secured protects these investments that you just heard me speak of. They will continue to power the economic progress we’ve made over the last two years, bringing more jobs and opportunities to communities across the country.
To highlight the impact of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, members of his administration will fan out across the country later this month for a second installment of the Investing in America tour during the congressional recess around July 4th.
Now, as just one example of investing in America, President Biden today announced that the EPA is deploying $115 million to help repair Jackson, Mississippi’s water — water system and deliver clean water to the community.
As you all may remember, the city’s water system was a cri- — was in crisis at some point last summer. And even long before then, the people of Jackson have lived under constant threat of boil water orders.
This initial investment will help stabilize and rebuild the city’s water system, and it’s part of the President’s commitment to ensure every American has access to safe, clean drinking water.
And finally, I just want to touch on a lawsuit that was brought by Big Pharma challenging Medicare’s ability to negotiate drug prices.
Last year, President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which for the first time in our nation’s history allows Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for seniors, caps the cost of insulin at $35, and requires prescription drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if any raise their prices faster than inflation.
Year after year, pharmaceutical giants make record profits as they charge middle-class families astronomical prices, often for drugs invented generations ago.
For decades, the pharma lobby has blocked efforts to let Medicare negotiate lower drug costs.
The Biden administration finally got it done. President Biden took on Big Pharma in legislative process, and he won.
So now, Big Pharma is challenging this historic action in court. The Biden-Harris administration is going to fight attempts to go back to the way things were before.
And so we are confident we will succeed. There is nothing the Constitution that — in the Constitution that prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. Anytime profits of the pharmaceutical industry are challenged, they make claims about it hindering their ability to innovate. Not only are these arguments untrue, but the American people do not buy them.
So President Biden is going to remain focused on lowering America’s healthcare costs, ensuring the benefits of the — of the law reach the American people.
With that, I have the Admiral — my colleague, Admiral Kirby, is here joining us again today to talk about the news out of Ukraine that you all have been reporting on with the dam explosion.
And so to answer some of your questions at the top, so we’ll have us join. As you know, we don’t have a lot of time because the President is going to be holding his Cabinet meeting. So I’m sure Kirby will be as brief as he can and take as many questions as he can.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, ma’am. As brief as I can be.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Thanks, Kirby.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, ma’am.
Hey, everybody. Look, I know there’s been a lot of interest in the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in Ukraine, and I wanted to just take a minute to address it.
As you might expect, we’ve been closely monitoring the impacts of that destruction, which has triggered massive flooding in Ukraine and resulted in the evacuation of at the very least thousands of Ukrainians. We know there are casualties, including likely many deaths, though these are early reports, and we cannot quantify them right now.
We’ve seen the reports that Russia was responsible for the explosion at the dam, which, I would remind, Russian forces took over illegally last year and have been occupying since then.
We’re doing the best we can to assess those reports. And we are working with the Ukrainians to gather more information. But we cannot say conclusively what happened at this point. We will certainly share more information when we can.
What is clear and what we absolutely can say is that the damage to the Ukrainian people and to the region will be significant. This dam, which was built in 1956 as part as the — as part of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, sits astride Ukraine’s Dnieper River. It’s about 30 yards high and about 100 yards-or-so wide. And the reservoir it protects holds about as much water as the Great Salt Lake in Utah. So that’s a lot of water. Now, that water helps supply southern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula, as well as the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
And, I would add, we were relieved to see the statement today by the Director of the IAEA, asserting that there was no immediate risk to the safety of that plant.
And, as I mentioned, the dam also helps power the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. So, in addition to loss of life and livelihoods, its destruction could very well have a devastating impact on Ukraine’s energy security. And it will certainly have an impact on Ukraine’s canal system.
So, we’re in touch, as I said, with Ukrainian authorities on how we can provide assistance to the many Ukrainians who have been displaced and forced to flee their homes for safety. We’ll continue to work with humanitarian partners on the ground to supply aid.
Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the Ukrainian people and brought terrible suffering to them. We will continue to support Ukraine in any way we can, including through military, humanitarian, and economic support.
As I said earlier, we’ll monitor this as best we can. We’ll stay in touch with our Ukrainian counterparts. And as we have more information, we’ll certainly provide it to you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Chris. Kick us off.
Q What impact do you think the dam’s destruction could have on counteroffensive operations (inaudible) going forward?
MR. KIRBY: I think it’s too soon to know, to be honest with you.
Again, I won’t speak to Ukrainian military operations in any way whatsoever. But right now, the immediate focus is rightly on all the Ukrainians whose lives and towns and villages are affected by this flooding and making sure that they have the aid and assistance that they need.
But right now, too soon to assess what — what kind of impact it’s going to have on the battlefield.
Q And one more on the Discord leaks. There’s a report in the Washington Post that the U.S. had reports that Ukrainians were planning an attack on the Nord Stream pipeline. Do you have any comment on the intelligence report of that? And there are also suggestions that Russia may have been responsible for that. You know, why was Russia initially poi- — the finger was pointed at Russia when the U.S. might have had information that Ukrainians were planning the attack?
MR. KIRBY: So, I’m certainly not going to engage in a discussion about the intelligence matters here from the podium, specifically with regard to that disclosure or any of the other. And in this case, certainly not going to speak to one that the Washington Post even said was not corroborated by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Now, I think you know there are three countries conducting an investigation of the Nord Stream sabotage — and we called it sabotage at the moment — Germany, Sweden and Denmark. Those investigations are ongoing. And, again, the last thing that we’re going to want to do from this podium is get ahead of those investigations.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Thanks. John, you just said that you can’t say conclusively what — what happened at this point with regards to the dam. You also did note, though, that the Russian forces have been occupying this dam since last year. So, is your assessment at this point that it is more likely than not that Russian forces are responsible for this, rather than Ukrainian forces?
MR. KIRBY: We haven’t made that determination.
Q And have you determined whether this was an intentional act?
MR. KIRBY: Again, we’re still trying to gather information and talking to the Ukrainians about that.
Q And then, thirdly, President Zelenskyy said that he believes it’s impossible to blow up this dam from the outside by shelling, for example. Is that also the U.S.’s assessment, that this would have to be done from — from within?
MR. KIRBY: Haven’t come to a final conclusion.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thanks, Karine. Hi, John. A couple of questions on Iran. Iran launched today a hypersonic ballistic missile that can reach 1,400 kilometer. Your assessment of that and its implication to the region? And second, Senator Risch has been very critical of that administration. There was —
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry, who has been?
Q Senator Risch. He just actually tweeted, and he said, basically, that the administration doesn’t have a clear policy towards Iran. And just — let me just briefly just tell you what he said. He said, “The Biden administration has been caught flat-footed and has failed to articulate a broader Iran strategy.” And he’s referring to the expiration of the ballistic missile at the U.N. in October. So how do you respond to that?
MR. KIRBY: I wonder if he’s talked to the Iranians about that, because I don’t think that they would respond that we’ve been flat-footed. I think if — if anything, the Biden administration has been very clear, very concise, and very firm on pushing back on Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region to include the development of an improving ballistic missile program.
I’m not going to talk about the specific reports of this — this alleged hypersonic missile, but we have laid down very clear sanctions and other activities to push back on what Iran is doing in the region, again, to include their ballistic missile program.
So I — I would not assu- — assess that the Iranians would say we’ve been flat-footed or ignorant of what they’re doing in the region.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Justin.
Q Thanks, Karine. You mentioned that we’re going to evaluate how we can assist Ukraine after the attack on the dam. Speaker McCarthy on the Hill today said — warned against trying to use Ukraine funding to bypass the defense caps that were part of the deal.
So, to kind of reconcile those into some questions, is there a concern that this dam attack might accelerate the timeline for when we need to — when the White House needs to go back to Congress for additional Ukraine assistance? Would — do you have a general sense of what that timeline is? I know that, in the past, you’ve said you still have kind of a good —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — amount of funding to work through. And is the Spea- — are the Speaker’s comments consistent with what you guys kind of understood out of the deal that was brokered last week?
MR. KIRBY: So, to level-set, we’ve been grateful for the bipartisan and bicameral support that we’ve had for Ukraine. We have every expectation that that’s going to continue. We — that’s one.
Two, we’ve got enough funds, as I said earlier, to help support Ukraine on the battlefield throughout the rest of this fiscal year.
Again, we’re just now assessing the damage done by this dam explosion, so it would be imprudent for me to try to speculate as to what impact that might have. It’s certainly difficult at this early stage to see that there’s going to be an impact on supplemental funding, either this year or going forward into next year, based on the — on the explosion. But, again, we’re in the early hours here, and we’re going to take a look at this.
And we’ve said before that if we feel like we need to go back to Congress for additional funding for Ukraine, we’ll do that. But we’ll do that at the appropriate time, and now is not the appropriate time to have to have that conversation with them.
Q Do — you used the phrase “supplemental funding.” So is that — is that an indication that you see this as differently from the House Speaker, who is saying now that he wants additional Ukraine funding to come out of overall?
MR. KIRBY: What I’m saying is our focus is on executing the funding we’ve got this fiscal year and making sure Ukraine can succeed on the battlefield. And we’re just not at a decision point to talk about the need for additional funding later on, in whatever form that might take. We’re grateful for the supplemental funding we got for this fiscal year. Terrific support on Capitol Hill — again, both chambers, both parties. And we fully expect that that will continue.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary.
Q Can I ask you a question on the NORAD intercept over the weekend? That plane stopped responding to air traffic controllers 15 minutes after taking off, but it took an hour and a half until F-16s were able to intercept it. Is that okay with you? Do you think that the underlying protocol needs to change here?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not going to litigate the actual event over the weekend here from the podium. DOD will take a look at the — at the process. Again, as I said yesterday, they responded in a very textbook fashion here, but I also said they’ll take a look at this. And if they determine that there might have been a procedure that needed to be done differently, they can speak to that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ed.
Q Two for you, John. First, back on the Nord Stream pipeline. You say there are three European investigations underway?
MR. KIRBY: Yep.
Q Does the U.S. know when any one of those may be concluded?
MR. KIRBY: I’d have to refer you to those three countries.
Q Is the U.S. actively investigating —
MR. KIRBY: No.
Q — who did it?
MR. KIRBY: There are three European countries that have embarked on independent investigations of this. And we’re comfortable in their ability to take a hard look at this and to come up with conclusions.
Q So there were — there’s this gas pipeline situation, there’s the drone attack in Moscow a few weeks ago, there’s the missile attacks into Moscow. Is it fair to say Ukraine itself may be doing a lot more of these more brazen things than the U.S. is willing to admit?
MR. KIRBY: I’ll let Ukraine speak to their activities. What I can tell you, Ed — we’ve said it before: We don’t support attacks inside Russia, and we don’t encourage or enable Ukraine to be able to do that. We’ve made those concerns known to Ukrainian officials, certainly privately, absolutely publicly. And we’ve received assurances in return.
Q On the other issue I wanted to ask about: Does the Biden administration have any concern with a major U.S. sports league getting into business with the Saudi Public Investment Fund?
MR. KIRBY: I think we’ll let — we’ll let the Saudi government speak to that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Al Jazeera, in the back.
Q Does it seem believable to you that Russia would destroy a dam and flood ethnic Russian villages and cut off a water supply to Crimea? I mean, that doesn’t seem logical. It seems about as logical as blowing up one’s own pipeline, doesn’t it?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve come to no conclusions on this. We’re working with the Ukrainians. We’ll try to get as much information as we can.
Q Okay. I have one more question. French and German leaders have called for new elections in Kosovo, given the low voter turnout. It’s causing a lot of tension. What’s the U.S. position on that?
MR. KIRBY: I think we’ll have to get back to you. I’d refer you to the State Department, but I’m happy to take that question back. I mean, obviously, we support free and fair elections everywhere they’re — they’re held, but I don’t have anything specific on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, April.
Q Another question, this time on Africa. Is the President still on tap to go to the continent later this year?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have anything on the calendar, April, but the President is absolutely intent on visiting Africa as he said he would. And I don’t — just don’t have any — I don’t have a trip schedule to speak to right now.
Q But it is — it is still planned to happen?
MR. KIRBY: He still intends to visit the continent. Absolutely.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Scott.
Q Just one more quick follow on the NORAD event over the weekend. I know you said DOD is investigating it —
MR. KIRBY: I did not. I did not say they’re investigating it.
Q Looking into what happened.
MR. KIRBY: No, not e- — I didn’t even say that. It is common practice, when DOD conducts an operation, for them to take a look and just walk through — you know, walk through sort of a hotwash of it.
I’ll let them speak to whether they’re doing that and what that looks like.
Q Well, that’s not — my question for you on it is: You know, if you look at the timing and the data from the plane, it seems like the intercept happened after the plane had flown over Washington, D.C. Was that, from your understanding, an intentional choice, or was that —
MR. KIRBY: I don’t —
Q — an issue of planes catching up and trying to get there?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t — I don’t know. I’d refer you to DOD.
Q John, on the dam explosion specifically, can you just speak to the President’s engagement on this, when he was briefed? And is one of the steps here that he is ordering the declassification of some of the information that would help be able to reveal publicly who the U.S. suspects was behind this?
MR. KIRBY: The President was certainly kept informed of the event earlier this morning. I don’t have the tick-tock for you on that, and I know of no decision to downgrade anything at this point.
Q And then, separately on — we understand Secretary Blinken will be traveling to China in the coming weeks after, of course, the visit that was cancelled earlier this year. Can you speak to the U.S. officials who were there in the last couple of days, what role they may have played in trying to finalize this trip that had been trying to be rescheduled?
MR. KIRBY: Certainly, one of the purposes of — of Dan and Sarah’s trip was to — again, as I said yesterday, to make sure the lines of communication remain open and to talk about the potential for future visits, higher-level visits. I think I said that yesterday.
And they felt that they had good, useful conversations with PRC officials about that and to that end. And I think you’ll see us speak to future visits here in the near future, but I just don’t want to get ahead of the schedule.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just a couple more. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. Quick one on Lavrov and his comments on F-16 fighter jets. He said that U.S.-built F-16 fighter jets can accommodate nuclear weapons and warned that supplying Kyiv with them will escalate the conflict further. Do you have a response?
MR. KIRBY: The first thing I would say to Minister Lavrov is: If you’re worried about Ukrainian military capabilities, then you should take your troops and leave Ukraine.
Number two, these F-16s are going to be provided as a part of long-term defense needs for Ukraine. We’ve been very, very open and transparent about that.
It’ll take some time for those jets to get there. We’re going to start with a training program for Ukrainian pilots, and that hasn’t started yet.
And it really is about helping Ukraine with its self-defense needs.
And the last thing I’d say is that President Biden has been extremely consistent that — that we don’t want to see this war escalate, certainly not into the nuclear realm. And it’s not the United States who’s tossing around reckless nuclear rhetoric; it’s people like Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin and — and Putin’s Press Secretary Peskov. They’re the ones that are out there bantering around about nuclear capabilities, not the United States.
Nobody wants to see this escalate beyond the violence that’s already visited upon the Ukrainian people. There is no reason for that.
Q Does that mean — are you saying that F-16s cannot accommodate nuclear weapons?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about the nuclear capabilities of any platform in the American arsenal.
The purpose of providing advanced fighter aircraft is to help Ukraine defend itself, defend its — its airspace and its territorial integrity. Period. And there’s no interest by the United States in escalating this conflict, certainly not into the nuclear realm.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Aurelia.
Q Thank you so much. On the — on the dam in Ukraine, I understand it’s — it’s too early, you say, to assess who is responsible for it. But can you already say that, ultimately, this will qualify as a war crime?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have a determination on that to speak to today. I would just say, you know, again, without — we — we’re still trying to assess what — what happened here. But the Russians had illegally taken over that dam and the reservoir many mon- — many months ago. And they were occupying it when this explosion happened.
And it’s very clear that the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure is not allowed by the laws of war. And in the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention, that the Russians have themselves signed, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, such as dams — and dams are clearly articulated in there — are violations of that code.
But again, we haven’t made a decision. We’re still talking to the Ukrainians about this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Joey.
Q Yeah, thank you. (Clears throat.) Excuse me. Did your previous response to Ed’s question on the golf leagues mean that the White House has no position on today’s announced merger between PG- —
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have anything to say about that today.
Q So no position that? Or —
MR. KIRBY: I — I’m — I’m just — I have no comment on that today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Karen.
Q I was going to ask that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, great.
Q But also —
Q A follow?
MR. KIRBY: Saved me the breath. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Phil.
Q Okay. Moments ago, you reiterated the administration position that you do not support attacks inside of Russia. I’m wondering if the administration has communicated that there would be any potential consequences to Ukraine if attacks like that do continue. For instance, have you made military aid conditional on preventing some of those attacks? Or is Russia on the hook here because this is an illegal invasion?
MR. KIRBY: Well, as I said earlier, if Russia is concerned about Ukrainian military capabilities, the best thing that they can do would be to leave Ukraine.
We have made our concerns about strikes inside Russia very clear to Ukrainian officials. They’ve acknowledged that we have, and they have assured us that they won’t use U.S-made equipment to strike inside Russia.
We don’t want to see the war escalate, and — and there’s no apologies for that.
But I won’t go into detail about the private discussions that we’re having with Ukrainians.
Q So, you can’t tell us whether or not, other than — other than expressing you don’t want an escalation, you can’t tell us if there’s any conditional —
MR. KIRBY: Oh, this is the repercussions thing. Look, I mean, I think — just take a look at everything we’ve done in the last 15 months, and I guarantee you you’re going to see additional security assistance packages in coming days and weeks.
We’re going to continue to make sure that Ukraine can succeed on the battlefield, as President Biden has said, for as long as it takes.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Eli.
Q John, yesterday, when the Danish Prime Minister was here, you reiterated that the President has not — has not yet settled on a candidate to be the next Secretary General of NATO, but you also went out of your way to praise Secretary General Stoltenberg on the job that he’s done. Does the President, by chance, want the Secretary General to extend his term another year, given everything that’s going on in Europe?
MR. KIRBY: The Secretary General has done a superb job and particularly at an unbelievably critical time in — in history, particularly on the European continent.
But the President has not settled on a candidate as the next Secretary General, and I just won’t get ahead of his decision-making.
Q But does he want — has he made any — had any conversation —
MR. KIRBY: The President has made no decisions with respect to the position of the NATO Secretary General.
Q But he’s not pressuring General Stolt- — Secretary General Stoltenberg to stay?
MR. KIRBY: He’s made no decisions —
Q Is there a timeline for —
MR. KIRBY: — one way whatsoever.
Q Is there a timeline for figuring that out? The NATO Summit is in July. Is it important for — you know, when all the leaders come together, for there to be some clarity on who’s going to be leading the Alliance?
MR. KIRBY: I think we all know — I mean, the timeline is really driven more by, you know, the Secretary General’s tenure, which, obviously, this latest extension is — is coming to a close. And so that’s — that’s going to be driving the discussions inside the Alliance. But the President hasn’t made one — a decision one way or the other.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Last question.
Q Hi. In regards to Chinese incursions in the Indo-Pacific, what do you say to those who are criticizing the — both parties, the United States and China, that are acting poorly and instigating, actually, escalation? What would — what will this administration do to lower those tensions in the Indo-Pacific?
MR. KIRBY: Well, we’ve been talking about it now for two days: trying to keep the lines of communication open, having a visit to Beijing just this week to see if we can’t get more transparency and get more communication open, including through the military-to-military lanes.
What are we doing? I mean, Secretary Austin again attempted to have a discussion with his — with his counterpart in the — in the PLA. And — and they rebuffed that.
So, to those saying we’re not doing enough — it’s interesting you’re criticizing — or not you, but people that are criticizing us for not doing enough. And then I hear from others that we’re doing too much or we’re bowing down to China, that we’re trying too hard.
I mean, I think anybody that’s taken a look at this bilateral relationship — the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world right now — can see that the tensions are high. And we all want to see the tensions come down. And the President believes that the best way to do that is through diplomacy.
And it boggles my mind that anybody anywhere would think, A, that we’re not engaging in diplomacy, and, B, that diplomacy and the use of it and the attempt at dialogue and diplomacy is somehow weakness. It just absolutely boggles my mind.
We’re working on this very, very hard. And the President is confident that we’ll be able to get back to the spirit of Bali between the PRC and the United States.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
Q Mauritius. Come on.
MR. KIRBY: (Laughs.) I got away with it today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mauritius.
Okay, go ahead, Chris.
Q Sorry, I obviously know that John didn’t have any comments on the golf merger, but I want to see if you had any comments on that. Is the White House concerned about the Saudis’ human rights record? Now you have a merger, you know, between an American PGA and the Saudi-backed LIV tour. What are the feelings on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I — I’m — certainly, I’m going to be in line with my NSC colleague and say the same: I’m not going to be commenting on that particular merger.
So, we don’t — just have — don’t have anything to share at this time.
But, you know, when it comes to human rights, as we have said over and over again, this is something that the President has been very clear about and has brought that up with leaders that he’s met with. And so that is never anything that we shy away from.
But on this particular merger, we’re just not going to comment from here.
Q Just one small thing, because I don’t Kirby mentioned this specifically. Has the President spoken to President Zelenskyy about the explosion at the dam? Or do they have a plan to talk today? I mean, I know they talk frequently.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. I was going to say: As you know, they talk frequently. We talk to their team pretty frequently, especially over the last 15 — 15 months.
Don’t have a — a call to read out with President Zelenskyy that the President would have had. Just don’t have anything at this time to share.
Q Just on the Merck lawsuit, Karine. I know you said that the administration is confident that it will succeed in the courts, but as it plays out in the courts, how concerned are you about the impact that this will have on President Biden’s efforts to lower drug prices?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we’re going to continue — I — I laid out kind of our position on — on Merck and the lawsuit. We’re always going to be very careful on commenting on an ongoing lawsuit.
But I will say that we’re going to continue. It’s not going to stop the President from continuing to — to lower prices for the — for Americans, especially healthcare cost, as we’ve seen him do with the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a historic piece of legislation, as we talk about, you know, making sure that we’re lowering costs for Americans, making sure that insulin is at 35 bucks. That’s something that came out for seniors. That’s something that came out of that piece of legislation.
So, we are just going to continue to do the work. That’s something that the President has made — when it comes to lowering costs, his number one priority, as an economic policy, is to do just that.
So, we’re going to let the lawsuit and — and that process go and continue, but we feel very confident. And we’re going to continue doing our work here.
Q Are you preparing for more litigation filings by the end of this year?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’m certainly not going to get ahead of what DOJ might be doing. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals from here. But what we can say is that we are confident, and we’re certainly going to continue to do the work that we have been doing the last two years, that the President has been doing the last two years, to lower costs for Americans and American families. And you’ve seen that. We have actually executed on doing that, the President has, with the historic pieces of legislation that we’ve gotten done.
Q Thanks, Karine. Merck says that the Medicare drug price negotiation provision is going to hurt their ability to invest in developing new drugs. Are you guys confident that this will not have that impact? And if not, why not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I mean, for a long time, pharma — pharma lobbyists has — has blocked efforts to let Medicare negotiate lower drug costs. And why is that? Right? That is a question for them. Why would they block something that is actually going to help Americans, that is actually going to — and I had mentioned at the top some of these drugs are decades — you know, decades old.
And so, look, we’re going to do — we’re going to do our job. We’re going to let the DOJ do their job. The President is going to continue — he’s never going to stop in putting forward legislation or policies that’s actually going to make sense for American families, make sense for our seniors, make sense for Americans who truly need healthcare. So that’s just not going to stop.
And we’ve talked about Big Pharma. We’ve talked about pharmaceutical gains. We’ve talked about the record profits that they — that they’re able to — to get. And — and they’re doing it all on the backs of — many of them on the backs of middle-class families. And the President is saying, no, we need an economy that works for all, that leaves no one behind, that has equity at the center of it. And this is part of — but this is part of his plan.
Q Is there any risk, though, to their ability to innovate and to create these lifesaving drugs?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — look, I — you know, I can’t speak for them. I know that’s what they’re laying out. We believe that — when it comes to drug prices, we believe that families and Americans should be able to not have to struggle, not have to go bankrupt to pay for a drug that they need, that’s going to save their lives or save someone that they love.
And so that is the — that’s the focus that this President is going to have: What can we do to make — you talk — we talk about giving families a little bit of breathing room, and that’s what the President is going to focus on.
All right. Go ahead, Karen.
Q Are you concerned that other drug companies might now follow Merck’s lead and file suit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I can’t speak for other drug companies. I’m not going to speak for them here. What I can speak to is what the President is going to continue to do, and that is make sure that we deliver for American families, make sure that we lower cost. That has been something that I’ve — that we have said, the President have — says for some time.
When it comes to his economic policy, the number one component of that is how do we continue to lower costs for Americans.
Q Thanks, Karine. I want to ask about UFOs, but I have to ask about the border first.
On the 11th Circuit ruling yesterday blocking quick releases of migrants, does the administration plan to appeal to the Supreme Court?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s an ongoing litigation, so, certainly, I’m not going to comment on that at this time.
Q And the New York City mayor floated plans to have migrants be housed with residents. Is that something the administration would support? And if that ends up becoming necessary, would that be a poor reflection on the administration’s ability to manage the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I haven’t seen those reports. I kind of saw some chyrons on — on the cable news network — I think yours — coming out to the podium. What I can say is that we have been in touch with the interior cities — right? — the cities like New York City, like Chicago and others, who are dealing with this issue. And we’ve — we’ve had conversations with them; we are in touch with them.
As you know, there is more than $200 million in funding that has gone to these interior — interior cities. A majority of that has gone to New York City. But just not going to speak to the mayor’s policies. I just don’t know much — enough about it to — to speak to it at this time.
Q And the retirements upcoming, the border chief and the ICE — the ICE chief, is that going to impact the administration’s ability to manage the border in the near term?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I — from what I understand, their retirements was — was — has been planned for some time now. And — and so just going to leave that piece to them. And certainly they can speak to — to their retirement.
What I can speak to is what we have seen these past couple of weeks since Title 42 has been lifted. We have seen — we’ve seen legal migration go down — go down significantly. And that’s because of the plan that this President has put forward.
You think about diplomacy, you think about deterrence, you think about making sure that we’re expanding legal pathways — that’s what the President and his administration has been able to do. And that’s why we have seen such a decline at the border.
And I think that speaks to the President’s leadership and what he’s been able to do with his team. And I think that’s incredibly important.
Q On UFOs —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steve.
Q — real quick, though. This whistleblower report alleging that the U.S. military has been retrieving craft of non-human origin for at least several decades. Are we alone? And if we were not, would you even tell us?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would refer that question to the Department of Defense and let them answer that question for you.
Q Back on the Merck lawsuit, just to (inaudible) —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.)
Q — just a little bit: You said at the top that there’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents Medicare from negotiating.
The lawyers for Merck are arguing that it violates the Fifth Amendment, the Takings Clause; the First Amendment, it’s too coercive. Do you have a specific response to those arguments?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a response to that. I can just say — clearly, there’s going to — there’s a lawsuit that’ll be liti- — clearly is being litigated. I will leave it to — I’ll leave it to the Department of Justice to deal with.
I’ve been very clear that it is in the Constitution to do what it is that we’re moving forward with. This is a piece of legislation, clearly, that was passed, the President signed into law. And it’s going to help American families. It’s going to help Americans that really, truly need it.
We should not be in a situation, in 2023, where you have American families who are sitting around the kitchen table every month trying to figure out how they’re going to pay for these — for these bills and how they’re — what is it that they’re going to cut so that they can’t [can] get a drug that is lifesaving.
And that is something that the President is aware of. You see — you hear him talk about — he’s talked about his — his — how he grew up and how those conversations are incredibly difficult.
And so this is what the President has been talking about — right? — making sure, again, we don’t leave anybody behind, we have equity at everything that we do, and that we have an economy that grows from the middle up and the — bottom up, middle out. And that’s the — the President’s plan. He’s going to stick to it.
Go ahead, April.
Q Karine, on Mississippi — Jackson, Mississippi — and this $115 million towards repairing their water infrastructure. Mississippi isn’t alone. Flint, Michigan, still has infrastructure problems. What’s happening not just with Mississippi but also with Flint as you’re in these efforts to repair?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it’s a good question. And certainly, EPA is going to be running this process, so I would refer you to specific programs on this particular $115 million that we announced today.
So this is an initial investment, let me just say that first, that the President fought for and that was secured. And that’s over $600 million from Congress for the city’s water system, as we talk about specifically on Jackson.
And in the fiscal year 2023 government funding bill, that’s where that’s coming from.
And so it is on top of tens of millions of dollars we’ve already deployed as it relates to the city.
And let’s not forget: This is — this is through the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. And so — and also the American Rescue Plan.
So because of these two pieces of historic legislation — one was bipartisan, one was — the American Rescue Plan was just by Democrats who pushed that along, and the President’s first major piece of legislation — they’re going to help cities like Flint. It’s going to help, as I just mentioned, Jackson.
And so this is really important. Right? As we talk about how we’re moving forward as a country, our — our economic system, how we’re going to make sure that we take care of areas like this that have been left behind, that has not have had any really much investment to deal with the water situation that they’re having to deal with.
This is why it’s so important that we have the infrastructure law. It’s why we’re so important that we get — we were able to get the American Rescue Plan.
As it relates to Flint, I would refer you to the EPA — well, they have more information — and how these two pieces of historic legislation are going to be deployed and helped in Flint.
Q So, on the broader piece, though, beyond Flint, beyond Mississippi, this is a nation that has a lot of antiquated systems underneath. So you’re saying that this will be more broad-based? Yeah.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s why — again, that’s why the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is so critical, because it is meant to more broadly deal with communities just like this, and other communities as well, as they deal with — you know, as they deal with the water system; as they deal with, you know, broken roads; as they deal with trying to fix, you know, their bridges — all of the things that is so important.
Let’s not forget: This is a President who has said, when it comes to his infrastructure bill that is now law, clearly, it’s about the decade — right? — infrastructure for a decade. It is incredibly important, and it’s going to change lives for Americans across the country.
Q Understanding that you’re not going to get into a position on this golf merger, do you know if this merger would be subject to federal regulatory oversight from, like, the FTC or DOJ?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m just not going to get into it from here. I’m just not.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, James.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. I want to ask about the President’s tumble that he took on the stage in Colorado the other day.
It’s absolutely true that any one of us could trip over
an object that just happens to be in our path.
Nonetheless, we’ve all observed the difficulty this President has in certain settings. Steps are one of them. And, of course, there was no sandbag in his path on the steps up Air Force One on any of those occasions.
And I was struck particularly by the incident on May 19 in Hiroshima where the President descended down a set of stone steps toward a shrine, at the bottom of which steps he was greeted by the Japanese Prime Minister.
And if you look at that footage, the President slipped and caught himself on those steps. And as he greeted the Prime Minister, you could even see on the President’s face pursed lips, as if to say, “This was a close one.”
And I know I watched that scene with my heart in my hands because this was a set of stone steps. And even though there were handrails on either side, he was directed by his advance team, presumably, to descend at the middle of those steps, unaided by the handrails, the Japanese Prime Minister, an aide, or anything else. And that could have been really catastrophic.
And so my question to you is whether this whole series of incidents has led the White House Chief of Staff to direct some kind of review of the advance procedures that are employed on behalf of this, the nation’s oldest President.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So let me say, you’ve paid a lot of attention to that particular situation. I — I actually did not see that. I was with him in Hiroshima, so I — this is something that I was not aware of. So I can’t speak to that particular — particular moment.
You know, here’s what I will say: This is a President, you know, that has had an incredibly impressive first two years, when you think about what he’s been able to get done; when you think about the record, historic pieces of legislation that are now into law — I just went into — went into it with the different pieces of legislation that’s actually going to make a difference and change Americans’ lives, Americans who truly need it.
And that’s, I think, is what the American people are looking for. They’re looking for someone that can actually deliver, like the — like the President has done.
And even last week, when you think about the budget negotiations, you heard — you heard from — you heard from Republicans — congressional Republicans, ranging from the right MAGA and members, to Speaker McCarthy, emphasize the President’s smarts and capabilities in — in — in making sure that there was a bipartisan, reasonable, commonsense piece of legislation, a fiscally responsible piece of legislation that is going to help American families.
And so you see him again and again and again, over the past few years, deliver — whether it’s 2020, where people underestimated him and he got that done; whether it’s 2022, again, when people — when people underestimated, got that done; whether it’s his budget agreement, he got that done.
And I think that is the most important thing that the Americans are going to care about and that Americans are going to look to.
And so —
Q But I’m obliged to say —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — I will — I will leave that there.
Q — I didn’t ask you what Americans are looking at. I’m asking —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, isn’t it —
Q a specific question about —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — what it — isn’t that — isn’t that —
Q — about staffing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — what is important? As a reporter, don’t you think it’s important what Americans —
Q I appreciate the input —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — care about?
Q — into my questions, but my question was —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just saying — I’m just saying that is something that Americans want. Is it not — not true that they have a leader that’s going to deliver for them?
Q Your proposition may or may not be true, but it’s not responsive —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I think —
Q — to my question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think it’s very true.
Q My quest- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re ask- —
Q My question is —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I know what your question is. You’re asking me if we’re going to change anything from here, if the Chief of Staff has asked for it to change anything from here.
Q Is anyone reviewing the advance staffing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And — and here’s the thing, here’s the thing: We are not. Things happen. Other presidents have had similar situations, as you know, and I’m sure you’ve reported on the last President who’s had a similar situation.
And so, look, things happen. This is a President that delivers and will continue to deliver for the American people, and that’s what he cares about.
I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Thank you.
2:11 P.M. EDT