James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:07 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So a couple things at the top before we take questions.
Today marks the anniversary of three landmark Supreme Court cases which were consequential in affirming the basic truth that every American should have the right to marry the person they love.
Ten years ago today, the Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor
v. [and] Hollingsworth v. Perry made significant strides laying the groundwork for marriage equality in our country.
They were followed two years later by the Supreme Court’s ruling of Ob- — Obergefell v. Hodges, finally recognizing that LGBTQ+ Americans have a constitutional right to marry who they love.
These monumental cases moved our country forward, and they were made possible because of the courageous couples and unrelenting advocates in the LGBTQ+ community who fought for these hard-won rights.
Last year, President Biden was proud to build on their legacy by signing into law the Respect for Marriage Act, guaranteeing the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ and interracial couples. And he continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to ensure equal rights under the law for all Americans.
Our work is not over, but today we celebrate the progress that has been made and we recommit ourselves to the work ahead.
As you all know, this week, the entire Biden-Harris administration is highlighting the work we’ve done to grow the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down. The President’s economic strategy has powered the strongest recovery of any major economy in the world.
This morning, you heard the President announce $40 million — billion — pardon me — $40 billion towards ensuring every American has access to affordable, high-quality, high-speed Internet.
On Wednesday, the President will deliver a major speech in Chicago to highlight how his strategy of growing the economy by growing the middle class is delivering for the American people.
Throughout the week — throughout the week and, clearly, the next several weeks, you’ll continue to hear from leaders across the administration on how the President’s economic plan is delivering results for the American people.
With that, as you all know, the Admiral is here to answer any foreign policy questions that you may have on the news of the day.
John, the podium is yours.
MR. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Look, I know there’s still a lot of interest out there in events in Russia over the weekend, so just a few words at the top from me.
As you all just heard from the President, the United States closely monitored those events, with President Biden receiving literally hour-by-hour updates from his national security team throughout the weekend. And those updates continue for him.
On Saturday morning, the President convened a call with his top national security aides to discuss the developments and any impacts that instability in Russia could have as we — as we prepared for a range of scenarios. And the President also convened calls with many of our allies and partners throughout the weekend, and those calls continue.
National Security Advisor Sullivan, Secretary Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin also spoke with a number of their counterparts as well.
Now, as the President noted, it was important that both internally, here inside the administration, and externally, with our allies and partners, including with Ukraine, that we all shared our perspectives on what was going on and we all stayed on the same page.
We also made clear to all our allies and partners that the United States was not involved and would not get involved in these events, and that we view them as internal Russian matters. We delivered that same message to the Russians themselves through appropriate diplomatic channels.
I’ll emphasize — as the President did just a little bit ago — that it’s too early to speculate on the impact these events might have or to reach any definitive conclusions — except one, of course. And that is that no matter what happens next, we’re going to stay closely coordinated with those allies and partners and we’re going to continue to stand with Ukraine.
As we’re speaking here right now, Ukrainian forces are still fighting for their country. They’re still trying to claw back captured territory. They’re still taking and they’re still inflicting casualties.
So, whatever occurred in Russia this past weekend did not change those facts — didn’t change the facts for us, didn’t change those facts for Ukraine. And they absolutely are not going to change our continued support.
So, with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead, Aamer.
Q What implications do you expect this episode to have on Wagner’s power and ability both inside Ukraine as a fighting force — can it continue to be a fighting force inside Ukraine? But also, more broadly, in Africa where they’re — they have a big footprint — where does Wagner, do you think, go from here? Do you have any early read on that?
MR. KIRBY: No, we don’t. And we — we don’t know the answer to your question. It’s just too soon to know.
We recognize that Wagner still has a presence in Africa. I think you know we have worked to hold Wagner accountable. They are listed as a transnational criminal organization. We have sanctioned them.
We will continue to take those actions that are appropriate to try to limit their ability to continue to sow chaos and violence wherever it is. But it’s just too soon to know, after the weekend’s events, where Wagner goes as an entity or where Mr. Prigozhin goes, in terms of his leadership of it.
Q Do you know where Prigozhin is?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary.
Q Ukraine is warning that Russia has completed preparations to potentially blow up the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station. Is that your assessment as well?
MR. KIRBY: I — not going to get into specific intelligence. I would tell you that we’re watching this very closely. We’ve seen that reporting. We’re — we have, as you know, the ability near the plant to monitor radio activity, and we just haven’t seen any indication that that threat is imminent, but we’re watching it very, very closely.
Q And, more broadly: As Secretary Blinken said, this has exposed “cracks in Putin’s power.” How concerned are you that Putin could now be more desperate, more unpredictable, to the point that he could take more extreme measures to try and maintain his grip on power?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I won’t speak for Vladimir Putin or hypo- — hypothesize about what next steps he might take or might not take. I think it’s important to take a step back here and remember that the Russians still have tens of thousands of troops inside Ukraine. And that, as I said in my opening statement, there’s still active fighting going on.
The Ukrainians are still trying to claw back territory. The Russians are still vigorously trying to defend against those efforts by the Ukrainians, and casualties are being taken even as you and I are talking. And I think it’s important to remember that.
So what we’re going to stay focused on is making sure that Ukraine can continue to succeed on the battlefield and not speculate about what this might or might not do on the political spectrum inside Russia. As President Biden said very well earlier, “This is an internal matter for the Russian system.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff.
Q John, do you see President Putin as being weakened as a result of these events over the weekend?
MR. KIRBY: Again, we’re focused on what’s going on in Ukraine. This is an internal Russian matter. And I think it’s important to remember that Mr. Putin still commands a very large and a very capable military, and the bulk of that military is across the border in Ukraine. And that military is defending itself against Ukrainian attacks.
And we’ve got to stay focused on what really matters mostly in front of us, and that’s helping Ukraine succeed on the battlefield. And that’s what we’re doing.
Q Can you clarify whether there were U.S.-Russian military-to-military contacts over this?
MR. KIRBY: All I can tell you is that we, through various diplomatic channels, conveyed — conveyed those messages to Russia directly. One, that there was no U.S. involvement here, nor will — no will there be or would there be. And that we expect Russia to observe its obligations — its international obligations for the protection of diplomatic personnel inside Moscow.
Q Do you have any idea —
MR. KIRBY: Actually, throughout the country.
Q Just a last follow-up on that: Do you have any indication that Russia thinks that the U.S. was — the U.S., the West, NATO, et cetera, were involved?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I — I can’t begin to speculate what Russians think or what Mr. Putin thinks.
Q (Inaudible) emphasizing that —
MR. KIRBY: Because —
Q — as did the President, right?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, we saw — we saw some social media activity by Foreign Minister Lavrov, who seemed to allude that some sort of investigation was in the offing at the suspicion of the involvement of Western intelligence services. And I think we could all spare Mr. Lavrov the effort by just making it clear there was no U.S. involvement whatsoever — no Western involvement.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kelly.
Q I wanted to follow up on that as well. Given the emphasis both you and the President have made today, do you think that that issue of U.S. involvement or our ability to know that some of — something was going to happen in advance contributes to the instability of the moment?
MR. KIRBY: The — we’re all concerned by any potential for instability in Russia, given the stakes and given what’s going on in Ukraine. And I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters one way or the other here.
The rift between Mr. Prigozhin and the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense was pla- — the Ministry of Defense — was playing out in public for all of you to see. The tensions, the frustrations, the anger, the accusations all played out publicly. That was no secret whatsoever.
Now, what that tension does inside Russia — again, that’s an internal Russian matter. What we’ve got to do is not get distracted by that and make sure that we’re focused on supporting Ukraine.
Q I want to follow up on a different subject briefly. At the question-and-answer event with the President and Prime Minister Modi, our colleague, Sabrina Siddiqui of the Wall Street Journal, asked a question of the Prime Minister. And since that time, she has been subjected to some intense online harassment from people inside India. Some of them are politicians; they have associations with the pro-Modi government. And in part they’ve been targeting her because of her Muslim faith and questioning her own heritage.
Because this was supposed to be about democracy and — in some form — wanted to find out what is the White House reaction to the fact that a journalist posing a question to a democratic leader is getting that kind of pushback.
MR. KIRBY: We’re aware of the reports of that harassment. It’s unacceptable. And we absolutely condemn any harassment of journalists anywhere under any circumstances. That’s just — that’s completely unacceptable. And it’s antithetical to the very principles of democracy that — that — you’re right — were on display last week during the state visit.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Richard.
Q Thank you. Kirby, so do you agree that the counteroffensive — the Ukraine counteroffensive has gone more slowly than expected? And do you feel — do you
analyze that, considering the Wagner Group will be busy doing something else, that it will help this counteroffensive?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know what the Wagner Group is going to be busy doing here. Again, I think it’s too soon — to Aamer’s question — it’s just too soon to know how this is going to play out, whether in Africa or elsewhere and, certainly, in Ukraine.
And I am not — I have said before, and I’ll say it again today — I’m not going to do armchair quarterbacking of the counteroffensive from — from this podium. That’s up to President Zelenskyy to speak to.
They — our focus is on making sure that they have what they need to succeed, whether it’s training, tools, equipment. And you’re going to see another round of support announced from this administration for Ukraine in terms of weapons and capabilities this week. So we are focused on that. That’s — that’s what — that’s where our heads are.
Q And just to make sure, Kirby, that I understand well: The NSC — how much did the NSC know about the development — the development of this — of this Wagner movement towards Moscow before it started?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, as I think I mentioned to Kelly, the dispute and the tension between Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense was widely known. It was public.
Q But to the point it was rolling towards Moscow.
MR. KIRBY: It — it was all — all that tension was public. I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, go ahead, Ed. And then we’ll go to the back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ed goes first, and then we’ll go to the back.
Q Thank you, John. Thank you for doing this. So, what should we call what transpired over the weekend? Is it a mutiny, coup, or attempted coup — an armed rebellion?
MR. KIRBY: We’re not slapping a bumper sticker on it, Ed.
Q In the U.S. assessment, was the objective ever really to directly threaten Putin or the Kremlin?
MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry, can you say that again?
Q In the U.S.’s assessment, was it ever the Wagner Group’s intent to directly target Putin or the Kremlin?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I would let the parties speak for themselves here in terms of what transpired and what motivations there were for these actions. That’s not something that we could accurately or even appropriately speak to.
What I can speak to is: We made sure that we lashed up early and have stayed lashed up with our allies and partners to make sure we all have the same kind of perspective on this and were approaching it from the same way, and that we made appro- — appropriate communications with the Russians about our — their obligations to protect our diplomats and to make sure that they knew we weren’t involved.
Q You were describing early attempts to communicate with the Russians about what happened. Did they respond in real time to any of that outreach?
MR. KIRBY: There were appropriate diplomatic discussions that occurred over the course of the weekend, again, to send those two messages.
Q So, is the U.S. confident the Russians would be responsive in the event of a nuclear or other real crisis, given how they were this weekend?
MR. KIRBY: I would just tell you, Ed — and this has been the case for the last 16 months; I mean, Russia is a nuclear power — that we have been monitoring as best we can Russian strategic posture, their nuclear capabilities. That continues.
And we’ve seen no indication — outside of the blustery rhetoric, we’ve seen no indication that there is any intent to use nuclear weapons inside Ukraine. And I can also assure you that we’ve done nothing — we’ve seen nothing that would — that would compel us to change our own strategic deterrent posture.
Q But just given how the interactions went over the weekend, you’re confident they’d respond in real time if there was some other kind of crisis?
MR. KIRBY: We had — we had good, direct communications with the Russians over the course of the weekend. It’s our expectation that that would be able to continue going forward.
Q And just to button up real quick, given all that interaction this weekend, what you guys have seen, can you say right now who is in charge of the Russian military?
MR. KIRBY: The Russian military — I mean, first of all, I — I wouldn’t — it’s not my job to speak for another military.
But there’s absolutely no indication that there’s been any changes that we’ve seen in the chain of command for the Russian military forces.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jon, in the back. Go ahead. Jon.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, the NATO Summit is just a few weeks away. How have the events of this past weekend in any way changed or modified the agenda for the NATO Summit?
MR. KIRBY: I think it’s, again, too soon here. This just happened over the weekend. So I think I’d be fibbing to you if I told you that there was some sort of big agenda item changed because of what happened over the weekend. We’ll have to see how this plays out. It’s just too soon to know what the impacts are.
It’s going to be an important NATO Summit regardless, because we are now, you know, almost a year and a half into war here in Ukraine. We’ve got a new NATO member in Finland and, hopefully soon, a 32nd member. So there is an awful lot on the agenda to speak to, and it’s a critical time for the Alliance. So the President is looking forward to it.
Q Does the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q — administration subscribe to the view, as it relates to Russian leadership who essentially leads that country, that the devil you know is better than the devil that you don’t know?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not sure I completely understand the — the question. But let me tack it this way, and if I’m wrong —
Q I — I can try a little (inaudible), if you’d like.
MR. KIRBY: Okay. Because you — you lost me there a little bit —
Q Well —
MR. KIRBY: — on the “devil” stuff.
Q Well, I — I’m sorry to get into that. I was just simply saying: Would you prefer to have Vladimir Putin leading Russia or an entity like the Wagner Group or someone named from the Wagner Group leading the Russian government?
MR. KIRBY: We believe it’s up to the Russian people to determine who their leadership is. And we would prefer to see Russia not invade their neighboring countries. We would prefer to see Russia, since they already did that, remove all their troops from Ukraine and end the war today, which they could do. That’s what we prefer.
Q Thanks. John, you said a number of times you’ve declined to comment on, you know, Putin’s grip on power in Russia by saying it’s an internal Russian matter. Is that a deliberate decision by the U.S. government to avoid contributing to the notion that the U.S. was somehow behind this? Or does the White House simply not have an assessment at this moment of his grip on power?
MR. KIRBY: We’re just not going to involve ourselves in speaking to an internal domestic Russian issue right now. We’re staying focused on supporting Ukraine.
And the — I just want to disavow you of any idea that the reason why we’re saying we weren’t involved has something to do with not wanting to comment about the situation in Moscow and Mr. Putin’s leadership.
It — it was important to say it for the — on the face of it that we weren’t involved and we have no intention of being involved. What we are going to be involved in is supporting Ukraine.
Q And then there’s been — you know, Brent Crude increased this morning. There was higher European natural gas prices. How closely is the administration monitoring potential energy price shocks as a result of instability in Russia?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve been watching it since the beginning of the war — actually, before the beginning of the war, and we’ll continue to do that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: April.
Q John, I want to kind of get into the weeds on — on Jeff’s question on weakness. Are you concerned about the instability in Russia because of the nuclear capability? If they have to come out stronger, they could use that. Is that the reason for your concern about instability?
MR. KIRBY: I think you’ve got to take a broader view of that, April. I mean, the reason we’re — we would be concerned about instability in Russia is the war in Ukraine, predominantly.
Yes, Russia is a nuclear power. And yes, that’s of concern. And yes, we continue to monitor that.
But, I mean, I just think if you look at the scope of recent events — again, over the past year and a half — there’s a lot of reasons to be concerned about stability in Russia and the impact that that could have on the Ukrainian people and on the European continent.
Q And as you said, over the last year and a half, going back to what Jeff said, this administration acknowledged that they were shocked that it took Russia so long. They have not shown to be the power — the military might that everyone thought they were. And then, what happens this weekend — does it show cracks in Russia’s military might, who they are as we perceive them?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, again, I’m not going to — we’re not going to characterize the events of the weekend or be able to contextualize it for you beyond what we’ve said before. It’s just too soon to know what impacts this is going to have on Ukraine and on Russia — quite frankly, throughout Europe. It’s just too soon to know.
But broadly speaking, I mean, we’re now in 16 months of war, a war that was advertised by the Russian side as only going to be taking a few days. And now we’re 16 months into it. Clearly, you don’t need me to tell you; the history of this conflict has shown that the Russian military is not as vaunted as perhaps they wanted to characterize themselves as.
But — and this is a big “but,” and I think it’s an important point to make — as Ukraine conducts offensive operations this summer to claw back some of that territory, they are running into a Russian defense, and the Russians have invested in those defensive capabilities. And so, as I said in my opening statement, casualties are being taken on both sides. There’s a lot of active fighting right now in the east and the south of the country.
And again, not to sound like a broken record, but what we’re trying to do is make sure that the Ukrainians have everything they need to be successful in that fight.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, is the President at all disappointed that this episode came and went, and Vladimir Putin is still in power?
MR. KIRBY: The President is focused on supporting Ukraine. We didn’t — we’re not taking sides in this internal matter. The President is going to make sure that we’re staying focused on Ukraine.
Q He did say, though, in March 2022, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
MR. KIRBY: Regime change —
Q And this might have changed that.
MR. KIRBY: Regime change is not our policy. We’ve been very, very clear about that.
What we’re focused on is making sure Ukraine can succeed on the battlefield.
Q What was his demeanor like when he was getting the hour-to-hour updates?
MR. KIRBY: Look, I wasn’t with the President when he was getting these, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak to his demeanor.
As you know, the President very keenly tracks foreign policy developments around the world. His national security team was giving him updates literally hour by hour throughout the weekend. And he was absorbing all that information and making sure that, in the context of absorbing it, he was also sharing our perspectives with allies and partners.
And as I said, those conversations, they didn’t — it wasn’t just one and done. He’s had several over the course of the last couple of days, and you’re going to see that continue going forward.
Q And one last one on the conversations with our allies. You had said: We’re not going to get involved in these events. We would not at any point.
But if this had turned to a nuclear situation, what was the conversation with our allies about how that would be addressed?
MR. KIRBY: I wouldn’t speculate on hypotheticals, Jacqui.
Q Who was leading that?
MR. KIRBY: I wouldn’t get into hypotheticals. They were talking about the situation as we were seeing it unfold. They were communicating with each other, our allies and partners, about their perspectives — what they were seeing, what we were seeing; sharing as much context as we could; and making sure that we all had sort of the same sight picture and that we were basically all reacting in real time in roughly the same way. It was important for that — for that to be the case. And so, that’s really where the focus was.
On the nuclear thing — I mean, again, I’m not going to hypothesize here, but we continue to watch this very, very closely. We’ve seen a lot of reckless rhetoric coming out of the Russian side. We watch it closely. We just have seen no indication that Mr. Putin has any intention of using nuclear weapons inside Ukraine or anywhere else, for that matter.
And I can assure you we have done nothing to change our own strategic deterrent posture when it comes to that — to that potential threat.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ken. Go ahead, Ken.
Q John, just on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to come to the back. Go ahead, Ken.
Q — Prigozhin’s status: Does the U.S. have any assessment on whether his safety was ensured as part of this deal? Or is there a belief that his life could be in jeopardy?
MR. KIRBY: We don’t know the parameters of this deal. We weren’t a party to it. I’d point you to the parties to it to speak to the details of it. We just don’t have visibility on that.
Q And then, just in terms of the war itself, do you have an assessment of just how much, to what extent the Wagner’s forces have been diluted in Ukraine and what that might mean for the Ukrainian troops?
MR. KIRBY: “Deluded” with a “D” or “diluted” with a “T”?
Q “Diluted” with a “T.” Just in terms of the size of the force in Ukraine now, as — you know, as opposed to last week.
MR. KIRBY: Oh, you mean siphoned off in the fight.
Q Yeah, exactly.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, it’s unclear right now where the bulk of the Wagner forces are. I mean, we’ve seen some reporting, mostly through the press and social media, that many of them moved back across into Ukraine, but we’re not in a position to verify or validate those reports. So, it’s really unclear where they all are and where they all might go or what they might do in terms of the future.
Un- — it’s indisputed, of course — undisputed, of course, that Wagner played a role, particularly in the fight for Bakhmut. They were reinforced by Russian military forces, and that had a major factor on their ability to take that town.
But as I have said many, many times, I mean, Wagner’s approach here was just to throw bodies at the fight — largely ill-trained, ill-equipped, and poorly led, but just body after body after body. And they suffered a lot — tens of thousands of casualties — just tra- — just taking Bakhmut, all for a town which, I’ve also said, didn’t have any strategic value to the Russians one way or another.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nadia.
Q Thank you. Can you confirm that Mr. Prigozhin is in Belarus —
MR. KIRBY: No.
Q — as Senator Warner seemed to indicate?
MR. KIRBY: I cannot.
Q Okay. Can you give us your assessment of the group? Can it survive without him? Or do you think that he was a central figure that he was able to control it — all its operation, whether it’s —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah —
Q — in Ukraine or in Africa?
MR. KIRBY: — I think I’d give you the same answer I gave Aamer. It’s just too soon to know what the future of Wagner is going to be. We’re going to stay focused on the group. Of course, we have to.
They — they do operate outside of Ukraine. And we have levied lots of sanctions against them. And we’ll continue to hold them accountable, as — as appropriate.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. And thanks, John. Earlier today, President Biden said that he would be speaking with additional heads of state this afternoon. I wonder if you can give us any details about who, the substance, the timbre of those conversations; about whether what he’s trying to convey today is different or evolving from what he tried to convey over the weekend.
MR. KIRBY: The call that he was alluding to earlier is to the prime minister of Italy, Prime Minister Meloni. And that call should be taking place just about now. We’ll give you a readout when it’s over. But it’ll be very much in keeping with the kinds of readouts you’ve seen over the last 48 hours.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q John, Prigozhin, in his first message since all of this came do- — went down, said that he wanted to “avoid Russian bloodshed” and that he marched in a “demonstration of protests, not to overturn power in the country.” Does the U.S. buy that?
MR. KIRBY: We’re not taking a position on Mr. Prigozhin’s motivations.
Q Okay. And then, secondly, has the U.S. been able to corroborate the allegations that Prigozhin made that he says were the pretext for this attempted insurrection? He said that 30 Wagner fighters died after a Russian military attack on their position on Friday.
MR. KIRBY: I cannot confirm those reports.
Q And then, lastly, do you have any — I know you’ve said that you have no idea where Prigozhin is right now. Is that correct?
MR. KIRBY: That’s correct.
Q What’s your — what’s your sense of where this goes? Do you believe that this is over now — that his attempted insurrection failed, it’s not going to restart again? Or are you still monitoring for the possibility that Wagner fighters might attempt something like this again?
MR. KIRBY: We don’t know. We don’t know where this goes or whether this is really the end, which is why we are going to continue to monitor it and why the President is still getting routinely updated and will in the coming days.
Q And very quickly, do you have any sense of whether Ukraine was able to take advantage of this chaos over — over the weekend, in terms of —
MR. KIRBY: I’m not sure what you mean by “take advantage” of it.
Q Take advantage in — from a military standpoint, in terms of their offensive in the east of Ukraine.
MR. KIRBY: Again, I would let the Ukrainians speak to their military operations. All I would say — and it’s why I wanted to put it right up top when I started here — is that there’s a lot of fighting going on in the east and south of Ukraine. They are still trying to get a territory back from the Russians, and they are still inflicting and taking casualties.
So, the fight goes on. Now, how much and to what degree in any given area that fighting was adjusted or changed, slowed down or sped up as a result of the weekend, I just couldn’t speak to it. Certainly nothing discernible from our perspective. But again, the Ukrainians would have to speak to their operations.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Earlier today, the President said that he and allies had talked about planning for several different scenarios over the course of the weekend. Could you speak to some of those scenarios?
MR. KIRBY: No. (Laughter.)
Q And he and President Zelenskyy have communicated yesterday. Have they spoken today? Can you give us a sense of their conversations?
MR. KIRBY: There has not been another conversation with President Zelenskyy since the — the one that we’ve already read out to you that occurred yesterday.
But as you heard the President say, he does expect to be speaking again with President Zelenskyy very, very soon. And of course, we’ll read that out to you when it happens, as we always do.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Steven.
Q Thanks, John. The President, earlier today — and you here — have broadcast the message that was sent by the West privately to Putin. Is there a message that you would send publicly to the people of Russia?
MR. KIRBY: This has — I think, you know, the best thing I could do is point you back to the President’s speech when we went to Warsaw several months ago, and he had a whole section in there about the Russian people.
And — and that would still be our message today: that this is — our issue with what Russia is doing in Ukraine is with the Kremlin and the Russian military and, of course, their enablers, such as the Wagner Group; it’s not with the Russian people. It’s not with men, women, and children that live in that country and — and who didn’t make this rash and reckless and illegal decision to invade a neighboring country in a completely unprovoked way.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Anita.
Q Thank you. Can we just talk about the White House’s assessment of other nations’ reactions to whatever we’re calling this thing over the weekend, specifically Tehran’s reaction, Beijing’s reaction, and New Delhi? Did — did Washington engage with any of those three?
And then, also, we know that the NSC had meetings in Copenhagen this weekend with BRICS countries. Has — can you just tell us what came out of that and whether they’ve adjusted their posture on (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: So, on your first question, as we have these conversations, certainly at the President’s level or at the Cabinet level, they will be read out to you. So I don’t have any other conversations to speak to, and I certainly would not get into the business of characterizing another country’s attitudes or reflections or perspectives. They can speak for themselves.
We’ve been very focused on how we’re looking at this and how we’re tracking things.
On the — on the meeting in Copenhagen, I think you know the National Security Advisor attended virtually, and Senior Director for Europe, Amanda Sloat, was there in person in Copenhagen.
It was a meeting called by the Ukrainians, hosted by Denmark, but it was a Ukrainian meeting. And it was really about having a discussion about the principles of peace and this idea of a just peace and where that can go, and what’s the right next steps to try to achieve a just peace in Ukraine.
And it was a valuable discussion, I’m told productive, and a — and a, you know, good variety of countries that were there representing, you know, places from all over the world.
Again, I’d let those countries speak for their participation and their takeaways.
But our takeaway was it was a — it was worth the time and worth having that discussion.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, in the white top there.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thank you, Admiral. What does the White House make of — it’s on the Middle East — what does the White House make of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call today to eradicate the idea of establishing a Palestinian state and to cut off the Palestinian aspirations regarding establishing one?
MR. KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, so I’m going to refrain from a specific reaction to them until I’ve had a chance to see them and — and look at them and discuss that with — with the rest of the team.
I will only say that the President remains committed to the value and the viability of a two-state solution. (Reporter sneezes.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Bless you.
Q Thank you. There is some concern in such countries like Poland and Lithuania, neighboring Belarus, about possible movement of Wagner’s troop to Belarus. You just said that you don’t know where they are, but will you be able to track them? And if there is a movement of Wagner’s Group’s soldiers to Belarus, wouldn’t it require strengthening eastern flan- — flank of NATO just in case?
And on another topic: Is there any movement on Sweden’s membership to NATO? Are there any signs that may suggest that Sweden may join NATO before Vilnius summit?
MR. KIRBY: The President is still optimistic that they will, and we look forward to welcoming them into the Alliance. The conversations between Sweden and Turkey continue. We encourage that dialogue, and we hope that it’ll very soon come to a positive conclusion.
On your first question: We just don’t know what the future is here for Wagner and — and where those troops are going to go and what they’re going to do. We just don’t know.
So this idea of tracking them — I mean, I couldn’t begin to answer that question for you with specificity.
What we are going to track is what’s going on inside Ukraine. And we’re going to make sure that we’re also in constant communication with the Ukrainians about what they need to be successful. That’s where the focus is.
Now, on your question about the eastern flank, we have already bolstered the eastern flank. President Biden ordered an additional 20,000 American troops to the eastern flank of NATO, and they have stayed there. So we now have about 100,000 American troops on the European continent, the most since, you know, World War Two. And that’s a significant presence, and we’re going to continue to evaluate that with our Allies along that flank to — you know, if we have to adjust, we’ll adjust, but there’s already been a significant contribution by the United States to the — to the eastern flank of NATO.
Q You have no concerns about security of NATO Summit in Vilnius if Wagner’s troops move to Belarus?
MR. KIRBY: Again, that’s a hypothetical I can’t possibly answer, in terms of where they’re going to go.
We’re looking forward to a productive NATO Summit. And, of course, security for summits like that are always a prime concern for all the nations involved.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, David.
Q Thanks. A couple questions. The fact that this Wagner convoy could travel a main highway without being stopped by any kind of airpower, does that reflect to you any kind of issues with Russian command and control?
MR. KIRBY: I can’t speak to that.
Q Okay. And then secondly, in terms of the kind of Ukrainian counteroffensive, what’s your assessment of the pace of how that’s going? Is that going slower than it should be?
MR. KIRBY: President Zelenskyy himself, I think, spoke publicly last week, saying that — you know, that it’s — it’s going slower in some areas than — than he would have liked. He’s the commander-in-chief. You know, he gets to make those determinations, and he gets to give those orders.
As I said earlier, the Russians have invested a lot in the last six, eight months in terms of defensive capabilities. In some cases, their defensive lines are three deep. And by “three deep,” I don’t mean just three feet. I mean, miles and miles and miles deep, but three big lines of defense.
They knew that the Ukrainians were going to — going to want to take back territory in the spring and summer months, and they — and they worked to prepare it.
And defense — as any military history student will tell you, defense is the stronger form of war, and so the Ukrainians are running into Russian defenses. And it — and by President Zelenskyy’s own — in his own analysis, it has — it has slowed them down a little bit.
Q Is there a possibility or even a hope on the U.S. side here that the instability that we’re seeing, kind of, in Russia between (inaudible) Wagner — that that weakens, I guess, the Russian defense (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: Again, too soon to know. Just too soon to know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, just a couple more. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. And thank you, Admiral. So, can you please expand on the early assessments from the U.S. on the impact of the developments in Russia on the war in Ukraine and whether it signals the beginning of the end for the war?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I think it’s — not to sound like a broken record, but it’s just too soon to know what the impact to the war in Ukraine is going to be as a result of the events over the last weekend. And I just don’t know that it would be helpful to speculate that.
I do want to keep centering you, though, and reminding you that there are tens of thousands of Russian troops and vehicles and capabilities — air and ground, in fact — and sea — that they have still available to them to try to defend against Ukrainian offensive operations. And they are doing that.
I mean, even as all this stuff happened over the course of the weekend, there was fighting inside Ukraine from these two forces.
Q How concerned are you at this point that Putin could take any more extreme measures to demonstrate his control?
MR. KIRBY: That’s going to be a decision for Vladimir Putin to make, and I wouldn’t begin to speculate about what that might be.
We have been watching Russian actions and leadership since the beginning of the — actually, before the beginning of the war. And one thing that we have always talked about, unabashedly so, is that it’s in nobody’s interest for this war to escalate beyond the level of violence it has already visited upon the Ukrainian people. It’s not good for, certainly, Ukraine. It’s not good for our allies and partners in Europe. Quite frankly, it’s not good for the Russian people.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sebastian.
Q Thank you. Hello, Admiral. During this — during this whole drama, was the administration happy and content that all the nuclear weapons in Russia were, like, totally under control the whole time? Or was that actually something that was beginning to worry people over on this side, given the chaos and, briefly, actual complete — no one having any clue who’s in charge anymore?
MR. KIRBY: “Happy” and “content” are two words I don’t normally associate with monitoring nuclear activity. (Laughter.)
Q Hey, some people get their kicks, you know, in different ways. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: Not us.
Look, we monitor this very closely. And all I can tell you is that we’ve seen no indication that Mr. Putin is interested in moving in that direction and nor have we seen anything that would cause us to change our own deterrent posture. That’s really as far as I can go on that.
Q I’m sorry, I didn’t mean a question on Mr. Putin but rather that there was a period of — however many it was — 12, 16, 18 hours — where actually no one was totally sure who was in charge and it’s still a nuclear-armed country. So, that period.
MR. KIRBY: As I said, instability in Russia is something that, you know, we take seriously. And we certainly had lots of questions over the course of the weekend, as did you, about the situation in Russia and the issue of stability. And we did have and were able to have in real time, through diplomatic channels, conversations with Russian officials about — about our concerns.
I can’t get — just have to leave it at that.
Q Given the role that Belarus appeared to play, at least in ending this uprising, does that give any new insight from your vantage point on the relationship between Putin and Lukashenko?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think so. I mean, Lukashenko and Belarus have, you know, basically been a surrogate for Mr. Putin and for Russia for quite some time, certainly before this war started. And Belarus has — even though they have not actively involved themselves in the fighting, they have certainly allowed Belarusian soil to be used for staging activities, for the launching of attacks inside Ukraine, for the storage of Russian capabilities. I mean, they have — they have been an enabler for Mr. Putin.
So, I don’t know that there was a lot of shock or surprise that — that Mr. Lukashenko got involved. But again, I’d — I’d let those parties speak to that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Last question, way in the back. Emel.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John. Do you believe this instability in Russia will have an impact on Beijing’s relations with Moscow? Do you hope that China’s support for the Kremlin will decline as a result of this?
MR. KIRBY: I’ll let — we’ll the PRC and President Xi speak for himself.
We don’t want to see any country at all support Mr. Putin and make it easier for him to kill more Ukrainians. We want to see every country around the world sign up and actually implement the sanctions that are in place — the international sanctions, not provide any ability for Mr. Putin to continue to operate his — his war machine. And we have communicated that not just to the PRC, but to other countries all around the world.
Now, what they do about this is going to be for them to speak to. All I can do is tell you what President Biden is focused on, and that’s making sure, A, we’re staying abreast of what’s going on and that the Ukrainians know nothing is going to change about our support.
Q And, secondly, according to reports, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to visit China next month. Do you have any reaction?
MR. KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports. But, obviously, he’s the elected leader, the Prime Minister of Israel. He gets to speak for his travel habits and where he goes and who he wants to talk to. And — and that’ll be up for — that’ll be up for them to talk about.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, John. Thanks.
Q Was this an intelligence failure, John?
Q (Inaudible) Chinese troop in Cuba?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So there’s one thing I just want to address really quickly, which I think is really important. It goes to Kelly O’s question about Sabrina and what she has been dealing with since Thursday.
So I just want to just reiterate a little bit what John said — is that we’re certainly — here, at the White House, under this administration, we’re committed to the freedom of the press, which is — which is why we had the press conference last week. So just want to remind folks that’s why we had the press conference last week.
And just to also just repeat what you just all heard from my colleague: We certainly condemn any efforts of intimidation or harassment of a journalist or any journalist that is just trying to do their job. And so, I just want to —
Q So are you going to take questions from me?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just want to be very clear about that.
Q Are you going to take questions from me because you’ve been discriminating against me for the past nine months.
Q Please stop. How is she discriminating against you?
Q No, she — she called on you. She just gave you a few questions. I just need a question in nine months.
Q If you ask a question — just ask a question.
Q Please. Allow me —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Aamer. Kick us off.
Q — to do my job and ask my question.
Q And so, I wanted to —
Q When you say that journalists are being —
Q — I wanted to ask on forgiving of student debt. The administration booked up four —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. If this continues, we’re going to end the press briefing.
Q I’ve been in this briefing room. I’ve been trying to ask you one question when I am on.
Q Simon, stop. Simon, stop.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: If this continues — you’re being incredibly rude.
Q Simon, stop.
Q When President Biden —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re incredibly rude. You’re being incredibly rude.
Q No, no, what you are doing is —
Q Simon, stop.
Q — you are not giving me freedom of the press.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re talking over your colleagues.
Q You are not applying it in this — in this briefing room.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re talking — you’re talking over your colleagues.
Q I have a question, I think —
Q I’m not talking over the colleagues.
Q — that’s important that I’d like to ask. When President Biden forgave student debt, the administration booked a $400 billion cost that added to the deficit at the end of last fiscal year.
How does the administra- — administration plan to look at this issue, given the pending Court decision? Will you book the deficit reduction and debt forgiveness? Or will it stay in hopes of challenging the ruling?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’m not going to get ahead of the ruling. Right? We — we are — we’re — we are very confident that we are — that the law is on our side here. And — and so certainly not going to get it ahead of what is going to happen and what the Supreme Court is going to — is going to rule.
We are confident in our legal authority, as we’ve said over and over again. And as you all know, and I think I’ve said this before, the Soli- — Solicitor General made a compelling argument before the Court, so we’re certainly not going to get ahead of this decision.
Look, when it comes to the deficit, this is a president — and he’s shown this by his action on how much he takes lowering the deficit — decreasing the deficit, makes that a priority. We’ve seen that in a record number, $1.7 trillion, and in the first two years. That is something — because of the — what the President has put forward in his economic policies, he’s been able to do that.
And in the budget negotiation that you all covered and saw, one of the things that he made sure is that that budget negotiation lowered the deficit by another trillion dollars. So this is something that the President certainly cares about and certainly has taken action and moved forward with making sure that his economic policy does just that.
Look, when — more broadly, as it relates to the student loan, we — we’ve been very clear: We think it is certainly important, as people — as we’re coming out of this pandemic, to give folks — and the pause is going to be lifted, as we all know, in August — to make sure that we give Americans — American families a little bit of breathing room. That is what this does.
And because of this, it is actually going to be able to bring — put money back into the economy, if you think about people being able to buy a home now, if you think about people being able to actually do more with this burden that they’ve been carrying and they’ve had to deal with.
So we think it’s part of that economic policy agenda to make sure that we are not leaving anybody behind but also building an economy that is — that is important and that is also fiscally responsible at the same time.
Q All right. Just very briefly: Senator Manchin was here earlier today. Was there any engagement by the President or anyone else, senior staff, on Acting Secretary Su’s nomination? And has there been any determination of how long she could stay in that role — in the acting?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as I’ve stated before, we — we believe that Julie Su is highly qualified to be Labor Secretary. As you know, she served as deputy secretary for two years, and now she’s clearly acting secretary.
And we are doing everything that we can, in our power, to make sure that she is successful in becoming the next — the next Labor Secretary. And I think I’ve laid out actions that we have taken every day, even during the budget negotiation, to make those calls, to have conversations with senators on the Hill, and to get her through.
I don’t have anything to share ahead of that, but we continue to support a swift confirmation of her. I don’t have a readout of a Manchin — us — a ma- — a conversation with Senator Manchin in the last couple of hours. But I can assure you that our team here, Office of Leg Affairs, and other members of the different offices here at the White House has certainly been all hands on deck in trying to make sure that we get her through.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Karine, to follow up on the press freedom issue that you touched on, can you give us a sense of the discussion between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi about that? What — what did they discuss and what did President Biden say to him about not only press freedom, but the other human rights issues that are so clear in India right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as we’ve said many times, the President has nev- — will never shy away on having those conversation with a — with a world leader, a head of state, when it comes to human rights. He has done that throughout the past two years and through his career as a vice president and certainly as a senator.
I’m not going to get into private conversations, but I think we have made ourselves very clear here on — on our view. And I’ll just leave it there.
Q Did the President accept Prime Minister Modi’s answer to Sabrina —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So —
Q — about — about the human rights issues and — and attacks on Muslims and others in — in his country?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, we were asked this question last week on Friday, and I think that is for the Prime Minister to answer and for — for all you all to — to — to, you know, critique or write about it. I’m not going to discuss that from here.
What I know is that we are committed — we are certainly committed to the freedom of the press, which is why we had — we held a press conference last Thursday, which is why we thought it was important for you all to be — to hear from both, not just from the President, but also from the Prime Minister, and for journalists to be able to ask a question.
Q A follow-up on India?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeremy.
Q Thanks, Karine. I wanted to ask you about this new “Bidenomics” messaging push. Can you just give me a sense, first, of, you know, how did you guys coin that phrase, or why did you decide to go with that branding going forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You don’t like “Bidenomics”?
Q No, I’m just asking. I’m curious.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think it’s — I think it’s pretty clever. It’s pretty good.
Look, it makes good sense, “Bidenomics.” Right? It kind of flows off the tongue really well.
But in all seriousness, look, what you’re going to hear from the President — I don’t want to get ahead of him — I think we’ve kind of laid out a little bit of what — what we — what we are thinking — or what we think the President is going to lay out or what he is going to lay out.
Certainly, it’s a vision — right? — it’s a vision about growing the economy from the middle out, the bottom up. You hear us say that over and over again, because we believe that trickle-down economics does not work. And we have seen that over and over and over again.
And what we have seen, even before the pandemic, is we’ve seen Americans and American families being left behind. And so one of the things that you are — the data — if you look at the data and what we have — we’ve seen from what the President has been able to deliver in the last two years is an economy that’s getting back on its feet, an economy that’s actually delivering for the American people: 13 million jobs; you know, unemployment rate at under 4 percent.
When you think about wages going up, when you think about inflation at its lowest by more than 50 percent than it was a year ago, that’s because of the work that this President has done. And he’s going to continue to focus on what we can do to lower cost for the American people. And so, that is incredibly important.
Look, it’s going to be a cornerstone speech, as you’ve heard me say. It’s going to be an opportunity to talk about the historic progress — right? — as we’re talking about implementing those historic pieces of legislation.
And so, all of those things go hand in hand. And we believe that that is the vision of the President and, hence, Bidenomics.
Q Well, the reason — one of the reasons I asked is because, you know, the latest CNN polling showed that just 34 percent of Americans approve of the President’s handling of the economy. So, is there a risk that this new branding could backfire? And are you confident that this new messaging push is going to change Americans’ opinions of the President’s handling of the economy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we believe our job is to continue to speak to the American people to lay out what it is that the President is doing on behalf of American families. And that is important. And we have the data to prove it. We have the numbers to show that his economic policy has indeed worked.
Look, I kind of talked about this moments ago. This has been a challenging time for Americans, right? You had the pandemic. We just — we just had my colleague here talk about the war that Russia — that Mr. Putin has started in Ukraine and what that has done to — to inflation not just here, but around the world.
So we know that the American people is dealing — they’re dealing with a lot. But what we believe is that we have — we have — we have done the work. And we have shown that inflation — inflation has indeed come down. It is still too high.
And so — and so, the President is going to talk to that — to that. He’s going to speak to where the American people are. And he’s going to make sure that we lay out what is it that we have been able to do in historic fashion, to deal with where — what the American people is currently dealing with.
But look, 13 million jobs. Again, when you think about how Americans feel better about their personal finances, that is important. When you think about wages are going up; when you think about the really good-paying — millions of good-paying jobs that — union jobs that his policies are going to create — all the things that are really incredibly important.
So the President is going to continue to speak to that. And — and that’s what we — we believe we’re going — that is our — you know, our priority to do.
Q So you’re confident that you can change the public’s perception of the economy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to try. Right?
I think the President — when he has a moment, when he is at the podium — most of the time, when he’s speaking to the American people, he speaks to the economy. He speaks to lowering costs. He speaks to what matters to the American people. He talks about making sure that we give Americans a little bit more breathing room. He understands what it’s like at the end of the month when people are — families are sitting around their kitchen table talking about how they’re going to pay costs.
That’s why insulin at 35 bucks a month is so important — right? — for the senior citizens. That what’s — that’s what came out of the Inflation Reduction Act.
That’s why energy — making sure we’re lowering costs for energy is so important. That’s what came out of the Inflation Reduction Act.
And that’s just one piece of historic — that’s just one historic piece of legislation that is now into law.
So there are so many things that we have done that is — we believe that the American people need to hear directly from us. And that’s what you’re going to continue to see.
Let’s not forget the investment — the Invest in America tour, right? This is the site we’re about to launch the second part of that tour where — where Cabinet Secretaries — you’re going to see the principals are out there talking to the American people. So we believe it is important for us to do that. And that’s what you’re going to see.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q A follow-up to Jeremy’s question. Should we view Bidenomics as a response, answer to, or opposite of Reaganomics?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, we believe Reaganomics doesn’t work. We’ve been very clear. We believe that trickle-down — a trickle-down economy doesn’t work. It has not worked. That has shown to be the case for decades now.
And so, what we have been very clear — you hear me say this all the time: Building an economy from the — from the middle out and bottom up, that’s what we want to do. And every piece of historic legislation speaks to that, speaks to what the President wants to do very loud and clear, in historic fashion. Some of them in bipartisan way.
When you think about the inf- — infa- — the infrast- — infra- — infrastructure legislation — right? — and what that has been able to do bringing both sides together, making historic investments in our roads and our bridges. We just talked — the President just talked about broadband this morning — historic investment in broadbands to communities that have been left behind when we talk about that.
And so, all of these things are important. And so, this is — he is, if you will, reimagining how economy — how we sho- — we should build an economy, transf- — transforming how an economy should look like for the better so that we, again, do not leave anybody behind.
And it’s not about blue st- — just blue states. It’s about blue states, red states, rural America, urban America. It’s about everyone who he believes he is the president for.
Q I will just follow up. The —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Historians view Ronald Reagan as a top-10 president in their own surveys. He left office with a better than 60 percent approval rating. It’s argued — you don’t have to agree; I’m sure the President doesn’t — but, you know, many people believe that Ronald Reagan’s record, his economic record propelled the country to prosperity — “Morning in America,” late 1980s growth, propelling it for growth in the 1990s. What’s your response to the idea that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I will say — what I will say — and we have been very clear: Trickle-down economics does not work. It just does not work. It gives handouts to special interest and big corporations — that’s what we have seen — that would increase the debt, and it has increased the debt. That’s — we’ve seen. This is what we’ve seen in the last couple of decades.
It outsources jobs and raised utility bills for families. That’s why the President is making sure that we’re bringing jobs back to the United States — manufacturing jobs — 800,000 manufacturing jobs.
We’ve seen manufacturers wanting to invest in this country. We have not seen that in a long time, right? And so that is incredibly important.
Utility bills. I just talked about what the Inflation Reduction Act is going to do. All of those things is building an economy, transforming the way we see the economy in a different way — in a way, again, that is equal, that does eq- — has equality — equity at the center of it and leaves no one behind.
And the President is very proud — very proud in what he’s been able to do in the last two years. We understand there’s more work to do, and certainly we’re going to be — we’re going to do that.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President has called the previous administration’s policy of separating families who crossed the border illegally “a moral and a national shame.” USA Today published a story today that details how the Justice Department is defending that policy in a series of lawsuits filed by separated families.
So my question is: Why is the administration going to such lengths to defend a policy that the President himself says is a national — “a moral and a national shame”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the President repeatedly has said that Trump administration’s family separation policy was abhorrent, it was unconscionable, and viola- — violated every, every norm of who we are as a nation. He’s been very clear about that. He’s repeated that.
And that’s why on the first day in the office, he made sure to end the administration family separation policy. And — and what we’ve been able to do is we created a task force, as you know, where we’ve been able to reunite about 700 family members and also support families that were torn apart. And so we’re continuing to do that work.
And certainly, that is not going to stop. Again, that’s why we put together the task force. That was — that’s why we ended that very hateful policy.
So when it comes to DOJ and what they’re doing and how they’re moving forward on the litigation, I’m just not going to comment from here.
But our actions, policy wise, in the last two years — making sure that we reunite families, we still have that that task force going; making sure we’re supporting those families that were torn apart, ending that policy — I think, speaks for itself.
I’m just not going to get into the Department of Justice and what they’re doing.
Q Two questions on the Montana train derailment. How confident is the administration that it’s not going to have a negative effect on Yellowstone water?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So just a couple of things on that. So, obviously, this is something that we are monitoring, the train derailment in — that occurred in Montana on Saturday, so a couple of days ago.
The preliminary water sampling conducted by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA have not shown any risks to the public drinking water, which is obviously important to the community, to the state of Montana. EPA, Montana DEQ, and Montana Rail Link are actively monitoring water quality. And federal agencies, including the EPA and DOT, are coordinating with the governor’s office and local officials to assist in the — in the response.
And obviously, as always, whenever — whenever something like this happens, the White House is ready and — to — to offer any federal assistance. And, certainly, we are in regular communications with government officials on the ground.
Q On the heels of this and East Palest- — East Palestine, is there anything more the President can do to prevent more of these from happening?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I know the Department of Transportation certainly has been looking into this and evaluating these types of derailment, so I would certainly refer you to them. And I know that Secretary Buttigieg has taken this very seriously, as — as has the President. So we are doing everything that we can to address this — this — certainly, this issue of derailment across the country.
But as it relates to Montana, as it relates to even East Palestine, that community, we certainly were all hands on deck in making sure that we provided what the community needed. And in this most recent situation, we are — we’re here to offer any federal assistance that the state of Montana might — might need.
Q To the back, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jon.
Q Thanks a lot, Karine. Over the weekend, Speaker McCarthy floated this idea of launching an impeachment inquiry targeting Attorney General Merrick Garland. And the focus here, according to the Speaker, would be Merrick Garland’s weaponization of the DOJ. What’s your reaction to that idea?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you’ve heard me say repeatedly, over and over again at this podium, is that the President respects the Department of Justice’s independence. He respects the rule of law. And that is what you’re going to see under this administration.
So I’m not going to speak to any — any — anything that is related to that piece.
But I will say more broadly — look, we’ve been very clear: I just laid out — we talked about Bidenomics. I was just asked by one of your colleagues why the President is focusing on this, why he’s having this conversation with the American people, why we have coined this term.
That’s because the President believes that we have a lot of work to do for the American people, that this is the priorities of the American people: making sure we continue to build on the success that we’ve seen the last two years; continue to lower costs, making sure that we’re implementing those historic pieces of legislation, clearly, that is now law — the bipartisan infrastructure legislation. When you think about the — the CHIPS and Science Act, when you think about the Inflation Reduction Act, all of these pieces of legislation are — that are now law, clearly, are incredibly important.
And so, that’s what the President is going to talk about: investing in America.
And it’s unfortunate that congressional Republicans want to continue to focus on an issue that Americans are — that’s not their priority. They want us to move in a bipartisan way on everything that I just laid out. We saw that in — in November, in the midterm election. And that’s what they want to see.
And we would be — we would welcome congressional Republicans to join us on working on behalf of the American people, working on the priorities that they care about, working on lowering costs for — for American families across the country.
Q If the Republican-led House goes down this path, they have the numbers, if they wish to do so, to impeach the attorney general. They don’t have the numbers, however, just based upon the makeup of the Senate. Would you say, Karine, that this is a waste of time on the part of congressional Republicans?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I will say is basically what I just laid out seconds ago, Jon: It’s just — this is not the main priority of American families. They want us to come together in a bipartisan way to work on the things that they truly care about.
When it comes to the Dobbs decision — right? — when it comes to reproductive rights and reproductive healthcare, when it comes to making sure that we are working and focusing on lowering costs for American people, that’s what they want us to see. That’s what they want us to come together in a bipartisan way to deliver, to build on the successes that this President has done the last two years.
Q Thank you, Karine. I’ve got two quick questions. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is on the border, and he is escalating his attacks against the Biden administration, who, in his words, he calls, quote, “the critical link in an illegal transnational human smuggling syndicate.”
I’m wondering if the White House has any response to that kind of rhetoric.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait, say that one more time, because I have not — I have not heard his remarks.
Q The governor says that the White House, in his words, is “the critical link in an illegal transnational human smuggling syndicate.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I’m going to be careful because, yes, he’s the governor, but he’s also a candidate, so I’m bound by the Hatch Act. So I’m going to be incredibly careful, and I’m not going to comment on campaign ma- — matters.
What I can speak to is more broadly. And, you know, I will remind — remind you that Repub- — congressional Republicans just voted — literally, they just voted a few weeks ago, a month ago, to — for the biggest border security cut in history — the biggest cut in history — when it came to the Default on America Act. That’s what that was.
Part of that act was to cut border security. And that’s what they voted on.
And meanwhile, what this President has done, he has secured record funding for border security, he has record number of agents and officers securing our border, and is implementing policies that have resulted in significant drop in unlawful border crossings since Title 42. That is what the President has done.
And so, you know, I’m, again, going to be very mindful in how I respond. But speaking more broadly, I would say the question is to not us, but it is to congressional Republicans and what they have done to make this situation even more difficult by cutting — by cutting the budget for bo- — by voting to cut the budget for border security and not supporting this President in what he’s been trying to do.
Q And my second question: It’s not unusual for presidents to invite members of their family to official White House functions, like the State Dinner last week. I’m curious, though, in light of some of the recent legal controversy, if the President communicated to members of his family not to conduct business on White House grounds. Can you tell us a bit about any kinds of guardrails that are up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’m going to be, again, very mindful, because this is all connected to — to a case that the DOJ is currently overseeing. So I’m not going to comment on that specifically.
But as you know and we have laid out very — early on in this administration, when it comes to ethics, when it comes to how we all kind of move about and how we have — we respect, clearly, the government ethics here, this is a presi- — this is an administration has been incredibly transparent on that and has put some very strict — strict rules.
And so I can speak to that. I can speak to how the President has moved forward in making sure that the people who work for him and himself are — are held to, kind of, a strict course of action. But I’m not going to speak to anything that’s related to —
Q So —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — the case. I’m go- —
Q — (inaudible) White House staff about anything about guardrails —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just —
Q — for the President’s family?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not going to speak to anything that’s related to this case. I —
Q Do any guardrails exist?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I am not going to speak to anything — (laughs) — that is related to this case. As you stated, there are — we’ve had — when it comes to ethics, we take that very, very seriously here in this administration.
Thank you, everybody.
3:13 P.M. EDT