James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you all know, this morning, President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke to Prime Minister Netan- — Netanyahu. This was the President’s third conversation with him since this crisis began.
President Biden and Vice President Harris continue to meet with the national security team to receive updates and give direction on next steps. The President held 17 calls and meetings over Saturday, Sunday, and Monday with his national security team. The President and the Vice President have held more than three dozen meetings, briefings, and calls since the attacks — since the attacks on Israel began.
The President will continue to be relentless in ensuring that Israel and the Israeli people have what they need in support from the United States to defend themselves in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead — as you all know, you just heard directly from the President.
And I have the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, here to take any of your questions on this issue.
MR. SULLIVAN: Thanks, everybody. I’ll make a few comments, and then I’d be happy to take your questions.
Like many of you, we’ve watched in horror and anguish the scenes of butchery against innocent civilians at the hands of Hamas terrorists in Israel. And the more we learn, the greater our grief.
More than a thousand men, women, and children were slaughtered in their homes, on their streets, in desert fields — and among them, at least 14 Americans.
We mourn for all their lives, and we’re actively working with Israelis to determine the whereabouts of the missing, including missing American citizens.
As the President just said, what we’ve seen from Ha- — Hamas these past few days was the same evil and barbarity that we’ve seen from ISIS. The unspeakable horrors they perpetrated on innocent people — women, children, the elderly, babies — these were the scenes we saw in Iraq and Syria as ISIS rampaged through.
As President Biden said, this is not some distant tragedy. The bonds between Israel and America run long and they run deep. And we stand with Israel not just in these dark days but at all times.
As Karine just said, the President has been deeply engaged and giving direction to his national security team to take action to support Israel in its hour of need.
At his direction, the United States has surged ammunition and interceptors for Iron Dome. And the President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu just a little while ago to talk about additional capabilities that Israel will need. And he pledged that American planes will be landing in Israel with those capabilities in the days ahead.
And now, at the direction of the President, we are working with Congress to make sure that Israel maintains supply of these critical assets to defend its cities and its citizens, as well as the many U.S. citizens who live, work, and travel in Israel.
Also at President Biden’s direction, the U.S. military has enhanced its force posture in the region to strengthen our deterrence, including the movement of a carrier strike group into the Eastern Mediterranean. And we are prepared to move additional assets as necessary.
Let me be clear: We did not move the carrier for Hamas. We moved the carrier to send a clear message of deterrence to other states or non-state actors that might seek to widen this war.
The President has also tasked us with engaging in contingency planning for any and all escalation scenarios. And we are now deeply engaged in that planning. And we are consulting with allies and partners as well about all of the potential scenarios that might unfold in the days ahead.
Let me repeat what we’ve now said many times and what the President said just a short while ago so that everyone, including enemies who are thinking of exploiting the current situation, hear it loud and clear: The United States has always and will always have Israel’s back.
And to those families undergoing the unfathomable pain of having loved ones missing, our hearts go out to you. We cannot imagine the anguish you must be feeling right now.
We know that U.S. citizens are among the missing. And we know that U.S. citizens, as the President just said, are among the hostages.
We are working with the Israeli government and with our regional partners on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the U.S. government to advise the Israeli government and coordinate with them on hostage recovery efforts.
As the President just said, there is no higher priority than the safety and wellbeing of American citizens being held hostage overseas.
Over the coming days, we will continue to stand strongly with Israel to ensure that it is able to defend itself. And my team and I are working with our colleagues across the U.S. government every hour to keep the President updated on the latest developments, to take his direction and put it into action, and we’ll continue following his direction to provide Israel and the people of Israel all the support required at this time of need.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
Q Jake —
Q Jake, thank you —
Q Jake — oh, sorry. MJ, go.
MR. SULLIVAN: We’ll do you first, and then Steve.
Q Thank you, Jake.
Q Yeah, go ahead.
Q On the American hostages, can you, first of all, tell us how many are we talking about — several or a dozen hostages? And do you know anything about their condition at all?
MR. SULLIVAN: We do not know about their condition, and we cannot confirm the precise number of American citizens. We believe that there are 20 or more Americans who at this point are missing. But I want to underscore and stress that does not mean, necessarily, that there are 20 or more American hostages, just that is the number who are currently unaccounted for.
We will work hour by hour both to determine whether we can account for any of those Americans or to confirm exactly what the number of Americans are being held hostage. And we will come back to you with that information as soon as we have it.
As you know, very sadly and tragically, the number of dead has risen with each passing hour. And that’s true of the total number; it’s also true of Americans, which has gone up just today from an earlier report this morning of 12, then 13, now 14.
So, I cannot give you a precise number. I can tell you that number of unaccounted for at this time. That number could change, too. But I want to underscore that that is not a statement from me that we have that many hostages. We do not know the number of hostages we have at this time.
Q And did the President discuss with the Prime Minister the possibility of a ground incursion into Gaza and also how that might affect the American hostages that are in Gaza that are now confirmed?
MR. SULLIVAN: I am not going to get into the operational discussions that the President and the Prime Minister had. That is important for them to be able to keep in its discreet channel between them.
What I will tell you is that the President and Prime Minister did discuss how the United States can deploy expertise to help work on the hostage recovery efforts. That is what the United States is in the process of doing right now.
Q Under what circumstances would you put American forces on the ground to help out?
MR. SULLIVAN: At this point, that is not something that is under planning. What we are focused on when we talk about sending experts, it is people who can work on intelligence, who can work on overall planning, who can work on coordination with the Israeli government.
We are not currently sending forces to Israel. And I’ll leave it at that for now.
Q Has the President spoken to any of the families of the 14 American citizens who were killed?
MR. SULLIVAN: He has not yet spoken with the families, but the State Department has been in contact with those families. And the President has been making this his highest priority as he receives briefings each day about what we are doing to try to determine both what’s happening with the missing and also to ensure that we can secure the bodies of — of those who have perished and — and ensure that they get returned to their loved ones.
Q Are you also reaching out to those whose loved ones may be unaccounted for? One family member of a missing American said that there’s been no formal attempt by the U.S. government to update the families of the missing.
MR. SULLIVAN: We have, in fact, updated the families of the unaccounted-for Americans that we know of. If there are Americans, for some reason, who have not yet been reached out to, that would be remedied immediately because Secretary Blinken, President Biden, everybody in the U.S. government is making this the highest priority.
So, we are in very regular contact with every family who has someone either missing or unaccounted for. And anyone who’s not currently on that list, for whatever reason, we will take care of that. That is going to be our highest priority.
Q Thanks, Jake. Two quick questions, one for clarity. The Iron Dome replenishment — has that already arrived or is it on its way?
MR. SULLIVAN: Some of the interceptors have come out of stocks that the U.S. had in country, so that — those have gone over to the Israelis in short order. And then we will be flowing in additional Iron Dome interceptors so that they have the capabilities they need to sustain their Iron Dome defense systems.
We’re also looking at other ways that we can help augment their air defense capabilities as well as we look ahead not just to what’s happening now but to potential contingencies that could unfold.
Q And then, secondly, what can you say about Iran’s role in the Hamas attack? Is that one of the actors you’re worried about widening the war?
MR. SULLIVAN: Look, we have said since the beginning that Iran is complicit in this attack in a broad sense because they have provided the lion’s share of the funding for the military wing of Hamas, they have provided training, they have provided capabilities, they have provided support, and they have had engagement and contact with Hamas over years and years. And all of that has played a role in contributing to what we have seen.
Now, as to the question of whether Iran knew about this attack in advance or helped plan or direct this attack, we do not — as of the moment I’m standing here at the podium — have confirmation of that.
We are talking to our Israeli counterparts on a daily basis about this question. We’re looking back through our intelligence holdings to see if we have any further information on that. We’re looking to acquire further intelligence. And if there’s an update to that, I’ll share it with you.
But as I stand here today, while Iran plays this broad role — sustained, deep, and dark role — in providing all of this support and capabilities to Hamas, in terms of this particular gruesome attack on October 7th, we don’t currently have that information. We will continue to look for it. And if we find it, we will share that with you.
Q Thank you, Jake. Looking back at the last few days, how did Israel miss this attack coming?
MR. SULLIVAN: That’s a question for you to ask the Israeli government. Obviously, the Israeli government has placed a high premium on its intelligence capacity as it relates to Hamas, as it relates to the West Bank, as it relates to Hezbollah. And why it is that they did not have warning from this is not a question that I can answer from this podium.
Q What about U.S. intelligence? Was there anything in what crosses your desk that would suggest that this was coming?
MR. SULLIVAN: We did not see anything that suggested an attack of this type was going to unfold any more than the Israelis did.
Q And in your meeting with — in the Situation Room today — we saw an image earlier. At some point, undoubtedly, in last few days, the President has seen the images of the dead Israelis. What has been his reaction when shown those images?
MR. SULLIVAN: I mean, you’ve seen him now twice. You’ve heard his voice. And this has been a deeply emotional time for all of us, as I’m sure it is for many people in this room who know people or know people who know people who were killed or who are missing.
And all of us have developed close relationships with our Israeli counterparts. President Biden has a decades-long relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And he can hear the pain in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s voice when he talks to him. I hear the pain of my counterparts when I talk to them.
So, this is not just about policy or strategy. This is personal for us. And it’s personal for the American people with their bonds with the Israeli people.
And so, President Biden has seen and felt the deep emotional resonance of this. But he has also held the conviction that his job as president is to make sure that he has the clarity of mind and purpose to take the actions necessary so that we are standing with Israel in its hour of need, so that we are working to deter a widening of this conflict, and so we are getting Israel the tools that it requires to defend itself.
Q Thank you, Jake. You just laid out all of the ways that Iran is complicit in this and facilitated it over years of support for Hamas. Is that reason enough to freeze — refreeze the $6 billion that the U.S. helped unlock for them to get in exchange for the prisoners?
MR. SULLIVAN: We have not yet s- — had a dollar of that $6 billion spent. And I will leave it at that.
Q But will you refreeze it based on this activity that — you’ve just laid out all of the ways that they are complicit in this? You — the administration said that if we see them going in the wrong direction, that we would stop that down.
I understand the position that you guys have that not a dollar of this has been spent. But will you prevent it from getting into their hands to allow them to, you know, do — do what they do that you just laid out?
MR. SULLIVAN: Let me just reiterate what I said, because it’s unequivocal: Not a dollar of that money has been spent. And I will leave it at that.
Q Is it being considered?
MR. SULLIVAN: (Calling on another reporter.) Yes.
Q Jake, if I can ask you, will the U.S. support Israel’s military attacks in Gaza for as long as it takes, until the hostages are freed, or until Hamas is destroyed? I guess, in simple terms: How much retaliation in Gaza is the U.S. willing to accept?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t think of this in terms of retaliation. This is about providing support to Israel as it seeks to defend its territory and deal with an ongoing, imminent threat from Hamas terrorists — who, as I said before, are acting a heck of a lot like ISIS terrorists in their barbarity and cruelty. That requires going after Hamas terrorist targets in Gaza because, even as we speak is — even as I stand here, there could be rockets flying out of Gaza.
Going after those sites — that’s not retaliation. That’s your — Israel stepping up to defend itself and ensure the safety and security of the Israeli people.
And we’re going to support them for as long as they need to ensure that Israel is safe and secure. And I can’t put a timetable on that.
Q So, to be clear: Is the goal the destruction of Hamas, the guarantee that Hamas cannot launch attacks from there, the confirmation that all Americans and Israelis have been secured safely from there? What is — where do you draw the line? Is there a red line of where do you draw that line of what you need to accomplish, what —
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not —
Q — they may accomplish —
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not standing up here to draw red lines. What I’m standing up here to say is that in its hour of need, as Israel embarks on an operation to try to protect its country, protect the Jewish state of Israel, and to go after the threats that it faces — and also working closely with them hand in hand to try to secure the release and recovery of American and other hostages, we will do all of that.
And I’m not here to — to draw red lines or issue warnings or give lectures to anybody. I’m here to say that the President has given us direction to take a series of actions. We are undertaking those actions. And we will continue to do so in the weeks ahead.
Q Last one very quickly —
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q — that we heard from the families of Americans who are unaccounted for right now. They spoke publicly in Israel today. You said the President hasn’t spoken to them directly. What is the President’s message to those families right now who said it is the responsibility of the president of the United States to make sure their loved ones come home safely?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President said in his remarks today that as president of the United States, he has no higher priority than the safety and wellbeing of Americans held hostage overseas. And he has proven in country after country his willingness to go further than any other president has gone before to se- — secure the release and bring those people home. He is going to try to do that in this case as well.
But that is a high priority for him. And that is the message that — that he is sending, along with a deep sense of understanding of the grief and hurt and pain and anguish they’re feeling right now as they wait to hear news of their loved ones.
Q Jake, the President, in his remarks today, referred to seeking for assistance for “partners,” plural. Does that suggest that you’ve decided strategically to ask Congress for a package that includes both Ukraine aid as well as aid for Israel? And, you know, Chairman McCaul suggested even including border and Taiwan money in that.
I’m just kind of hoping you could give a state of play of how you guys are thinking about this in your interactions with the Hill.
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s request and — and not going to take the place of the OMB director, who will present the request that we send up.
But the President was very clear today that we will be making a request to the Congress, and it will include a request for funding for support to Israel. And he has also been equally clear that we are going to renew our request to the Congress for aid to Ukraine.
What exact form that all takes, that will be worked out and presented by others, not by me. But the notion that we’re going to go up and ask for Israel aid and ask for Ukraine aid, that’s unequivocal. We are going to do that.
Q Beyond Iron Dome and ammunition, were there any other requests made by Prime Minister Netanyahu today that we can expect to be part of that package?
MR. SULLIVAN: He — as I mentioned in my opening comments, he did make specific requests with respect to other capabilities. I’m not going to get into the details of that from this podium. But he and the President discussed that.
I spoke with Lloyd Austin, who was on his way to the NATO defense ministerial, about those requests. Secretary Austin is following up on that.
And as I said in my opening comments, you can expect to see American planes flying into Israel to deliver military capabilities to support Israel.
Q Just a follow-up on Iron Dome. How effective has it been in deterring the attacks? And I know you mentioned this a bit in terms of the interceptors. But has Israel asked for interceptors on an ongoing basis in — in light of the situation?
MR. SULLIVAN: I — you ask how effective it has been in deterring — I can’t say that it has deterred, obviously, because a huge number of rockets have fired. But it has been effective, as it typically is, in taking a lot of those rockets out of the sky and saving countless lives by doing this.
Now, of course, some rockets have gotten through, to — to tragic cost. And that has been the pattern we have seen in previous conflicts as well.
Now, Israel will have an ongoing need for interceptors, because an air defense system is only as good as your ability to continue to put interceptors in that can take out the rockets that are coming to kill civilians and rain down terror on cities.
And we are committed to making sure that we are working with Israel to produce and supply the requisite number of Iron Dome interceptors so that they can keep those systems going on an indefinite basis going forward, because we cannot say how long this will be going on.
Q Thank you. Jake, while you support an Israel military and rightly denounced this horrific and heinous act against Israeli civilians, how can you make sure that Israel goes after Hamas and its infrastructure in Gaza, not 2 million Palestinians who are trapped with no water, with no electricity, with no medical supplies? The U.N. schools are overflowing now. They are — the number of beds is reaching 850 so far, including six member of one family of the former ambassador to Washington.
How can you make sure that this is not revenge but actually going after Hamas, who committed this horrible crime?
Q Well, as the President said today, the difference between countries like the United States and Israel is that we do not deliberately target civilians. We are strongest when we are committed to the rule of law. And we work to make sure that all military operations are conducted consistent with the rule of law and the law of war. That is something that President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu have discussed, not just in this context but in previous contexts as well. That is something the United States has always stood for and always will continue to stand for.
Q Can you make sure — sorry. Can you confirm that the Egyptian intelligence had passed information to the Israelis that the attack is imminent or some attack is going to happen?
MR. SULLIVAN: I cannot confirm that.
Q Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted on Saturday telling residents of Gaza to “leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere.” Where is the idea of where people in Gaza will go?
MR. SULLIVAN: This is something also that we have been discussing with our counterparts in Israel and with our counterparts in Egypt.
And without getting into the specifics of safe passage for civilians and so forth, I will say it’s something that the U.S. government is seized with in supporting how we do that operationally.
But the details of that are something that are being discussed among the — the operational agencies, and I don’t want to share too much of that publicly at this time.
Q Would that happen imminently or what — what is the timing (inaudible)?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’ll leave it at the fact that we are focused on this question, there are consultations ongoing, and I’ll share more when I have an update for you.
Q Following up on that question about what the President said about talking with the Israeli Prime Minister about democracies and the laws of war, was that a warning to the Prime Minister? And why did the President feel that was necessary to bring it up in the call today?
MR. SULLIVAN: It was not a warning. The call today was not President Biden warning Prime Minister Netanyahu about anything. It was two leaders talking to one another: one who is leading a nation that has suffered an unfathomable attack, and another nation who is standing behind them four-square in the defense of their country.
And the conversation carried on in those terms. And the two leaders spoke in a collaborative fashion, as they always do.
So, no, I cannot accept the characterization of your question.
Q Thanks, Jake. I have two questions. First, some reports are saying that IRGC commander was in Lebanon — Esmail Qaani was in Lebanon few days ago, and he left to Syria. Also, you are saying that Iran is complicit in this attack. Are you trying to downplay the Iranian role here? What are you waiting for to take an action?
And my second question: What assessment do you have on where other militias, other Iranian militias stand now, whether in Iraq. We also heard the Houthis threat now. Can you give us an update?
And is there a risk on the U.S. troops in the region?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I — on your first question, I laid out our view, which is the broad complicity based on the longstanding support that Hamas is giving to Iran. We don’t have specific information that ties Iran to this attack. At this time, we don’t have that information. We may gain that information in the hours and days ahead, but we don’t presently have it. So, that’s in answer to your first question with respect to the intelligence.
With respect to the question of the various militia groups across the region, we do believe that they pose an urgent threat and that it is certainly distinctly possible that they choose to try to exploit or take advantage of this situation. And we have been sending clear warnings that doing so will resort — will result in — in a firm response and consequences from the United States.
And that goes across the board. And we have been clear also in sending a message of deterrence through the movement of the carrier strike group into the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as through the assurance that we will sustain F-16s, F-35s, A-10s in theater to be able to deal with any contingency that the United States might have to deal with in the days ahead.
Q Thanks, Jake. The — the European Union says it opposes a total siege of Gaza. I mean, what’s the U.S. position on that?
MR. SULLIVAN: I have seen those reports. But my understanding is that is not the — the concept of siege is not something that in fact is going to be pursued by the Israeli government.
But we are consulting with the Israeli government about their actions in this regard.
And like I said before to a previous question, President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu had the opportunity to talk through the difference between going full-bore against Hamas terrorists and how we distinguish between terrorists and innocent civilians.
Q Thank you so much, Jake. Just zooming out to China. Is the U.S. worried that this attention now to Israel is going to detract resources from the Indo-Pacific? Have you communicated with Beijing about this attack in Israel? And just going to Senator Schumer’s comments, he said he was “disappointed” by President Xi’s soft response. Has that been part of the discussions here?
MR. SULLIVAN: We were not entirely surprised by the PRC’s response based on their history of commentary on these kinds of issues.
We believe that the United States is capable of supporting Ukraine in Europe, of supporting our allies in the Indo-Pacific, and of supporting our close ally, Israel, in its hour of need. And we believe we have the resources, tools, and capacities to be able to effectively do that.
And part of our job is to ensure that we are working across all of these theaters at once. And that’s precisely what we’re doing each day.
Q There have been some Republican lawmakers who have argued the U.S. can’t support two wars. Could you address some of that and — and talk a little bit about how you’ll make these requests to Congress and make the case that the U.S. needs to invest — maybe not with troops on the ground — but with — with military and economic aid in both Israel and Ukraine?
MR. SULLIVAN: Standing for Ukraine so that Russian aggression does not prevail in Europe — the amount of resources that we need to put into that compared to the amount of resources we would have to put in if Russia were, in fact, to conquer Ukraine and then potentially have its aggression continue across Europe, it is so much more cost-effective to take the action now, as opposed to pay the huge price later — a price that might ultimately, as it has in the past, require the actual deployment of American troops to combat.
So, better to support the Ukrainians as they stand firm against Russian aggression and do so on a sustained basis. And we have the budget wherewithal to be able to do that. We also have the budget wherewithal to be able to provide Israel what it needs.
And we firmly reject the notion that the United States of America cannot at once support the freeding — freedom-loving people of Ukraine and support the State of Israel.
Q Great. Thanks, Jake. Is the administration working with Israel and Egypt to open the Rafah crossing to try to ensure evacuations are possible?
And then also, I know that you said that in conversations with Israeli leaders, you don’t think that a complete siege is something that they may be attempting to do in Gaza. But is there any counsel of restraint from the administration to Israel?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, on the first question, I — in reference to a previous question, I spoke about our consultations with the Israelis and the Egyptians about how to deal with the challenge of civilians who — who want to leave Gaza. I’m not going to get into the details of that about a specific crossing or so forth, only to say that that is something we are focused on and we are working on. And I want to leave those conversations in diplomatic channels, at least for the moment. When we have more to offer on that, I’ll be sure that we do so.
And then we are having conversations with the Israelis, as I have described. And again, at this podium, I’m not going to go into details on them in terms of what precise messages we’re passing. It’s important that we be able to talk to the Israelis in the way that we always do — as good friends, as honest friends — and we will continue to do that.
Q Thanks, Jake. So, on the home front, over 150 people who are on a terrorist watchlist have been seized along the southern border this fiscal year. And we’ve reported that there’s been a hundred — over 1.5 million known got-aways since the Biden administration took office. Is this something the American people should be worried about right now?
MR. SULLIVAN: We continue to remain vigilant about terrorist threats to the homeland from anywhere. It is something that we are very much working on, that we are consulting with the Congress on, that we are seeking to secure the necessary resources to continue to work through.
And anytime we see any threat stream involving a terrorist threat to the homeland, we mobilize every asset and resource of the U.S. government to go after that. And that includes information and analysis that we have shared with the Congress about plots emanating from the Middle East, plots emanating from other places. We’ll continue to do that.
We also will continue to take steps to pursue a humane, orderly border policy. And we will work with the Congress in the weeks ahead to continue to get the resource that we — resources we need to be able to do that.
I would point out that in the last supplemental, we actually sought additional funding for the border, which was not forthcoming in the ultimate package that went through. So, the Biden administration has said to Congress already, “We’re looking for more resources to be able to deal with the — the continuing challenges that we have at the border.”
Q Jake, the President doesn’t have a confirmed ambassador to Israel at this point. What are you doing to get Jack Lew confirmed, given he was nominated about a month ago, the nomination was sent to the Senate back in late September. What’s the plan to get him on the ground?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first, the Senate is coming back into session next week. Second, when they do, we are going to work with both Democrats and Republicans — and particularly the leaders on both sides and the chair and ranking in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to make that happen as soon as humanly possible and then get him out to the region immediately thereafter.
Q Is that your top priority when Congress returns, apart from the aid request that you’re talking about?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, it’s hard to answer top priority in the sense that our top priority when Congress comes back is going to be the full spectrum of needs that Israel has. Some of that is related to the support that we’re seeking from Congress. And then, of course, having high-level diplomatic re- — representation is going to be critical as well. So, we will move urgently on that the minute that they come back.
Q Jake, one of the things —
Q Can you just clarify your answer from earlier — I’m sorry. Can you just clarify your answer —
MR. SULLIVAN: Sorry, it’s the —
Q One — just one — just one question. Can you just give us where things stand with the normalization deal? Is that on hold now? Is there any progress? Or do you see any progress for that?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, we are right now focused on dealing with the immediate challenge that we are confronting and that Israel is confronting. And so, I’m not going to give a characterization on the state of play on normalization. It’s not on hold. But, obviously, over the last four days, all of our attention with respect to our support for Israel has been focused squarely on this conflict, on this heinous, brutal attack, and on helping Israel be able to defend itself. We’re going to continue to try to do that.
Q Jake, can you just clarify your answer — your “yes”?
Q You and — you and the President both compared Hamas to ISIS. What does that say about the U.S. approach to Hamas going forward?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, we have labeled Hamas a terrorist group for years, if not decades. And we have consistently supported Israel in its efforts to fight back against and undermine Hamas, and we will continue to do so.
In the immediate term, what it means is working with Israel to ensure that they are able to go after that Hamas threat in Gaza effectively, relentlessly, and to the point where they feel that their security and their deterrence has been fully restored.
Q Does — does the —
Q Mr. Sullivan, can you — can you — can I just ask you real quick — I’m sorry — Mr. Sullivan, are you concerned at all that those who are here in the U.S. — terrorists who are here in the U.S. may be emboldened by what’s happening now?
And just to piggyback on what was asked earlier, because we do know that there are people sort of lurking here: Is there a concern that there may be a flare-up?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President put out a written statement yesterday with multiple elements to it. One of those elements was about the focus that we have right now on protecting Americans here at home against anyone who would seek to exploit or piggyback on what has unfolded — these gruesome events that have unfolded in Israel.
Part of that is about protecting places of worship, synagogues, and ensuring that we don’t see a kind of virulent form of antisemitism sparked by what has just happened.
And then part of that is about ensuring that any terrorist threat here in the United States or to the United States or to Americans anywhere in the world, that we are at a heightened state of vigilance to deal with that.
That’s something the President directed his team. It’s something he spoke to yesterday in that statement. And it’s something that he will be convening his national security team on this week, because it remains a very high priority.
And I’ll take the last question.
Q Does the administration regret making the prisoner swap with Iran in light of these attacks?
MR. SULLIVAN: The United States does not regret bringing home American citizens who had been unjustly detained abroad. As I said before, the President has no higher priority than to get Americans home.
Right now, we have Americans who are being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. That is a high priority. Bringing those Americans home from Iran was a high priority — from Afghanistan, from Venezuela, from other places as well.
And we stand by bringing those people home because that is the duty of the Commander-in-Chief, is to get innocent Americans out of captivity in places that they are being unjustly detained.
Thanks, you guys.
Q Jake, if Israel strikes Iran, what level of support can they count on from the U.S.?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Jake. Okay. I know the President is going to have an event shortly, and the pool is going to have to gather. So, we’ll take a few questions.
Go ahead, my friend. Go ahead.
Q Hi, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello.
Q On the special counsel interviews, did the President answer all the questions that were asked during the interviews, and was the executive privilege invoked at any time? I know there’s limits on what you can say, but any transparency will be helpful on this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, my colleagues at the White House — my colleague at the White House Counsel put out a statement yesterday, so — providing an update of — of where we are with this particular — with this particular in- — interview in the special counsel, obviously. I’m just not going to go beyond what my colleague has shared.
If you have any further questions, certainly I would refer you to Department of Justice or the White House Counsel to ask any detailed information.
All right. Go ahead.
Q For the record, though, we understand the President’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur was scheduled long before the conflict began, at least that’s what we’re being told by people here at the White House and elsewhere. Did the President and his legal team ever ask for the interview to be rescheduled, given what transpired in Israel over the weekend?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, Ed, I’m not going to go beyond the statement from the White House Counsel. And you all know and have seen for yourself, the President spoke the second — this is the second time he’s spoken about Israel in the last couple of days.
And, you kn- — so, we know how focused he’s been on — on what has happened. He’s shown his leadership over the h- — the horrific events over the weekend in Israel.
And look, we disclosed — we disclosed the interview. We put that out in a statement from the White House Counsel — from my colleague at the White House Counsel.
And the President is — obviously was intensely engaged. He spoke to many of our allies, whether the King of Jordan, the leaders of Italy, France, Germany, and the UK. And he met — and as I said at the top, he met with our national security team over a dozen times. And he spoke with Bibi — Prime Minister Netanyahu, to be more precise — the third time today. So, twice over the weekend.
So, he’s been very much focused on the issues of the, you know, horrific events that we have seen in Israel.
And, you know, the President is able to do multiple things at once, right? As president, he has to do multiple things at once. And that’s what you saw him do this weekend.
Q And did the President’s need to be interviewed by the Special Counsel yesterday impede or keep him from giving the remarks he gave today yesterday? Because you know — the press office certainly knows there was a lot of inquiry and concern and criticism that perhaps he was not as publicly engaged yesterday as he possibly could have been.
It was a federal holiday. There was some respect or decision made to not hold public events on the federal holiday. But, clearly, he was doing a big thing by meeting with the Special Counsel. So, was there any reason to believe that that impeded his ability to respond publicly to what was going on in the Middle East?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as I just said, Ed, presidents have to do multiple things at once. He spoke on Saturday — right? — when we learned — when all of you were reporting and it was incoming of what was happening in Israel. He spoke today, obviously. There were multiple statements from this President.
I just mentioned, he menti- — he met with his national security team dozens of time. He did multiple calls with heads of states, trying to make sure that we got the support, continued that support, organized support of — of other allies and partners across — across the world. And we put out a statement as well — a joint statement from those — from those allies and partners.
Look, the President was — was very much engaged in showing his — his leadership and also how we’re continue — we’re going to continue to support Israel. And that’s going to certainly — we’re going to — that’s how we’re going to move forward.
And again, the President has to handle many things at once, and we saw him do that over the past couple of days, since — certainly, since Saturday.
Q The President said that he will urge Congress to act quickly on Israel aid. Obviously, Ukraine aid is also still outstanding. Is there a preferred pathway forward from this White House on how both of those things can happen, given the situation on Capitol Hill right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, Jake Sullivan spoke to this a little bit about — when he was asked about the aid. Look — and he said this — he said it much better than I’m about to say it, which is how important it is to continue to support Ukraine in their time of — of — as they are fighting for freedom, as they’re fighting the aggression from Russia.
It is important that we continue to do that. Because — look, doing that now — the cost/benefit of it now is so important to do it now than to allow Putin — a dictator like Putin to continue beyond Ukraine, right? It is important that we continue to focus on making sure that Ukraine has everything that they need as they [are] bravely fighting for their freedom and for their democracy.
And we’re going to continue to, certainly, move forward, as you heard with the President, to ask Congress when they get back for additional — for additional assistance.
Tho- — both of those things are incredibly important. Those — both of those things need to move forward. Both of the things, as — as Jake said, we are able and can do as the United States.
I’m not going to talk about our strategy. We’re going to — certainly, as Jake said, the OMB director is going to lay that out. We’re going to figure out the best path forward. I’m just not going to get into details on how that’s going to look from now.
Q Have White House officials had any conversations with lawmakers about potentially speeding up the House speakership race?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Not going to get involved in the House speakership race. That is something — again, as I’ve said many
times, as we have said many times, the House, as you know, is the — the majority goes to the Republicans. It is their — it is their path, it is their process to figure out who is going to be the Speaker.
Certainly, we want — certainly, we’re — we’re — we want that to get done so that we can move forward with the business of the American people. But I’m not going to get into congressional process from here.
Trying to see who has not — go ahead, Gerren. I know you haven’t gotten called on.
Q Thanks, Karine. There have been some clashes across the country in demonstrations amongst protesters in the aftermath of what’s — or amid what’s happening in Israel. How concerned is the administration that these clashes can turn violent? And do you have a message for demonstrators more broadly?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I mean, Jake also spoke to our focus and our — the importance of making sure that the Jewish community here is protected, making sure that there aren’t — there aren’t acts of violence. We’re always going to denounce any act of violence against any community, and, certainly, going to continue to show our support and going to be vigilant on that.
Don’t have anything else to go beyond that. But we are certainly monitoring, keeping an eye on all of this. And we’re going to continue to support the community here.
Q One other question on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We have to start — we have to —
Go ahead, Phil.
Q What is the President’s message to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. The pool should — should start leaving, and then we’re going to take this last question.
Go ahead, Phil.
Q Thank you, Karine. What is the President’s message to members of Congress who seem to be equating the Hamas terror attack with actions that were previously taken by Israel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that one more time. Everybody is moving around. I apologize.
Q What is the President’s message to members of Congress who seem to be equating the Hamas terror attack with actions that were previously taken by Israel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, here’s the thing — and which — which — which congressional members?
Q Well, there have been some members of Congress who have called for a ceasefire, and they have not gone as far as backing the administration’s call for support for Israel.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’ve seen some of those statements this weekend. And we’re going to continue to be very clear: We believe they are wrong, we believe they’re repugnant, and we believe they’re disgraceful.
Our — our condemnation belongs squarely with terrorists who have brutally murdered, raped, kidnapped hundreds — hundreds of Israelis. There can be no equivocation about that. There are not two sides here. There are not two sides.
President Biden has been clear on where he has stood. You heard him — you heard from him directly today. You heard from him also on Saturday on this. There’s been multiple statements from this President. And he’s taking action to provide additional support to ensure that Israel has the — has what they need to defend themselves.
Q Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
Q A follow-up on this question, please?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, go ahead. And then — last question. And then we’ll be back tomorrow.
Q Yesterday, the President said he was putting police departments on — on high alert. Can you guarantee that members of the Muslim diaspora or immigrant communities can still feel safe, can still exercise their civil liberties and exercise their criticism of — of Israel’s behavior? Was that part of the conversations? And can you assure those communities that they still have (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I don’t have any details of the conversation, but, obviously, the President is — is going to be — we’re always going to deno- — denounce any form — any type of violence and — certainly, to keep communities safe. That is something we’ll be vigilant about. I don’t have anything else to add.
Thank you so much. We’ll see you guys tomorrow.
3:32 P.M. EDT