2:04 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey. Good afternoon, everybody. The holidays are upon us.
All right. So, today Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker held a press conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to preview what travelers can expect when flying this holiday season.
While we don’t control the weather, obviously, and that we — that can have significant impacts on air travel — right? — we saw record travel demand during Thanksgiving, with cancellation at less than half of a percent — or half a percent.
Cancellation rates are currently the lowest they’ve been since 2016. And ahead of holiday travel this week, we are keeping a close eye on the weather and have been pushing airlines to prepare for significant travel demand.
We will continue to hold airlines accountable and — protecting consumers.
Just yesterday, as you all saw, the Department of Transportation announced that Southwest will pay $750 million in passenger relief and penalties for last year’s holiday travel meltdown. That includes a $140 million penalty — the largest ever. And it also includes over $600 million in refunds and reimbursements for passengers that have already been paid.
We also — requiring that Southwest reserve $90 million to compensate future passengers whose flights are affected by a control — controllable cancellation and delays.
These historic steps send our message to airlines loud and clear: If you fail to take care of your passengers, you will be held accountable.
And as you all know, the Admiral is here today to discuss actions that we are taking with our partners to combat threats posed by the Houthis in the Red Sea.
With that, Admiral.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine. Good afternoon. As Karine said, I think you know, earlier this month, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced that the United States would rally the international community to address the increasing threat posed by Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.
Yesterday, less than two weeks since Jake was right here at this podium, the Department of Defense announced Operation Prosperity Guardian and the formation of an international coalition of countries to counter these threats.
Now ships and aircraft from multiple nations are and will continue to join the United States in conducting maritime surveillance and taking defensive action as appropriate to protect commercial ships from the threat posed by the Houthis.
This operation is an important new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of combined maritime forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153. And 153 is focused on the Red Sea specifically.
From the beginning, we’ve said that this is an international challenge; it requires collective and international action. And we’ve been able to bring together now a number of partners, including the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Ne- — the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, Spain, and even more to address this challenge together.
Also today, in a related fashion, the United States and the world’s largest flag states for commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea also issued a joint statement condemning, in the strongest terms, the threats and the acts by the Houthis.
This joint statement has 44 signatories, including NATO, the entire EU and G7, as well as Australia, Canada, Bahamas, Malta, New Zealand, Singapore, and Yemen.
Secretary Austin also convened in the region a meeting with ministers, chiefs of defense, senior representatives from 43 countries, as well as the European Union and NATO to discuss what we’re doing in response to this increased threat.
Now, I think it’s important to put it a little bit in perspective: Some six countries border the Red Sea. The Red Sea is a conduit for 10 to 15 percent of all global trade, 8 percent of global grain trade, and 12 percent of global seaborne oil trade. Of this total Red Sea trade, Greek-, Chinese-, Japanese-, and German-owned vessels make up 40 to 50 percent of transits.
All that underscores the dependence that these economies have around the world on the strategic trade.
But bottom line is: These attacks have to stop. They need to stop. They’re unacceptable. The United States and our allies and our partners will do what we have to do to counter these threats and to protect these ships.
And, with that, we can take some questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Chris.
Q Has the administration thought about redesignating the Houthis as a terrorist organization?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, we’re actually conducting a review right now on whether that’s the right course forward. We’ve talked about that. No decision is made right now.
Q And when do you expect a decision on that?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have a timeline for you, but we are reviewing that — that designation as we speak.
Q And one more question. There are some unnamed countries that are currently involved in the Red Sea initiative. Can you say more about why those countries don’t want to be named? And is it a sign that, you know, countries don’t want to be seen standing with the United States at this moment, you know, in the region?
MR. KIRBY: There are some nations that have agreed to participate and to be a part of this, but they get to decide — they’re sovereign nations — they get to decide how public they want that to be. And I’ll leave it up to them to be able to describe it one way or another since — because not all want to become public. I doubt you’re going to get much — much more out of them.
Q And lastly, I mean, given the countries want to be unnamed while participating in this U.S. initiative. Are — is the U.S. — is the administration concerned about the United States’ isolation on the world stage when it comes to the conflict in the Middle East — also given the Security Council vote that’s coming up as well?
MR. KIRBY: I mean — well, I won’t get ahead of this vote that’s coming up here. We’re still working through the modalities of that.
But I mean — I mean, 44 signatories on this joint statement? Several nations now willing to join us publicly in this and others that that are willing to participate in this maritime coalition? It’s hard to look at these things — these things which the United States has driven forward — and say that we’re somehow isolated on the world stage.
In fact, I think what this shows is our convening power and how much American leadership matters on the world stage.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ed.
Q Thank you, Admiral and Karine. We’ve seen attacks on commercial ships involving one or two drones in the Red Sea, but the USS Carney took down 14 at one time over the weekend. Do we have any sense of what the Houthis were targeting?
MR. KIRBY: In the broad scope, Ed, as I mentioned in the opening statement — and the whole purpose of this maritime task force is that they’re targeting commercial shipping. I mean, heck, they’ve even said publicly —
Q But usually, it’s one or two. Fourteen at one time, (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: They have largely focused their targeting on commercial ships. But, you know, we haven’t seen any specific targeting or intention to target naval vessels.
But you can’t — you know, when a commanding officer is looking at something coming in — a drone or missile — I mean, he or she has to make some, oftentimes, split-second decisions about perceiving what the threat is and — and taking them down. So, it can’t — you can’t rule it out specifically.
But when you’re talking about these 14 drones, I mean, it’s not unlike — it’s not unlike them to launch multiple at a time. And it’s difficult to know — when you’re knocking them out of the air, difficult to know exactly what their intended target was.
In general — and this is why we set up this task force — it is clear that the Houthis are at the very least conducting a concerted effort to go after merchant shipping in the Red Sea.
Q So, it wasn’t — so, it was definitely shipping they were after, not maybe a place?
MR. KIRBY: Again, Ed, you can’t be perfectly predictive. You can detect what the point of origin is, you can detect what it is that’s being fired, you can gene- — get a sense of trajectory, altitude, speed and make — and make a determination about the perceived threat to your ship or other ships.
I can’t rule out that there weren’t terrestrial targets that might have been at play here. But again, in general, what we’re seeing consistently from the Houthis are attempts to target merchant shipping in the Red Sea. And I would just — it’s backed up by their own statements about what they’re trying to do.
Q Real quick on an unrelated matter. There are early reports that two Americans have been released in Venezuela. Do you have any comment or confirmation of that?
MR. KIRBY: I can’t confirm those reports. I would just tell you that President Biden takes very, very seriously our obligations to get wrongfully detained Americans home wherever they are overseas. And we work those issues very closely every single day.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Mary.
Q Thank you. The Houthis have made it pretty clear they don’t care about this multinational task force. They don’t care how many ships we park out there; it’s not going to deter them. So, is this really going to do the trick? Are you seeing any signs that this is actually going to deter them? Or is it time to consider taking military action?
MR. KIRBY: Well, now, it just started, didn’t it? And — and there’s going to be a whole lot of hardware in the Red Sea now — naval hardware — not just from the United States but other ships — other ships from other nations — to counter these threats. So, let’s see where it goes.
I mean, it’s up — up and running now. We hope it gets stronger and is — is — we’re able to add additional countries and additional capabilities to it.
I’m certainly not going to telegraph any punches one way or the other.
I’ll say this, though: As I said in my opening statement, the attacks are unacceptable. We have national security interests at play in the region. There are international security interests at play in the region, including to — the threat to shipping.
We take those responsibilities seriously. We’re going to continue to do what we can to protect them.
Q So — so, when they say, “Even if America succeeds in mobilizing the entire world, our operations will not stop” unless the genocide in Gaza stops, you think that they will actually change their mind because of this?
MR. KIRBY: I think that’s a great question for the Houthis. What I can tell you is, we’re not going to stop protecting our national security interest in the region.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nandita.
Q Thank you. Can you talk specifically about why Saudi Arabia and the UAE are not part of this multi-country coalition?
MR. KIRBY: I would let every nation who is a member, whether they want it acknowledged or not, speak for themselves.
Q Does the U.S. want them and other Arab countries to participate?
MR. KIRBY: It is a coalition of the willing, and each nation has to decide for itself whether it’s going to participate and under what circumstances. We respect that. The whole idea here is protecting sovereign — sovereign assets and sovereign rights. And that’s what we’re doing here.
Q Have the Saudis and the UAE had any conversations with the U.S. telling them they will participate if the U.S. backs a ceasefire?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to go through diplomatic conversations and details one way or another. Both countries are significant partners of the United States on a range of issues across the region.
Again, they should speak to their — their level of participation.
Q And I have one on Herzog’s comments about them being ready for another humanitarian pause in Gaza so hostages can be recovered. As far as you can tell, how many more American hostages remain held by Hamas? And does the Herzog comment suggest a pause (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: As far as we can tell — and I’ll caveat this — caveat this, as I have many times, that our knowledge is not perfect — but we think there’s still about 8 Americans that are still being held hostage with some 140 total that we believe Hamas and other groups hold.
I don’t have an update for you on the progress of talks to try to get another humanitarian pause in place so that we can get hostages out. We continue to work this literally by the hour.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nadia.
Q Thank you, Karine. Pope Francis suggested that Israel is using terrorism tactic after two Christian Palestinian women were shot dead by the sniper in a Gaza church. Also, there is disturbing images emerging again of hundreds of people being rounded — rounded up by the Israeli army and including a testimony by them saying that they’re not connected to Hamas.
Do you raise these things with the Israelis? And can you consider them as serious incidents? Because, obviously, to round up hundreds of men means that a commander — a sitting commander has to take the decision.
MR. KIRBY: In the aggregate, we have and will continue to have conversations with our Israeli counterparts about — about abiding by the — the law of armed conflict about humane treatment of — of detainees and fighters that are taken off the battlefield.
They understand those responsibilities. But, yes, we continue to raise that with them. And as I said yesterday, we have specifically asked questions about this shooting at the church.
Q Okay. One more question. A major news — Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, headline is: “How John Kirby became one of
Israeli [Israel’s] leading spokespeople.”
Is that okay with you to being portrayed as a spokesperson for a foreign country, even if this country is an ally of yours?
MR. KIRBY: I’m a spokesperson for the National Security Council and for President Biden on national security issues.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Gabe.
Q Admiral, is the U.S. seeking China’s help in deterring these attacks?
MR. KIRBY: Again, every nation has to decide for itself, Gabe, to what degree it wants to counter the Houthi attacks. And I think where China could be helpful, quite frankly, is more with the influence that we know they have in Tehran, the conversations that they can have with the Supreme Leader.
And we have in the past and we continue to encourage the Chinese to use that influence, use those conversations to lean on the Supreme Leader and Iran to stop their support for the Houthis.
Q And speaking of Tehran, has the U.S.’s assessment of Iran’s direct involvement or any direct involvement in any of these attacks changed —
MR. KIRBY: What I can —
Q — in the last couple weeks?
MR. KIRBY: All I can tell you is what I’ve said before. I mean, they are certainly providing the means, the tools, the capabilities, the weapons through which the Houthis are conducting these attacks.
The Houthis may be pulling the trigger, but, as I’ve said, Iran is giving them the guns.
Q And one last question, Admiral. We’re about to hit a milestone of 20,000 Palestinians killed according to the Hamas-run health ministry. I know the President before said that he didn’t always trust those numbers. But does the U.S. believe that we’re about to hit that milestone: 20,000 Palestinians killed?
MR. KIRBY: It — difficult to have great fingertip-feel on the exact figures. That said, we know that many, many thousands of innocent people in Israel and in Gaza have been killed and/or wounded by the conflict. And we don’t want to see this — we don’t want to see conflict go on one more day. And it could end today if Hamas would surrender those responsible, get rid of the hostages — release the hostages, sorry — and — and immediately lay down their arms. That — that’s what needs to happen here.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kevin.
Q I know you said a minute ago that you didn’t want to get ahead of the Security Council vote. Does that mean the U.S. is still determining how it will vote on this resolution?
MR. KIRBY: We’re still working through the modalities of the resolution. That’s where I’ll leave it.
Q Can you say broadly what the U.S. hopes to accomplish at the U.N. through this resolution?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of a resolution that hasn’t been voted on yet, Kevin. We’re still working through the modalities of that.
It’s important for us that the — that the rest of the world understand what’s at stake here and — and what Hamas did on the 7th of October and how Israel has a right to defend itself against those threats.
Q Okay. And you — you talked a minute ago about the support that the U.S. has seen from its allies, in terms of the Red Sea. At the same time, over the weekend, we heard the UK and Germany come out in support of this — what they called a “sustainable ceasefire.” That’s similar language to what we’ve heard from Canada, Australia, New Zealand. We’ve heard France call for an “immediate and durable” ceasefire.
The President is someone who came into office talking about restoring alliances, the importance of being on the same page as our global partners. Is he at all concerned that there’s a risk that the U.S. seems out of step on this particular issue with some of its closest allies?
MR. KIRBY: No. As a matter of fact, as I said, I mean, across the board, we’re seeing how important American leadership is on the world stage here.
Every nation can speak for itself. But — but France and — and the United Kingdom are terrific close allies and friends. That’s not going to change.
And, as I’ve said before — again, I can’t speak to the nuances and what they’ve said. What we’ve said is we don’t support a permanent ceasefire at this time. It would simply validate what Hamas did on the 7th of October. It would leave them in power in Gaza, which is unacceptable to us and to our Israeli friends. And, of course, it would give them a much longer timeline to prepare and plan additional attacks.
We do support smaller, more localized, more targeted humanitarian pauses to get hostages out and to get more aid in.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Just a couple more. Go ahead, Janne. Janne.
Q Oh, tha- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Please.
Q Thank you — thank you, Karine. I couldn’t hear you.
I have two questions. North Korea Kim Jong Un’s recently series of ballistic missile launches and the meeting with Russia, China, and North Korea’s foreign ministers — how do you view all of these?
MR. KIRBY: We have seen a — a growing desire by Russia and China, certainly, but to some degree including North Korea, to increase and improve their — their communications with one another.
These are three nation-states which brishl- — bristle at the rules-based order that the United States and our allies and partners have helped stabilize here and put in place since the — since the end of the Cold War.
We still believe that that rules-based order matters and that there are certain nations that would like to — to act in ways inimical to that order.
That’s why the President has, for his part, worked to shore up our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to a degree that’s — we’ve not seen at all in — in so many recent years and to improve and deepen our security cooperation with the Republic of Korea and with Japan.
I mean, Jake was just out there in Seoul, as you know, talking to his counterparts in both countries. So, we’re comfortable that we’re moving that process forward.
Q One more quick. Kim Jong — I’m sorry. Kim Jong Un criticized the United States and South Korea, Japan missile warning information sharing. And Kim Jong Un threatened to attack the United States with nuclear weapons if Washington decided the wrong direction. How would you react to this?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical, Janne. You and I have talked about this a gabillion times. We take our responsibility seriously to our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
We recognize the growing threat that Kim Jong Un and his regime present to the region. And that’s why, as I said, we’re doing everything we can to revitalize those alliances and partnerships. We’ve added military capabilities to the region, including intelligence-collection capabilities. And that’s not going to change.
Look, we — we’ve said before: We’re — we’d be willing to sit down with — with Kim Jong Un without preconditions to start to talk about the denuclearization of the Peninsula. That remains the case today. He hasn’t been — been able or willing to take us up on that offer.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ken.
Q John, it’s been a few days since Putin said Russia wants to reach an agreement on the return of my colleague Evan Gershkovich as well as Paul Whelan. Has that led to any uptick in the number of calls, conversations between the administration and Russia? And is there any updated outlook from the administration on whether their — their release may be secured in the next few weeks or in the near term?
MR. KIRBY: Well, with the caveat that I won’t talk about the specifics of negotiations lest I say something here publicly that could put them at risk, we have made a serious proposal for Evan and Paul recently, which was rebuffed by — by the Russians. Regardless of what Mr. Putin says — just isn’t true — they actually did rebuff it.
And we — we haven’t given up. We haven’t stopped working on it. And I can tell you that we are working very, very hard to see if there’s another avenue that we can approach, another option that we can pursue that can maybe get both of those men home with their families where they belong.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Cristina, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Karine. Admiral, the President’s support for Israel, the position on Israel seems to be losing him support among — among Americans as well. Could it be a messaging problem that they just don’t understand the importance of supporting Israel?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for every American citizen. I can tell you just a couple of things. The President doesn’t make national security decisions based on polls; he makes them based on principles. And there are some core principles that are at stake here — of course, Israel’s right to exist as a nation and to defend their — their citizens against attacks like what happened on the 7th of October.
He knows that there are strong feelings on all sides here. And he appreciates that; he respects that. And — and our team has been in touch with communities all over the country about — about those feelings, about those concerns. And we — we do take that seriously.
And that’s why, in addition to making sure that we can help Israel defend itself, we are also leading the world in terms of trying to make life better for the people of Gaza right now. We are — we are the ones — the country that has really led the effort to get additional humanitarian assistance in.
Now, obviously, we have partners helping us. But, I mean, it’s the United States really pushing and convening those discussions to get humanitarian assistance in. And we continue to talk to our Israeli counterparts — as Secretary Austin did yesterday, as Jake did a few days ago in Tel Aviv — to be more careful, more cautious, more deliberate in the way that they are pursuing their military operations, particularly as they now gravitate more to the South.
And they have been receptive to those messages. And as I’ve said many times, they have taken some actions to be more careful.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Anita.
Q Thank you so much. We’ve heard various proposals for international trusteeship in post-war Gaza, including one from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who suggested — let me say this carefully — an international (inaudible) —
(A reporter sneezes.)
Q — drawn from NATO countries —
Q Bless you.
Q — and overseen by the U.N. How do you feel about that? How does the White House feel about that? Or would you like — would you rather see trusteeship under, you know, Arab missions?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think we’re at the stage right now where we can endorse one particular option or another. What we believe, as I’ve said before, is that whatever post-conflict Gaza looks like, it can’t look like it did on the 6th of October with Hamas in control.
We do believe that the Palestinian Authority can and should have a role here. But we also believe that the Palestinian Authority has some work to do in terms of revamping and revitalizing its — its own structures, its own organization, its own leadership approaches so that it can be credibly involved in — in governance post-conflict.
Q Do you have a preference for whose auspices they should do that under?
MR. KIRBY: Again, we’re still working our way through the modalities of what that can look like. But we do believe that the Palestinian Authority can and should have a significant role in terms of what governance looks like in Gaza post-conflict.
Q And on this naval mission, how does the White House see the scope of it and how do you keep this from metastasizing into a larger, wider conflict?
MR. KIRBY: It — it’s going to be scaled to the threat. And right now, there’s an increasing threat by the Houthis in terms of drones and missile attacks on commercial shipping.
So, again, we’re grateful for the countries that have signed up to support this. We’ll see — you know, it’s just now getting started. So, it’s too soon for me to say that — what its trajectory is going to be, whether it’s going to get much bigger or need to get much smaller or where it’s going to — or how its operations are going to be conducted.
But this is something that international navies know how to do and know how to work together to — to counter. So, we’ll — we’ll see where it goes.
But it is an important body of water, an international waterway for global commerce, and we have to — all of us, not just United States — all of us have to take that responsibility seriously and keep that free flow of navigation.
Q John, good afternoon. Shipping companies, including Maersk, are rerouting. They’re not going anywhere near the Red Sea, as you know. How much do you anticipate that could interrupt the global supply chain?
MR. KIRBY: It’s hard to say right now. These companies obviously have to make their own decisions based on the safety and security of their vessels and their crews, and we respect that. But I think it’s just too soon to know what kind of impact it’s actually going to have on the global economy.
That’s why, quite frankly — because we’re trying to get ahead of the problem set here — that’s why we’re standing up this coalition and trying to flesh it out and be able to counter these threats so that transit through the Red Sea can be safer and more secure than it is right now.
Q All right. One more. If a drone is coming at a merchant vessel, can Operation Prosperity Guardian protect that vessel from being struck? Is that even possible?
MR. KIRBY: Can — is your question can we shoot down a drone that’s headed towards a com- —
Q They’re not — they’re not going to be — the convoys are spread out far apart, right? They’re not going to be escorting them very close —
MR. KIRBY: Okay. So, two —
Q — close by.
MR. KIRBY: — two things. Number one, yes, and we have. We’ve already disrupted threats to commercial ships that we’ve been able to detect or — or — and engage them in flight. So, the first answer is yes.
Secondly — and I know I got to get going here, but —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
MR. KIRBY: This isn’t about — you shouldn’t think about this in terms of World War Two aggregating of fleets. I mean, these — these vessels will be operating as one unit as part of a task force. But they will be placed in the Red Sea as appropriate to the presence of commercial vessels and as appropriate to the threat coming out of Yemen.
And so, the great thing about ships is they move around, and — and they’ll move around as appropriate.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Karen.
Q Thanks. On the Ukraine funding. You said yesterday, the — the White House hopes to send one more aid package to Ukraine before the end of the year. But at that point, the U.S. will have used up the remaining funds to replenish the stockpiles.
Should Ukraine plan for that to be the last package, then, before the end of this year? Or is there any way to shift funding so that there could be something else if Congress doesn’t act?
MR. KIRBY: We have one more security assistance package available to us before the end of this year before we run out of replenishment authority to replenish the stocks and the inventories on DOD shelves. That’s why it’s so critical that Congress act on that supplemental funding.
Q Could you tap into stockpiles and replenish later if Congress were to come through with the funding in January?
MR. KIRBY: As — as our OMB director, Shalanda Young, said, there’s no magic pot of money here. I mean, that’s why we need this supplemental. That’s why we need this funding to support Ukraine going forward. And like I said, we’ve got — we’ve got one more crack at this here before the end of the year before that replenishment authority runs out.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Two more. James and then Jalil.
Q Karine, thank you very much. And I have two quick yes-or-nos and then one more substantive question.
First, on the Israel-Hamas conflict, has President Biden, through any means, conveyed to the Israeli government that a failure by that government to adhere to the prescriptions for the conduct and phasing of the war that U.S. officials have proffered to the Israeli government would be met with a withdrawal by the United States government of any of the money, weapons, or intelligence that we have been providing?
MR. KIRBY: The President has been crystal clear on this, James. We’re going to continue to support Israel as they continue to fight against a violent and viable threat by Hamas.
Q Second yes-or-no question. Is President Biden committed to getting Lieutenant Alkonis home to his family before Christmas?
MR. KIRBY: I think as — I want to be careful here I don’t get too much into what is still a legal process. So, I think, to be safe, I’m going to refer you to the Justice Department on this particular case.
Q On the Ukraine conflict, I want to revisit the concerns that you have expressed from the podium about a burgeoning and active defense partnership between the DPRK and Russia. You’ve declassified satellite imagery and intelligence purporting to show that North Korea has, since the Ukraine conflict began, been supplying direct lethal materiel to the Kremlin.
I wonder if, given the degree to which the DPRK is a client state of China — and federal estimates suggest that the DPRK receives more than 90 percent of its imports from China — whether it’s really appropriate to speak of the DPRK having any kind of bilateral relationship with Russia, rather, would it be more appropriate for us to say that this provision of direct lethal materiel by the DP- — DPRK to Russia is something which enjoys the blessing of the Chinese and, indeed, couldn’t occur without it?
MR. KIRBY: Two things I’d say. One is, as deeply concerned as we are by the DPRK’s actions on a range of fronts, they are a sovereign nation. They make sovereign decisions of their own.
Number two, we — we have not seen any indication that the — the People’s Republic of China have acted to directly provide lethal military capabilities to Russia. I think that’s how I’d answer that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Very, very quickly —
Q Thank you very mu- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — because the Admiral —
Q Thank you very much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — actually has to go.
Q I’ll combine both the questions together. One: Last week, 21 Pakistani soldiers were killed by the weapons that were left in Afghanistan. Was — were those weapons left there or — was that a mistake, or was it left intentionally? And, second, Pakistan army chief is here. He met several officials. Any expectations for Pakistan in future —
MR. KIRBY: A- —
Q Any expectations for Pakistan to play some different kind of roles in coming days? Pakistani army chief is here. He met several —
MR. KIRBY: I would refer you to the Defense Department on those discussions. Obviously, Pakistan remains a key partner in the region. They continue to face a viable terrorism threat across that border. I’m sure that our Defense Department colleagues will have more to say on that.
I don’t — I haven’t seen the reporting on these to — to verify what you’ve said about weapons left in Afghanistan participat- — or being used to —
Q So, the 21 soldiers that were killed in Pakistan, the weapons that the Taliban used were the weapons that the U.S. left in Afghanistan —
MR. KIRBY: Okay —
Q — the goggles, the guns —
MR. KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports. But let me remind you — please, take the opportunity to remind you: We didn’t just leave a bunch of weapons in Afghanistan. This is a fallacy. This is a farce.
What we did over the course of our 20 years in Afghanistan — of course, with congressional approval and consultations — was armed and helped equip the Afghan National Security Forces.
Now — and as we have said time and time again, that as the Taliban made advances, those Afghan National Security Forces, many of them decided not to fight but yet to lay down their arms and leave. But the — the arms that you’re talking about — and, again, I can’t verify these specific reports — belong to the Afghan National Security Forces.
That what wa- — what was — that’s what was left behind — not that the United States just walked away and abandoned a bunch of weapons in a pile in Afghanistan. That’s just not — simply not historically accurate.
Q Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks. Thanks, Admiral.
Q Question on the new immigration law in Texas. Does the White House have any — the White House have any thoughts on that law? And there appears to be some litigation that’s starting over the law as well. What is your response to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, this is an extreme law that will not and does not make the communities in Texas safer. It just doesn’t. And I think to add to that is that it is very much in line with what Republicans — many Republicans like to do or tend to do, which is dema- — de- — demonize immigrants and also dehumanize immigrants. This is part of this.
And so, this is not who we are as a country. This is not who we should be as a country. Communities should not — should not be individually targeted and put in- — into harm’s way. And this is what we’re seeing.
Again, you know, this is something that Governor Abbott has done over and over again. There are plenty of examples that I’ve listed out from here before — whether it’s le- — whether it’s leaving migrants in the side of the road in the middle of winter, installed razor — razor — razor wire near the border making it more dangerous for Border Patrol to do their jobs, and placed
bios [buoys] in — in the river making it harder for Border Patrol to do their jobs as well.
So, this is certainly extreme, as we see it. And it is incredibly unfortunate. But this is what we see from particular Republicans trying to dehumanize a group of people who are coming here or some of them trying to migrate here. And — and they’re putting them in harm’s way. They’re putting them in harm’s way.
Q And can you just talk to negotiations of the supplemental? Obviously, migration/immigration is an important part of that. Where — where are we at at that at this point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the President has been very clear that he wants to make sure that we come to a bipartisan agreement on — on this issue and that border security obviously is important, and we need to — to figure this out in a bipartisan way.
And so, he’s encouraged by the discussions that we’ve been seeing. There is progress that is happening. And the President also believes that we need to — we need to fix immigration. Right? This was why, on his first day in office, he put forth a comprehensive immigration legislation.
And he take — he took this very seriously. And that’s why he put forward a supplemental plan — right? — that had — that had part of it as adding, certainly, more — more — more law enforcement to the border — right? — making sure that we’re taking additional actions. That’s why he put forth that supplemental — that emergency supplemental.
So, this — he thinks it’s really — it’s really important. We think that we’re headed in the right direction. We are encouraged by the discussions that are happening on the Hill. And so, we want to make sure we get to a bipartisan agreement on this.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q On the Texas immigration law. The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit. Does the President support the government also taking legal action here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Department of Justice, they’re going to decide whether they’re going to file a lawsuit here. Certainly, I’m not going to get ahead of that.
Q In 2012, the — the court upheld — the Supreme Court upheld —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — the rule that the federal government, not individual states, you know, have the authority to decide who gets into the country. But this is now obviously a more conservative Court.
I mean, are you concerned that the position may now be changed, that a conservative Court could use this to revisit that landmark case?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I can’t speak to the conservative Court. You said it in your question to me, which is like the federal court — not individual state — are — is in charge of determining how and when to remove noncit- — noncitizens for violating immigration laws. That is who — where that sits, and that’s where that belongs.
And, look, the — the — as you just stated, in 2012, it happened, and it was struck down. Right? The Court struck that down.
As far as what’s going to happen next, the DOJ — the Department of Justice — certainly is going to make that decision. I’m not going to get ahead of it.
But there is precedent. It was struck down. I can’t speak for this current Court.
But what I can say is and what I said at the top when I was asked this question by Chris is that the law is incredibly extreme. And it does not make — it does not make communities in Texas safer. It just does not.
It dehumanizes, which is what Republicans tend to do — certain Republicans tend to do is dehumanize immigrants and de- — and — and also demonize them. And that’s what we’re seeing here.
Q Thank you, Karine. Quick question on the U.S. Steel acquisition. Several lawmakers, including John Fetterman, have come out now against the — the U.S. Steel acquisition by Japan’s Nippon Steel. I’m just wondering how the White House views this proposed deal. And do you have any concerns around market consolidation or national security?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, given the — this could potentially be a regulatory review, I’m not going to speak to any specifics of this transaction. So, I’m going to be very careful.
But what I can do is speak about it more broadly. And one of the things that I — that I can share that the President believes is that Steelworkers’ commitment to protecting American manufacturing that supports family-sustaining union jobs — that is something that the President supports. That is something that the President certainly shares with Steelworkers.
But I’m going to be super mindful and certainly not comment on the review.
And I’ll also say that, you know, the President is committed to competition because he knows competition means lower costs for consumers and higher wages for workers. That’s incredibly important.
But going to be really careful on not saying too much, again, because this might be under regulatory review.
Q And just a quick one on the Vice President’s abortion tour. I mean, she’s starting the tour in Wisconsin in January. Is this tour primarily going to focus on battleground states? And also wanted to know if the President, at any point, will be joining her.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the — there — your last question first. I don’t have any plans or announcement to make at this time on — on the President’s plans but certainly will have more to come.
As to the — the Vice President and where she’s going to be going, there’ll be, certainly, more to share. I’ll share a couple of things more broadly. As you just stated, she’s going to kick off a nationwide reproductive freedoms tour to continue fighting back against extreme attacks on reproductive care.
She will hit the road in states across the country, bring together thousands of people, and discuss the harm caused by extreme abortion bans while sharing stories of those who have been impacted.
The tour, as reported, is going to — it’s going to be kicked off at an event in Wisconsin on January 22nd, which is — as I’m sure you all are following, is the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
And since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republican elected officials have imposed dangerous abortion bans that put the health of women in jeopardy, as we’ve seen — we’ve heard stories over and over again — forced women to travel out of state for care, and threatened to criminalize doctors.
So, the President and the Vice President are — are going to continue to show their fight to protect women’s right to make a decision on their own healthcare.
And — and that decision, as we all know, is incredibly difficult. Those types of healthcare decisions that women have to make is incredibly difficult. And it should be something that they decide along with their family and their doctors. We should not — it should not be decided by politicians.
Go ahead, Kevin.
Q Hundreds of Jewish facilities reported receiving false bomb threats over the weekend. The FBI has said that they appear coordinated and could have originated outside of the United States. Has the President been briefed on these threats? Can we expect to hear from him at any point on them? And what is the White House’s current understanding of where this could have come from?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Kevin, thanks for the question. I think it’s important, obviously, for Americans in the Jewish community to hear directly from us about this.
We are closely tracking hundreds of emailed bomb threats to Jewish synagogues, schools, and other institutions over the weekend. Local and federal law enforcement are investigating each and every one of them.
The President has been very clear, and I have said this many times right here at this podium: Antisemitism, threats of — threats of intimidation or violence of any kind is unacceptable, it is dangerous, and it — there is no place of that type of threat or any threats of violence in America.
The President and the entire administration are committed — we are committed to doing everything possible to ensure the safety of religious communities.
Anything specific about these threats, as — as I mentioned, certainly looking at each one of them — I would have to refer you to the FBI or the local government.
Q But was the President briefed specifically on this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President is aware of these threats. And, obviously, we will do everything that we can to — to ensure that — that communities — the Jewish community, specifically, as — as were — as these threats are being targeted at — feel safe — religious communities, more broadly, obviously, feel safe. And so, this is — certainly, this type of an- — this antisemitism and hate is unacceptable. And we will continue to be loud and clear about that.
Q And — and can we expect to hear from the President on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything to share specifically about the President making an announcement or speaking to this directly. The FBI, obviously, is on top of this, working with local government.
We are — we have been very clear and steadfast and — about this, about the type of hate that we’re seeing against the Jewish community. And we’ve spoken out against hate on — on any community. And we have said there’s no place in America for any type of violence. And certainly, people should — should feel safe to be able to — to be able to be in — in a synagogue, or any religious community should be safe.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thanks, Karine. Given the President’s strong Catholic faith, what was his reaction to yesterday’s announcement by the Vatican that priests can now bla- — can now bless same-sex unions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this: The President, along with many Catholics around the world, welcomed the declaration from the Vatican, done with the approval of Pope Francis, that allows for the blessing of same-sex couples.
And certainly, anything specific, we would have to refer you to the Church. But obviously, we welcome this step — the step — this step in the Church ministry to the LGBT people — to LGBQ people.
Go ahead, Em- — Emily.
Q Thanks, Karine. I have two questions, but they’re tied together. With the holidays coming up, which members of the Biden family will be spending Christmas with the President and the First Lady?
And then, I noticed today when the President arrived on Marine One that Hunter Biden and his son, Beau, were also on the helicopter with them. The White House provides to the public a list of staffers who travel with the President. Why don’t they provide a list of the family members that travel with the President on these government-funded —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — I have to double-check to see if that is indeed correct. Because I did ask about that. So, let me just double-check.
Look, I’ll say this more broadly: Obviously, you’ve seen the President with his family these past couple of days. And I think you know why. They were — they were — they were observing a very somber anniversary for them. And so — so, I’m not going to add anything more to that.
But this was a — obviously, a somber moment in the — in the family. And so, they were, certainly, together to — you know, to — to acknowledge and take part in that anniversary. So, we just want to be really sensitive to that and make that very, very clear.
And don’t have anything to add about the family. Obviously, the President is very close to his family. As it relates to the holidays, he spends, obviously, every holiday with his family — mostly every holiday with his family. I just don’t have a list of names to share with you at this time.
Go ahead, J.J.
Q I have a question about Apple. But just a follow-up on Nandita’s question about U.S. Steel. You said something about regulatory review potential for that. So, it sounds like there’s some expectation of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Potentially.
Q — a CFIUS review —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I —
Q Is that what you mean?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I’m not — just not going to get into —
Q You can’t clarify which —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not.
Q — you —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There’s potential for regulatory review. This is a transaction, as you know. So, I’m just going to be super, super mindful and just — I just want to be careful.
Q Okay. But the President has been briefed on the sale of U.S. Steel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President is aware.
Q Okay. And then, on Apple — on the ruling that some Apple Watches violate another company’s patent. Apple is going to have to pull some of these models from the shelves. And there’s some questions about whether the Biden administration will intervene. Can you say if — if there is some consideration about vetoing this ban by the International Trade Commission?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’re tracking this case and the December 25th deadline. As you know, USTR has — has the President’s delegated authority to make these determinations and Ambassador Tai is, obviously, carefully considering all of the factors in this case. So, I don’t want to get ahead of which — what — any decisions that may come out of — out of U — USTR. But she has — certainly has the authority to -- to decide.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q On immigration again. You said the President is encouraged by the ongoing talks. Has he had any direct engagement with the bipartisan negotiating team?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any readout for you at this time, Ed. But what I can say is the President certainly has been in touch — regular touch with congressional members. You know, this — he has relationships with some of them, having been the former vice president, obviously, a former senator. Just don’t have anything to read out on specific conversations. So, he’s been in touch with folks on the Hill.
Q There has been criticism from the left and the right that the White House could have gotten involved on this specific issue of border security and immigration sooner, and not as actively as it has in the last 10 days. What’s the response of the White House to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, the — as far as timing and engagement — look, the President has taken this very seriously. You’ve heard me say this over and over and over again — ad nauseam probably. On the first day of this administration, almost three years ago, the President put forth a comprehensive immigration proposal. That’s how serious he — he took it.
And three years, Congress did not act. They did not act on this. And so, you know — and now, here we are. The President put forth an emergency supplemental, obviously, proposal to deal not just with — not just with Ukraine and Israel but obviously the border as well. And they’ve just let — let this process languish for three years. Three years.
And so — and the Republicans, you know, they completely got in the way — opposed the record funding that we have asked for. If anything, they asked for cuts — cuts of 2,000 Border Patrol. They’ve done everything that they can to get in the way of the President actually wanting to — to address this issue that we’re seeing at — at the border.
So, this is something that — his first legislation — first piece of legislation was dealing with the broken system that we’re seeing in the immigration system.
Q I think the criticism is less about the last three years and more about the last two months — that since that emergency supplemental was submitted, there was virtually no conversation between the White House and Congress about moving it — but more specifically about that aspect of it — the border security aspect — until word came about week, week and a half ago now that the White House is willing to play ball on changes to asylum and other things.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’m not going to get to the specific of what’s being discussed here. I’m just not going to negotiate from — from the podium, obviously.
But I take — I — you know, I take offense, and I think the President does too, on saying that we haven’t taken this seriously. When you put your first piece of legislation is on immigration to fix the broken system, that is taking it very seriously. When you put out an emergency supplemental, which we put out weeks ago, that has the border — funding for the border, we take that very seriously.
And then, you have Congress — they put forth H.R. 2. They put — they continue to get in the way — Republicans, to be more clear — on actually do- — doing what the President is asking for: getting some record funding, making sure the law enforcement — CBP at the border have what they need to deal with what’s going on at the border.
And so, he’s taken it seriously. Almost three years — almost three years that we put forward this comprehensive piece of legislation on immigration — again, on a system that has been broken for decades — for decades.
Go ahead, Gabe.
Q Karine, does the White House regret linking border funding and Ukraine aid?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all. This is emergency funding. This is much-needed funding. Let’s not forget: This is a president — what — what he’s asking for is about — is dealing with America’s national security as well, what he believes is important as a leader.
So, these things are in — he put — he put it forward because they’re important, they’re emergency needs. And so, the President is — is always going to do what’s best for the American people but also our national security.
Q And, Karine, as this debate over money plays out in Washington, over the weekend in Chicago, a five-year-old boy who was living in a migrant shelter died. His name was Jean Carlos Martinez. What does — what would the White House say to his family?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s devastating. A child dying — anyone dying is devastating — devastating. As someone who is a mom, myself, that is — when you hear stories like that, it is heart-wrenching. And I know that the President feels the same way.
This is why we have taken this very seriously from day one, when it comes to dealing with a broken immigration system. This is why the first piece of legislation that the — that the President put forth was on immigration and doing everything that we can in a comprehensive way to deal with it.
Our hearts go out to the young — this little boy’s family. I can’t even imagine what they’re going through. I don’t want to imagine what they’re going through. But our hearts go to them — out to them.
Q Some of the local officials in Chicago have gone so far as to blame the Texas governor for busing migrants into Chicago and have said that that policy has led to situations like this one with a young boy. Does that — does the White House share that view?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m not going to go into specific cases from here. We’ve always been very clear, and I — you heard me at the — at the top, the first question that I got — that we believe that Governor Abbott’s policies and his political stunts are not safe. They’re not safe for the Texas communities and our — our CBP, our law enforcement on the ground who are trying to do their work. They put them at — in harm’s way. And they — well, they dehumanize — dehumanize and demonize immigrants. That’s what — that’s what his political stunts do.
Certainly not going to get into every specific case. But we’ve been very clear that they actually — what he’s doing doesn’t actually help.
AIDE: Karine, you have time for one or two more.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q I saw that Katie Porter — Congresswoman Katie Porter has shifted her position and recently called for a ceasefire. Is there a concern that Democratic members of Congress, most of them who have been standing with President Biden’s stance on this, are moving away from what the White House has said? Is that a concern that the White House has?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President has been very clear. You’ve heard Admiral — Admiral Kirby. You’ve heard from Jake Sullivan. You’ve heard from Secretary Austin, who is now in the region. And we’ve been very clear that we do not believe a ceasefire at this time or ceasefire is going to — is — is the right way to go. We believe in humanitarian pauses — right? — in order to make sure that we get humanitarian aid and get hostages — hostages out and home to their families.
And that’s what we’ve been pushing for. That’s what we’ve been talking to regional partners about. And, you know, in our minds, Hamas is a terrorist organization. It’s not even in our minds. That is a fact. And in order — if we do a ceasefire, it does not — it does not take away the harm that Israel is going to be in.
And so, that’s kind of where we’ve been, and we’ve been pretty clear about that.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Karine. Will the White House announce Hunter Biden’s presence on Marine One moving forward?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s something that we’ve never done. That — this is the family. The family gets to travel with — with the President, and — and that’s been the case with every other president. And so, it’s not something that we have done or — or we would be doing moving forward.
Q The reason I ask is just the legal trouble he’s facing, if leaving him off the list would appear to sound like an effort to conceal him. And I guess the question that it begs is: Why does the President think it’s appropriate that taxpayer dollars should be used to fly him around when he’s been indicted and just defied a congressional subpoena?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I would refer you to Hunter’s personal representatives as it relates to any questions about the legal affairs. But as you know — as you know, as it relates to the past couple of days, as I just stated to your colleague, is that, you know, the President and their family were — obviously, it was a somber — a somber anniversary that they were recognizing. And so, you could imagine what that is like for them.
And — and I’ll say, lastly, and I’ve said this many times before, the President and the First Lady love their son very, very much. But as it relates to anything in regards to his legal affairs, I would have to certainly refer you to his representatives. I just don’t have anything else to add on that.
Q And real quickly, on Bidenomics. You know, the White House is trying to sell this Bidenomics message heading into the election year. But we have a new Fox poll, and it shows that nearly half of voters — 46 percent — say the administration’s policies have hurt them. And voters don’t see the economy getting any better. They’re twice as likely to see it getting worse next year. Why is that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this. And we’ve talked about this many times, right? The last few years have been challenging for the American people. We know that. Coming out of the pandemic, when the President walked into this administration, the economy was in a tailspin. It was.
And so, the President did everything that he can to make sure that we get this economy back on track. And we understand — we understand that Americans, you know, feel like things are still unaffordable. We get that. And that is something that the President has said himself very recently.
And that’s why he’s going to continue. When it comes to — that’s why the Inflation Reduction Act is so important. Matter of fact, no Republican voted on that act. If anything, they’re trying to repeal some really important provisions that deals with lowering the prescription drugs — right? — that deals with lowering healthcare; that deals with lowering energy cost.
And so, that is something that the President signed. And only Democrats voted for it. No Republicans did. And it’s going to help the American people.
And so, there are — you know, there are historical actions that this President has taken that has shown — the data shows that the economy is in a better place. But I understand — we understand that Americans don’t feel it right now. That’s why we’re going to continue to talk about junk fees, making sure that that is something that we deal with — right? — making sure that we’re beating Big Pharma and lowering drug costs for Americans.
So, there are ways that we’re going to continue to make sure that the number one thing, when it comes to Bidenomics, that the President deals with — lowering costs — we’re going to put that front and center.
Matter of fact, the President is going to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tomorrow. You’ll hear directly from him. He’ll talk about Bi- — Bidenomics. He’ll talk about how small businesses is at the pillar of Bidenomics and how important it is. We have seen record — record application — more than 14 million applications for people wanting to start a small business. And that is because Bidenomics is indeed working.
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