James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:10 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look at this. Packed room. Happy New Year, everybody.
Q Happy New Year.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It’s so good to see everyone. Welcome back. 2024, here we come.
And with that — we are just 16 days away from parts of the government shutting down. Sixteen days away. Sixteen.
Instead of doing their jobs, House Republicans left Washington in the middle of December. And they’re not back until next week.
The American people want Congress to work with the President to take care and work on real issues — real issues that matter in their lives. That’s what the American people want to see.
But instead of entering this year with a new approach to deliver for the American people, House Republicans are prioritizing baseless impeachment stunts. In fact, earlier today, House Republicans said, and I quote, “We’ll shut the government down. We control the money.”
It’s been 13 weeks since the first government funding deadline and more than 6 weeks since they kicked the can down the road for a second time. It’s time for House Republicans to get serious, do their jobs, and deliver for the American people.
It shouldn’t be hard to fund the government. It is truly their basic, basic duty. So, they should get to work.
And now, we’re joined, as you see, with — by my — by my colleague, Admiral John Kirby, who is here to discuss the recent attacks by the Houthis and the developments in the Middle East. We haven’t seen you all in a couple — in a while, so I know he’s going to do a little bit of a laydown.
Admiral, the podium is yours.
MR. KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MR. KIRBY: As Karine said, it’s been a little bit of a while here since we’ve had a chance to talk, so I just wanted to give you a laydown of where things stand in the Middle East.
Over the holidays, the President received regular updates from his National Security Advisor, Mr. Sullivan, as well as the national security team. And as you all know, he had the chance to speak again with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Yesterday, Mr. Sullivan held a phone call with Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Ron Dermer, where they discussed ongoing Israeli military operations and ongoing efforts to see if we can secure the release of the remaining hostages.
The United States remains focused on working with a range of partners to help Israel defend itself, to surge humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, and, of course, to defend our national security interests in the region.
That most certainly includes protecting the free flow of international commerce in the Red Sea.
To accomplish these goals, we have established and will continue to maintain a significant force presence in the Middle East.
This includes an aircraft carrier strike group, centered around the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, with its embarked air wing of some 80 aircraft, as well as an amphibious ready group, with its embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
That amphibious ready group, led by the assault ship USS Bataan, was moved into the Eastern Mediterranean in recent days, coinciding with the departure of the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford.
Now, between the Bataan and the two other ships of her group, the USS Mesa Verde and the USS Carter Hall, this consolidates in that part of the Mediterranean more than 4,000 sailors and marines and more than 50 aircraft.
An amphibious ready group with an embarked Marine expeditionary unit is capable of a wide range of operations and, because it is sea-based, remains a highly flexible option to any Commander-in-Chief when it comes to the potential use of force.
These ships and their Marines are augmented by three additional squadrons of fighter and attack aircraft that are based ashore and additional highly capable warships at sea, including a number of destroyers that are specifically designed for ballistic missile defense.
Some of those warships are operating in the Red Sea, where they — alongside the ships, aircraft, and capabilities of more than 20 other nations — continue to counter Houthi attacks on civilian maritime shipping. You’ve all seen in the last few — a couple of days what these ships have been able to do in terms of knocking things out of the sky.
All told, these U.S. and coalition ships and aircraft contribute to an impressive array — I’m sorry — impressive air and missile defense capability, as well as robust intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, not to mention offensive and defensive military power.
As the President has made clear, the United States does not seek conflict with any nation or actor in the Middle East, nor do we want to see the war between Israel and Hamas widen in the region. But neither will we shrink from the task of defending ourselves, our interests, our partners, or the free flow of international commerce.
That’s why, earlier today, we released a joint statement alongside 12 — I’m sorry — 11 countries condemning Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea — one of the world’s most critical waterways — and reiterating that these attacks must cease immediately. And just after we released that statement, Singapore came on board, so now there’s 13 nations that have signed up to that statement.
As we have made clear, these actions directly threaten freedom of navigation and global trade and they put innocent lives at risk.
This joint statement demonstrates the resolve of global partners against these unlawful attacks and underlines our commitment to holding malign actors accountable for their actions.
Lastly, as you’ve seen, now in — in addition to this release — well, I think that’s it.
I’ll take questions, sorry. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Darlene.
Q Thank you. I wanted to ask about Iran. Does the United States have any idea of who might be behind the bombings there today?
And secondly, does the U.S. think the killing of the Hamas leader in Beirut has significantly changed the strength of Hamas?
MR. KIRBY: So, on your first question, we aren’t at a point now where we have a lot of great detail on — on this bombing. Certainly, our — our hearts go out to all the innocent victims and their family members, who are — obviously, their lives are going to be forever changed by this. But we don’t have any — we don’t have any more detail in terms of how it happened or who would — might be responsible for it.
On your second question, again, I would point you to — to our Israeli partners to talk more about this. We’re — we’re, again, not in a position to confirm the specific reports.
I would just tell you that al-Arouri was a noted designated global terrorist. And if he is, in fact, dead, nobody should be shedding a tear over his loss.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary.
Q Thanks. I know you said you don’t have any great detail on who was responsible, but can you rule out that Israel had anything to do with this?
MR. KIRBY: We have no indication at this time at all that Israel was involved in any way whatsoever.
Q No indication, but just to be clear: You don’t think — did they support or assist in — in some other way?
MR. KIRBY: I would — I’m not going to speak for another nation. I would just tell you that we have no indication that Israel was in any way involved in this.
Q And given that this was the Soleimani anniversary, did you have any intelligence that something was being planned for this day?
MR. KIRBY: We certainly had no indications that there would be some sort of violence surrounding the anniversary of his death.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Just to follow up on the — the Lebanon issue. Is there any concern that that particular strike might expand the conflict regionally?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I would just say, Trevor, everything that we’ve done — in fact, the laydown I just offered of the force posture changes that the President has ordered in the region — has been designed to prevent an escalation or widening or deepening of this conflict.
As we’ve said before, we don’t want to see it widen beyond Israel and Hamas. And, again, we’re going to keep working with partners in the region to prevent that from happening.
Q Okay. And then on the Red Sea. You mentioned that joint statement that came out today and that Singapore has added their names to that as well.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q But that is just, you know, 13 countries total. That’s smaller than the — the 44 that — that issued a statement in December. And, you know, countries that you would think would be on that list, like France, are — are not. Is there a region — reason why that’s not a broader group of countries that signed on?
MR. KIRBY: I — hey, first of all, 13 other nations signing up to language like that — or 13 total nations; 12 others than us — I think, is significant. Other nations can speak for themselves about their decision-making with respect to signing on to public statements.
There are, as you know, many nations in — that are assisting us in Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea that don’t want to be public that are contributing capabilities, but they don’t want it public.
So, I — I think you’re seeing an increasing number of nations around the world, particularly as commerce in the Red Sea gets affected and shipping companies are making difficult decisions about whether to transit the Red Sea and the impact that it’s beginning to — to have on global commerce. Countries are more and more becoming aware of this increasing threat to — to the free flow of commerce in the Red Sea by the — by the Houthis and are increasingly being willing to express their — their discomfort with that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Peter.
Q John, thanks so much. Is it the White House’s view that the elimination of Hamas is an attainable goal?
MR. KIRBY: What we’ve said before is — well, first of all, the Israelis should speak to their military goals. We have said that we absolutely believe they have the right and responsibility to eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people.
Now, they have said for themselves, Peter, that the way they’re going about that is really targeting infrastructure — you know, tunnels and command and control nodes — as well as leadership. It is not that unusual or different approach than we took ourselves in places like in Iraq and Afghanistan going after the leadership network.
Now, you can certainly significantly degrade a terrorist organization’s ability to operate, train, and conduct attacks by going after its leadership. You are probably not going to eliminate the ideology which underpins that group. And we’ve seen that — I — al Qaeda, ISIS, other groups.
Q So, let me be clear. There is a difference between language the U.S. has used in the past with the language “degrade” — to try to degrade the leadership and the ability to attack. So, does the U.S. — just to be clear, I understand Israel’s role in this — does the U.S. believe the elimination of Hamas, though, is an attainable goal?
MR. KIRBY: We believe that it is absolutely an attainable goal for the Israeli military forces to — to degrade and — and defeat Hamas’s abilities to conduct attacks inside Israel. They — they can — it can be done militarily.
Are you going to eliminate the ideology? No. And are you likely going to erase the group from existence? Probably not. But can you eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people? Absolutely.
Q Okay. Let me ask another question, if I can. We’ve been talking about the Houthis here. We heard from Maersk and some of these other companies that — obviously, the big — the — the Danish shipping giant that paused —
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q — its operations in the Gulf of Aden and in the Red Sea. A lot of other shipper — shipping companies are either pausing or rerouting right now.
How concerned is the United States that these shipping companies may be pausing or trying to find other routes or revisiting that region altogether right now, given the impact it could have on the United States in terms of supply chain, inflation, and whatever else?
MR. KIRBY: Well, if we weren’t concerned, we wouldn’t have stood up an operation in the Red Sea, now consisting of more than 20 nations, to try to protect that commerce. The Red Sea is a vital waterway. A significant amount of global trade flows through that Red Sea. And by forcing nations to go around the Cape of Good Hope, I mean, you’re adding weeks and weeks onto voyages and untold resources.
Now, expenses have to be applied in order to do that. Plus, it’s just a more dangerous journey. So, obviously, there is a concern about — about the — the impact on global commerce.
Q Is the pocketbook issue that Americans could be concerned about, given the supply chain —
MR. KIRBY: We haven’t seen that effect yet.
Q Is it at risk of being?
MR. KIRBY: It would depend on how long this threat goes and on how much more energetic the Houthis think that they might become. I mean, right now, we haven’t seen a — you know, an uptick or a specific effect on the U.S. economy. But make no mistake: It is a key international waterway, and it can have an effect on the global economy.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thanks, John. To follow up on the eradication of Hamas. Does the U.S. know how many more members of Hamas are left to eradicate?
MR. KIRBY: We — we have estimates. I’m loath to put the numbers out there right now because they are just estimates. But — but Hamas still has a significant force posture inside Gaza.
Q Is there any way you can characterize the progress that’s been made, in terms of percentage? Like how — how has Israel done, basically?
MR. KIRBY: (Laughs.) (Inaudible.)
Q If you’re — you know, if it’s their operation —
MR. KIRBY: I’ve been —
Q — obviously you’re keeping track of progress.
MR. KIRBY: I’ve been trying real hard not to give them a report card here. And I think that’s a wise thing for us to do is to refrain from analyzing and armchair quarterbacking their military operations.
They themselves have said that they have targeted and been successful against a range of leadership of Hamas, certainly at the brigade level and higher. And remember, these guys are organized like a military. It’s not just some ragtag group of terrorists. I mean, they have a pretty sophisticated military underpinning and structure to them.
And they’ve gone after quite a bit of those leaders. They’ve gone after a lot of the midrange and lower-level fighters as well. I think I’m going to let Israel characterize how they’ve been doing. But they have without question — let me just say this broadly — they have had an effect on Hamas’s ability to command and control itself, to resource itself, and, quite frankly, to lead their troops.
Q And just one quick clarification on the airstrike in Lebanon. Is the U.S. assessing to try to determine who is responsible for that?
MR. KIRBY: For which — what?
Q The airstrike in Lebanon that killed the Hamas leader.
MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any efforts of the United States to assess that or to analyze that. We certainly weren’t involved in any way whatsoever.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Anita, go ahead.
Q Thank you so much, John. Moving on to Ukraine. First of all, just your assessment of what we’ve seen in the last few days. But then also, there’s a Newsweek report that the U.S. is going to destroy several hundred, quote, unquote, “expired ATACMS,” which is, of course, a weapon that President Zelenskyy has asked for specifically. Can you confirm that? And is it possible that the U.S. could send those to Ukraine? And would that be a political decision or a military decision?
MR. KIRBY: I cannot confirm those reports. That’s really a better question put to the Department of Defense.
Q Okay. How about a lay of the land on, in the last few days, where we are?
MR. KIRBY: I mean, look, just broadly speaking, in the last 48 to 72 hours, you all have seen that Russia continues to launch drone and missile attacks, including ballistic missile attacks, on — on targets inside Ukraine, to include not only military targets in Ukraine, but civilian targets in Ukraine, to continue to try to weaponize winter, to go after their infrastructure.
I mean, so, for all the ballyhoo that I heard in the last few days about Mr. Putin in some press reports that he’s all of a sudden willing to negotiate, he sure doesn’t act like a guy who’s willing to negotiate. He’s — he’s doing ev- — everything he can to try to put the Ukrainians on their back feet, which is why it’s so important that the supplemental funding request that the President put forward gets passed.
We ha- — we have given now Ukraine the last security assistance package that we have funds to support right be- — right before New Year’s, right after Christmas. And we’ve got to get support from Congress so we can continue to do that.
Q I’ve got a quick one on Israel too. South Africa has filed this 84-page lawsuit against Israel, accusing them of genocide. Israel says that this is blood libel. Does Washington agree? And where does this put Washington and Pretoria in terms of their relations?
MR. KIRBY: We find this submission meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Brian.
Q Thanks a lot. John, what’s your — what’s the U.S. assessment of the larger goal that Israel has set to eradicate Hamas? Is that still considered to be a realistic and wise military objective?
MR. KIRBY: I think I just answered that with Peter. We don’t believe that military attacks alone are going to eradicate an ideology. And it’s not likely that you’re going to get rid of every single Hamas fighter. So, in that sense, I mean, you still have to — you still have to reconcile yourself with the fact that there may still be some Hamas around even when your military operation is over.
That said, what they — what they — they absolutely can do is eradicate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people. And you can do that by going after their leadership, you can do that by going after their infrastructure, you can do that by going after their resource. And we showed that with respect to ISIS and al Qaeda; it can be done. ISIS and al Qaeda still exist, but they are nowhere near the kind of threats that they — that they once posed. So, it can be done militarily.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Justin.
Q A couple more on Israel, but maybe this came up on Jake’s call. But do you guys feel like you have any path forward on Israel’s decision to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority?
And then, do you have any reaction to the supreme court in Israel striking down the judicial reform package that the Prime Minister put forward? I know the President has weighed in on it previously.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have any update for you on the tax issue.
And on the judicial reform, we are going to be careful that we don’t comment on the internal workings of a fellow democracy.
What the President has said before stands today, which is, you know, we want to see that, as a vibrant democracy, any changes that — any governance changes that our Israeli counterparts try to pursue are done with the broadest base of public support possible.
Q And then — sorry, just real quick. Before the break, Karine talked about a possible regulatory review of the Japanese purchase of U.S. Steel, but I’m wondering if there’s a national security component to that review and if NSC or any — if you’re aware of anyone on the national security side looking into it — looking into —
MR. KIRBY: As far as I know, there’s no updates to that review. And, obviously, anything like this, I mean, we carefully evaluate the degree to which there is a national security component, and we — we’ll do that in this case, but I don’t have an update for you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thanks. John, can you give us an update on the hostage situation in Israel and the — kind of the status of the talks with the Qataris and others to — to move that forward? Is it — is it the U.S. opinion that it’s, at this point, pretty much stalled? Or is there some hope of, you know, reviving that in the near future?
MR. KIRBY: Well, there’s always hope. And we’re not going to stop hoping to try to get all those hostages home.
What I can tell you is that the conversations are ongoing, they’re real, and we are pursuing them with the same sense of energy that we were, you know, a month or two ago, when we were able to get some 50 hostages out.
I would tell you that I don’t have any specific progress to report today, but we’re not going to — we’re not going to stop talking about it, we’re not going to stop working on it, and we’re not going to stop engaging our partners.
Q Is there — are there any new talks scheduled with McGurk or anybody else in the region?
MR. KIRBY: There have been ongoing communications. I mean, I don’t have anything on Brett’s scheduled to speak to specifically today. I think you can expect that he will be, as he has been, constantly engaged on this, as will David Satterfield on the ground. But — but it’s an ongoing conversation.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, M.J.
Q Just following up on that, John. When Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday that Hamas had given some sort of ultimatum on the hostages front, do you know what he was referring to?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t.
Q On a separate topic, I wonder what you made of Hassan Nasrallah’s speech today: “We are not scared of war.” Does the U.S. hear that as escalatory or pretty consistent with what we’ve heard recently?
MR. KIRBY: I think we’re going to judge actions and not words. We haven’t seen Hezbollah jump in with both feet to come to Hamas’s aid and assistance. We continue to message privately and, of course, publicly with you all that we don’t want to see this conflict widen and we don’t want to see a second front opened on the north. We don’t think that’s good for the region. Certainly isn’t good for the Israeli people. And we’re going to continue to deliver that message.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q On migration, Denver’s mayor this weekend told CBS that his ci- — city needs arriving Venezuelan migrants to have the ability to work. Is the administration open to extending temporary protective status for Venezuelans who arrived after that July 31st date that you all set?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you on that. You probably should talk to Secretary Mayorkas and his team at DHS. But that’s not something I would have an update for.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, you mentioned the last package for — aid package for Ukraine. If there’s no deal with Congress, what happens once that’s exhausted? I mean, will shipments of weapons just stop?
MR. KIRBY: They would have to.
Q Are there any —
MR. KIRBY: They’d have — they’d have to. We have — we have — the President signed out the last security assistance package for which we had replenishment authority funds. That’s it. We need the supplemental passed so that we can provide additional security assistance to Ukraine.
Now, there’s always a lag of days, if not weeks, each time we sign out one of these packages. So, the things that were signed out on the 27th have not all been delivered to Ukraine; that will come in coming days and weeks. But after that, absent supplemental funding, there’s — there’s no other magical pot to dip into to try to get support for Ukraine.
Q So, there’s no other pools of government weapons that could be used temporarily and then refilled later?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any Band-Aid fix that can be done. I mean, I don’t want to — I don’t want to get ahead of the decision-making process here. I mean, we’re going to do what we can to continue to support Ukraine.
But in terms of the kinds of security assistance that we’ve been able to provide and the frequency with which we have provided it — every two weeks — that ended on the 27th when we submitted our last one for the year, the last one that we had funding applied to.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, we got to start wrapping it up. Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thank you. A follow-up on the question. John, you just said that you have no indication that Israel is behind the assassination of Saleh al-Arouri, but Israeli cabinet ministers and Israel officials are on the record saying that they are going to go after Hamas leaders; they are going to assassinate them just like they did in the ‘70s after Munich. So, do you — do you dismiss what they’re saying as maybe it’s not the response — the (inaudible) responsibility?
MR. KIRBY: That comment was nothing about — nothing to dismiss anything they said. I was asked a simple question: Do we have evidence that Israel was responsible for it? And I said we didn’t.
Now, Israel, as I’ve said before, has a right and responsibility to go after the threat that Hamas poses, which means they have a right and a responsibility to go after the leadership of Hamas.
Now, as I’ve also said many, many times from the podium, we expect that they will do that in accordance with international law.
Q On my question yesterday, the State Department condemned the statement of two Israeli cabinet ministers calling for the displacement of Palestinians.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q And I’m sure that’s the position of the White House as well.
MR. KIRBY: It is.
Q But practically, how do you enforce that? You have so much leverage over Israel. Apart from condemnation, what practically can you do to stop this plan? Because Netanyahu defiantly challenged the White House when it comes two-state solution and other issues —
MR. KIRBY: Well, first —
Q — whether keeping soldiers in the northern part of Gaza.
MR. KIRBY: First of all, I think — I don’t think we can call it a plan. These are comments by two cabinet officers. That doesn’t constitute an Israeli plan to relocate people out of Gaza. So, I don’t think we should get ahead of where we are right now.
And you’re right, that statement does speak for the United States government and for this administration in terms of our complete refusal and rebuke of any forced displacement outside of Gaza of any Palestinians. We have made that clear to our Israeli counterparts in private sessions. We certainly have made that publicly. And that’s not going to change.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, John.
Q Thank you, Karine. Admiral, back to Ukraine for a minute. It was well chronicled earlier in the war the heavy losses the Russian military took in terms of equipment, firepower, and such. In the wake of this recent barrage, though, launched on these Ukrainian cities, what is the current U.S. assessment of just what the Russian military’s currently capability is?
MR. KIRBY: Interesting that they have to keep reaching out to other countries to shore up their inventory of artillery shells and missiles and, of course, drones. A lot of these drones that were launched in the last 72 hours were Iranian-made or Iranian-designed drones.
We know that this war has had an impact on Mr. Putin’s war-making capability, particularly when it comes to munitions: artillery, drones, missiles.
We also know that he still has a sizable amount of his air force available to him, a sizable amount of his ground mechanized capability available to him. And, of course, his — while his navy has been challenged in the Black Sea, it’s really only been the Black Sea fleet that has been affected. He also has an advantage in manpower because Russia is just a bigger country.
And he doesn’t have to — unlike President Zelenskyy, he doesn’t have to answer to the Russian people about mobilizations and, you know, taking prisoners out of jail cells and putting them on the battlefront.
He has gone through an enormous amount of manpower in the last two years of war, and we know that he’s going to continue to try to throw manpower at it.
All that said, Jonathan, that’s on the plus side of the ledger for him.
On the negative side of the ledger, command and control in the Russian army is still abysmal. Morale, leadership — absolutely at the dirt floor. They are still heavily reliant on, you know, long-range kind of strikes because they got that available to them.
When they engage the Ukrainian forces on the ground, they’re not having much success. For so — the so-called ballyhooed counteroffensive that they were going to launch themselves, they’ve really achieved nothing in recent weeks and months.
This is a military that still has not really learned the lessons that you would think a modern military would learn after two years of war.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: In the back. Way in the back, go ahead. In the back.
Q Yeah. Admiral, you said the United States doesn’t want a second front. And you also said that Israel has a right and responsibility to go after Hamas leadership. But isn’t the United States and the President — aren’t they exactly widening and escalating this, given the fact that the U.S. is supporting chasing Hamas leadership outside of Gaza? I mean, the fact that it’s going into Lebanon, a sovereign nation.
MR. KIRBY: Again, your question is presuming an awful lot and is presuming that I said things I didn’t say.
I — I’m not —
Q I have it right here, in Otter.
MR. KIRBY: I’m not confirming that the — that the Israelis took this airstrike. I would refer you to them to speak to their military operations.
Q They haven’t denied it.
MR. KIRBY: Nevertheless, I’m not confirming that they — that they — that they took this strike. They have a right and a responsibility to go after Hamas leadership, and we expect that they’ll do that in accordance with international law.
Nothing has changed about the fact that we don’t want the conflict to widen. I mean, heck, my opening statement was four or five pages’ worth of talking about all the kind of capabilities that the President is putting in the region to prevent that very outcome.
Q Okay. So, let me follow up on that then. Given the Red Sea patrols, we knew in advance of those being set up that the Iranian defense minister said very clearly, “Nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance.” The United States knew that, set it up anyway. Is that not being seen as a provocation? If you know that Iran sees that as a provocation, you take the action anyway.
MR. KIRBY: Wow. Well, that’s certainly turning things on their — upside down, isn’t it?
Wouldn’t — wouldn’t you consider a provocation the launching of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial —
Q Well, the United States —
MR. KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait. Let me —
Q — doesn’t have soil there.
MR. KIRBY: Let me finish. Wouldn’t that be considered a provocation, taking — targeting innocent merchant shipping —
Q I’m asking you the question.
MR. KIRBY: — and innocent merchant sailors? That’s a provocation.
What we’re doing, what Prosperity Guardian is all about –and go on the web and you can look at it — it’s a defensive posture. It’s a coalition of the willing of maritime nations coming together to try to protect international shipping, shipping that affects the global economy.
Q But it’s led to an escalation, because, in turn, what has happened is —
MR. KIRBY: No ma’am. No ma’am.
Q So, you’re denying, then, that there has been an escalation since the Red Sea patrol?
MR. KIRBY: I totally disagree with the premise of your question.
Q Okay, but since the —
MR. KIRBY: It wasn’t the United States who decided to attack commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The Houthis did that. And who are the Houthis backed by? Iran. As I’ve said before, Iran provided the missiles that the Houthis are using.
We are simply in a defensive posture to try to protect that commercial shipping, and we have in the last 48 hours.
Q And since then, there’s been an escalation. Now, Iran has launched a frigate into that. So, there has been escalation.
MR. KIRBY: Okay, again, let me stop you. The fact that they —
Q So, has the United — I ask you again: Has the United States’ actions supported an escalation as a result?
MR. KIRBY: No.
Q You said that the Pres- — your words said —
MR. KIRBY: You asked me a question, ma’am. I answered it. No.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got to move on.
Q You said nothing the President has ordered has been designed to widen or deepen this conflict.
MR. KIRBY: I stand by my answer. No.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, we’ve got to move on. Go ahead, Danny and then Marek. And then we’re done.
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Admiral. Just on the — you mentioned a recent call with Netanyahu. Can you speak to the tenor of the recent conversations between the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu? There have been reports of growing tensions between them. And, you know, I mean, what — can you describe to us what the — you know, what — the tenor of those conversations?
MR. KIRBY: No. No. I’m not going to get into describing the tone and tenor. We do a readout of these conversations. We’ll continue to do that.
Look, these are two guys have known each other a long, long time. They don’t agree on every issue, and you shouldn’t expect that they would agree on every issue. The President is able to have candid, forthright conversations with counterparts. And when you’re friends with a country the way we are with Israel, those — those conversations can be — they should be candid and forthright.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ve got to wrap it up. Go ahead, Marek.
Q Thank you very much. Two questions on Ukraine. Does the President support confiscating Russian frozen assets — $300 billion — to help Ukraine? And a second question, how much of the equipment that was delivered to Ukraine by the U.S. has been damaged by Russia? Do you have any assessment — what are their capabilities in terms of the equipment delivered by the West and the United States?
MR. KIRBY: On your first question, we’re still talking to partners about what reconstruction and recovery needs to look like in Ukraine after the war. But obviously, our main focus right now is helping them in this fight against Russian aggression.
And on your second question, that’s a better question put to the Ukrainian defense forces, not the United States. We are working very, very hard to make sure that every system that is provided to Ukraine, there’s a measure of accountability for it. That — that we can assure the Congress and the American people that that materiel is being used appropriately on the field of battle.
And we’ve seen no indication that it hasn’t been — that there’s been — that — you know, that there’s been some widescale corruption or — or misuse by the Ukrainian military. But it is war — it is war — and these things are sometimes being extended — or expended hand to mouth. I mean, they no sooner get into Ukraine than the Ukrainians are firing them at Russian troops.
So, we’re working real hard on accountability. But, you know, as for every single bullet and bean that have been given to Ukraine, I mean, that’s really something for the Ukrainians —
Q I’m not talking about —
MR. KIRBY: — to speak to.
Q — every single bullet. I’m asking about — in general, about Ukrainian capabilities in the war with Russia. Are you tracking those?
MR. KIRBY: Of course we are. Yeah. We ha- — in fact, we added — we added expertise and individuals to the team in Kyiv specifically for accountability purposes. And the Ukrainians understand our need for accountability. They share that, and they have made it clear that they’re willing to work with us on accountability measures for all the systems that are being provided.
I will just tell you, broadly speaking, without speaking to every single artillery shell, the kinds of materiel we give Ukraine is given to them with thoughtful deliberation based on what they say they need in the moment and in — in coming weeks. And we’ve seen that with every package that we’ve delivered.
Number two, as I said, in many cases, this stuff is going right from the — right from the trucks and the trains to the hands of a soldier on the battlefield — not every one, but oftentimes, it’s that — it’s that fast. They are using these things appropriately in defense of their country.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Admiral.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Appreciate it.
Q Thank you, John.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much. Okay. Darlene, good to see. You want to reset us and start us off again?
Q Sure. Good to see you, too. For the first time in the U.S., there are wind turbines that have sent electricity to the grid — that there’s a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. It delivered some power just before midnight on Wednesday. It’s a project the Biden administration had signed off on. I was just wondering if, you know, the President supports this kind of energy. Is he aware? Any reaction that you can share?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have a reaction for you at this time. I would have to get back to the team. And I have — certainly have not spoken to the President about this particular issue. As you just stated, that is something that we are — when it comes to wind turbines, you’ve seen the President visit many manufacturing factories where they are certainly leading with that and — and manufacturing those wind turbines.
So, certainly that is part of our climate change — certainly — initiative, clean energy. So, it’s certainly something that we have been very much backing and supporting. But that particular issue, I have not touched base with the President about.
Q And then two other quick ones. Will the President have a public schedule tomorrow or Friday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything at this — at this time for you. As you know, he will be traveling on Saturday for January 6 to Pennsylvania. That is something that the campaign is putting together. So, if you have any specific details, we’ll certainly — make sure that you reach out to them. I just don’t have anything else on his schedule for the next day or two.
Q And is there a list of the scholars and historians that the press office said he had lunch with today —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So —
Q — in the lead-up to the January 6th —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a list to share at this time. For — for folks who are not tracking, this afternoon, the President met — or had lunch with a group of scholars and historians to discuss ongoing threats to our democracy, whether here or — and also abroad.
This is something that he tends to — to do, especially as we head in — head towards a — you know, an important day like January 6th. So, it’s something that he — it is commonly done. He’s done it — he’s met with a diverse group of historians before. I don’t have a list to provide to you at this time.
Go ahead, Trevor.
Q Thanks, Karine. On the — the scholars and historians meeting, that statement referenced threats to democratic institutions in the country. Does the President think that there are any specific policy changes that are needed to strengthen institutions ahead of the elections?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any policies to announce or preview for you at this time.
Look, the President has always been clear. I’ve been clear from this podium as well. What happened on Jan- — January the 6th was unprecedented — an attack on our core principles, an attack on democracy. What we saw was an attack on our rule of law, attack on our Constitution.
We saw the Confederate flag in — in the middle of the Capitol building. It is — it was a — a terrifying and horrific day and a — you know, a dark day in our history, sadly.
But I just don’t have — as far as policy-wise and our — strengthening our institutions, I don’t have anything to share at this time.
Q But specifically, does he think the United States is ready to have free and fair elections in November?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, it’s — we have to. I mean, that is what we need — we have to. That’s what the President believes in. Right? He believes in having a democracy that works, on having a free and fair election. That’s something that he has spoken to, obviously.
But I don’t — as far as our policies for our institutions, announcing any new policy, I don’t have anything to announce at — at this time. But clearly, that is something that the different agencies who are involved are certainly making sure that we — we get to a place that we’re — we’re — you know, we’re — we’re — Americans are able to — to vote freely on — in November.
Q And do you have any reaction to the new data out of Treasury that the national debt has hit a record $34 trillion?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, yeah, if you look at — if you look at that data, it’s a trickle — there’s a trickle-down debt. If you think about it, Republican tax cuts are responsible about 90 percent of it — of the increase in the debt as a share of the economy over the last two decades, excluding emergency spending.
And so, as we know — you’ve heard me say this; you’ve heard the President speak to this — of what he has done to certainly lower — lower the debt.
He signed a legislation to lower the deficit by $1 trillion. Right?
And when you think about the Inflation Reduction Act, that’s going to lower prescription drug costs and cracking down on the wealth — on the wealth tax cheats that we’ve seen. And then his agenda would cut the deficit another $2.5 trillion by making the wealthy pay their fair share. So, that is what the President has done.
What we’ve seen on the other side is the complete opposite. What they’ve tried to do is continue to give a tax break to the millionaires and the billionaires. And that — what they have actually put forward would add more than $3 trillion to the debt.
So, that’s what the data shows us. And that’s what we have done to try to make sure — the President has been very, very deliberate about this — to make sure that we can do everything we can to certainly deal with the — with the debt.
Go ahead, M.J.
Q Thanks, Karine. Has the President been briefed on the imam who was shot and wounded outside of a New Jersey mosque this morning? Obviously, there’s serious concern about this having been an act that was driven by Islamophobia. Just wondered what the White House —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’re certainly — we’re aware of the shooting of the imam outside of the New Jersey mosque, as you just laid out. And certainly, we’re praying for his speedy recovery.
Local law enforcement are all hands on deck, obviously, and is investigating. And certainly, we hope that they’re able to complete their work soon.
I don’t have anything else. I — I would refer you to the FBI on any specifics. And I have not spoken to the President. But obviously, we are aware of it.
Q And just — given that this is the first briefing of the new calendar year, is there a way in which you could sum up, sort of, what the President’s top priorities are as we head into a new year, particularly given that this is the last year of his first term?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, the way that we see the President’s — even the President’s first three years: He’s done more in the first three years than presidents have done in the first two terms — or — their first two terms — in their two terms of their presidency.
And that is — if you think about historic pieces of legislation — whether it’s infrastructure; whether it’s CHIPS and Science Act; whether it is — you know, is the Inflation Reduction Act, as I just mentioned, which is historic in nature, as we talk about clean energy and lowering prescription drugs — that is — that is incredibly important.
And what we need to do and what the President wants to focus on is implementing those — right? — continuing to implement those really key important legislation. That’s what you’re going to see the President do.
Last year in his State of the Union, you heard the President speak to finishing the job. And — and so, that is something that he wants to continue to do — right? — whether it’s making sure we have veterans — making sure — that Unity Agenda that he talked about: making sure that we’re focusing on our veterans, focusing on getting fentanyl off the street, focusing on how do we deal with cancer. Those are the things that the President is going to continue to talk about.
And — and one of the very important things in the Inflation Reduction Act is that — there is that insulin cap at 35 bucks for adults. He wants to make that — make sure that happens for all Americans.
So, there is a lot to work on.
We saw the data coming out of — out of 2023 on the economy and where the economy is headed and how Bidenomics, we believe, is working because of that data.
And so, there’s still a lot of work to do. And that’s what you’re going to see from this President.
Q Is the emphasis heavily on implementation as opposed to, you know, there being other pieces of legislation that the White House is hopeful —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I think when I talk — when he talks about the Unity Agenda, there’s more things to be done. Right? There’s more work to be done that continues on the historic — I think the historic first term that the President has had. So, certainly, there are more things to be done. But implementing those — those historic piece of legislation is important as well.
Go ahead, Mary.
Q Secretary Mayorkas has obviously been up on the Hill negotiating this deal trying to hammer out something on the border. But at the same time, the House is formally beginning impeachment proceedings against him. Do you have any concern that this will complicate a deal, it could hurt negotiations, especially as we’re up against a clock here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — you know, I — I kind of addressed this at the top, how baseless it is and how they’re wasting their time on — on impeachment proceedings that make no sense. And that’s not what the American people want them to focus on.
And that certainly — we see that from House Republicans, obviously, and it’s a political stunt. It’s baseless. It’s purely baseless.
And instead of coming together to deal with potentially what’s going to happen on January 19th — a shutdown — instead of dealing with that and really keeping to their word of that bipartisan agreement that the President did and made back in 2023 and keeping that deal — two thirds of House Republicans voted for that; we saw bipartisan support in the Senate — and what they’re doing is — they’re — they’re not doing their job.
They’re focusing on something that Americans do not want to see. They want us to deliver on things that matter to them.
Q Well, regardless of that, are you concerned that the fact that they are taking this action — even if you disagree with it — that it’s going to make this more difficult —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think it’s —
Q — that it’s going to complicate all of this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We think it’s baseless, and we think it’s a waste of time,and we think it’s not the — not the focus that they should have. That’s not the focus that Americans want them to have.
And so, look, we have — I mean, we were able to come together — when you think about the budget, when you think about where we’re headed, potentially, on the 19th — to come with a bipartisan agreement to keep the government open. That was done in a bipartisan way. Two thirds of House Republicans voted for that.
So, we can get this done. They agreed on it. They agreed on it.
But yet, they want to focus on something that is not — that is not going to keep the government open. That’s for sure.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Karine. Last night, the President said that he needed more money to protect the U.S. southern border: “Give me the money.” Does he think it’s a lack of money, a lack of funding that has led to the current situation at the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, it’s certainly a — we’re ask- — there’s a reason — let me step back for a second.
If you look at the national security supplemental that the President put forward, he put border security in there — right? — because he believes in order to get the work done at the border, we need more resources. DHS needs more resources. Our Border Patrol agents need more resources. We need more immigration judges. We need more resources to get this done. We need the technology at the border to deal with what’s going on with migrants at the border.
And — and, you know — you know, last May, the Speaker and Republican — the Republicans in the House, they voted to get rid of 2,000 — 2,000 Border Patrol agents. I mean, that’s their focus. So, of course, that’s not helpful.
That — so, we need the resources to actually do the work. And they keep getting in the way. House Republicans keep getting in the way of doing the work to deal with what we’re seeing at the border.
So, they’re obstructing. House Republicans are obstructing. That’s what they’re doing right now.
Q But does the President believe it’s just a money issue? Or does he think that the policies have to change too?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I would remind you, Weijia, on the first day of his administration, he put forth a comprehensive immigration policy — legislation. And he presented that to Congress. And he did that because he understands that the immigration process — or the system — has been broken for decades — for decades.
So, obviously, we need to change policy and work on policy to deal with a broken system. So, it’s both. It is — and that’s what you’ve been seeing from the Senate side. Both Republicans and Democrats have been talking and negotiating for the past couple of weeks on how to deal with the border situation, border security on — and it’s been a policy conversation and a funding conversation. So, it’s both.
Q And does he have any New Year’s resolutions? (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have the President’s New Year’s resolution. I think — what I will say is that the President wants to continue doing the job that he — that he has said that he’s going to do on behalf of the American people. That’s what we’ve seen him do the last three years.
I’ve talked about the historic piece of legislation that’s actually going to deal with healthcare; going to deal with veteran’s health — right?; going to deal with clean energy and climate change; going to deal with key issues that matter to the American people — Bidenomics, making sure that the economy works for all while building the middle class. Those are the things that the President is going to focus on.
Go ahead, Justin.
Q Two quick ones. The first, after the plane crash in Japan, I’m wondering both has the administration offered any support or — or is it working on the investigation on the crash. And has that prompted any review of — especially of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So —
Q — certain tarmac safety procedures —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me —
Q — here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me just first say, Justin, our hearts go out to the families of the Japanese service members who lost their lives in this terrible accident. So, we’re glad that the passengers and all — obviously, the crew members were able to get out in the — on the commercial flight was able to get out safely. That is incredibly important.
Any specifics on — any questions about investigations, that was something for the — the government of — of Japan to — to speak to.
Q And then, the resignation yesterday of Harvard’s president seemed to generate a lot of conversation. I know the President — or you weighed in after her testimony on Capitol Hill, but I’m wondering if you have a reaction.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, I know there’s been a lot of coverage of this. And so, I want to be very mindful and careful. And I’ve said this before: When it comes to either private institutions or colleges and universities, we’re not going to comment — we’re not going to comment on any personal decision that’s been made.
And I want to — you know, as you asked — because you asked me our comments from here and what we were — what we said from here. We believe that — that this is a moment for leaders to have moral clarity. That — we believe that it is incredibly important at this time to have moral clarity.
And — and you know — you know, look, any calls for genocide are — are monstrous. And they’re antithetic- — antithetical. There should not be a place for that in this country. And we’re always going to call out hate, and we’re always going to be very, very clear about that.
And I will add that you heard the university presidents who testified also apologize. Right? And you heard them say this — I’ll — I’ll quote what President Gay said. She said, “I am sorry. Words matter.” I’ll quote what President McGill say, “I was not focused on — but I should have been — the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate.”
So, we believe it’s a time to stand up and have — and show leadership. And we believe that’s what we did at that time.
Q Thanks, Karine. On the border negotiations, can you comment on the concerns raised by some of the hi- — cauc- –Hispanic Caucus members and other elected Latino leaders who feel they’ve been kind of cut out of these talks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’ve been in touch with Democrats, obviously, members of the Hispanic leadership, and we’ve done that as these conversations have been going. We’re not going to speak to, certainly, private conversations.
Look, I’ll say this. The President believes that we need to have a bipartisan agreement. That’s where he believes on both funding and also policy. And that’s what you’ve seen from Democrats and Republicans on the Senate side. And that’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve been they’ve been having those conversations during the holiday season, and — and throughout this week as well.
And so, we believe those conversations are headed in the right direction. And so, again, I said this moments ago: Our — the President believes our immigration system is broken. That’s why he put forth a legislation to deal with the comprehensive — a comprehensive legislation to deal with the immigration system.
And so, now we’re having a conversation — a bipartisan conversation about how to move forward. We’re going to continue certainly to hear from the leaders, obviously, and to hear what they have to say. And we’ve been in touch with them. We’ve had conversations with them. Not going to go into private conversations.
And, you know, it’s being hammered out. I don’t want to get into specifics from here, what the policies are going to look like, what’s in or what’s out. We think it’s heading in the right direction. And it is important to have these —
Q Karine, one of the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — conversations.
Q One of the concerns that they’ve raised, they — they say the discussion is leading the Biden administration into a trap — you know, asylum discussions — that making it harder to migrate legally will only increase irreg- — irregular migration. Have you heard that from them specifically? And how does —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’ve seen the reporting, just like you have. Obviously, the team here has had conversations with leaders.
Here’s — here’s — here’s the situation — right? — the situation is that this system — this immigration system has been broken for decades. And we need to have a bipartisan agreement to move forward on how to deal with the system. That’s what we need to do, both on a policy front and a funding front.
And so, that’s what you’re seeing from the Senate side on both Republicans and Democrats, and it’s been weeks of conversations and negotiation. And they — we think that is important. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to deal with this issue. And it’s headed in the right direction.
I’m not going to get into asylum. I’m not going to get into asylum policy. I’m not going to get into specifics. And — and so, I’m just going to have to leave it there, obviously.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q Thanks, Karine. A House committee is moving ahead with impeachment proceedings against Secretary Mayorkas. There’s a hearing scheduled for next week. So, I’d just like to get the White House response.
And also, just to clarify, does this — does the President still have confidence in the Secretary?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. The President has confidence in the Secretary. I think — and I’ve — I said this moments ago — I said it at the top as well. We believe that what they’re doing — the House Republicans are doing with this impeachment inquiry is baseless. We believe that it’s a political stunt.
And — and we believe there’s not — there’s no time for that right now. There are things that the American people want us to get done. And that’s what they should focus on.
And — and, you know, it is — it is unfortunate that this is where the House Republicans — that’s the road that they want to go down with this impeachment proceeding. That is really unfortunate when the American people have been very clear: They want us to see — they want us to work in a bipartisan way to get things done for them. And that’s what the President wants to do.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Just two back on the border negotiations. Has the President spoken to Secretary Mayorkas since he met with the bipartisan negotiators on the Hill yesterday —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have —
Q — to get briefed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have — I — I would — literally would have to check. I don’t have any — any call with the — to read out. But obviously, the President speaks to his Cabinet Secretaries on a regular basis.
But on — on this particular meeting, I just don’t ha- — I don’t — I don’t want to get ahead — ahead of — of that. So, I would have to check in.
But he speaks to them on a regular basis. Obviously, it’s his Cabinet.
Q And you’ve said you’re not going to get into the details of what’s being negotiated. But broadly, does the White House want to see Congress clear the supplemental before turning to the government funding issue —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So —
Q — before January 19th?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — as you — I mean, as you just laid out, Congress has a lot of work to do. They do. The supplemental — like, the reason that we put forward a supplemental — they are emergency requests that we believe are incredibly important and that needs to be dealt with on behalf of the American people.
So, obviously, those are important. Those are emergency requests that the President asked for. So, critical — very critical to the American people.
And, you know, their basic job for House — for the House — well, for Congress, more broadly, is to keep the government open. That’s their basic duty — is to keep the government open.
And all they’re doing is dealing with a bipartisan agreement that the President made with Congress. Right? It’s something — again, I’m going to repeat myself here — something that two thirds of House Republicans voted for, something that — that we saw come out of the Senate in a bipartisan posture.
And so, they have a lot to deal with. They have a lot to deal with. And they should just do their job.
Q Does the President still have plans to visit the disaster site in East Palestine, Ohio?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any — anything — any schedule of the President at this time. But I will say this: The President continues to oversee, as you know — and we’ve said it multiple time from here. It was a robu- — robust recovery effort to support the people of East Palest- — Palestine. And we will visit when it is most helpful. The President will visit when it’s almost helpful to the community.
And so, we’re going to continue to stay on the ground as long as possible — remember, because we have that robust operation — while — while ensuring that Norfolk Southern is held accountable for the trauma they inflicted on this community.
But in the meantime, this is another thing — I was just asked about Congress, the supplemental, and the budget — this is another thing that we want Congress to act on. It is important that they do their part to enhance rail safety. That is something that Congress has to do. And they have to do it by — by passing a bipartisan railway safety act. That is something that they need to get to.
But the President is going to continue to be there for the community, as he has been for the past — past several months.
Q And Argentina has reported three foreign nationals, Syrian and Lebanese, arrested on suspicion of plotting a terror attack. Is that something the U.S. is monitoring? Does it raise concern levels here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything for you at this time.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q Yeah, on the federal debt. I want to ask you about it. So, I heard you blame the Republicans for the federal debt, but President Biden has been in office for 35 months. And over the past three months, the U.S. has added $10 billion per day to the federal debt. So — and that’s not turning around. So, is there a discussion here about cutting spending then?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Republican tax cuts are — are responsible for 90 percent — 90 percent of the increase in the debt. Ninety percent. That is something that Republicans are responsible for.
What the President has done — what the President has done — and you’ve heard us talk about it. I just talked about this. He’s put forth legislation, like lowering the deficit by $1 trillion. And that’s part of the lowering prescription drug costs and cracking down on — on the wealthy tax cheats. That’s what he’s done.
You know, $1.5 trillion — again, another way to lower the deficit, and that is through wasteful spending on special interests, like Big Pharma. The President beat Big Pharma. That’s what he was able to do last year because of the policies that he has put forth.
And meanwhile — yeah, you know what? The GOP and congressional Republicans — what they want to do is they want to continue with their MAGAnomics. What they’ve proposed will add $3 trillion to the debt. That’s — that’s the numbers. You’re a data guy. That’s the numbers. That’s what we have seen.
Q So, wait. Real quick, also on the — on the border. The Vice President is in Los Angeles — I’m sorry — went to Los Angeles to Las Vegas today. And the House Speaker is along the border. Does the President still have confidence that the Vice President can get to the root causes of the migration to stop the flow?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The — the President sees the Vice President as a partner. She’s a partner with him on all of the — all of the successes that we have seen, what we’ve been able to do the first — the first term in this administration — the first three years of this administration.
I just listed out hist- — historic pieces of legislation that we’ve been able to get done. Whether it’s lowering prescription drugs; whether it’s dealing with veterans care; whether it’s dealing with climate change; whether it’s Bidenomics, dealing with the economy — that is something that he has done in partnership with the Vice President.
So, he has all confidence in her and will continue to do so.
Q And the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He has confidence in the — in the Vice President. I answered your question.
Q With the additional indictment of Senator Menendez, does the President think the senator should resign?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s up to him. That’s — that’s a decision that he needs to make. And obviously, it’s a serious matter. And he thinks it was the right thing that he stepped down his chairmanship. As — on anything else to your question, that’s something for the senator to decide on.
Q Just broadly, though, does the President trust the senator? And is —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is —
Q Has the senator been cut off by the White House communications at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not — no going to get into any private discussions here at the White House. But that is something — as it relates to him resigning, that is something that the senator has to deal with.
Q You mentioned the — the immigration proposal that the President put forward a few times. Are there any pieces of it that the President is now pushing for in these border talks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get into negotiations from here.
Q Why is he not actively pushing for any parts of it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I didn’t say he wasn’t. I’m just saying I’m not negotiating from here.
Q Thank you, Karine. A couple of weeks ago, you had said what we’re seeing at the border isn’t unusual. But in the month of December, there were more than 302,000 migrant encounters — the highest total for a single month ever recorded. So, does the administration concede that what we’re seeing now is unusual?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I said was, to be exact — is that what we’re seeing at the U.S. is — ebbs and flows in how many migrants arrive at the border. It’s something that happens every year. It ebbs and flows. And it’s fueled by efforts of smugglers to encourage irregular migration.
And I will add, since — since May 12th, DHS has — has removed folks who have been — who have been here illegally — who were not here on a legal basis — about 460,000 people that they’ve been able to remove.
That’s what I said: Every year, we see an ebbs and flow. And that’s what we’re seeing at this time — and which is caused by misinformation from — and disinformation from smugglers.
Q Well, ICE reported that they only deported 142,000 in all of fiscal year 2023. December had more than double that cross in just a single month. So, how is — how is that really a measurable consequence?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Since May 12th, DHS has been able to remove and return over 460,000 individuals who — who did not have a legal basis to be here. That’s what DHS has been able to do since May 12th.
And I will remind you, you know, that just last week, we had Homeland Security Advisor Sherwood-Ran- — Sherwood-Randall and Secretaries (inaudible) Mayorkas meet with the Mexican government — just last week — and it was a productive conversation. And we believe that the president of Mexico has taken significant enforcement actions, and we are starting to see the results.
And so, a lot of this is diplomacy. Right? A lot of it is having diplomacy. A lot of it is enforcement.
I mean, you know, I just laid out how last May, while — while DHS was removing — starting to remove folks who were here on a — who were not here on a legal basis, you had House Republicans voting to get rid of 2,000, you know, Border Patrol agents. That’s what they were doing.
So, we’re trying to deal with the issue. And we get it. It ebbs and flows every year. We get it. We understand what’s happening at the border.
That’s why there’s negotiations happening on the Senate side, with Republicans and Democrats, to deal with this issue.
Q Dealing — dealing with the issue as the administration is also fighting to keep up — you know, to remove razor wire along the border that is intended to keep, you know, this surge lowered to keep people out from crossing illegally.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Governor Abbott’s razor wire does not prevent — it does not prevent non-citizens from unlawfully crossing. That’s not what it does. If anything, it puts at risk — it puts the lives of the Border Patrol at risk. It puts them in danger. That’s what the razor wire does.
And that’s what the — Governor Abbott is doing — again, a political stunt that that’s — doesn’t actually fix the problem and puts Border Patrol agents —
Q Is there anything else fixing it right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — well, I just don’t —
Q I mean —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — but —
Q — it’s —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, it —
Q Sure, a temporary solution, obviously. But when — I guess the reason that I’m coming to it —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But, Jacqui —
Q — from this perspective —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — it also puts —
Q — is because —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — it puts the — it puts Border Patrol — they — it puts them in a difficult position. Right?
Q I hear you. But when you’re talking about the impeachment proceeding, for instance, as baseless —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Uh-huh.
Q — and you have, you know, Democrats calling on the administration to do more —
You had the mayor of Denver today saying that Denver has become the highest city per capita for migrant recipients in the country. You’ve had mayors in New York and Chicago begging for more federal help, saying that the administration is not answering them.
And then, you have Texas saying that they’ve had to take matters into their own hands because the administration isn’t enforcing existing laws on the books.
The numbers keep going up. You have, you know, records being shattered every month, as population bigger than the — the size of Seattle coming in since October.
And I understand where you’re coming from. But in the meantime, when there’s really not been any progress — and you’ve always talked about how this has been an issue for decades — what is the administration doing right now to actually improve the crisis at the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We have House Republicans that’s literally blocking the President’s effort to do something. That’s what they’re doing. They’re playing political games. They’re doing political stunts. Literally, House Republicans themselves voted to decrease the amount of Border Patrol agents by 2,000. They’re getting in the way, and they don’t want to help.
But we’re — we are glad that we are working with Senate Republicans and Democrats in a bipartisan way to come up with a bipartisan agreement to deal with the border security. That’s what we’re seeing. Those negotiations have been going on. They’re going to — they’re continuing this week.
And we hope — we really do hope that we come to a place where we can talk about a bipartisan agreement where we can deal with the funding and the policy.
And, you know, House Republicans are getting in the way. That’s what they want to focus on. That’s where they see there — there could be the most effective. And that’s not what we believe. We — that’s not what the American people want.
Go ahead, Peter.
AIDE: Karine, you have time for one or two more.
Q Just to be clear, how does the razor wire put Border Patrol agents at risk, Karine? The Biden administration themselves said that the agents have been cutting the wire to provide medical assistance to migrants or to apprehend migrants who have already crossed into U.S. territory.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me be more clear. It makes it more difficult — it actually makes it more difficult for Border Patrol to apprehend of those who — who do cross. So, I’m going to be — just clear that up a little bit. It makes —
Q So, it’s less about their own safety —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It just makes it —
Q — but their ability to apprehend.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, yeah.
Q Understood. I just wanted to —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just to be more clear.
Q — make sure I got that right.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It makes — it does make it more difficult for them to do their jobs. Right? It does.
Q A quick last question, if we can. President Biden obviously campaigned on the idea of being a bipartisan leader, the ability to work together. One of his biggest — biggest successes, the White House would say, would be the infrastructure law — right now a trillion dollars. It was approved with the support of Democrats and Republicans.
Right now, there’s a new Republican House Speaker. President Biden hasn’t had a one-on-one meeting with him yet. Many weeks have now passed. Is there any indication when that would happen? And what’s precluding the President from saying, “Speaker Johnson, come to the White House. Let’s sit down and talk about this”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here’s what I — I’ll say to that. You have Speaker Johnson, who has been very clear where he stands on the border — right? — who has — continues with the House Republicans to make this a political issue, and to put — to move forward with political stunts, and has blocked — has blocked any efforts for the President to deal with the border.
That’s what we’ve seen. That is what we’ve seen from the Speaker.
Now, the President has been able with his team — right? — to have a bipartisan conversation and nego- — negotiation with senators, Republicans and Democrats. That is a good thing. That is a good thing.
We think those negotiations are headed in the right way, as we talk about border security. And, you know, we are hopeful — we are hopeful that we’ll come to a place that we are dealing with an issue that Americans really care about. And that’s where we are, Peter.
Q So, no plans —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is where —
Q — are being made for the two sides —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t —
Q — to meet?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to read out to you. But that is what — that is the playing field that we’re seeing right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is.
Thanks, everybody. I’ll see you tomorrow.
3:15 P.M. EST