1:06 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good afternoon, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, this morning, President Biden announced that a record-breaking 20 million Americans have enrolled in healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act. This is yet another major milestone in his work to lower costs for families across the country and expand access to quality, affordable healthcare.
In addition to record-breaking enrollment for healthcare coverage through the ACA, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, which every single Republican member of Congress voted against, we took on Big Pharma, and we won. And here are a couple of things that we were able to do: cap the cost of insulin at 35 bucks for seniors, allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for the first time ever, and save millions of Americans an average of 800 bucks per year on their health insurance.
This collective work matters and it cha- — and it is changing lives. President Biden knows that access to care can mean the difference between life and death and hope and fear — and it is exactly why he continues to fight to ensure everyone can access the care they deserve.
I also want to say a word about a tragic anniversary and new actions by the DOJ today. One year ago today, President Biden joined many other Americans in outrage over the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols.
Vice President Harris traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to attend the celebration of life for Tyre, where she mourned with his family and, after being called to the pulpit, spoke about everyone’s right to public safety and right to live free from violence.
Mr. Nichols’s — Mr. Nichols’s death served as another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma that Black and brown Americans continue to experience across many communities.
As the President said, real and lasting change will only come if we can take action to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.
Today, the Department of Justice is issuing a new guide for states and localities to help ensure that specialized crime units like the one involved in Tyre Nichols’s death are thoroughly accountable to the communities they serve.
This guide builds on the actions this administration has already taken to advance effective and accountable policing, including requiring that federal law enforcement agencies ban chok- — chokeholds; restrict no-knock warrants; and contribute to a newly established data- — database for federal law enforcement police misconduct.
In addition to today’s DOJ guide, the President is continuing to urge Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to advance accountability, transparency, and public trust in law enforcement across the nation.
And with that, I will turn it over to the Admiral here, who is here to discuss the latest development in the Middle East and, of course, in the Red Sea.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine. Good afternoon. As you saw from Central Command yesterday, Iran-backed Houthis launched a complex attack of one-way attack drones, anti-ship cruise missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Red Sea.
Yesterday afternoon, President Biden was briefed by his national security team — and that included the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Brown, and Secretary Blinken — all on the latest developments in Israel and in Gaza, but also, of course, these attacks by the Houthis in the Red Sea.
Thankfully, due to some exceptional work by naval personnel aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the destroyers Gravely, Laboon, and Mason, as well as a ship from the United Kingdom, the HMS Diamond, there were no injuries, and there was no damage reported.
But make no mistake: At the time, U.S. vessels, commercial and military, and dozens of other merchant vessels were transiting in the area of this attack. Had they been hit, innocent lives very well could have been lost.
So, we’ll say it again. These attacks against vessels in the Red Sea pose a direct threat to the lives, to freedom of navigation, and to global trade in one of the world’s most critical waterways. And despite what the Houthis may say, they are threatening and targeting commercial vessels with ties to countries all over the world, many of which have no connection to Israel whatsoever.
These attacks are unlawful, they’re reckless, and they are escalatory. The United States has built an international naval coalition of more than 20 countries that are countering these attacks and protecting international commerce through what we now call Operation Prosperity Guardan — Guardian. And that’s what you saw happen yesterday.
Unfortunately, that operation is required. And you could see the results yesterday — the need for those military capabilities.
We’ve issued new sanctions on individuals and entities that are facilitating the Houthi attacks, and we’re working closely with the —
(A reporter sneezes.) Bless you.
We’re working closely with the U.N. Security Council members to pass a resolution to show international solidarity on this critical issue.
The text of that resolution, which will likely be voted on later today, unequivocally demands that the Houthis cease these attacks. It also underscores the Security Council’s support for navigational rights and stresses that the transit passage of merchant and commercial vessels through the Red Sea must be able to continue unimpeded.
And earlier this month, as you saw, 14 countries, including the United States, delivered the clearest warning yet to the Houthis, making it clear that they will, and I quote, “bear the responsibility for consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, or the free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”
The United States does not seek conflict. We do — we do, however, seek the safe and secure passage of international commerce through the Red Sea. And we’re going to continue to coordinate and consult closely with our allies and partners about the appropriate next steps should these attacks continue.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, (inaudible).
Q You had strikes against the Houthis under consideration for weeks, but you’ve also taken pains to prevent this conflict from widening. Would strikes potentially escalate, widen the conflict?
And also, given the nature of the Houthi operations, what do you expect to achieve? Could it be harder to strike back at the group because of the distributed nature?
MR. KIRBY: Well, let’s not get ahead of where we are. I won’t — I certainly won’t speculate about any potential future military operations one way or the other.
The best solution to this situation not escalating is for the Houthis to stop these attacks. In the interim, since they’ve shown no predilection to do that, we’re going to do everything we have to do to protect shipping in the Red Sea. And I think I’ll just — going leave it there.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Gabe.
Q Well, along those lines, Admiral, these warnings that you’ve given clearly haven’t worked. How do you expect to deter the Houthis?
MR. KIRBY: The mission for Operation Prosperity Guardian is about countering the attacks that have been occurring. And they have been successful to a fare-thee-well in — in knocking these things out of the sky.
We call, again — as I said in my opening statement, we call again on the Houthis to stop these attacks. And I will repeat what I said in the st- — when I quoted the statement: They will bear the consequences for any failure to do so. And I think I’m just going to leave it there.
Q And, Admiral, a quick question, if I could, on Israel. You mentioned a couple of days ago that President Biden had spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the holidays. By our count, that — he last spoke with him on December 23rd. If that’s correct, that would make it 18 days since he spoke with the Prime Minister, and that will be the longest time that they’ve gone without speaking since the beginning of the war.
I understand Secretary Blinken is in the region and has been, but if they haven’t spoken for 18 days, what does that say about their relationship now as compared to several weeks ago?
MR. KIRBY: The fact that they haven’t spoken in any period of days — your count is 18; I’m not going to question your math — doesn’t say anything about the relationship between the Prime Minister and the President or between the — the United States and Israel.
These are two men that know each other, have known each other a long time. And they’ll — they’ll talk again. And I have no doubt about it that there’ll be future conversations. But I wouldn’t read anything into the dates on the calendar and what that says about the relationship one way or another.
And you’re right. I’m glad you pointed out Secretary Blinken is there in the region today. In fact, I think he’s either on his way to Bahrain right now or he is in Bahrain after wrapping up meetings in Israel.
This is his fifth or sixth time since October 7th. Believe me, the connective tissue between the United States and Israel: very, very tight. Very strong.
Q So, you would say his — the President’s relationship with Netanyahu is as strong today as it was at the beginning of the (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: What I’m saying is: You can’t judge the — the strength of a relationship based on how many times they talk on the phone. These are two leaders that have known each other a long time.
I’m not going to pull punches; of course, they don’t agree on every single issue. And we’re working, you know, through issues right now with respect to the fighting in Gaza. But that doesn’t mean that — that they don’t still have an open mind to one another. And when either of them feel like they need to pick up the phone and call, then that will happen. I have no doubt in my mind they’re going to talk again.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Chris.
Q But given the attacks have increased in the Red Sea, have the steps that have been taken so far not working to deter future attacks?
MR. KIRBY: I think I just answered that —
Q I know. But like —
MR. KIRBY: — exact question.
Q But can you say a little more about — I mean, does the administration think that they need to step up either in direct retaliation or something else?
MR. KIRBY: The Houthis have a choice to make. They — we — we’ve warned them. We put ships in the Red Sea. They’ve got a choice to make. And the right choice is to stop these attacks. And as I said, again — I’ll say it three times now — they’ll bear the consequences for failure to do so.
Q And another question is: The AP has obtained some videotape of a shooting in the West Bank — some Israeli soldiers probably shooting some Palestinians, allegedly without provocation.
Have — is the administration aware of this, the shooting? And also, what concerns do you have about, kind of, some of the violence that you’ve seen in the West Bank and how that could escalate the conflict in Israel?
MR. KIRBY: This is the first I’m hearing of that report, so I can’t speak with any granularity about the level of awareness across the administration. This is the first time I’ve heard that, so I’ll have to take that question back. But the President has spoken, I mean, from an early time — I mean, really early on — about his concerns about violence in the West Bank and that being perpetrated largely by settlers with extreme views and how much he absolutely opposes that. Those — that violence needs to stop.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Selina.
Q Just on Secretary Austin. When Jake Sullivan learned that Austin was in the hospital, did he ask why? Was he given a reason?
MR. KIRBY: Yes, of course, he wanted to know why the Secretary was in the hospital. But I’m going to — I’m not going to detail each and every phone conversation that we’ve been having with the Pentagon since finding out about this.
But yes, of course, we were all curious to know. He’s the Secretary of Defense. He’s a key member of this administration, so we we’re all very curious as to what — what put him in the hospital.
Q So, what answers were the administration given when they were asked why?
MR. KIRBY: I think I’ve covered this ad nauseam yesterday. We didn’t find out that he was in the hospital until Thursday afternoon. Jake informed the Chief of Staff, and both of them informed the President that evening. We didn’t have information specifically about his condition. And, quite frankly, neither — you know, nobody did. And it was just yesterday when the Pentagon announced that what put him in the hospital were —
Q So —
MR. KIRBY: — complications from — from prostate surgery.
Q So, when the President spoke to Austin, I assume the President also asked why. What reason wa- — he was given? We’re just trying to understand: When people asked why, did the Pentagon just decline to give the intr- — information? Did Austin not say anything —
MR. KIRBY: The — the call —
Q — or give incomplete information?
MR. KIRBY: — between the President and Secretary was very brief, and it was really focused on making sure that the President passed on his best wishes for a speedy recovery for the Secretary.
Q So, was it — was the Pentagon then giving incomplete information? You said the whole administration was curious.
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know how differently to answer this question as I did yesterday. We did not know he was in the hospital until Thursday. We did not know the condition that put him in the — in the hospital at that time. We certainly didn’t know about the prostate surgery that occurred earlier in December. We didn’t learn about that in- — that information until ensuing days. And certainly, we didn’t learn about the prostate cancer until yesterday.
Q And just lastly, we’ve learned that the White House instructed the Pentagon to release the information to the public after learning there was no disclosure plan in place. So, what does that say about transparency, the fact that the Pentagon did not have a plan to give the information to the public?
MR. KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to address — I’m not going to address individual press reports.
Look, making a public statement about what the Secretary’s condition was and the fact that he was in the hospital obviously made eminent sense. And — and I’ll let the Pentagon speak to their process when it — when it came to — to doing that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Trevor.
Q On the security situation in Latin America. I saw the statement from National Security Advisor Sullivan saying you’re committed to supporting Ecuadorian security and prosperity and bolstering cooperation with partners to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. What is the U.S. position on Ecuador and other Latin American countries using, kind of, extrajudicial measures, states of emergency in order to deal with these gangs?
MR. KIRBY: Well, so, first of all, the — our concern is over the violence and seeing that that stops. And as you saw from Secretary — Mr. Sullivan’s tweet, we strongly condemn these recent attacks. And we are committed to helping support security and prosperity by — for the people of Ecuador.
I would just say, look, we’re monitoring the situation. We’re willing to take concrete steps to improve our cooperation with the government of Ecuador as — as they begin to deal with the violence and the — and the stressors on the — on the population that this violence has — has occurred. And I think I’ll just leave it at that.
Q What kind of support are you providing to them or were you willing to provide to them?
MR. KIRBY: We haven’t had a specific conversation about exactly what that would mean. But I would walk you away from any consideration of U.S. military troops or anything like that. There’s no plans for that, and we ought to just kill that right now.
But — but, certainly, we were willing to talk with the government of Ecuador about what they might need. Could be maybe some investigative help, that kind of thing. But that’s sort of what the lane is right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, M.J.
Q John, last week, the administration said that it was issuing its last warning to the Houthis. So, are we about to see a different response from the U.S.?
MR. KIRBY: I’m just not going to speculate one way or another about next steps. As I said, we’re consulting with our allies and partners about what the next steps might — might be.
Again, the Houthis have a choice to make here, M.J. We have made it eminently clear, as our allies and partners have, that these attacks have to stop.
Q Well — but just given that the administration specifically said last week that the warning last week was the last warning from the U.S, can you at least say whether we should expect to see something different coming from the U.S.?
MR. KIRBY: No, I cannot say that. And I’m not going to telegraph punches one way or the other.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Karine. And thank you, John. Happy New Year. (Inaudible.)
I have two questions on Russia and North Korea and Hamas. The first question: The Israeli government recently showed evidence to the media that North Korea provided the weapons to Hamas; Hamas attacked Israel using North Korea weapons. Meanwhile, all the families harmed by Hamas are preparing a legal action to hold North Korea accountable. What is the United States’ assessment of this?
And the second question: Russian President Putin pointed out the risk of conflict on the Korean Peninsula this year. And North Korea continues to fire artillery fired at South Korea. Do you think military cooperation between Russia and North Korea will actually have an impact on South Korea?
MR. KIRBY: So, on your first question, I haven’t seen any indications — I’m not aware of any indications that there’s been some sort of cooperation militarily between Hamas and North Korea. I just don’t have anything to verify that.
We have talked a long time about the relationship between Russia and the DPRK and the way that Russia evades — finds ways to evade sanctions and to continue to do business with North Korea. And they have at least expressed publicly some sort of interest in — in sharing goals and objectives in the region. We’re watching this very, very closely.
I — I won’t speculate about the degree to which — that we’re seeing tangible evidence that North Korea is somehow benefiting militarily from this. We do know, without question — because I’ve — and I’ve said it many times — that certainly Russia is benefiting militarily by the purchase of North Korean ballistic missiles — which we detailed, again, were used in subsequent strikes in Ukraine — as well as the delivery of artillery shells.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Michael.
Q Thanks, Karine. John, just quickly back on Ecuador. Do you have a message for Americans who are in the country about the secur- — security situation? And secondly, is there a concern that the crisis there will further aggravate the flow of migrants to the U.S. southern border?
MR. KIRBY: I think too soon to know the answer to your second question. And, obviously, that’s something we’re going to watch and monitor.
I don’t want to step on the State Department. But, in general, our message to Americans that are in Ecuador is to please stay vigilant. Please avoid areas where you either see or feel or perhaps anticipate that there could be violence — to stay clear of that.
And then, of course, stay in t- — if you haven’t logged on and — and gotten the app from the State Department where you can get notifications, you ought to do that, because I’m sure the State Department and the embassy there will do everything they can to keep people informed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nancy.
Q On Ecuador. John, is there any determination that’s been made about the safety of U.S. diplomatic staff or any discussions taking place about reducing the U.S. diplomatic footprint in Ecuador?
MR. KIRBY: None that I’m aware of at this time, Nancy. This is all pretty fresh here. It’s all kind of unfolding as you and I are talking.
I’d refer you to the State Department. But I’m not aware of any changes to our footprint or our force protection posture at the embassy.
Q And then, going back to Selina’s question about Secretary Austin, I think what she was getting at — it seems as though there’s a big difference, when Jake Sullivan was informed by the Pentagon, in whether he was told when he asked about Secretary Austin’s condition, “We don’t know because we haven’t been told by the Secretary” versus “We know, but we’re not going to share that with you,” or “We’ve not been authorized to share that with you.”
So — so, the question is: Which one was it? Did — did Pentagon officials decline to share information they knew with the National Security Advisor, or did they just not have the information themselves?
MR. KIRBY: I would put it this way: Once we found out he was in the hospital, we certainly asked all the questions you would think we would ask to try to ascertain his condition and what — what was — what — what drove him into the — the hospital. Of course, we were curious about that. He’s the Secretary of Defense, and he’s a key member of the administration.
I would just tell you that — that that — that that effort to try to get more information was — was overt and it was genuine and it was certainly in the spirit of making sure that we understood what was going on with him and — in terms of his recovery.
I’ll let the Pentagon speak to the information flow, both publicly and inside the chain of command. But I can assure you that — that throughout every step of the way, from the time we were notified until, you know, yesterday when we all found out that he had prostate cancer, there was no lack of — of curiosity on our part, no lack of — or slackening of an effort to try to find out what was wrong with him.
Q But you don’t want to characterize the responsiveness coming to you from the Pentagon?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to do that.
Q Yesterday, House Speaker Johnson met new Taiwanese ambassador. Has the President met the new ambassador yet? If not, does he want to meet soon?
MR. KIRBY: Has the President — I’m sorry. Can you repeat the —
Q Speaker Johnson met new Taiwanese ambassador yesterday.
MR. KIRBY: Uh-huh.
Q So, if — I’m asking if President met the new Taiwanese ambassador yet.
MR. KIRBY: I don’t believe there’s been a meeting. And obviously, if and when there is, certainly that would be something we would make public.
Q And North Korea Kim Jong Un say South Korea is their principal enemy. At the same time —
MR. KIRBY: South Korea is what?
Q Their — their principal enemy. But at the same time, Kim Jong Un sent a message with sympathy to the Japanese Prime Minister over New Year’s earthquake in Japan. How do you see Kim Jong Un different approach to the — towards Japan and South Korea?
MR. KIRBY: (Laughs.)
Q Do you see — I mean, do you think he implied any message to the United States?
MR. KIRBY: It’s a failing exercise for me to try to get inside the brain of Kim Jong Un. I — what goes on between those ears is not something I — I really know about. I — I can’t — I can’t speak to his motivations in that regard.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q I just wanted to follow up on a question my colleague asked yesterday: the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to prevent journalists from accessing Gaza and being able to report in Gaza independently. Have you had a chance to see if the administration has brought that up with Israel, Israeli counterparts?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q What is the White House’s stance on that?
MR. KIRBY: We’re — we’re making a good-faith effort to try to get a better answer to you on that. I just don’t have it right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Danny.
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Admiral. You mentioned that Secretary Austin was part of the — the team briefing the President yesterday on the Houthis. I just wanted to ask you if you’re — you know, you’re confident that Secretary Austin is up to speed and fully au fait with all the — you know, with — with the decisions regarding possible action against the Houthis.
MR. KIRBY: Yes.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nadia.
Q Thank you. Two questions. One on Gaza. The administration authorized an assessment led by the U.N. to see if civilians can go back to Northern Gaza. Would you ask the Israelis or the U.N., in this case, to do another assessment of how weapons are used, especially against civilians and also against journalists?
We have unprecedented number of journalists who have been killed. Yesterday, you said that maybe they were caught in crossfire. But human rights organizations said some of these journalists were targeted. So, would you ask for an assessment similar to the one that you authorized?
MR. KIRBY: We obviously don’t want to see any innocent lives lost. We don’t want to see any innocent lives — any innocent people wounded. That, of course, includes journalists. They have every right to be there to cover this conflict, and we want to see their presence fully respected and for them to be as protected as possible in a war zone.
There should be no targeting of journalists. There should be no targeting of individual civilians. And we’re going to continue to — to have those conversations with our Israeli counterparts, as Secretary Blinken did just yesterday.
Q And second, as you know, the — you dismissed few days ago the case that — brought by South Africa against Israel at the ICJ. Did you read the indictment? And if you did, do you believe that cutting off water, electricity, and fuel on a civilian population does not constitute a war crime? By itself, nothing else.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, I read the indictment. And as I said — and we stand by what we — what we said about this — we find it without merit. We fou- — find it counterproductive. And I’ll leave it there.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. A couple more. Go ahead.
Q So, since the start of the Biden administration, have there been other Cabinet Secretaries who’ve not been able to perform their duties but have actually informed the White House?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have that kind of detail for you here today. I just — I wouldn’t — there would be no way for me to have that information.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Just a couple more. Go ahead, sir.
Q Thank you, Karine. Thank you, Karine. And thank you, John. Two question on Bangladesh, if I may. The one-sided election in Bangladesh has concluded, drawing global criticism for its crackdown on opposition. The Guardian characterized the election as “overshadowed by the — by a ruthless crackdown on opposition.” And the Wall Street Journal stated, “Bangladesh shows the limits of Biden’s ‘democracy promotion.’”
In light of your earlier commitment to taking all necessary steps to reflect the will of the people of Bangladesh and your declaration of the visa restriction policy ahead of election, what is your response to concern about the Biden administration’s limitations on democracy promotion?
MR. KIRBY: We obviously still believe in the importance of viable, vibrant democratic institutions all over the world. And nothing has changed about our desires to see that the aspirations of the Bangladeshi people are met, and that includes being able to conduct free, fair, and transparent elections.
Q I have one more. Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal, received a six-month sentence on New Year’s Day, widely believed to be driven by political vengeance from the ruling prime minister. Is President Biden aware of this cur- — current situation, considering Yunus — Yunus’s remarkable contribution to the poverty alleviation around the globe? And he was quite (inaudible), and he received Presidential Medal — Medal of Freedom.
MR. KIRBY: I’ll have to take the question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Going to wrap it up. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. You said that Secretary Austin took part in the conversations regarding the Red Sea. Do you know if he was conducting his business from the bedside, or is he released from the hospital?
MR. KIRBY: I would refer you to the Pentagon for his whereabouts and his condition. It’s our und- — yesterday — at least for where he is today. Yesterday, he was still in the hospital when he participated in that discussion.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Last question. Go ahead, sir.
Q Two questions, one on the Houthis. Given the problem the administration has had on containing them, how can it be looked at as anything but a mistake for the fact that they removed them from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list?
MR. KIRBY: As I said, we’ve got a review of that designation that we’re still conducting. So, I’m not going to get ahead —
MR. KIRBY: Hang on a second. I’m not going to get ahead of that. And the goal here isn’t to contain the Houthis, just to be clear. We don’t want to see these attacks on commercial shipping, and we’re going to do what we have to do to counter and defend against those attacks. And as I said earlier, the Houthi — they have — they’ve — they’ve made certain decisions up to this time. They have to make certain decisions going forward. And we’ll see what decisions they make. They will bear the consequences for those decisions going forward.
Q And then, one question on General Austin. Earlier in this briefing, you said he’s an essential member of the administration. But if he can disappear for four days without anybody noticing or really even seeming to wonder where he is, how essential is he?
MR. KIRBY: I think I answered this question yesterday with Mr. Doocy here. I’ll give you the abridged version.
When — the — the military operations that have been conducted over the — over the last week or so, many of those, Secretary Austin was a key member of briefing the President and right in the middle of determining the options that the Commander-in-Chief ultimately decided to do. We were able to continue to counter Houthi threats in the Red Sea, we were able to take out a senior militia commander in Iraq, all based on the advice and counsel that Secretary Austin delivered.
It is not uncommon on any given day here in D.C. that a Cabinet officer isn’t present for a certain meeting and either can call in by phone or have a deputy represent them. That’s the way the interagency process works.
Oftentimes, these things are worked at staff levels and then the principals get involved at the appropriate time.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
MR. KIRBY: Okay.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Admiral.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine.
Q Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. You guys still awake? What’s going on? Everyone is so quiet. (Laughs.)
Q Are you suggesting that he’s boring to us?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. (Laughter.) I’m suggesting you guys are low energy today. That’s all. (Laughter.)
Q So, the President spoke with Speaker Johnson today. Does the White House believe that the conversation moved any closer to a deal on supplemental funding?
And a second thing on this. Speaker Johnson reportedly told his caucus that the President does not want to meet in person. Is that — is that true?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I can do right now is con- — I can confirm that the President and Speaker Johnson did speak directly. They spoke directly today on the phone. I don’t have any more details to provide.
I can say this — I’ll add, actually, one more thing is that the President believed that a call was the most expedient option today. And so, that’s why they spoke on the phone. The President believed it was important to connect as — as quickly as possible. Don’t have any more details about the call.
Q There’s nothing you can say about what they talked about or where the — (inaudible) was?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we’re confirming the call. And we’ve said many times that we try to keep these conversations private. But we are confirming that the President did speak to Speaker Johnson. I don’t have anything else beyond that.
Q And just last thing. His office says that the Speaker asked for executive action to shut down the border, secure the border. Can you say anything more about that request or how that was received?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Don’t have anything more to share.
Go ahead, Nancy.
Q Was the White House informed in advance that Hunter Biden would be showing up at the House Oversight Committee’s hearing on Capitol Hill today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here’s what I’ll say, and I’ve said this many times before: Hunter, as you all know, is a private citizen. He’s not a member of this White House. He makes his own decisions, like he did today about how to respond to Congress. And so, I would refer you — any further questions, any additional questions about — about this process, certainly, to — I’d refer you to Hunter’s representatives.
Q Fully agreeing that he makes his own decisions. But my question was about whether the White House was informed in advance.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would just — again, I would say that I don’t have anything — we don’t have anything else to share beyond that. He’s a private citizen, and he makes his own decisions as it relates to this particular, you know, response. His particular response to the Congress is something that he decides on. And I would refer you to his representatives.
Q Thanks, Karine. First, a whole high school in New York is having remote classes today because the building was needed to house people who came into this country illegally. So, what is the President’s priority in this case? Is it the migrants, or is it the students?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just — just clear this up a little bit. So, yesterday, New York City informed us that, as a precaution, they would temporarily relocate migrants staying at Floyd Bennett Field to a nearby high school. As of this morning, all migrants have returned to the facility at Floyd Bennett Field. And so, anything specific as to the program and what they decided to do and all of those specifics to that, I would certainly refer you to New York City for any additional questions.
Q But if a working parent had to call out to stay home with their kid today, isn’t this Biden immigration policy literally taking money out of people’s pockets?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just — let me just say — I’m going to actually go back to your first question for a second, because I think I do need to address that, which is, you know, when it comes to education, migrants, the economy, the President deals with multiple issues all at once. That is his job. There are multiple things happening all at once.
And as it relates to this particular quest- — question that you’re asking me about in New York City, that is something that New York City needs to answer to. That is a — that is a process that they took, so they have to answer to that.
And as it relates to migrants and what’s happening at the border, look, the President has taken this issue very seriously — very seriously by making sure that, on his first day — which is almost three years — it’ll be — a couple of weeks, it’ll be three years ago that he put forward a comprehensive immigration legislation to deal with what’s happening with the immigration process, obviously, and also the border.
And this is an issue that’s been going on for decades. The system has been broken for decades. And the President is the one who has taken action to deal with this while House Republicans do not.
Q And —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: They get in the way.
Q And Hunter Biden on Capitol Hill today. How big of a headache is that for you? (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hunter Biden is a private citizen. He is not a member of the White House, as you know.
Q But the —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And I just don’t have anything else to share.
Q But the last time he was on the Hill, you said the President was “certainly familiar with what his son was going to say.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I did say that. And here’s —
Q So, is the official line —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — and what I’m saying today —
Q — that President Biden —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I’m saying to- —
Q — does not help him with his business deals, but he does help him skirt congressional subpoenas?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is not even true. That — that is a jump that is — that is incredibly disingenuous in that question. What I will say to you —
Q Then help us out. Just tell us —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I am helping you out.
Q — what the President knew.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m helping you out. I don’t have anything else to share.
Q Thanks. When is the President’s next physical scheduled? Last year, it was in February.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to share on the President’s next physical. Obviously, we will — once — once that happens, we will be transparent and share that with all of you, as we’ve done the last two times. I just don’t have anything on the books to share.
Q Given that it’s an election year, that there’s a lot of public interest in his health, would that transparency include his physician coming to brief in the briefing room?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything beyond — beyond what I just stated.
Go ahead, Selina.
Q Did the President speak to his son before or after his appearance on Capitol Hill?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I’m not going to speak to the President’s private conversation with his families.
Q And is there any response to what Representative Nancy Mace said about Hunter Biden today? She’s called him, quote, “the epitome of white privilege,” and that Hunter “should be arrested right here, right now” and go to jail.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to respond to that.
Q Thanks, Karine. The White Hou- — White House Chief of Staff was supposed to meet with Cabinet members today. I was wondering if you could confirm that and —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to confirm about a meeting with Cabinet members today. What I can share — I don’t know if you’re talking about the specific memo that — that — that the Speaker’s — not the Speaker, pardon me — that the Chief of Staff put out yesterday that went to the Cabinet — the Cabinet members, the agencies about making sure that they put forward a memo themselves to him that would be for — for Friday, January 12th, and that kind of highlights their protocols when it comes to delegation of authority. That is something that, obviously, they’re going to get back to us — back to the Chief of Staff on the 12th.
So, that is something that is happening. I don’t have a meeting to confirm with the — the Chief of Staff or Cabinet Secretaries today.
Go ahead, M.J.
Q Karine, you’ve referred to the Republican impeachment inquiry as a “stunt.” The President himself has said that it was a “political stunt.” So, I guess, if the whole thing is a stunt, how does the White House see the President’s son himself pulling a stunt by appearing at this contempt hearing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I don’t have anything else to add.
The decisions that are made by Hunter Biden is — are his own. He’s a private citizen. And I’m just not going to speak beyond that.
If you ask me about the impeachment of — or what the — the GOP and Congress is doing as they’re — as they’re trying to impeach multiple Cabinet members, I can speak to that. But Hunter Biden is a private citizen. I’m just not going to speak to that.
Q Well, you — you have spoken to that. And, again, you have called that a stunt in the past. Right? I’m just asking —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything else to add. I — I hear you for today. For today, I’m just not going to say anything more.
Q And can you tell us what the President is up to today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I have a couple of things I can share with what the President is doing today.
As he — as he always does, he’s working around the clock, focusing on the issues that matter to the American people — everyday Americans, obviously.
I talked at the top about the record-breaking 20 million Americans that have enrolled in healthcare coverage through — through the Affordable Care Act. That’s always his focus, obviously, making sure that healthcare is available for all.
He is having lunch today with the Vice President.
He was briefed by his national security team this morning.
He spoke directly — as I m- — stated and confirmed to all of you moments ago — to Speaker Johnson.
And he’s looking forward to traveling to Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Friday to discuss how communities across America are coming back thanks to Biden- — to Bidenomics and also Investing in America agenda.
And so, that’s what his day looks like today.
Q Since — since there isn’t anything on his public schedule, what would the White House say to any Democrats that might say, you know, “We’re now getting closer to the election; the people — the American people need to see him every day out in public”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say this. And I have to be careful. Right? This is an election year. I am a federal government employee. I cannot speak to a upcoming election. But I certainly can point to the President’s schedule over the past couple of days. Right?
He went to South Carolina. He went to Valley Forge — Valley Forge.
He talked about something that is incredibly important: our democracy, our freedom, and how we must protect that; how we must do everything that we can to make sure we keep our democracy strong; and how there’s a decision for Americans that have to — they’re going to have to make.
He talked — he went to South Carolina, delivered a very similar message, talking about freedoms. Went to Mother Emanuel, a — a church that dealt with an awful, awful shooting and lost nine of their members back in 2015 — a place that he has a personal connection to. You heard him then.
And so, look, the President is going to go to — to Allentown to speak about Bidenomics, Investing in America on Friday. And you will see a lot more of this President.
I don’t have anything else to share. And once we have more to share on his schedule, I certainly will. But I want to be really careful not to speak to 2024.
Go ahead, Jared.
Q Just a couple of clarifying questions on that call with the Speaker. Can you — I’m sorry if I missed it. Can you say who initiated that phone call?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything else beyond that. What I did say is that the President wanted to make sure he spoke with — he spoke with Speaker Johnson. He said that — that — I said that he thought doing a phone call was the quickest way of doing that. It was important for them to — to have a conversation. I just don’t have anything beyond that.
Q And then on the Speaker’s request that the President took executive action. Is there action that the White House believes the President can take in lieu of some sort of agreement, some sort of legislation from Congress that would help the — the — what’s happening at the border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we don’t have any executive actions to announce or that we’ve been looking into or anything like that to — to share a preview to you at this time.
I can mention the legislation that the President — as I did moments ago — that he put forward, a comprehensive immigration proposal that he did on his first day.
Let’s not forget, there is a — there is a bipartisan negotiation happening in the Senate with Republicans and Democrats on how they can move forward in a bipartisan way — a bipartisan agreement to deal with the border security issue that we appreciate, that’s been going in the right direction.
And so, those are — tho- — that’s what’s happening right now.
You know, GOP in the House — they continue to get in the way. They do political stunts. They get in the way. They voted in May to eliminate 2,000 Border Patrol agents. That’s what they’re doing.
And let’s not forget, while that Senate — while those senators were having — in December were having negotiations, having those meetings — in the middle of December, House Republicans decided to go home and start their vacation early. That’s what they decided to do.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Karine. Would the White House be okay with another CR to keep the government funded after the deadline next week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get into the — the technical approach or the approach of Congress from here. I’m going to let the conversations, the negotiations happen — the conversations happen.
Q Let’s just say that that happens, that there is another CR to avoid a shutdown. We could see the President submitting his fiscal year 2025 budget at the same time as lawmakers are still sorting out the fiscal year 2024 budget. What does that say about the state of affairs right now in Washington about these short-term punting of dealing with all of this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — look, I agree. This kicking — kicking the can down the road is not the way that Congress should be operating. We’ve been very clear about that.
They have a job to do. Keeping the government open is one of the basic things that they can do. Kicking it down the road — Republicans — House Republicans kicking this down the road does not help Americans. It doesn’t.
In a couple of days, we may see a partial shutdown. That’s not what we should be doing for the American people. We should be delivering on these programs that they need, that are — that are necessary for them and their families.
And so, no, that is not something we want to see. That isn’t. It is not something we want to see.
And, you know, they need to do their jobs instead of these political stunts.
Somebody asked me about the impeachment hearings that are happening in — in Congress and the — and the House Republicans right now that are leading that. That is a waste of time, political stunts, baseless — baseless accusations.
And that is not what the American people want to see. They want to see us working in a bipartisan way. And that’s what we’re trying to do as it relates to the — the border security in the Senate. Right? We’re trying to do that in a bipartisan way.
That’s why the President got involved in — in early spring in getting a bipartisan agreement with the — with the budget — on the budget. And so, it’s a — it’s really — it’s really shameful.
Let me see who I haven’t called. Gerren.
Q Thanks, Karine. The Vice President met with voting rights activists in Atlanta yesterday, and they expressed their concern about election integrity and political violence. One person even described volunteers having a gun pulled on them. And I spoke with LaTosha Brown, the cofounder of Black Voters Matter, who said that they believe that this is a result of dog whistles from some elected officials who are pushing claims of voter fraud.
What level of concern does the White House have for violence to be taking place on election workers and volunteers? And what federal — federal deployment or resources are being deployed to assist them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. In — in response to the sharp increase of — in threats of violence to election workers following the 2020 election cycle, in June of 2021, Justice Department created the Election Threats Task Force to investigate and prosecute those who target election workers.
And yesterday, the DOJ actually released information highlighting the work its civil rights, criminal justice, and national security divisions are doing to enforce civil rights protections, enforce criminal statutes, prohibiting voter intimidation, and prevent mor- — maligned influence in our elections.
Any threats of violence towards election workers and other attempts to undermine our dem- — democratic process and make it harder to vote are unacceptable. And, of course, this administration is going to use every tool at its disposal to protect the sacred right to vote and — and defend our democracy.
That is something that you’ve heard from the President not only in Valley Forge recently but also many times during his — the past three — almost three years of his administration. So, we’re going to be steadfast on that.
Q Thanks, Karine. I just want to ask, given the conclusion of U.S.-China military-to-military talks yesterday, whether — just a general question: whether the President is satisfied with the progress made since the agreements made in November.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — I have not spoken to the President about that. I — I get the question. I just don’t have anything to share to what we’ve already put out on this. But I have not spoken to the President specifically to — to get a sense of that.
Q Is there any general feeling he has about, you know, a various range of issues? You had fentanyl. We had —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — you know, expectation that China would be a stabilizing force in different conflicts. Is there — is there a sense of whether that’s played out the way he had expected?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, these are conversations that we obviously are going to continue to have, where we — especially when it comes to fentanyl. Obviously, going into — want to make sure that that is — you know, fentanyl, we don’t want that to go into our communities.
And so, look, that relationship, you’ve seen — you’ve seen the President meet with President Xi recently. They had a very good conversation. You’ve seen Cabinet Secretaries and also officials here in the White House continue to have those diplomatic conversations.
Diplo- — diplomacy is very important here with this — with this administration, with this President. I just don’t want to go beyond what we’ve already shared on this.
Q Thank you. The Chief of Staff said in his memo to Cabinet Secretaries yesterday that they should delegate their responsibilities if they’re hospitalized. Since, as far as we know, Secretary Austin is still hospitalized, does the White House believe he should be delegating his responsibilities now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m sorry. Can you say that one more time?
Q Yeah. The Chief of Staff said in his memo to Cabinet Secretaries that they should delegate responsibilities when they’re hospitalized. And, as far as we know, Secretary Austin is still hospitalized. So, according to the White House and the Chief of Staff, should he be delegating his responsibilities?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, as you heard from the Admiral, Secretary Austin was involved in a conversation, a meeting with the President on national security matters just yesterday. He — and also — the Admiral talked about this as well — this is — when we have these conversations or meetings with Cabinet secretaries, not just always with the Secretary at the top. There are other people that are involved in these important, crucial conversation, whether it’s policy, whether it’s decision-making.
And so, the — obviously, we’ve been in — the Secretary is working, is having conversations with — with our National Security Council and others here in the administration. I just don’t have anything to share on specifics on — on — on that particular matter.
But what I can say is, you know, Department of Defense is — is certainly reviewing their process and looking at what could have been done better. It’s a 30-day review process. But obviously, Secretary Austin has been very much involved and engaged, certainly this — this current week.
Q In the way back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The way back. Way back. I’m trying to call — go ahead, Brian.
Q Thanks a lot, Karine. I had a question about supply chains. Given how much work that President Biden spent on supply chain mitigation in 2021 when he — when he first came into office, how much — how concerned should Americans be right now about supply chain disruption, given how much shipping traffic normally runs in the Red Sea? And what actions is the President taking to — to mitigate — mitigate potential supply chain disruptions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as you’ve heard from us many times, obviously, the Red Sea is an important global trade, particularly for transportation of oil, grain, and consumer goods from Asia. The Department of Transportation is in close communication with ocean shippers, industry, and other stakeholders.
And so, we’re taking every steps to ensure that shipping in the Red Sea is not obstructed — right? — is unobstructed, including by establishing Operation Prosperity Guardian and building a coalition of countries from region and around the world to ensure freedom of nav- — navigation, to protect the maritime economy, and bolster regional security in the Red Sea.
So, we’re taking this very seriously. We’re keeping an eye on this. As you heard us me- — say, it is a — the Red Sea is an — very important to commercial shipping. And so — so, we’re going to take this very seriously.
Q Is the President seeing impact on the economy at this point? Is he — should Americans be prepared to see an impact in supply chain disruption?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I can say is we’re going to continue to monitor the situation, and we are taking action to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Go ahead, in the middle.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President announced earlier this week that Mitch Landrieu is leaving the administration. I wonder is there any plan to replace him or appoint someone new to oversee —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Natalie Quillian, who is Deputy Chief of Staff, is going to take over his portfolio. And so, she has been — part of her portfolio is doing implementation — implementing all of these pieces of legislation — historic pieces of legislation that we’ve been able to get through Congress.
I don’t have anything beyond — whatever he’s going to do after that, I certainly will leave that to Mitch Landrieu. But that’s what — that’s how it’s — his portfolio is being taken care of from here.
Q And is the White House preparing for any other staffing departures as the campaign ramps up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to — to announce from here.
AIDE: Time for a couple more, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Right — go ahead. Yeah.
Q What is the administration doing to address the billions of dollars in overpayments the Social Security Administration has been trying to call back for millions of Americans?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on that — on that particular piece, look, the President requested 10 percent — 10 percent increase in funding for Social Security Administration to help invest in the staff and technology neces- — nece- — necessary — necessary to improve customer service and determination services.
The administration is committed to protecting Social Security. You heard him during the State of the Union last year, the Pr- — the President standing up in front of — in front of, you know, millions of Americans who were watching protecting Social Security, protecting Medicare, and protecting Medicaid. And that’s something that he’s been certainly doing.
And so, anything further on that, I would certainly refer you to the Social Security Administration.
Go ahead, Colleen [Courtney].
Q Thank you.
Q I —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, right behind you. Yeah.
Q I wanted to ask you about update — or updates on the administration’s conversations with Mexico. Do you have any changes or agreements to talk about as they work to alleviate pressure on the southwest border?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, there was a meeting that occurred during the holidays with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan — actually, no, it was Blinken — Blinken — Secretary Blinken, Secretary Mayorkas, and also National Sec- — Deputy National Security Advisor Sherwood-Randall. And they went to Mexico City to continue the conversation that the President, obviously, has been having with President — President of Mexico.
The conversation went really well. Obviously, it’s continuing. It’s — these are diplomatic conversation. They’ve been a partner with us on migration, a partner with us on how to — how to deal with fentanyl as well. And so, he — the President of Mexico and his team have taken significant efforts to — that — that they are putting underway to make sure that we deal with the border in a way that — in a way that obviously is — is effective.
And so, we’re seeing — we’re starting to see those results. I don’t have anything beyond that. But obviously, those diplomatic conversation continue. And we appreciate the President Mexico — President of Mexico being a partner in this.
Q What do you mean by —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q — results?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we have seen results in — in the — the migration of migrants. Right? We’ve seen a decrease because of the actions that President — President of Mexico has taken.
And so, again, because of this — these diplomatic conversations, they have been effective. We see them as being effective.
Go ahead, Andrew.
Q Thank you. Two questions. First, the former President — President Trump yesterday warned that there would be “bedlam” in this country if the case against him affects the election results in November.
Without speaking to the former President himself, because I know you’re covered by the Hatch Act, is the administration tracking the possibility of potential violence around the time of any trial date that he might have? Is that something that’s being prepared for?
And then I have another question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I have to say this: I can’t comment on anything that is related to 2024, as a federal government employee.
What I will say is President Biden has always been absolutely clear when it comes to this: Political violence has no place whatsoever in America. It just has —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me — like, there are a couple of things — more things I want to say.
So, leaders need to put their country first. They need to put the safety of American people and respect for the rule of law above themselves, like President Biden does every day.
And there are no — there is no one who would even imagine Joe Biden being afraid to condemn violence. Right? This is something, again, that we’ve done pretty — pretty often here, unfortunately, that we’ve had to do this in the last three years.
Failing to condemn or discourage criminal violence, especially — especially after dangerous conspiracies and violent rhetoric have cost law enforcement officers their lives — we saw that on January 6th; officers lost their lives — and resulted in gut-wrenching assaults, like the attack on Paul Pelosi.
It’s horrific. It’s horrifying. And if you’re a leader in this country, you need to put this country first. You need to put the safety of the American people first. That’s what leaders do.
Q Thank you. And then, on Hunter Biden, I understand he is a private citizen. He is not a member of the administration. He is, however, a member of the President’s family. So, could you tell us if he stayed at the White House in the residence last night?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything else to share. I think I —
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What — last one, back there.
Q Yeah, thanks. Without getting into the specific case that you’ve — you’ve said that you wouldn’t or couldn’t or shouldn’t, the question about presidential immunity — the idea that a president should be immune from prosecution — not about any specifics, what does the President think about that?
Because, for example, in a courtroom yesterday, a judge opined that a — that a president might be able to have a rival assassinated by SEAL Team Six. I’m assuming that President Biden does not agree with that idea. What are his thoughts on immunity, generally?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’m going to be very careful because it is connected to what a former President said and it is an ongoing case. Just not going to comment on a legal case or make statements that may impact the ongoing case.
So, going to refer to Department of Justice of any specific questions you may have on that. Just going to be very careful from here.
With that, I will see you guys tomorrow. Thanks, everybody.
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