Aboard Air Force One
En Route Duluth, Minnesota

11:36 A.M. EST
MS. DALTON: So, as you all know, we’re in the — en route to Superior, Wisconsin, where the President will be visiting the Blatnik Bridge in a full-circle moment.  He first visited the Blatnik Bridge about two years ago after the State of the Union in 2022 to talk about the important investments we’re making through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in America and making sure that we’re equ- — equipped to outcompete the wor- — rest of the world in the decades ahead.

So, today, we’re on — on the way back to the Blatnik Bridge, where the President will talk about the billion-dollar investment we’re making in the Blatnik Bridge today, make sure that we can repair that bridge that was crumbling to the ground and was slated to be out of commission by 2030 just a couple of short years ago and now will be fully replaced so that this vital economic artery can continue to serve the — all of the commercial needs that we have here in the United States and Canada.

As part of this visit today, he’s also going to announce, in addition to the Blatnik Bridge, 36 other Mega infrastructure projects across the country from coast to coast — from Oregon to New York to Arizona — that will similarly have a transformative impact on our — on our infrastructure and on our economy and create great-paying jobs in the process.

Very quickly before I turn it over to John, we also have another bit of news we’re making at the White House today.  You may have seen this morning that the First Lady, Secretary Cardona, the new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, and 70 principals from across the country are convening at the White House today for a town hall to announce a new set of actions we’re taking to ramp up safe gun storage in communities across the country.

You’ve heard us talk about the epidemic of gun violence in America and the fact that gun violence is the number-one killer of kids in our country.  We know that a big factor in that statistic is the fact that nearly 5 million children are living in homes with unsecured weapons.

We know that most school shootings, mass shootings occur with weapons that were obtained at the — in — in a school shooter’s home or in the home of a family member or friend.  We also know that unsecured weapons are a big contributor to self-inflicted wounds that children are experiencing.

So, today’s action, the Education Department is working with principals across the country to ramp up community education about the importance of safe storage of guns so that we can save more kids’ lives.

With that, I’m going to turn it to John to talk about some foreign policy news.

MR. KIRBY:  Good morning, everybody.  Today, I’m pleased to announce that President Biden and the First Lady will host Prime Minister Kishida and Mrs. Kishida of Japan for a state visit on the 10th of April. 
And this will obviously underscore the importance of our alliance with Japan and our bilateral relationship and also all the work we’re doing together to improve and strengthen not only our bilateral cooperation but our cooperation with Japan and other allies across the Indo-Pacific, really trying to pursue a safe and secure, prosperous Indo-Pacific.

So, the President is very much looking forward to seeing Prime Minister Kishida here in a couple of months for, again, a formal state visit, which will include a state dinner.

And then, secondly, just wanted to draw your attention to the Treasury Department’s announcement today that they are sanctioning another four Houthis, individuals who are directly tied to the attacks in the Red Sea.  And we’re pleased to be able to announce that the United Kingdom is joining us in the sanctions on these four specific individuals as well.

I’m sure Treasury will have more information for you on the individuals if you — if you want that.  But it’s just another example of how we’re trying to use all the levers at our disposal to — to hold the Houthis accountable for these reckless attacks.

That’s it.

Q    Admiral, there were reports that came out while we were in midair that President Biden is tapping CIA Director Burns to — to help broker a hostage deal.  Can you give us more information on that?
MR. KIRBY:  I’d refer you to the CIA for more on the — on Director Burns’s travel and activities.  He has been, as I think you know, involved in helping us with the hostage deal that was in place and — and trying to help us pursue another one. 
I would just tell you that, as I’ve said many times, the discussions that we’re having about trying to get a renewed hostage deal in place are sober and they’re serious.  And Brett McGurk is in the region as we speak also trying to see what we can do to get one moving. 
Q    John —
Q    And related to that — sorry — can I ask: The — the government’s reaction to the leaked comments from Prime Minister Netanyahu saying Qatar’s role in the hostage talks were “problematic,” does that concern the administration and the prospects of potentially upsetting those delicate hostage negotiations?
MR. KIRBY:  I don’t think I’m going to comment on leaked comments attributable to another foreign leader.
The Israeli people want their loved ones back.  We want to make sure we get our American hostages back to their families where they belong.  There’s a lot of energy being put at this across the region with our Israeli counterparts, as well as our other counterparts, including the Qataris.  And we’re just going to keep working at that. 
Q    John, do you have any more information today about the plane that was shot down — the Russian plane that was shot down — and whether or not there were Ukrainian prisoners of war on it and who was responsible for it, et cetera?
MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, we’re still trying to gather some more information on this, Jeff.  I’m afraid I don’t have more detail to share with you today.
Q    John, given that there’s no security deal yet for Ukraine, are our allies in Europe stepping up in terms of providing what Ukraine needs to fight against Russia, in terms of both military equipment and also in terms of ammunition?
MR. KIRBY:  There are more than 50 nations that are helping support Ukraine as part of the coordination efforts that Secretary Austin has been leading — the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.  I think you know he hosted yet another — I think it was, like, the 13th one of those — virtually just earlier this week — again, more than 50 nations participating. 
So, there’s still an awful lot of energy across this, sort of, network of coalition, allies, and partners to help support Ukraine.  Each country does it in their own way and does it to the degree that they can.  So, just like us, these are sovereign decisions.  But we haven’t seen any slackening or disunity when it comes to supporting Ukraine. 
Q    So, given everything that you just said, what do you say when those that are opposed to aid for Ukraine argue the Europeans should just help out Ukraine by themselves; American ammunition, American military equipment is not necessary?
MR. KIRBY:  I’ll tell you what — I’d say a couple of things.  Number one, they are helping out Ukraine, and the facts bear that out over the last two years. 
This has been a U.S.-led effort.  And certainly, we’re the biggest contributor to Ukraine, but there’s an awful lot of countries — not just in Europe, but all around the world, in the Indo-Pacific — that are stepping up in their own way to support Ukraine.  And, again, that support continues to — to flow. 

The second thing I’d say is —
(Bumps a microphone.)  Sorry.
— they’re watching what we do.  American leadership matters, not just because we’re the biggest contributor but because we’ve also been principal to coordinating the delivery of assistance and getting it to the right hands in Ukraine. 
And so, what we do matters, what we say matters, and they are watching closely whether or not the United States can deliver.  And as I’ve said before, Ukraine is heading into a critical few months here as winter is full on and spring approaches.  And the Russians have shown no intent to slacking off from — from the drone and missile attacks.  So, it’s an important time.
Q    John, on the strikes against the U.N. facility in Southern Gaza yesterday.  Do you have more information about what happened, who is behind it?
MR. KIRBY:  We’re — we’re working hard to get a little bit more fidelity.  And I’m afraid I just don’t have much more detail on exactly what happened. 
We’re aware that there — there have been casualties.  We’re certainly — our condolences go out to all those who are affected by this.  You don’t want to see a U.N. relief works agency facility hit in any way. 
But we just don’t know what that looked like, what caused it.  And we don’t even know, you know, the full extent of all the damage. 
Q    You know, covering a couple of the President’s domestic — this is maybe more for you, Olivia — but in the President’s events this week — rolling out his first campaign rally, his first major endorsement yesterday — there were protesters protesting Israel’s campaign against Hamas and Gaza, calling for a ceasefire. 
Protesters are not new to presidents.  But what is un- — a little unusual is these are protesters who make up parts of his base.  What is your message to those people who are angry and are, you know, planning to interrupt your — your messaging and your events?
MS. DALTON:  The President has talked about, you know, his support for the First Amendment and the right of — that Americans have a right to make their voices heard and to protest peacefully.  He supports that. 
And he knows that this is an issue that is deeply personal to many, many Americans.  He has also been clear about his view — views on this.  And, you know — you know, we’ve talked about the fact that he believes strongly — and this is more in John’s lane — but that Israel needs to defend itself and have — have what it needs to defend itself in the face of an existential threat.
While — while at the same time, we, of course, have been — you know, the President has talked in deeply personal terms about his heartbreak at the humanitarian toll that this has inflicted on Gaza, the suffering of Palestinian civilians, and the need for Israel to do everything in their power to execute this campaign with — while abiding by the rules of — of law and making sure that they’re doing whatever they can to reduce civilian harm. 
Q    Can I ask one more?
MS. DALTON:  Yeah.
Q    There were reports last night and this morning that the former President is getting involved with Republicans on the Hill with regard to border policy and some of the negotiations going on there.  How much do you expect the former President — who has now all but, you know, locked up the nomination — to, sort of, impede any negotiations with the Republicans on the Hill?  And what will you do to, sort of, guard against that?
MS. DALTON:  Well, look, what I would just say is that, you know, the President has been clear: We need action on the border.  We’ve been engaging in good-faith, bipartisan negotiations with both Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans to that end.  We believe that there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue. 
We believe that, you know, there needs to be action on the border, that we need to come together on commonsense compromise on border measures and border policy and border resources.  And we — we still are hopeful that that can happen. 
Q    You said in the —
Q    John, is the administration considering federalizing the Texas National Guard?
MR. KIRBY:  I talked about this the other day.  I don’t have any decisions with respect to that to speak to for the — for the President.  I — I don’t have anything on that. 
Q    You said in the past you’re optimistic on talks.  Now you’re saying you’re hopeful on talks.  Are there talks still going on?  Like, do we know right now, or is this just up in the air?
MS. DALTON:  I’m — what I said was I think, you know, we’re hopeful that the talks can — can continue and that we can continue to build on the progress we’ve made so far in these talks to work toward a bipartisan agreement on meaningful border policy reform and border resources. 
I mean, the President has been clear in — you know, in stressing the importance of action on the border, going back to last year when he put forward his supplemental request, which included resources to stop the flow of fentanyl, to put more than 2,000 more personnel on the border. 
This is a president who knows we need action and is working in good faith to try to — to make that happen.  And we just see no reason for politics to get in the way here. 
Q    The fourth quarter GDP numbers, obviously, today beat expectations.
MS. DALTON:  Yeah.
Q    How is the President viewing this?  And, like, are you confident you can avoid a recession this year?
MS. DALTON:  Well, I think —
Q    It’s happened until now, obviously.
MS. DALTON:  Well, you might have seen the President’s statement out just a short time ago on the strong economic growth we saw last year: over 3 percent growth, building on three years of growth under this president; historic, you know, job creation, small-business creation; coupled with growing — rising wages, increased confidence — consumer confidence, and strong personal finances. 
We think all of this is — it’s not an accident, right?  It is an — it is — it crystallizes the — and validates the approach that this President has taken since day one to grow the economy by growing it from the bottom up and the middle out.  You’ve heard that — him say that before. 
This is a president who believes that we grow our economy by growing the middle class, and today’s data just show that he was right.
Q    Does he think you’re out of the woods on inflation?
MS. DALTON:  I — again, we’re hesitant to make — we’re not in the — the prediction game here.  But I think you’ve heard the Treasury Secretary, I think you’ve he- — heard Lael Brainard talk about the fact that we’re, you know, seeing a lot of indications that — that the economy is showing signs of resilience.  And we’re ho- — hopeful that that will continue. 
This President certainly sees this as a reason to continue to put his foot on the gas pedal, make sure we continue to make — build on the progress, which is why we’re going to Wisconsin today to talk about these historic investments.
Q    John, can I —
Q    The President —
Q    Can I just quickly ask, on the — I’m sorry.  Can I just quickly ask, on the state dinner in April, does President have a particular message that he’s hoping to get across during that state dinner?  Or is it more of a routine, you know, show of solidarity?
MR. KIRBY:  Japan is one of our closest allies in the whole world, certainly a — a very critical alliance in the Indo-Pacific.  So, again, as I said, I won’t get ahead of the President, but I think you can expect to see a robust discussion about how we’re deepening our bilateral cooperation with Japan and improving our alliance capabilities across the board but also how we’re working together across a range of other threats and challenges in the Indo-Pacific.  And that would — also includes, you know, improving trilateral cooperation with South Korea as well. 
But there will be a lot — there’ll be a lot to discuss.
Q    And Nippon (inaudible) takeover of U.S. Steel — or proposed takeover — is still probably going to be under review when that happens.  Will the President talk with his Japanese counterparts about that deal?  They’re probably going to want answers about why the U.S. is treating the Steel’s transaction as a potential security risk.
MR. KIRBY:  I — I don’t anything more specific to talk about in terms of the agenda.
Q    All right.  Thank you.
Q    The President has said before that he’s — that he’s — has a good relationship with Mitch McConnell.  Just following up on Katie’s question.  Mitch McConnell apparently isn’t — is making decisions now based on the idea that former President Trump will be their party’s nominee.  Has President Biden reached out to Senator McConnell?
MS. DALTON:  I don’t have any calls to preview or outreach — new outreach to share at this particular moment. 
But what I can say is the President, as you saw last week, hosted bipartisan leaders at the White House to talk about the urgency of the supplemental requests.  He went around the table.  He invited every single person around the table to speak.  And he laid out in very clear detail the stakes for Ukraine if we don’t pass the supplemental request. 
And, as you also know, we’ve been in good-faith negotiations with Senate Democrats and Republicans to take action on the border, to make sure that we deliver meaningful compromise on border policy and resources.  And, look, we are going to continue to work on that in good faith, and we hope that Republicans will remain at the table so we can do that.
Q    And just one other — just one other quick topic.  The President has made his opposition to the death penalty well known.  Does the White House have any comment on the Alabama case now where the — a man is going to be executed with a new — a new — in a new way?
MS. DALTON:  So, this is a state-level case, and I won’t speak to the details of this particular case. 
But I would just reiterate that, broadly speaking, the President has been very clear about his views on the death penalty going back for years and his concerns about the way that it is implemented and whether or not it’s consistent with our values of fairness and justice. 
You know, he has also talked about his support for the DOJ’s federal moratorium on the death penalty while they conduct a very comprehensive review of the policies and procedures that govern the use of the death penalty at the federal level.  And he continues to support that.
Q    Olivia, a strong —
Q    Is the White —
Q    — GDP number today.  You’ve also touted a number of other economic indicators which show, as you put it, a resilient economy.  Why, in your view, is this not resonating with voters, according to most polls that we’re seeing right now?
MS. DALTON:  Well, we actually think that it is.  And last — in the last two months, we’ve seen a double-digit jump of 29 percent in consumer sentiment.  We think that people — we’re seeing signs that people are starting to feel the impact of the record job creation, the record small business creation, the fact that wages are rising, that inflation is coming down.  It’s now — as of today, we’re seeing inflation return to pre-pandemic levels.  And we think that there are indications that, over the last couple of months — again, as I said — consumer sentiment has jumped in such a way that it tells us people are starting to feel that impact.  And we have to keep at it.

Q    And yet —

Q    Olivia —

Q    Yet I see, in poll after poll, the President doesn’t get his approval rating, in terms of how he’s managing the U.S. economy, really, above the low 40s.  How do you explain that?

MS. DALTON:  Well, look, I think we’ve also been really clear that this is not going to — things don’t just, you know, happen overnight here.  We’ve — the American people have been through a rough period during the pandemic, and this has been a — three years of strong recovery but a recovery. 

Now we’re seeing encouraging signs that consumer sentiment is improving over the last couple of months.  We’re also seeing, by virtually every indication, that the economy is humming. 

So, we — we know that this is a moment where the President — you know, we’re on our way to Wisconsin right now to talk to the American people about the ways that we’re continuing to invest in our communities, invest in our future, invest in our ability to compete on the world stage in the years ahead. 

That’s a message — the President will continue to deliver it.  And — and we hope that we can, sort of, keep our foot on the gas here in terms of the real progress people are feeling.

Q    Olivia, pro- —
Q    Is the White House planning on protests and interruptions when the President speaks publicly now?  Is that something that you’re just preparing for?

MS. DALTON:  You know, look, it’s — it’s hard to — these things are hard to predict.  There have always been protests.  And the President is — you know, I can’t remember a campaign or a — you know, an official I have worked for that has not, you know, encountered — encountered interruptions.  So, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.  And, you know, the President really, truly believes in the First Amendment right that Americans have to peacefully protest.

Q    But there were a dozen protests and interruptions during his remarks on Tuesday.  I mean, that — that’s more than we’ve seen with Biden.

MS. DALTON:  That’s well within folks’ right to do, and it’s consistent with their First Amendment right that the President supports.

Q    Olivia, following up on what Jeff’s — was asking about Mitch McConnell.  Is the White House confident that McConnell remains committed to advocating for a Ukraine and border deal?
MS. DALTON:  I — I don’t know that I can speak for Senator McConnell or ascribe his —

Q    Is the White House confident that he’s your, kind of, helper, ally in this?

MS. DALTON:  What I would just say is that we’ve been able to work in good faith with Senate Democrats and Republicans, to date.  We hope that that will continue.  But we — you know, I talked about this a little bit last week.  We feel that we have made progress.  And, again — (press cabin door opens) — hopeful that that can continue.

(Laughter.)  Are you okay?

Q    And a follow on the bridge today.  I know the White House said without the funding from the infrastructure law that the bridge would have had to close down, I believe, in the year 2030. 

MS. DALTON:  That’s right.

Q    So, do you have a timeline on when the — the project — under the infrastructure law — funding would be completely done with the repairs and all the upgrades that the President is going to talk about today?

MS. DALTON:  I think that’s something that we’re going to hear more about from officials on the ground, so I won’t get ahead of them.  But I’ll make sure we get you that answer.

Q    May I follow up on Jeff’s question on the death penalty?  I understand Alabama is a state-level case. 
But more specifically on the use of nitrogen gas, does the President have a position?  Is this something the administration has conducted any research on?

MS. DALTON:  I just don’t have anything on this to share — like, anything new to share today beyond what the President’s broad concerns with the federal — views of the federal death penalty are.

Q    Real quick.  Any update on the President’s physical and when he’s going to be getting that?

MS. DALTON:  I don’t have anything to share today, but we’ll keep you posted, as always.

Anything else?  Good?

Q    Thank you.

MS. DALTON:  All right.  See you all.

11:57 A.M. EST

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