Aboard Air Force One
En Route West Palm Beach, Florida
12:03 P.M. EST
MS. DALTON: Good afternoon, everybody. Quickly at the top, there’s news out this morning that consumer confidence continued to surge this month as Bidenomics grows the economy from the middle and the bottom up. Consumer confidence is now at its highest level in more than two years as Americans feel more optimistic about their personal finances and inflation expectations are falling.
This is no accident. It’s a direct result of the President’s agenda. In fact, this morning, we’re headed to Florida where President Biden’s Investing in America agenda has now led to more than $9 billion in private sector investment across Florida, as well as $14.5 billion in federal funding that has already been announced for clean energy and infrastructure projects across the state.
That includes roads, bridges, transit, rail, airports; $800 million for better access to clean water; and $2.7 billion to provide affordable, reliable high-speed Internet to everyone in Florida.
When President Biden entered office, the Florida unemployment rate was 5.9 percent and many small businesses had closed. Today, Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped to 3 percent with 1.2 million new jobs created since January 2021. Meanwhile, Floridians have filed 1.8 million new business applications in the same time period.
Florida residents are also saving money on their healthcare premiums and prescription drugs, high-speed Internet, and home energy costs. In fact, more than 4.8 million Florida residents with Medicare will benefit from the $2,000 yearly cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, a $35 monthly cap per in- — per insulin prescription, and free vaccines. And an astonishing 4 million Floridians signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces during the open enrollment period for 2024 and will benefit from up to thousands of dollars per year in savings from lower healthcare premiums.
With that, I’m going to turn it to John to speak to some foreign policy news this morning.
MR. KIRBY: Hey, everybody. Just a couple of things at the top. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met today with Amir Sheikh Al Thani of Qatar to discuss the latest between Israel and Hamas in — in Gaza as al- — as well as also to talk about our continued efforts to try to get a hostage deal in place. We’re going to have a readout of that conversation to you all soon here.
Today, Mr. Sullivan is also having a chance to meet with the families of the Americans that are still being held hostage by Hamas.
And then, finally, I mentioned it the other day — I can’t remember whether it was yesterday or the day before — about the inaugural meeting that we’re having with the PRC on this Counternarcotics Working Group. So, I just wanted to give you a quick little readout that we brought a — the meeting was today, and we brought a whole delegation of the government, led by Jen Daskal of the NSC, that included DHS, DOJ, State, Treasury.
And what was interesting was the PRC reciprocated, and they brought a whole-of-government delegation as well. So, it was a good set of discussions.
They committed to cooperate on increased law enforcement coordination to tackle the distribution and export of precursor chemicals for — for the opioids that are taking so many lives, to deal with addressing illicit financing and to increase our information-sharing across the two governments.
Again, the goal here is to produce concrete and measurable actions that lead to a reduction in the supply of these precursor chemicals that are killing, again, so many Americans.
So, that’s a good start, but it is just a start. And there’s a lot more work to be done. There’s another set of meetings tomorrow. I believe that Treasury will be sort of leading there in Beijing. But again, a really good start to — to this — to this process. That’s it.
Q Has the IC come to a conclusion on who was behind the Jordan drone strike? And if so, can you say which militant group was behind the strike?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not in a position today to confirm exactly what group is responsible, Aamer. We’re still working through the analysis.
But as I said the other day, I mean, clearly this is the — the work has all the hallmarks of — of groups that are backed by the IRGC and, in fact, by — by Kata’ib Hezbollah as well. So —
Q (Inaudible) why wait 4- — it’s about 48 hours-ish now since the attack happened. Are you essentially giving these groups the opportunity to move personnel, move their weaponry out of the way? And what message does it send by waiting two days to strike back at — at this point?
MR. KIRBY: As — as we said, Aamer, and as the President has said, we’ll — we’re going to respond. And we’re going to do it really in a way and a time of our own choosing. And, you know, that’s no different — that’s not a different approach than we’ve taken in the past.
Q President Biden said this morning that they, as in Iran, are supplying the weapons that were used in this attack. Does that mean that Iran was the manufacturer of the drone that was used?
MR. KIRBY: That — Iran — I won’t get into the specifics about the actual drone. Again, DOD is still working through the forensics of the attack.
But — but we know for a fact that Iran and the IRGC provide these groups weapons and capabilities. We know for a fact that they have provided them drones in the past as well. But as for the exact drone that was — that was involved in this attack, again, DOD is still working through the forensics on it.
Q Will the President attend the dignified transfer of remain — remains?
MR. KIRBY: The President had an opportunity this morning to speak with the family members of the three service members who were tragically killed in this attack. He was grateful for their time.
He expressed to them how proud we all are of their service, how we mourn and feel this — feel sorrow over their loss, made sure that those families knew that not only was that service and sacrifice going to be honored and respected but that they would continue to get the support that they need as they work through what no family wants to have to go through. As I said, no Blue Star family wants to become a Gold Star family.
In that conversation, he also gauged their feelings about him going to the dignified transfer at Dover on Friday. All of them supported his presence there. And so, the President will be going to the dignified transfer on Friday.
Q John, on Israel and the hostage deal. What was the President’s reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu voicing some disinterest in releasing, quote, unquote, “thousands of terrorists” in order to get a hostage deal done?
MR. KIRBY: The President’s view is we got to continue to do everything we can to get those hostages out. And he also believes that the work that we’ve been doing on the ground — Bill Burns, our CIA director; Brett McGurk, who was just in the region; Secretary Blinken — is — these have been productive discussions. They’ve been constructive. They — we believe that we are — that we are — that we’re making progress on trying to get an extended pause in place so that we can get those hostages out.
And the President is not going to waver on that. That’s what his commitment is.
Q So, is he disappointed that Prime Minis- — Minister Netanyahu said those words about not wanting to release thousands of —
MR. KIRBY: I think we’ll let the Prime Minister speak for himself. There’s no reason for us to change course here. We still believe that this is the right thing to do.
And we believe that there’s — that there’s — again, I don’t want to sound too sanguine, but we believe the work has been — has been productive, and — and we’re going to stay focused on that.
Q So the frame- — the framework hostage deal is still progressing; this wasn’t a setback at all?
MR. KIRBY: We aren’t looking — we — we believe we continue to make progress. Let me put it that way.
Q Do you have any clarity on why the drone was able to get to the — get to the base, why — why that was successful? Was there a mix-up? Do you have any more clarity on what happened with the attack?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t. I’d point you to the Defense Department to speak to the — again, they’re doing the forensics to figure out how this happened, as you would expect they will do, and then — and then — so that they can learn lessons and try to prevent such an attack in the future. But I don’t have any more granularity on that.
Q On a two-state solution. The British Foreign Secretary has floated the idea that it’s time to look at how to recognize the Palestinian state — what it would comprise, how it would work. Is the U.S. on the same page there?
MR. KIRBY: Well, look, we’ve been very clear. We want to see a Palestinian state. The President still believes very strongly in the promise of a two-state solution. And there’s a lot of work that has to be done to make that a reality. It’s going to require leadership, again, on both sides.
But we certainly share the Foreign Minister’s belief in the — in the importance of moving towards getting an independent Palestinian state —
Q But what does moving —
MR. KIRBY: — with Israel’s security guaranteed.
Q So, what does moving towards that look like? We know you support a two-state solution. But isn’t it time now to start thinking about how that would actually work?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve been working on this since almost the — well, the very — very beginning of the administration. It’s one of the reasons why — I mean, prior to October 7th, we were working so hard on a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, because we believe that that — it was — baked into that would have been something for the Palestinians.
And so, we still think there is an opportunity here, and we’re going to keep pursuing it. We think that that could be a significant milestone towards getting you closer to a two-state solution.
Q John, the President said when he left the White House that he had reached a decision on — on the strikes. What is the guiding principle as he makes this decision? And is it fair to say that these strikes will be more forceful than the ones that were done previously?
MR. KIRBY: Well, with the caveat that I’m certainly not going to telegraph punches here or get into specifics of potential future military operations, to your question: guiding principle is making sure that we continue to degrade the kinds of capabilities that these groups have at their disposal to use against our troops and our facilities and to send a — send a strong signal to their backers and the IRGC that these attacks are unacceptable.
And we’re going to do — the President will do what he has to do to protect our troops and our facilities and to look after our national security — our national security interests in the region.
And I would tell you that, as I said yesterday, we — they have now taken the lives of three American troops. And so, I think it’s fair for you to expect that we will — we will respond in an appropriate fashion. And it — and it is — it’s very possible that what you’ll see is — is a tiered approach here, not just a single action but potentially multiple actions —
Q Can you say if it will o- —
MR. KIRBY: — over a period of time.
Q And can you say if it will only be military in its nature? Or is economic responses, such as sanctions, on the table as well?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to get into more detail than that.
Q On Ukraine aid. Some European leaders sound more pessimistic about the U.S. providing funding for more Ukraine aid. For example, President Macron talked about wanting European leaders to be ready to support Ukraine over the long term if — if U.S. aid doesn’t come through. Is there some reason why some of these European leaders are sounding more pessimistic? Do you know? Is there —
MR. KIRBY: You can hardly blame them when they look at what’s going on on Capitol Hill. We put a supplemental request in place in October for $60 billion. The number was carefully constructed in concertation with our Ukrainian counterparts about what they were going to need. You can hardly blame other leaders around the world from thinking about what other decisions they have to make now based on the uncertainty that the United States is going to be able to come through.
And it — and it points precisely to what we’ve been saying before: that American leadership matters and people do look to us for our example and for that leadership.
And, you know, again, we’re hopeful — still hopeful, the President is, that we’re able to get this supplemental funding and we can — can go back to being the world’s leader in supporting Ukraine.
But, again, I don’t think you can — I don’t — I think other leaders in Europe and elsewhere can be forgiven for working through in their own minds how they’re going to be able to support Ukraine should the United States not be able, thanks to what’s going on on Capitol Hill, to be able to continue that support.
Q I just wanted to follow on J.J.’s earlier question on Netanyahu’s comments earlier. On the optimism for some — for a deal coming together, where — where’s that space? Because Netanyahu is saying not — no to thousands of prisoners and they’re going to stay in Gaza. Hamas is saying a deal has to hinge on lots of prisoners and them being out of Gaza. So, where — where is the space, I guess?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I can’t speak to the Prime Minister’s public comments. All I can tell you is the conversations that we have had in just recent days with our counterparts, including Israel, lead us to believe that — that — that there’s real potential progress here towards getting a deal in place for an extended pause that will allow those hostages to get home.
And I think that’s what the Israeli people want too. They want their loved ones back with — back in — with their homes and their families where they belong.
Q Kirby, and just a quick follow-up on —
Q Quickly following up. Are there any plans for the President to speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu, given his comments and given where things are with the hostage deal right now?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have another call on the schedule to speak to.
Q One more — I have one more and a follow-up on that one. So, Hamas has said that the number of hostages that they would be releasing still has not been specified in these talks. Is that accurate?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t negotiate here on Air Force One.
Q Can I ask for clarification on some — on a question earlier? Has the U.S. identified who was behind the attack that killed three American servicemen?
MR. KIRBY: I — I already answered that question. We’re still — we’re still working our way through that.
Q But — but the President has decided on his response, he said. So, how can he decide on his response if you’re still working through that?
MR. KIRBY: I just don’t have anything more to add on that.
Q Can I ask you a question about another part of the world, particularly that the President, I know, has a lot of interest in? Northern Ireland’s largest British unionist party agreed to end a boycott, the one — that, essentially, I think, ends the Belfast government’s standstill. Did the — has the President taken note of this? And is there any White House reaction?
MR. KIRBY: We — we welcome that there is progress here. But as we understand it, there is still some legislation that’s required, and certainly we’d leave that to the — to the elected
officials in Northern Ireland to speak to. But as we understand it, there’s still some legislation that has to be inked before they can get that forward.
Q Just a quick one on Pakistan. Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Is there any concern that the U.S. has that the Pakistani government may be trying to send a message to his supporters? He’s obviously not on the ballot, but they do have the — the upcoming election in February. Does the U.S. have any concern that the Pakistani government may be trying to target Khan’s supporters through this sentence?
MR. KIRBY: We see this as an internal judicial matter for the Pakistani government to speak to. Obviously, as a democracy, just like for any other country, we want to make sure that elections are free and fair and that judicial processes are also done, you know, in the most appropriate manner possible, recognizing an individual’s rights. I think I’d leave it at that.
You guys done with me?
Q I’ve got — I’ve got one last question on Sudan, if I may. Given all the political and diplomatic capital you’re using up in the Middle East, are you able to bring any pressure on countries like the United Arab Emirates, who we know are backing the RSF that the U.S. has accused of ethnic cleansing? Do you have any extra diplomatic clout to put pressure on the UAE?
MR. KIRBY: I would push back on the notion that we’re somehow so fixated on what’s going on in the Middle East that we can’t focus on other places around the world, including Africa. We continue to be engaged diplomatically to make sure to — to do what we can to see that the aspirations of the Sudanese people are met and that the — and that the violence between these two sides stops.
Q Do you have any examples of what you’re doing on that front, including pressuring the UAE?
MR. KIRBY: You know, I’m sure — I’ll refer you to the State Department for details, but we continue to work this diplomatically.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
Q I wanted to ask about the border and the President’s statement that he would shut it down. What does that tech- — I mean, obviously, the bill would need to pass. But then what technically does that mean? Like, what would it look like, shutting the border down?
MS. DALTON: Look, I think Karine talked about this quite a bit yesterday. But this is a president who believes we need action to secure the border. He’s been working in good faith with Republicans and Democrats on a negotiated proposal to do just that, to deliver on meaningful policy reforms and meaningful resources that would allow us to secure the bor- — border.
Now, I’m not going to get into the particulars of what that proposal looks like at the end of the day. But, look, this is a — you know, a president who has unequivocally stated he is committed to securing the border and working in good faith across the aisle to get it done.
Q On the border deal itself, Speaker Johnson reiterated this morning that he is against, you know, the Senate deal. However it ultimately looks, it’s dead on arrival in the House. Does the White House still think it’s worth pursuing a negotiated deal?
MS. DALTON: I think we’ve unequivocally said yes. And if, you know, Speaker Johnson is serious about securing the border, which he also said this morning that he is, then he should work across the aisle with us — reach back across the aisle in good faith and join us. We’re working along with Senate Republicans as well as Democrats.
We think that if this proposal that’s on the table was to be enacted, it would be the most meaningful, fair, significant piece of legislation to secure the border that we’ve seen in decades.
Q Olivia, on — on the border again. Can you explain a little bit further why the President doesn’t take some executive actions on the — on the border himself?
MS. DALTON: Well, I think the President has also been clear that he needs additional authorities from Congress. And part of what he’s asking Congress to do here is to deliver those authorities.
I’m not going to get specifically into more of what the bill says down on the — you know, the line items. But the President has been really clear: He needs additional authorities to secure the border. And that’s exactly what he’s asking Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with him to deliver.
Q Why not test his executive authority?
MS. DALTON: I’m sorry?
Q Why not test his executive authority, just do it?
MS. DALTON: Look, I think the President has a view — that, by the way, was shared by Speaker Johnson under the pri- — prior administration — that he needs a greater authority in order to secure the border and take action on the border. So, that’s what we’re — we’re looking to do.
Q So, Olivia, is it his position, then, that there’s nothing all the more that he can do on migration, that this is the limit to his authority?
MS. DALTON: Look, you heard from the President, I think, on the — just a moment ago that certainly he feels that there are things that are within his power, but there are also things that are not within his power that he’s looking for congressional authority to do in order to step up border security.
Q But why doesn’t he take — take some of those steps that are within his power? That’s what I’m asking. Like, there are some things in his power. Why doesn’t he do those?
MS. DALTON: Look, we’re in the middle of negotiating in good fa- — faith across the aisle with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to try and get this proposal done. I’m not going to get into the particulars of those conversations and what is or is not on the table.
But, look, we think that there’s no reason we can’t come to a very significant deal here that, again, would be historic in nature that would deliver on meaningful reforms and resources that would help us secure the border. And, you know, that’s the stated goal of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
What’s standing in the way? We don’t think politics should.
Q What’s the White House’s view of this House Homeland Security vote that we’re expecting today to impeach Mayorkas? You know, they — they argue that he has refused to enforce immigration laws.
MS. DALTON: I don’t know that I can respond to that any better than Secretary Mayorkas did in his letter to the committee this morning, where he laid out extensively everything that he and the Department have done to be responsive to the committee and their requests — the testimony, you know, the documentation, all of the things that they have done to be responsive to this committee.
Now, look, there is an active process underway. President Biden, Secretary Mayorkas, Senate Democrats and Republicans are actively talking about bipartisan meaningful policy reforms and resources to help secure our border. House Republicans could be working with us on that as part of that effort. Instead, this is what they’re doing today.
We think that the American people would much rather see Democrats and Republicans working together in Congress, on Capitol Hill, with the White House to deliver on the — what we need to do, the action that we need to see to secure the border.
Q Just a quick question for you, Olivia. So, first, the call that the President had with servicemembers’ families, that was this morning at the White House?
MS. DALTON: That’s correct.
Q Okay. And when the President goes to Detroit this week, will he be meeting with Muslim and Arab American leaders when he’s there?
MS. DALTON: We have not confirmed travel — other travel this week.
Q Okay. And is there any other official business that’s taking place on this trip to Florida?
MS. DALTON: The President has two political events today. I’d refer you to the campaign to speak in more detail about those. But don’t have any additional official events to — to discuss on the ground here in Florida today.
Obviously, the President is continuing to stay in touch, as you’ve already heard from Admiral Kirby, with his team here — his team on the ground about the — you know, for critical national security updates; update- — updates on the border negotiations; economic news, like the consumer spending data we — we just got this morning; and — and more.
Q Can you tell us any more on the call with the — the Gold Star families? How much time did he spend on — on the call with them? Did he have any reaction after the call that he conveyed to staff? And is there anything you can tell us about what specifically he told the families?
Q And was it three separate calls?
MS. DALTON: I am happy to try to get some more texture from those calls that took place right before he arrived here. He — he conducted those calls right before he left the White House this morning. I don’t have a duration of each of those calls. I’m happy to try to get more that I can share out of those for you.
But certainly, as Admiral Kirby described, he was — you know, expressed his deepest sympathies for their loss, his pride in their service, and his hope that he could be there for their dignified transfer on Friday.
Q And there were three separate calls?
MS. DALTON: I believe so, but let me just come back to you with that.
Q And is the campaign fully reimbursing the White House for today’s trip, since there are no official events? Do you have any —
MS. DALTON: There are well-established guidelines that we always follow. We’ve done trips in recent weeks and months that are all political, all official, or a mix of both. And in every case, we follow the letter of the law in terms of the cost sharing that — that Counsel dictates.
Q Is that normal protocol, for the President to ask the Gold Star families if it will be okay for him to attend the dignified transfer?
MS. DALTON: I believe that is normal protocol. Certainly, the DOD and others could weigh in there, but I — I believe it’s protocol — certainly, you know, something respectful to — to offer to these families if they would want the President to be there.
Q And the Federal Reserve is meeting tomorrow. They — you’re going to have a jobs report on Friday. Do you think we’re going to hear from the President on the economy this week? And just where does he think the economy stands now compared to six months ago? And does he have a personal view on whether interest rates should — should be reduced?
MS. DALTON: You know, I think you — you hear from the President a lot on the economy. So, I’m not sure that will be any different this week. But I don’t have any specific sets of remarks to announce at this moment in time.
Certainly, we think it’s a huge deal that consumer spending continued — or consum- — consumer confidence continued to grow today for the third month straight. It’s a good sign that people are starting to feel the impact of the economic progress we’ve — we’ve been seeing and are starting to really internalize that.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the decision with this trip today to go to, particularly, Jupiter, which is kind of one of the hearts of Florida — Trump country in that Trump has a golf course there. Is the President taking a — I don’t know — maybe a little pleasure in tweaking the former President a little bit about going into his home turf?
MS. DALTON: I can’t speak too — too much in depth to the — these campaign events since I wasn’t involved in planning them or putting them together. So, I’d refer you to the campaign there. I just don’t want to get too close to — to crossing the Hatch Act line here.
Q But has the President told you — have you spoken to the President about — about these stops and has he said anything about whether he plans to say something about Trump?
MS. DALTON: I would leave it to the President to speak to this. I cannot, as a federal official, speak about campaign events, unfortunately.
Q There are reports that a House Democrat is being investigated by DOJ. Any White House comment or reaction?
MS. DALTON: (Inaudible.)
Q There’s a House Democrat being investigated by the DOJ — conflicting reports on who exactly. Any — has the White House been following this? Any comment or reaction? I think it’s Cori Bush.
MS. DALTON: We’re seeing the same news that you are. But certainly, on anything related to a DOJ investigation, would refer you to them, as they’re independent in this respect.
Q President Donald Trump has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Abraham Accords. Do you have any response?
MS. DALTON: Other than this is news to me, I — I had not heard that yet. But no, I don’t — I don’t necessarily have a — have an immediate comment or reaction to that from you — for you.
Anything else? Okay. See you, guys.
Q Is there someone from the campaign on the trip?
MS. DALTON: Sorry?
Q Is there someone on the camp- — from the campaign on the trip who might gaggle?
MS. DALTON: I’ll see who’s on the ground.
Q Okay. Great.
12:29 P.M. EST