Via Teleconference

1:06 P.M. EST
MODERATOR:  Good morning, or good afternoon — wherever in the country you are.  Thank you for joining today’s White House regional press call on the urgent need for Congress to pass the National Security Supplemental.

Today you will be hearing from Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to President Biden.

Following remarks, we will take questions from reporters.  As a reminder, the content of this call is on the record but embargoed until its conclusion.  By participating, you are agreeing to these ground rules.
I will now turn it over to Mr. Jake Sullivan.

MR. SULLIVAN:  Thank you, Dhara.  And thanks, everybody, for joining this call.  Really appreciate it.

I’m joining you from the White House, where we are asking Congress to urgently pass the National Security Supplemental bill and provide vital support to Ukraine so that it can continue to defend itself from Putin’s vicious onslaught.

This week, unfortunately, the House is on recess, having left town without taking action on this critical piece of legislation, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate last week with strong bipartisan support from senators of both parties.

Over the weekend, as you all have seen, Ukrainian troops were forced to withdraw from Avdiivka, a town in eastern Ukraine where they’d been battling Russia for many months, handing Putin his first notable battlefield victory in a year.  This happened in large part because Ukraine is running out of weapons due to congressional inaction.  And Ukrainian troops didn’t have the supplies and ammunition they needed to stop the Russian advance.

Just one day earlier, Aleksey Navalny, Russia’s most prominent political dissident, was killed in a prison.  Aleksey Navalny had courageously stood up to the corruption and violence of the Putin government, and ultimately, he gave his life in pursuit of a Russia where the rule of law exists and is applied equally to everyone.

These two events are a reminder of just how high the stakes are and why we need Congress to stand up to Putin and take urgent action on this National Security Supplemental bill.

The bill advances America’s core national security interests in several ways.

First, it will allow the United States to continue to support the people of Ukraine, alongside our allies and partners, and to send them the weapons they desperately need as they fight every single day to defend their freedom and independence.  These weapons that we’ve been sending to Ukraine are being made in America, by American workers, in 40 states across our country.  American workers are producing Javelins in Alabama and Arizona; tanks in Ohio; armored and tactical vehicles in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; HIMARS rockets in Arkansas; artillery ammunition in Pennsylvania and Texas; and rockets in West Virginia — just to name a few.

This bill continues these important investments in the U.S. defense industrial base, expanding production in these factories, revitalizing our submarine industrial base, and supporting jobs across our country, all while improving our own military readiness thanks to an enhanced defense industrial base.

It’s also in our strategic interest, our cold-blooded national security interest, to help Ukraine stand up to Putin’s vicious and brutal invasion.  We know from history that when dictators aren’t stopped, they keep going.  The cost for America rises, and the consequences get more and more severe for our NATO Allies and elsewhere in the world.

We know that Putin doesn’t just dream of conquering Ukraine.  He has threatened our NATO Allies, who we are treaty bound to defend.

In addition to standing up to Putin, this bill will help our ally, Israel, protect itself against Hamas terrorists and replenish Israel’s air defenses so they are prepared against threats they face from Hamas rockets as well as from Iran and Iranian-backed militias like Hezbollah.

This legislation will also provide resources for our troops in the Middle East who have faced their own attacks from Iranian-backed militias as they continue the important mission of defeating ISIS, as well as our naval forces who are protecting international commerce in the Red Sea from persistent attacks by the Houthis.

The bill will provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance for vulnerable people who have been impacted by conflicts around the world.  That includes millions of Ukrainians who have been displaced by Russia’s war of conquest, as well as conflicts in Sudan and Nagorno-Karabakh.

It will also support the urgent needs of the more than 2 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with Hamas and are suffering acutely as a result of this conflict.

We are engaged every single day, directly and at the highest levels, on getting more aid into Gaza.  And we’re working around the clock to find a way forward that brings peace, security, and dignity for both the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, with the security of the State of Israel guaranteed.

This bill also increases our support to our allies and partners in Asia amid our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China and threats from an increasingly aggressive North Korea.

President Biden is urging the Speaker of the House to quickly bring this bill to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.  We know that it will pass on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, just as it did in the Senate.

And as the President has said, we cannot afford to wait any longer.  Every day Congress delays comes at a cost to the national security interests of the United States.

To close where I started, we are increasingly getting reports of Ukrainian troops rationing ammunition on the frontlines as Russian forces continue to attack both on the ground and from the air, trying to wear down the Ukrainian defenses that we’ve worked so extensively to build up over the past two years. 

American factories are producing more weapons and ammunition than they had in years thanks to our investments.  But in order to keep that up, we need Congress to act.

As National Security Advisor, I will tell you that our allies and our adversaries alike are watching what Congress does very closely.  There are those here and abroad who say U.S. leadership and our alliances and partnerships with countries around the world don’t matter.  I’m here to tell you they do.  Our alliances make us stronger; they make us safer.  And passing this bill will send an important message of unity and strength, as well as American resolve, to the rest of the world.

President Biden is determined to get this done.  And we’re asking Congress to do their part.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Jake.  We will now take questions from reporters.  A reminder to please use the “Raise Hand” feature, and please state your name and news outlet when called on.
We will begin with Kellan Howell with Scripps News.

Q    Hi, thanks so much for doing this call and for taking my question.  I’m wondering, Jake, if you can talk about the impact you expect this new sanctions package to have that John Kirby earlier today said was being rolled out.  I understand you can’t talk about the details of the sanctions, but if you could speak to the impact those sanctions might have. And then, separate, could you also address consideration for a loan to Ukraine absent congressional action?  Is that something that the White House is talking about?  Thanks.

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, on the first question, as you heard from John Kirby earlier today, we are planning to roll out a package of sanctions at the end of this week, which will come, obviously, in the wake of the tragic death of Aleksey Navalny.  And you heard President Biden say that Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.

That sanctions package will also come on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Ukraine war.  And it will be a substantial package covering a range of different elements of the Russian defense industrial base and sources of revenue for the Russian economy that power Russia’s war machine, that power Russia’s aggression, and that power Russia’s repression.  So we believe it will have an impact.

I would point out that this is on top of a significant framework of sanctions that we have worked with our allies and partners to build over the course of the past two years. 

But this is another turn of the crank, another turn of the wheel.  And it is a range of targets — a significant range of targets that we have worked persistently and diligently to identify, to continue to impose costs for what Russia has done — for what it’s done to Navalny, for what it’s done to Ukraine, and for the threat that it represents to international peace and security.

With respect to a loan to Ukraine, as I’ve said before, what we have requested and what the Senate passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis last week is both military assistance and economic assistance.  That economic assistance is in the form of grants, because asking Ukraine to take on and shoulder a substantial amount of debt right now, as it’s fighting for its life, we don’t regard that as the best way forward.  We think that the package we put together and that Democratic and Republican senators voted for last week is the right package.

So, as far as I’m concerned, what we need to see from the House is that they move forward and pass this legislation, rather than have the United States negotiate against itself.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Jake.  Thank you, Kellan.
For our next question, we’ll head over to Orion Donovan-Smith.

Q    Thanks, Dhara.  Orion Donovan-Smith with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane.

Jake, I actually just got a call a couple days ago from Governor Inslee calling on members of Congress to do exactly what you’re saying — pass the supplemental.  And he’s really tried to put pressure on individual members of Congress, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, in Washington State.

As you say, you expect the supplemental would pass with bipartisan support, but obviously, that’s up to Speaker Johnson whether it comes to the floor. 

What responsibility do individual House members have at this point, you know, when it’s unclear that this will even get a chance — will get a vote?

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, first, I think that individual House members have a responsibility to speak out — especially those who have long been on the record supporting Ukraine — speak out and call for a vote, call for their Speaker, their elected leader, to put this bill on the floor for an up or down vote.  Because if it gets an up or down vote, it will pass overwhelmingly, on a bipartisan basis.

And so, particularly for Republican members, the important thing is to strip away the ability of anyone to hide behind process and to make this a simple question of substance: Do people want to vote yay or nay to a supplemental package that is overwhelmingly in the interest of America’s national security; that supports our friends and allies, Ukraine and Israel and Asia; and that delivers lifesaving humanitarian assistance.

And I think any member of Congress who is doing right by their constituents needs to use this moment, this week, this day, to be vocal on this issue.  And that is what we are asking everyone to do, whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican, to speak out, to raise their voices, and to let it be known that they are looking for what the American people deserve, which is a straight up or down vote on this issue, because if there is a straight up or down vote, it will pass.

Q    And just briefly, is the White House open to any further negotiations on border security measures along the lines of the Fitzpatrick/Golden proposal?

MR. SULLIVAN:  We obviously want border action.  Unfortunately, congressional Republicans walked away from a painstakingly negotiated border deal.  President Biden asked Congress for the funding to hire 1,200 more Border Patrol agents, hundreds more immigration judges, asylum officers, and the resources to better detect fentanyl at our border crossings.

President Biden supported the bipartisan agreement that was reached in the Senate.  It was the toughest but fairest bipartisan border security deal in a generation.  And it is difficult for us to see now how congressional Republicans, having worked this through, can turn around and suggest that they’re standing up for border security when they’ve abandoned or walked away from a package that could garner a substantial number of votes and that reflects the input of both Democrats and Republicans.
So we think that’s the right package for the Congress to support, and we would ask them to take it up in both the Senate and the House.

And, you know, we have not walked away from our commitment on this issue.  It’s really been the congressional Republicans who have walked away from theirs.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Orion.  Thank you, Jake.

For our next question, we’ll head over to Elex Michaelson with Fox 11 in California.

Q    Thank you very much.  And thank you for taking our questions.

What happens if the House doesn’t pass this?  Paint a picture of what that looks like.  And is there a plan B of another way that you can get this money if Speaker Johnson just says no?

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, in many ways, I don’t even have to paint a picture because we’re seeing the pictures live, in living color, from Ukraine — the Ukrainian forces having to move back from the town of Avdiivka, as I mentioned before, because they’re not getting the level and tempo of supplies that they need and deserve.  And they’re not getting them because we have now gone weeks and months without the necessary funding.  And that’s been a result of congressional inaction.

So those challenges are only going to compound over time.  Shortages in ammunition and air defense systems will simply lead to a further depleted Ukrainian defense and to a greater advantage for Russia as it continues this imperial war of conquest against its neighbor.

As I’ve said before from the podium, and will reinforce here, there is no magic solution to this absent Congress appropriating funding.  It’s not like we have a piggy bank where we just keep cash lying around that we can provide to Ukraine.  We need the Congress to discharge its constitutional obligation to appropriate and obligate funds that the President can then put to use to send American-made weapons, made by American workers and American states, to Ukraine to help defend the freedom and independence of that country.

And that’s why our voice has gotten so intense and so urgent in recent days, because there’s not another path for us to go down to get the kind of resources that we are asking Congress for here. 

There’s not another avenue to it that — and because of that, I think the Congress, and especially the Speaker, need to stare their responsibility square in the face and then meet that responsibility, meet that obligation to their voters and to the American people and to the American national security interest.

Q    So what does the Speaker say to you?  We all saw that picture of him with former President Trump recently.  I mean, how does he respond when you make this argument to him?

MR. SULLIVAN:  He says that he would like to find a way to provide support to Ukraine and to Israel and to Asia, and on the border.  And then, dot-dot-dot, it doesn’t happen.  And one has to ask, “Well, why not?”  And the answer is because he won’t put it on the floor for a vote.  And I don’t think he has a good answer as to why he won’t do that.

So, at this point, we’ve got to match the basic words of support for our allies and partners with the action of putting this up for a vote.  That’s the Speaker’s obligation.  That’s what he has to do.  And he can’t shirk from that or hide from that.  He’s got to step up and do it.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Elex.  Thank you, Jake.
For our next question, we’ll head over to Haley Bull.

Q    Hey, thanks, Dhara.  Thanks, Jake, for doing this.

One of the arguments we have heard the Ukrainians make as they push for this aid package to be passed, as well, is the support Russia is getting from Iran and North Korea.  And I’m curious at this point if the administration has seen that advance further since the last time that was discussed and if there have been any changes in China’s support for Russia as well.  Thanks.

MR. SULLIVAN:  We have been on the forefront of warning about and describing the forms of support from Iran and North Korea to Russia, going back to the beginning of this war.  We first elaborated Iran’s support by way of providing these one-way attack drones.  We first elaborated North Korea’s support by way of providing ammunition as well as short-range ballistic missiles.  And we have seen the support from North Korea steadily advance over the course of the past few months to include these ballistic missiles that Russia is using on the battlefield in Ukraine.  And we have seen a continuation of sustainment of Iranian support as well.

With respect to China, we have warned from the beginning about the need for China to refrain from providing weapons to Russia.  We have not seen China provide weapons to Russia, but we have seen companies in the PRC providing inputs to Russia’s defense industrial base, and that’s something that has been of concern to us.  And we have raised those concerns directly with our Chinese counterparts.  Most recently, Secretary Blinken saw the Chinese foreign minister in Munich just a few days ago and raised these concerns.  And we will continue to keep a close eye on that and watch as Beijing makes its decisions about whether and to what extent it’s going to support Russia going forward.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Haley.  Thank you, Jake.  For our final question, we’ll head over to Nick Schifrin with PBS.

Q    Thanks, Jake, for doing this.  Do you believe that Ukraine will lose without this supplemental?  And do you believe that Ukraine can win with it? 

And I know we’re focused on Ukraine, but if you don’t mind my asking about the Taiwan Strait.  Taiwan drove away a Chinese coast guard boat that entered near the frontline islands of Taiwan today, as you know, after a Chinese boat boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat.

What do you think is the cause of the tension there?  And do you believe the Chinese coast guard is acting appropriately?  Thanks.

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, in February of 2022, most observers didn’t think Ukraine would last a month.  So I’m going to have a lot of humility about ever predicting that Ukraine will fail at anything, given the bravery and skill and courage of its fighters and its forces.

I do believe that Ukraine can prevail in this conflict, that it can win.  But it needs the resources and the support that it has, frankly, earned from its partners, including the United States.  And that’s why we’re driving so hard at getting this vote.

With respect to Taiwan, I’m not going to comment specifically on these incidents, only to say that we have been very clear where we stand, the United States stands, and that is for the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.  And we are against any kind of action, by any party, that undermines that peace and stability.  That will be a message that we continue to send loud and clear.

MODERATOR:  Thank you again, Jake.  Thank you again to all of the reporters for joining today’s call.  For outstanding questions, please follow up with the White House.

1:27 P.M. EST

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