James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:10 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon.

Q Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have just a couple things at the top, and then we’ll — we’ll get going.

So, tomorrow, as you all know, the President is going to be traveling to Baltimore, where he will receive an operational update on response efforts from the unified command. Leaders from the Coast Guard and Army Co- — and the Army Corps of Engineers will share updates on the assistance they are providing to state officials in surveying and removing the wreckage in the channel and allowing the Port of Baltimore to reopen as soon as humanly possible.

The President will be joined by Governor Moore and other Maryland and Baltimore-area elected officials. He’ll also be joined by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

As we all know, six individuals tragically lost their lives when the Francis Scott King [Key] Bridge collapsed last week. They were hard workers, laboring in the middle of the night to repair potholes on a bridge that tens of thousands of travelers crossed every day. The President will meet with loved ones of those individuals during his trip tomorrow.

The President is continuing to lead a whole-of-government approach in responding to the bridge collapse. As the President said within hours of the collapse, this administration will be with the people of Baltimore every step of the way.

SBA Administrator Guzman is in Baltimore today as part of this administration’s efforts to support small businesses in need.

I also want to share a very big announcement that the Vice President and the — EPA Administrator Regan made today in Charlotte, North Carolina. They announced a $20 billion — 20 — $20 billion in awards to expand access to clean energy, tackle the climate crisis, improve air quality, lower energy costs, and create good-paying jobs.

This investment through the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will stand up a national network that will finance tens of thousands of climate and clean energy projects across America.

At least 70 percent of these funds will be invested in low-income and disadvantaged communities. This makes the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund the single-largest non-tax investment in the Inflation Reduction Act to build a clean energy economy while benefiting communities that have historically been left behind.

And finally, finally, finally, I want to briefly preview the President’s schedule next week.

On Monday, we — he will travel to Madison, Wisconsin, and discuss how he is lowering costs for Americans.

Later in the week, the President and the First Lady will host the Prime Minister of Japan and his wife for an official visit to the United States. This will include a state dinner on Wednesday, April 10th.

The visit will underscore the enduring strength of our alliance, the unwavering U.S. commitment to Japan, and Japan’s increasing global leadership role.

On Thursday, April 11th, President Biden will host Prime Minister [President] Marcos of the Philippines, Prime Minister Kishida of Japan at the White House for the first trilateral U.S.-Japan-Philippines leaders’ summit.

In addition, President Biden will host President Marcos for a meeting at the White House on April 11th to review the historic momentum in U.S.-Philippines relations.

Thank you for your patience. With that, the Admiral is here to talk about the President’s call with Prime Minister Netanyahu and any updates that we have in the Middle East.


MR. KIRBY: Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, everybody.

Q Good afternoon.

MR. KIRBY: Obviously, a busy day here. I do want to take a moment just at the start to recognize the 75th anniversary of the NATO Alliance, the greatest military alliance in the history of the world. And you all saw the statement from the President earlier today celebrating this historic milestone.

Now, for 75 years, the NATO Alliance has stood together for freedom and against aggression, provided an unrivaled bulwark of security that has helped protect the American people. And during that time, our NATO Allies have come to our aid in our time of need, with NATO forces serving alongside ours in Afghanistan.

Today, NATO is larger, stronger, it’s more relevant than ever before thanks in no small part to the President’s leadership. And we look forward to building on all that progress in July when we host our 31 NATO Allies here in Washington, D.C., for the next NATO Summit.

Now, as I’m sure you’re all aware, the President had a chance to speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier today. On that phone call, the President emphasized that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation in Gaza are unacceptable.

He made clear the need for Israel to announce and to implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers.

He made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps.

He underscored that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and to protect innocent civilians. And he urged the Prime Minister to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home.

The two leaders also discussed public Iranian threats against Israel and the Israeli people. President Biden made clear that the United States strongly supports Israel in the face of those threats.

That’s all I have.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Zeke.

Q Thanks, John. First, on that last piece there. You said — you have said it from this podium several times that that — the — Hamas was the obstacle to getting some sort of ceasefire deal. Calling on the Israelis to empower the negotiators suggests that has changed. Has the U.S. assessment of Israeli willingness to reach a ceasefire deal changed in the last several weeks?

MR. KIRBY: No. It — look, it takes — it takes active participation and the negotiation of both sides here. And — and that’s what the President is urging. He’s certainly, in the call with Netanyahu, urging that — that the Prime Minister empower his team to the maximum extent possible to see if we can get this deal in place.

Q And then just on the substance of the real news from the President’s statement there, saying that he’s going to condition future U.S. support for this — for Israeli — the Israeli operation in Gaza on what Israel does. First off, what is at stake? What would be potentially cut off from Israel for use in this war if the — if he doesn’t change course?

And second, what do you want specifically to see from Israel were — to do to protect civilians and humanitarian aid workers?

MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to preview any potential policy decisions coming forward.

What we want to see are some real changes on the Israeli side. And, you know, if we don’t see changes from their side, there will have to be changes from our side.

But I won’t preview what that could look like.

Now —

Q Is that just body count —

MR. KIRBY: — they talked about — wha- — I’m sorry?

Q Is that just the body count, or is there specific changes?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I’m — I’m — in terms of concrete steps, what we are looking to see and hope to see here in coming hours and days is a dramatic increase in the humanitarian assistance getting in, additional crossings opened up, and a reduction in the violence against civilians and certainly aid workers. We want to — we want to see that — that even as the Israelis work through their investigation that they are willing and able to take practical, immediate steps to protect aid workers on the ground and to demonstrate that they — that they have that civilian harm mitigation in place.

So, again, those are broad brushes. I’ll let the Israelis speak to what they will or won’t do here. But, again, in coming hours and days, we will be looking for concrete, tangible steps that they’re taking.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nancy.

Q Thanks. John, just to go back to that point. In your readout, when you say the President made clear that the U.S. — “that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action,” could you decode that for us? What exactly is the warning that’s being issued here?

MR. KIRBY: I think it’s very clear in the language itself, Nancy. We’re going to — the — we’re looking for concrete steps to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza.

Again, I won’t get ahead of what the Israelis will or won’t say or announce. We’re looking for concrete steps to be announced here soon.

And it’s not just about the announcement of concrete steps and changes in their policies, but it’s the execution of those announcements and those decisions and implementing them.

And so, we’re — we obviously will — will watch closely and monitor how — how they do on — on the commitments that they make. And as — as I said earlier, if there’s no changes to their policy and their approaches, then there’s going to have to be changes to ours.

Q I think — I think what the world wants to understand is: Is the White House warning that it may remove military aid? What exactly is the threat here?

MR. KIRBY: I think I’ve — I’ve stated it pretty clearly. And I’m not going to — I’m not going to — as I said earlier, I’m not going to preview steps. I’m not going to preview decisions that haven’t been made yet. But there are things that need to be done.

There are too many civilians being killed. The risk to aid workers is unacceptable. Now we have certain aid organizations that are reconsidering whether they’re even going to be able to continue operations in Gaza while famine looms. So, there has to be tangible steps.

Let’s see what they announce. Let’s see what they direct. Let’s see what they do. But I’m not going to get ahead of that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary.

Q So, I’m going to try this one more time, because the President seems —

MR. KIRBY: I reckoned you would. (Laughter.)

Q That’s what we do. The President seems to have said to — to the Prime Minister today, you know, “Make these concrete changes or else.” It’s the “or else” that I want to make clear here. Is the President threatening to withhold aid to Israel if they do not make these changes?

MR. KIRBY: The President made it clear that our policies with respect to Gaza will be dependent upon our assessment of how well the Israelis make changes and implement changes to make the situation in Gaza better for the Palestinian people.

Q And how much time are you giving them to make these changes, to implement these concrete steps?

MR. KIRBY: Again, we — we would hope to see some announcements of changes here in coming hours and days. And I’ll leave it at that.

Q That’s short.

MR. KIRBY: Hours and days.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q John, why today?

MR. KIRBY: Why today what?

Q Why was —

MR. KIRBY: Why today for the phone call? Why —

Q Why — why this apparent shift in policy today? The —

MR. KIRBY: I think — look, the President — well, all of us, but particularly the President — was certainly shaken by the attack on the WCK convoy and the aid workers. As I said earlier, it wasn’t the only event. There had been others like that: humanitarian aid convoys coming under fire and losing people.

And — and the President felt strongly that it was time to — to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu about his concerns.

Q Would you characterize this call as an ultimatum?

MR. KIRBY: I would characterize this call as very direct, very businesslike, very professional on both sides. And the President laid out his significant concerns about the direction and where things are going and, quite frankly, laid out, as is clear in the readout, that — that we are willing to reconsider our own policy approaches here, dependent upon what the Israelis do or don’t do.

Q And can you just tell us who all was on the call?

MR. KIRBY: Well, it was — it was a bilateral call between the two leaders — Prime Minister Netanyahu and the President. They were the only two speakers on the — on the call.

Q Okay. But Vice President Harris also dialed in or —

MR. KIRBY: Vice President Harris did — did dial in, yes.

Q And the Secretary of State and the —

MR. KIRBY: Secretary of State dialed in. Jake Sullivan, yes. I don’t know who was also listening in on the Israeli side. But the — but the discussion was between the two leaders.


Q So, Admiral, you’re not specifying what concrete steps Israel must take exactly.

MR. KIRBY: I — I gave you some — a broad sense of it. We want to see more crossings opened up. We want to see more trucks getting in, particularly from Jordan. We want to see tangible steps at the mitigation of civilian harm, particularly to humanitarian aid workers but, obviously, all civilians. But we want to see that they have — that they have moved forward on proper steps to deconflict with aid workers as they move around, that the information flow is viable.

Q Sure. But that’s language we’ve heard for weeks now. You’re not talking about sort of telling us how exactly you will measure those measurable steps, right?

MR. KIRBY: What I said was we’re going to — we’re going to examine our policy approaches based on the — our assessment of the way the Israeli side modifies their behavior, modifies their policy and decision-making processes.

And so, first of all, let’s see what they say they’re going to do. And then let’s watch and see how they execute to what they say and do.

I don’t want to get ahead of them on what they — on what they — what they plan to say about the changes they’re going to make. But we- — we’ll base our policy decisions based on an assessment of how they execute to their policy decisions.

Q Haven’t you been doing that all along?

Q And you’re not talking about what potential U.S. policy changes are on the table. Can you say whether the President shared that with the Prime Minister on this phone call?

MR. KIRBY: The President made clear that — that absent changes in the protection of civilians on the ground; absent changes to the volume of humanitarian assistance getting in; absent — absent any movement on a ceasefire that will allow hostages to get out and more aid to get in; absent, you know, a calming down, that he will have to reconsider his own policy choices with respect to — to Gaza.

Q And one of the seven aid workers was obviously a dual American citizen. Did the Prime Minister offer the President an apology?

MR. KIRBY: I — I — I’ll let the Prime Minister speak to his side of the conversation. The — I would note that the Israeli Defense Forces, their Southern Command commander has made a public apology for the — the strike.

Q And there was no mention of Rafah in this readout. Can you talk to us about how — if that did come up and how that might have been discussed between the two leaders?

MR. KIRBY: This conversation was — was focused primarily on the need to get a temporary ceasefire in place, the need for there to be a pause in — in the fighting so that we can get the hostages out, humanitarian assistance; the need to see that steps are being taken to learn from this strike and to make changes in the way civilian harm is mitigated from an operational perspective.

And they did spend time, as the readout makes clear, talking about the very public threats from — from Iran to Israel. And the President, as I said, made very clear to the Prime Minister that the United States’ support for Israel’s ability to defend itself from a range of threats, not just Hamas, remains ironclad.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Danny.

Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Admiral. Just a couple of things. Firstly, how — how long did this call last?

MR. KIRBY: It was about 30 minutes or so.

Q And just going back to, I mean, Jeff’s question about the — you know, why — why the sort of change in tone. I mean, has there been growing frustration on the part of President Biden that previous messaging to Prime Minister Netanyahu just doesn’t seem to have gotten through?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, there has been growing frustration.


Q Thank you so much, Karine. John, one question on Israel and another on Venezuela. We saw, in the past, President Biden pushing Netanyahu to protect civilians, but how much words really matter here when — on actions, the same day of the attack on the humanitarian words — the U.S. was approving more bombs to Israel? The U- — we are now six months into the war. How much the U.S. actions are actually encouraging Israel to not do enough to protect civilians?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, I — I’m kind of glad the question came up, because I would tell you, when — I’ve seen press reporting, you know, about the — about the — the arms sales and that kind of thing. And I would just remind you that — that it — with the exception of the immediate two months after the attack, we haven’t really sent emergency aid and assis- — military assistance to — to Israel. There was in the first couple of months.

But what you’re seeing here is the result of a — a process of foreign military sales to Israel that takes years, and a lot of this materiel that’s been reported publicly was notified to Congress many, many months, if not years ago, and are in the train to get to Israel.

I think it’s important to remember, as I tried to mention in the last answer, that Israel still has a lot of threats it faces. I mean, we’re all focused on Hamas, and I understand that, but they still face active threats throughout the region, including from Iran. And the United States still has an ironclad commitment to help Ir- — Israel with its self-defense. And so, a lot of these articles, including the 2,000-pound bombs and the F-35s, that’s — those are things that have been long in the train and not tied — the sale — the foreign military sales process was not tied to this conflict.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Tam.

Q Can I have a one more —


Q — on Ven- — on Venezuela quick. Because yesterday, Nicolás Maduro enacted a law creating a province of Venezuela in Guyana, and he accused the United States of building secret military bases in Essequibo. So, what is your reaction? And is the U.S. considering build a military base to support Guyana to defend their sovereignty?

MR. KIRBY: There’s no p- — there’s no plans for a secret military base.

And we’ve said ma- — many times that there’s an 1899 arbitral ruling about the border between Guyana and Venezuela, and we want both sides to respect that ruling and to do it peacefully.


Q Thank you. You said, “We would hope to see an announcement of changes.” I’m wondering if that is just hope or is it an expectation?

MR. KIRBY: We ex- —

Q Is it based on a commitment?

MR. KIRBY: We expect that — that there will be some — some announcements coming from Israel in the coming hours and days, but I want to respect their right to manage that process on their own.

Q Okay. And was there any update given by the Prime Minister on what exactly happened with the World Central Kitchen envoy?

MR. KIRBY: They — they didn’t talk about the actual strike in great detail. The — the Prime Minister did reiterate, as his military has reiterated, that this was on them; that the investigation was — was concluding; that he looked forward to seeing it; and that, you know, he would take appropriate actions to make sure something like that couldn’t happen again.

I mean, they did — obviously, they talked about it, of course. But did they go through point by point the investigation’s findings? No, because I think the Prime Minister’s office is still evaluating the actual investigation results.

Q And just to try to get a technical understanding as you described the very long process of supplying arms to Israel, if this contingency isn’t met and there is a change in U.S. policy, how easy or hard would it be to slow down or change shipments to Israel based on current law and all of the requirements and all the things you just described?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, again, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. Let’s see what the Israeli side does and says and what they implement and where they go before we talk about actual policy decisions.

And I’m certainly not going to close down decision space for the President of the United States. He gets to make those decisions. But I mean, obviously, as Commander-in-Chief — and, yes, the foreign military sales certainly is — is supported by legislation, but — but there are certain authorities that you can do to manage that.

But, again, let’s not get ahead of where we are. This is really about seeing what the Israelis say they’re going to do and then act on — on those — on those changes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Gabe.

Q Admiral, has the U.S. lost its leverage with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR. KIRBY: You know, I keep getting this question about leverage. Israel is an ally and a friend and a partner. And the President believes strongly, and has for his entire public career, in the security of the Israeli people and the — and the longevity of the Israeli state. And that’s not going to change.

And I can say unequivocally — and I don’t think the Prime Minister would mind me saying here — that, in the call today, the Prime Minister reiterated his thanks to President Biden and this administration for the support that — that we have continued to provide Israel. It’s longstanding. It was before the 7th of October, and it is now. And that support is — that support is going to continue.

But, again, with respect to Gaza, we need to see certain changes. And if we don’t, then we’ll have to consider changes to our own policy.

But it’s not about — it’s not about leverage. It’s about the relationship, and it’s about the credibility — I would even say the unique credibility that this particular president has in Israel and with Israeli leadership based on his long public service of support to —

Q But you talk about this relationship. Do you think the Prime Minister is really listening?

MR. KIRBY: It was — I think it was evident in the phone call today. It was a good discussion. Direct — no question — but a good discussion. And — and I believe the — the President made very clear his concerns and the Prime Minister acknowledged those concerns.

Q And in — and in terms of the timing of this call, we understand that this call was set up after the strike on the World Central Kitchen workers. Would you say that this call was a direct result of that? Was that the reason behind the call?


MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nadia.

Q And then, one —

Q Thank you.

Q — one last thing: response to José Andrés. Chef Andrés says that the convoy was deliberately targeted. Any response from the U.S. on that?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I — I haven’t seen the Israeli investigation. They have said themselves publicly, after a preliminary investigation, that there was no deliberate targeting of WCK and — and Chef Andrés. They — they’re working their way through, now, independent follow-on investigation, which I understand is very, very close to complete.

The Prime Minister just talked about it broadly. And reiterated today — the Prime Minister reiterated today that there was no deliberate targeting of — of that aid convoy.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nadia.

Q Thank you, Karine. Two questions. Senator Coons, who is very close to the President, said that we have reached a moment where arms restriction to Israel should be considered. Senator Warren also said that we have — Israel has violated our own laws. Are they wrong in their assessment?

MR. KIRBY: The President — I think it’s clear in the readout, Nadia, that the — that the President has — has made it clear today that if we don’t see changes to the way the IDF is treating innocent civilians and aid workers and flowing the humanitarian assistance, that he’s going to have to reconsider our Gaza policy. So, I mean, he was very direct with the Prime Minister about that.

I’m not going to close down his decision space. As satisfying as that may be for some of you, I can’t do that.

But he made it very clear that we need to see some changes on the Israeli side.

Q Okay. I want to ask you about very disturbing investigative report by an Israeli journalist who said that — is the White House aware of an AI program called “Lavender” that’s being used by the Israeli army to target operative in Gaza in what they call a “kill zone,” where this program has only 20 seconds of human supervision. And it led to the death of thousands of women and children in Gaza. Do you think — are you aware of it, number one? And, second, does the White House believe that AI can be used in this way with that supervision?

MR. KIRBY: I’m — I’m not aware of it. You’re going to have to let me take question. We’ll get back to you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q Thank you so much, John. I’m going to start with the trilateral summit, then I’m going to move to Rwanda.

First of all, looking ahead to the trilateral summit next week, what are some of the priorities? And we recently heard the Filipino Ambassador say that the U.S., Japan, and the Philippines are going to start joint patrols in the South China Sea very soon. Can you confirm that and give us any details?

MR. KIRBY: I believe the Pentagon will have more to say about that this afternoon. So, I don’t — I don’t want to get ahead of — of them on that. We’re always looking for opportunities to improve cooperation with our allies in the Indo-Pacific.

We’re looking forward to this trilateral summit next week. I think it’ll be very, very important. As you know, we have self-defense treaty commitments with both countries. And so, the chance to sit down with — with both his Japanese and his Filipino counterparts is something the President is very much looking forward to.

There’s an awful lot to discuss. Certainly, the tensions in the South China Sea are not going away. That was an issue that was raised in the President’s call with President Xi just a — a couple of days ago. And so, there’s — there’s an awful lot to talk about there.

Q Cool. Then on Rwanda —

MR. KIRBY: Cool.

Q I’m going to ask — (laughter) — a multi-part question.

Q Cool.

Q It’s —
MR. KIRBY: I did not think my answer was cool, but I appreciate the compliment. (Laughter.)

Q It’s — sorry, it’s a small country. It doesn’t get a lot of attention. But President Biden has decided to send President Clinton —

MR. KIRBY: Correct.

Q — to observe the 30th anniversary of the genocide. You know, what message does this send to Rwandans who are understandably upset about President Clinton’s lack of action when the genocide was happening?

Secondly, what message is President Clinton taking to President Kagame, who has been in power since 1994 and has become increasingly authoritarian?

And then, finally, in 1998, President Clinton pledged to the Rwandan people that his administration was going to work to identify triggers of genocidal activity so that something like this would never happen again. Do you think Washington has improved on that front in the last 30 years?

MR. KIRBY: We — we — I — I believe — I can’t speak for every administration between 1998 and today, but I can tell you that President Biden absolutely takes those responsibilities very, very seriously, particularly when it comes to genocidal threats, wherever they occur around the world.

And he’s very grateful that President Clinton has agreed to lead the delegation for the 30th anniversary. Eight hundred thousand people slaughtered in that — in that —

Q Some people say it’s over 1.2 million.

MR. KIRBY: — in that conflict. And our hearts and our prayers go out to the families of the — of the survivors — of those who were — who were killed. Just a — just a dreadful situation.

And, again, the President is grateful that President Clinton has agreed to — to go down there and represent the administration.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Phil.

Q Thank you. I have two questions, one on Israel and another on China.

At this point in the conflict, does President Biden believe that a military victory against Hamas is possible for Israel?

MR. KIRBY: Obviously, that’s going to be up to the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli government to determine.

As I’ve said many, many times: It’s difficult to eliminate an ideology with military means, but you can absolutely, through military means, decapitate their leadership; dry up their resources; eliminate their infrastructure, their ability to — to operate and store weapons, train troops. I mean, all of that stuff can be — can be targeted with military means.

What — the — but as I’ve also said, and — and you have to keep it in the context of this call, it matters how you do that. It really matters a lot how you do that.

And it’s the how that the President was focused on today and the — the way these operations are being prosecuted and the additional harm that’s coming to civilian aid workers and innocent Gazans.

Q And then, Xi reportedly told President Biden during their summit in San Francisco that Beijing plans to reunify Taiwan with Mainland China. Did the Chinese leader bring up a similar sentiment in their call the other day? And if so, what was President Biden’s response?

MR. KIRBY: I wou- — certainly, Taiwan came up in the context of — of the call. There’s not a single discussion that we don’t have with senior leaders in the PRC where we don’t talk about Taiwan. Of course, it came up.

I — I won’t characterize President Xi’s comments. But I can tell you that — that President Biden was very, very clear that — that nothing has changed about our One China policy. We don’t support independence for Taiwan. But we also don’t want to see the status quo changed in a unilateral way and certainly not by force.

Q Thank you, sir.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, a couple more. Go ahead, Jared.

Q Did — I know you said that Rafah wasn’t the point of this conversation and it wasn’t discussed a lot. Does that mean that that is still sort of a separate issue that’s going to be sort of an ongoing discussion between U.S. and Israeli officials in the delegation?

MR. KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d call it separate. It wasn’t a focus of this call. The call was — as I answered to M.J., it was really about the humanitarian situation and changes we need to see.

But we look forward to having another conversation with Israeli counterparts in coming days, hopefully in a week or so, on Rafah specifically. And we hope this next one will be in person, but we’ll have more to say about that as we get closer to it.

Q So, an operation in Rafah would not, sort of, run counter to — to these new conditions that the President laid out to — to the Prime Minister?

MR. KIRBY: Oh, I didn’t say that at all. I mean, one of the big concerns about a ground operation in Rafah that we’ve expressed is the damage it could do — the death and destruction it could render to the 1.5 million Gazans that are seeking refuge there.

So, again, today’s call was really focused on humanitarian assistance, civilian casualties, and that includes humanitarian aid workers. You can’t talk about Rafah and the possibility of operations going after those Hamas battalions in Rafah without also talking about the humanitarian situation down there, which is dire.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Brian.

Q Thanks a lot, Admiral. Does President Biden agree with Donald Trump that the — Israel’s war against Hamas is taking a long time?

MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to compare the President’s views to — to Mr. Trump. I think you can understand I need to stay out — out of that.

All I would tell you is we have expressed our concerns about the manner in which operations are being conducted and the — the speed and the energy with which we want to see changes to the way those operations are being conducted. And I think I’d leave it at that.

Q Well, does — does the President think that Israel’s war against Hamas is taking too long?

MR. KIRBY: The President believes that they have a right to go after the Hamas threat, which is still viable. And the President made it clear again today that we support and we will continue to support — not just philosophically but tangibly — Israel’s right to defend itself against a range of threats. And it — certainly that includes this — this fight against Hamas.

But, again, I want to — I want to reiterate what I said earlier. It’s not just the threat of Hamas that Israel is facing. They are facing broader threats throughout the region, including directly and publicly from — from Iran.


Q John, a follow-up on that first. Did the CIA warn Israel or did President Biden warn Netanyahu today about an Iranian plan to attack inside Israel within 48 hours?

MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters, Peter. I think you can understand. But they did talk about a very public and very viable, real threat by Iran to Israel’s security. And I think I need to leave it at that. It’s really as far as I can go.

Q On October 7th, President Biden said, “My administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.” That is not true anymore, correct?

MR. KIRBY: That i- — no, it is true. Still true today.

Q How is his support unwavering, but you’re also reconsidering policy choices?

MR. KIRBY: Both can be true.

Q They cannot be true. They’re — they’re completely different things.

MR. KIRBY: No. No, no. I just —

Q He is —

MR. KIRBY: I’m sorry — I —

Q He is wavering.

MR. KIRBY: Now, now, now. Come on, Peter.

Q How is he not wavering?

MR. KIRBY: Come on. (Laughter.) Come on, now.

As I said, and as it says in that readout, we made clear — and — and he made it clear to the Prime Minister in his call — that our support for Israel’s self-defense remains ironclad. They face a range of threats. And the United States isn’t going to walk away from helping Israel defend itself.

That said, you can say all that and you can act on that and you can believe that — and the President does — and still believe that the manner in which they’re defending themselves against the Hamas threat needs to change. And that is the conversation that we had today.

But both things are true. Our support is ironclad and consistent. It’s not going to — not going to stop; it’s not going to — not going to — not going to waver. But will there perhaps be some policy changes we might have to make if we don’t see policy changes out of Israel? Yes.

Q How is that unwavering? It sounds like you guys are trying to have it both ways here.

MR. KIRBY: No. I don’t know that I’d char- —

Q “We support Israel, but we are going to make all these changes because we don’t support Israel.”

MR. KIRBY: I didn’t say we’re going to make changes. I said we need to see w- — how Israel responds to the humanitarian crises in Gaza and how they respond to protection of aid workers. I think we can all agree, I think you would agree, you don’t want to see innocent civilians killed or targeted, do you? You don’t want to see Gazans starve. You don’t want to see famine in Gaza, do you?

Q Nobody wants to see —

MR. KIRBY: Of course not.

Q — that. But you’re —


Q — the policymaker and you’re talking about policy changes.


Q That is not what you were talking about on October 7th.
MR. KIRBY: Because things have —

Q When it was “solid and unwavering.”

MR. KIRBY: On October 7th, there wasn’t near famine in Gaza. On October 7th, there wasn’t a diminution of trucks getting into Gaza. On October 7th, we didn’t see thousands and thousands of innocent people killed. I mean, I could go on and on.

The — we’re talking about a conflict near — which is dang near at six months here — this weekend, six months. And it has changed over time. And the — what the President’s message today was: We need to see some changes in the way Israel is dealing with that threat.

Q And —

MR. KIRBY: That’s — that’s what two good friends and allies can discuss.

This isn’t about un- — this isn’t about changing our support to Israel or the security of the Israeli state. And I — I just have to take issue with the premise of the question.

Q Okay. Just the last one, then. Where is President Biden on any of this? When he wants to talk about how angry he is or frustrated he is about the high cost of insulin, he comes out and gives an impassioned speech. Where is he on any of this?

MR. KIRBY: He’s been talking about this. He’s been issuing statements on this.

Q In private.

MR. KIRBY: No, that statement, last I looked, was public.

Q But where is he? Why isn’t he here right now?

MR. KIRBY: Look, I’m sure you’ll continue to hear from the President about this and many other national security issues.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. We’ve got to — we’ve got to wrap it up.

Go ahead.

Q Thanks. Can you share any- — anything about White House views on the upcoming U.N. Security Council resolution to prohibit nuclear weapons in space, which is scheduled to vote as soon as Friday?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, actually, I can. And if you don’t mind, I’m — I do have some notes. I want to make sure that I get this right.

But, I think, last month, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield announced that the United States and Japan would put forward a Security Council resolution calling on all countries not to deploy nuclear weapons in space or to develop nuclear weapons specifically designed to be placed in orbit around the Earth. And we will be bringing this resolution to a vote in New York early next week.

Now, the vote should be straightforward. The Outer Space Treaty — which has been signed by more than 130 countries, including Russia, the PRC, and, of course, the United States — prohibits the deployment of, quote, “nuclear weapons or other kinds of weapons of mass destruction,” end quote, in orbit, period.

Now, we have heard President Putin say that Russia has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, so we look forward to Russia voting in favor of this resolution. There should be no reason why not to. And if they do, then I think that should open up some really legitimate questions to Mr. Putin about what his intentions really are.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. S.V., you have the last question.

Q Yeah, thank you. Admiral, could you clarify on the — the ceasefire language that the President used in his statement? He says that he und- — that there should be a ceasefire, and then the next — after a comma, it’s, “he urged the Prime Minister to empower… negotiators to conclude a deal without delay.” So, are the two tied together? Or is he saying ceasefire right now and then the other thing later? I mean, what —

MR. KIRBY: We — we —

Q How immediate is “immediate”?

MR. KIRBY: I — I can’t really improve upon the President’s language. We — we want to see a pause in the fighting. We want to see a ceasefire immediately, so that we can get more humanitarian assistance in and create a set of conditions where aid organizations feel better about operating inside Gaza because, as we — we’ve already seen it in — as a result of the attack on the WCK workers, that some aid organizations now are pulling back. So, we want to see that immediate ceasefire in place.

We also, of course, as we’ve said many times, think that that could also provide a window here to get the hostages out.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks. Thank you so much.


MR. KIRBY: Thank you very much.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Admiral.

Q John, before you go, was it an ultimatum? Was it an ultimatum?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thank you so much, Admiral.

Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That was a lot of screaming.

Q Was before — either before the call or after the call, has the White House briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill about this potential change in U.S. policy, what is at stake here?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, I think the Admiral made it very clear. We are giving the Israeli government an opportunity to deal with something that is pretty serious: humanitarian aid workers who are — you know, who are, we saw this week, being killed. I think we talked about — we’ve seen that ov- — more than 200 humanitarian aid workers in the past several months.

And so, that needs to stop. And so, we’re giving the Israeli government, as you heard from my colleague, to come up with some — some ways — some — you know, some measures here on how to avoid that. We have to keep civilians — civilians safe; we have to keep humanitarian workers safe.

And so, I don’t want to get ahead of that. We’re always having conversations, always in contact with congressional members. I don’t have a readout of outreach that was done right after the call. Obviously, the call ended not too long ago. And so, don’t want to — to get ahead of that.

But I think in that readout the President made it very clear where he stand — where he — where he stands in this moment. He made it very clear after the horrific — you know, the — what happened — the horrific events of seven — seven, you know, brave people doing — doing heroic work — what happened to them. He put out a very strong statement.

So, I think the President has been very clear. He’s outraged, he’s heartbroken, and this needs to stop. We need to protect civilian lives. That’s why he’s having — that’s why his team is having conversat- — conversations with the Israeli government on Rafah operations and what that’s going to look like. They’re having a — a, you know, reasonable debate back and forth and — and talking about that.

We’re hoping — we — we expect that to happen in person very shortly. And so, the President has been very clear: We got to protect civilian lives; we have to protect humanitarian aid workers. And — and those conversations certainly are going to continue.

Q And you got a question yesterday whether the President’s conv- — conversation, with the doctor who had been in Gaza, on Tuesday was his first interaction with somebody who had been on the ground in Gaza since the war began. I was hoping you might have a — be able to give us an answer on that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. I did have a moment to look into that. And so, as you know, the President and his senior team have been pretty actively honoring their commitment he made on — in continuing that ongoing engagement with communities directly, obviously, impacted by the conflict in Gaza. And he did that by hosting community leaders just this week. But, also, you’ve seen the senior White House officials going to Michigan, going to Illinois, and continuing those conversations over the past several months.

So, look — and we believe and — that by going across the country and hearing directly from community leaders in numerous states, that we’re doing — we are keeping that ongoing commitment.

And so, look, the three doctors — there were three doctors who recently returned from Gaza who participated in the meeting this week, and they shared their firsthand experience with President Biden. And so, we can say that there were three doctors.

We’re trying to be really respectful in keeping the privacy of those who are attending these very private meetings. But we were able to share — I am able to share there were at least three doctors who have — who have had the firsthand experience, have gone to Gaza, and they were able to share — to share their firsthand experience with the President.

And so, I can share that. But I also want to be really careful, because we do want to keep our commitment in keeping these conversations private. And that includes the atten- — the attendees.

Q But that was the first time though that the President has interacted with anybody who had been on the ground, correct?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I can say is didn’t go — I have not checked in on — on that. Right? I want to be really care- —

Q Not since (inaudible)? Okay.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no. But I think three doctors coming to the meeting the other day — yesterday and laying out their first account, I think that’s important, right? So, we’re able to share that information with you: three doctors who were — who’ve been in Gaza, and they we- — shared directly with the President what they have seen on the ground. That matters, right? It’s — so, want to be very clear about that.

Look, we are going to continue to keep our commitment in hearing from folks in the communities who have been directly affected by this. That’s been our commitment from very early on.

We understand how painful this is for many. We understand how important it is to hear directly from Americans. This is what the President wants to do. He’s the president for all Americans. He has said that continuously on any issue.

And on this issue, it is important to do that as well.

Q And then, yesterday, you got a question that said the President had been briefed on this avian flu outbreak. I’m wondering has — is the President going to designate any sort of coordinator at the White House or —


Q — for the federal government to manage those (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m glad that you asked that question, because we do have a couple of things to share with all of you. The President has been briefed. I think I may have sa- — shared that yesterday as well.

Look, the health and safety of American public is very serious. We take that very seriously. Our top priority, obviously, is to keep communities healthy, safe, and informed.

What we were able to do is the White House — immediately, the White House stood up a response team with relevant agencies — like the CDC, FDA, USDA — to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to ensure we keep communities healthy, safe, and informed; ensure that our nation’s food supply remains safe; and monitor any and all trends to mitigate risk and prevent the spread of avian flu.

We are also in regular touch with those relevant agencies and receiving daily updates because, again, we take that very seriously.

And this is an issue — when you think about the avian flu, this is — public experts, health experts, and agencies have been preparing for this for decades — for 20 years now.

And so, we have invested the ability to test, the ability to prevent and to treat. And so, as CDC said themselves, right now, the risk to human health from this outbreak is low. But we want to keep it that way, which is why we set up this — this immediate response team.

And so, we’re going to monitor — continue to monitor, and — and we’re going to look for all the relev- — relevant trends as it relates to the avian flu. And we want to make sure that we keep all Americans safe.

Thank you for the question. I think it’s important.

Go ahead, M.J.

Q Karine, if Speaker Johnson were to put some form of Ukraine aid on the floor and a lawmaker, say Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, then moves to oust him, would the White House, would the President support Democrats working to keep him as Speaker?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we’ve always been very ca- — very, very careful when it comes to leadership. And we have always said, when it comes to picking the Speaker, picking the Leader in the Senate, we want to let Congress deal with that. We want — in this case, it’s something that House Republicans have to decide on. That’s something that — that Leader Jeffries and his caucus have to decide on. We are not going to weigh in on that. We’ve been very consistent over the past three years, and we stand by that.

Q Any recent contact with the Speaker’s office that you can read out?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to read out to you at this time. Obviously, our Office of Leg Affairs is in constant communication with congressional members on the Hill.

And I do want to just say — and we’ve been pretty consistent about this — when it comes to the national security supplemental that i- — includes all important Ukrainian aid. We believe that there’s bipartisan — there continues to be bipartisan support in Congress. The Speaker needs to put that on the floor. He needs to make sure that — that he gives House members an opportunity to vote for that. We believe it would get overwhelming support.

And we have to remember there are lives at stakes — there are live at stake here in — in Ukraine. And the brave people of Ukraine need the assistance from the U.S. to continue to fight for their democracy. That’s what we’ve been able to do for more than two years. We got to continue that.

And because of congressional inaction, we have — sadly, have seen that, you know, they’re — them — the Ukrainians — losing ground in the battlefield. And so, we believe: Put it out on the floor — Sp- — the Speaker needs to do that; let the con- — congressional members vote on it. We think it’ll get overwhelming support — 72-29 coming out of the Senate for that national security supplemental. It got to move. It has to move; lives are at stake here.

Go ahead.

Q Karine, was the President briefed yesterday or did he see the comments by José Andrés in his interview with Reuters?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He’s aware. He’s aware. He’s been — he’s been briefed, and he’s aware by the comments.

Look, you saw the President — we — we put that in the s- — in his statement. Obviously, he — we made sure that it was in his statement how he felt about his relationship, his friendtr- — friendship with Chef — Chef Andrés.

They — he considers him a friend. He sees him as a hero in everything that he has done — not just in Gaza but across the globe in feeding — in feeding people who are in need — the humanitarian assistant that he provides. We have said the — the op-ed that he wrote is incredibly powerful. And he — you know, that — the first couple of words out of his statement yesterday was “outrage” and “heartbroken.” Seven people died.

Q Is he —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Outrage and heart- — heartbroken.

Q Is he concerned about the discrepancy, though, between how Chef Andrés described a deliberate attack on his workers versus what the White House and —


Q — Israel have said in terms of describing that attack?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, there’s an investigation — ongoing investigation; we’re going to let that investigation move forward. And we certainly — I think we all can understand how heartbroken Chef José Andrés is at this moment. We understand that. We are mourning with him. We are mourning with the families that lost their loved ones. So, we can be sensitive to that.

But as it relates to making any declarative statement, we have to make sure that this investigation moves forward, and it is. And we will see where that takes us.

Go ahead, Nancy.

Q Thanks, Karine. The presidents of — the par- — parents, rather, of Jacob Flickinger, who is the American citizen who was killed in the World Central Kitchen strike — they said this morning they haven’t heard from anyone in the U.S. government, except for that first day when they got a notification from the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Does the President or anyone else at the White House plan to reach out to them?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have a readout for you at this time.

Look, we’ve been always very clear about this, that our hearts — and I just said this to Jeff — our hearts go out to the families. It is tragic — tragic. We send our deepest, deepest condolences, obviously, to the family of Jacob.

And, you know, he and the World — World Centra- — Central Kitchen workers were doing heroic work, as I just mentioned, and what happened — what happened on the ground as they were doing that heroic work in Gaza is tragic. It’s devastating. It’s heartbreaking.

And we just don’t have any additional calls to read out right now. I expect members of the administration to be in touch with the — with the family to express our — our condolences directly. Just don’t have any — anything to read out at this time.

But obviously, our hearts go out to all the families who lost — who lost some- — who lost someone they loved.

Q And several Democrats are now calling for an independent investigation into what happened here. Is the White House open to changing its position on this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to let Israeli — the Israeli government do their investigation and see where that takes us. Don’t want to get ahead of that. They’re doing an investigation.

We have said we want it to be comprehensive. We want it to be — make sure there — it — that it has accountability. We want it to be swift, obviously. And we want it to be public. So, don’t want to get ahead of that — let that process move forward. And we’ll see where we are from there.

Okay. Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Karine. So, yesterday, John Kirby said that the U.S. would not consider a shift in their policy towards Israel until they finished their review of the World Central Kitchen strike. And just now, he said that the U.S. may consider a change if they don’t make changes in Gaza within hours and days. So, where is that — where is that shift coming from?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think it’s — we’re talking about that — the conversation that happened today with the President, as we have said, was very direct, it was productive, it was professional — a 30-minute conversation. And it was based on humanitarian aid; protecting aid workers, which is really important; protecting civilians. And that’s what the conversation was primarily about.

And what we have said — it’s in the readout — that we want to see measurable changes to protect those aid workers, to protect civilian lives. And so, that is what is — he was talking about. That’s what he — the President laid out in — in the statement that we put out. You heard that from Secretary Blinken today.

And I think that’s the way that we want to make sure that we’re — you know, we want b- — be very clear about that. We want to see measurable changes to how humanitarian aids workers are protected. That’s what the conversation was about, and that’s the changes that we want to see the Israeli government present. That’s what he was talking about in the days to come.

Q Yeah. And if I could just get one more.


Q Yesterday, Benny Gantz, the Israeli War Cabinet Minister, called for Israel to hold early elections by September. Where does the White House stand on that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re not going to — we’re not going to get involved in the Israeli government or any government’s elections. That is something for them to decide on. It’s not coming from here.

Go ahead.

Q I have a question about electric vehicles. Ford said today it’s delaying production on an electric SUV. Tesla earlier this week said that its sales are plunging. Do these types of developments make the administration rethink their EV policy?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all. Look, you know, when it comes to EV sales, they are reaching record highs. EVs are more affordable than ever, and that’s because of the work that this administration has done. Last year, EV sales surpassed 1 million for the first time ever. That’s a 50 percent increase. That matters.

Under President Biden, EV sales have more than quadrupled. Sales of hybrids and EVs are now a record high of 18 percent of all light-duty vehicle sales. Average price of an EV is down 20 percent from just a year ago — just one year ago.

So, we believe that this is part of — well, I should say, the President has always said that he wants to make sure we do everything that we can to lower cost, lower prices — this is part of that — and also do eve- — all — everything that we can to deal with a climate crisis. And this is part of that.

Q So, is it realistic to go from about 7 or 8 percent of sales to 50 percent of sales in eight years if the automakers themselves are cutting back prod- — on production?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We believe — and we have seen that — that U.S. manufact- — U.S. manufacturing jobs have increased. Jobs have indeed increased. And when you see so- — a boom like this, that means you need autoworkers, right? It can’t happen on its own.

And so, we — we believe this is working. We believe this is part of what the President has promised. And we want to see a manufacturing industry that’s for the future of this — of this country, and that’s what we’re seeing. And that’s what the President is work — working towards.

Q And a question about yesterday’s call with President Xi. If President Biden is concerned enough about TikTok to bring it up on a call with the President of China, why is he and why is the Vice President — why are they still making videos for TikTok?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s coming out of the campaign, so I would refer you to the ca- —

Q But — but they’re —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait. Wait, that’s —

Q — doing the videos.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand. It is the campaign’s decision. I would refer you to the campaign.

We have been very clear: We are not trying to ban TikTok. We’re not trying to ban TikTok. We’re talking about a divestment. You heard that from the National Security Advisor when he has been here a couple of times at the podium speaking to TikTok and the legislation and how we’re trying to move forward. It is a — it is a platform that we really need to take seriously here. We’re talking about our national security.

And so, we’ve talked about not banning, divesting — not banning, divesting. So, I want to be very clear about that.

Go ahead, Karen.

Q Thanks, Karine. There’s a report from Bloomberg that the White House — specifically Jeff Zients and Lael Brainard — are calling major Baltimore employers, including Amazon and Home Depot, encouraging them to not cut jobs in the wake of the bridge collapse. Can you confirm that that outreach is happening and other outreach like that? And what is the message from the administration to those big companies?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things that — and I think I’ve read this out before — that we have been doing as it relates to sup- — supply chain and the potential economic impact. The President’s Supply Chain Dis — Distribution Task Force has convened multiple times at this point to analyze the impact of supply chains, which has so far been manageable, which is important. The task force worked with railroads to set up new service lines and with ports and ocean carriers to divert vessels.

The SBA — the Small Business Administration — has made low-interest disaster loan assistance available to eligible businesses and set up business recovery centers to help on the ground.

As it relates to your question about Chief — the Chief — Chief of Staff Zients and other senior White House officials, they have had — they have called major employers in the Baltimore area, including retail chains and distributors, to encourage them to retain workers. So, we wanted to make sure that we’re having those important conversation for the people of Baltimore, obviously.

They’re also working with SBA to reach out to small businesses and are in touch with local unions alongside the Labor Department as well.

So, we’re going to do everything we can to have these conversations with stakeholders so that we can identify any — and address any potential disruptions.

And so, we — if anything, this should show that this is an adminis- — administration that’s being active. And we’re being proactive, obviously, in trying to make sure that — that we deal with any potential economic impact.

Right now, as I said at the top, we see this being manageable. And this is why the — these — these conversations are critical with stakeholders at this — this point.

Q And will the President have any update tomorrow for state and local officials about Congress moving forward on the funding package?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m not going to get ahead of — of the President. He — as you know, he’s going to be there on the ground. We’ll certainly have more to share later tonight. I — as I mentioned at the top, he’s going to have an opportunity to engage with family members. We lost — as you know, we lost lives on that night. And the President, as he does — he understands what it means for people to have loss. He’ll be there for those families, just like he’ll certainly be there for the people of Baltimore.

Go ahead. Go ahead, Emily.

Q Thanks, Karine. I had a question about the state dinner next week.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.)

Q I saw the White House announced today the dinner itself is going to be held in the East Room. And I was just curious: The last state dinner was held on a tent on the South Lawn.


Q Was the East Room chosen out of concern that protesters who have been —


Q — coming after to the President might be shouting out —


Q — past the South Lawn and (inaudible) the atmosphere?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No at all. We’ve — we’ve — it’s not the — it’s not the first state dinner that’s been held in the East Room. I believe, if I’m remembering correctly, South Korea was held in the East Room. So, I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t read too much into it.

Okay. I’m going to take one more.

Q Karine — it’s been a while, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you very much.


Q I appreciate you calling me, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have thoughts, but I’m going to keep my thoughts to myself. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you very much.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, go ahead. Go ahead.

Q I’d like to ask you —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I appre- — you are correct. It’s been a while. So, go ahead.

Q Well, thank you. I’d like to ask you about press freedom and then about a significant White House personnel matter.

About press freedom —


Q — our government appears to be closer to potentially extraditing Julian Assange. Press freedom groups say that the case threatens to criminalize our profession. So, I’m wondering what the White House’s thinking is regarding that matter and the potential threat to press freedom. And does the White House have a stance on the pending federal press shield legislation that passed the House and that Senator Schumer told me he hopes reaches President Biden’s be- — desk this year?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re — you’re talking about the PRESS Act, more specifically?

Q Yes. Yes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, and I said this — I’ve said this many times. I said this last week — where journalism is not a crime. We’ve been very clear about that.

And as it relates to this particular legislation, I haven’t reviewed it. Would have to talk to our Office of Leg Affairs on that particular legislation.

But I do want to say, back in October of 2022, the Justice Department codified a policy to ban subpoenas of journalist records.

The President strongly supports the right of free and independent press. That is something that the President talked about when he was at the Gridiron. The President talked about this at the last White House Correspondents Dinner. He has been very consistent about this.

And I’ll just quote him for a second: A free press is “a pillar of any free society.” And while we may not always agree with certain coverage or admire it, we do admire the courage of the free press. Journalism, again, is not a crime.

Q Before moving on, just to confirm. No stance yet on the PRESS Act that you’re aware of? And the Assange matter — is there a concern about that and its implications?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I don’t have much more to share beh- — besides what I just laid out here. So, I’ll just leave it as what I just stated to you.

Q He’s been in prison five years.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand. I hear — I hear — I heard the question. I’m just not going to go beyond from what I just stated.

Q And on the personnel matter, I’d like to ask you about my reporting on Anthony Bernal, who is one of the most powerful figures in this White House. The First Lady reportedly refers to him as her “work husband.” Three former colleagues have made allegations of sexual harassment against him, building on prior reports of bullying. Some of these sources have worked with you. I — I think you’d find them credible. But Chief of Staff Zients issued a statement dismissing the allegations as “unfounded attacks” without even investigating them, which my sources say they’re alarmed about, because they say it could —


Q — chill sexual harassment and bullying reports.

How can the White House potentially — or possibly justify not invest- — investigating these allegations when the President says he will fire people —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. I don’t know who your sources are, so I can’t — I — just, with all due respect, I can’t speak to that. Right? I — I just don’t. I mean, they’re blind sources. I can’t speak to that.

What I can speak to is: You saw our statement from our Chief of Staff, Jeffrey Zients, saying they are unfounded. You saw a very strong statement from Anthony himself. It was in your — obviously, in your reporting. And he said the same.

And I cannot speak to personnel investigations here or anything like that. That is not something I will ever speak to. And I’m not saying there is one. I’m just saying that I will never sp- — I cannot speak to that. And that’s not something I can do.

Q (Inaudible.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But — hold on. I have known Anthony for some time now. I have known him for more than a decade. I’ve worked closely with him. And I consider him a friend but also a colleague that I respect. And that’s basically what you also heard from Jeffrey Zients.

I just don’t have anything else to share beyond your reporting. I — I’m —

Q I’ve just got to press you on this, though —


Q — because the President said he would —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — I don’t —

Q — fire people for disrespecting colleagues.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything — but —

Q And there’s no investigation.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I just laid — I just said to you that they have said themselves — Jeffrey Zients and also Anthony Bernal — that they are unfounded.

I can’t speak to your sources. Those are your sources to speak to. I cannot. But no —

Q Does Bernal’s special status come from the First Lady shielding him —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Steve — Steven —

Q — as some sources believe?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I’ve answered the question. I’ve answered the question.

Bernal — Anthony Bernal spoke for himself. You heard from our Chief of Staff — our Chief of Staff — and gave your publication a statement, obviously. And you’ve heard from me. I — I’m — I don’t have a —

Q Is there not going to be a chilling effect, though, on —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t have anything else to share.

Q — people who have suffered sexual harassment or bullying?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: S- — I don’t have anything else to share on that.

With — so we don’t end in that way —


MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Go ahead, Brian.

Q Thanks.

Q Real quick. I guess I want to just clean up something that you have spoken to today. Would you car- — categorize the conversation with Netanyahu that we’ve been told about all day long — was it an ultimatum? Did we deliver an ultimatum (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. I mean, look —

Q Was it a shot across the bow?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait, hol- — it was — it was a direct conversation. It was a honest conversation. It lasted 30 minutes, as you heard from my colleague.

And we have said these many times before — you’ve heard this from us; you’ve heard this from the President himself: The — the Prime Minister and this President have known them — known each other for decades. And because they have known each other for some time, they have been able to have a direct and honest conversation.

And so, after what we saw — especially with seven — you know, seven lives taken from the — who were part of the World Central Kitchen workers — right? — who were doing heroic — heroic acts, providing humanitarian aid — you know, after what we saw — and you heard from the President: He was outra- — he was outraged. He was heartbroken. He wanted to have this direct conversation on how to keep humanitarian aid workers safe, protected — and also civilians — innocent civilians.

And that conversation has been happening for some time, and so — on protecting innocent civilian lives. I mean, that’s one of the reasons, as I stated moments ago, why he wanted to make sure that his team and the Prime Minister’s team came together to talk about their Rafah — potential Rafah operations, because he believes that we need to protect civilian lives and a major — major military operation was not the way to go, understanding that th- — there are Hamas operatives in Rafah. But we have to make sure that we protect innocent lives here.

So, they had a very direct conversation. That is — that is because they’ve known each other for many decades.

All right, everybody. Thank you so much.

Q Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ll see you — hopefully, we’ll see some of you in Baltimore tomorrow.

3:13 P.M. EDT

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