Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Matthew McConaughey
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:25 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everyone. So, I'd like to welcome Matthew and Camila McConaughey to the White House today to speak on an urgent issue our nation is currently facing. You may know Matthew as an actor, but more importantly, he is a father; a native of Uvalde, Texas; and a gun own- -- and a gun owner.
He is here today to use his platform to call on leaders to take bipartisan action to end this senseless killing and pass reasonable gun responsibility measures that we know will save lives.
Just a few minutes ago, Matthew met briefly with the President to talk about the importance of taking action, keeping our communities safe.
But without further ado, I would like to bring up Matthew.
MR. MCCONAUGHEY: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Here you go.
MR. MCCONAUGHEY: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Camila.
To make the loss of these lives matter.
My wife and I -- my wife and I -- Camila -- we spent most of last week on the ground with the families in Uvalde, Texas, and we shared stories, tears, and memories.
The common thread, independent of the anger and the confusion and sadness, it was the same: How can these families continue to honor these deaths by keeping the dreams of these children and teachers alive?
Again, how can the loss of these lives matter?
So while we honor and acknowledge the victims, we need to recognize that this time it seems that something is different. There is a sense that perhaps there is a viable path forward. Responsible parties in this debate seem to at least be committed to sitting down and having a real conversation about a new and improved path forward -- a path that can bring us closer together and make us safer as a country, a path that can actually get something done this time.
Camila and I came here to share my stories from my hometown of Uvalde. I came here to take meetings with elected officials on both sides of the aisle. We came here to speak to them, to speak with them, and to urge them to speak with each other -- to remind and inspire them that the American people will continue to drive forward the mission of keeping our children safe, because it's more than our right to do so, it's our responsibility to do so.
I'm here today in the hopes of applying what energy, reason, and passion that I have into trying to turn this moment into a reality. Because as I said, this moment is different. We are in a window of opportunity right now that we have not been in before, a window where it seems like real change -- real change can happen.
Uvalde, Texas, is where I was born. It's where my mom taught kindergarten less than a mile from Robb Elementary. Uvalde is where I learned to master a Daisy BB gun. I took that -- that took two years before I graduated to a 410 shotgun. Uvalde is where I was taught to revere the power and the capability of the tool that we call a gun. Uvalde is where I learned responsible gun ownership.
And Uvalde called me on May 24th, when I learned the news of this devastating tragedy. I had been out of cellular range working in the studio all day when I emerged and messages about a mass shooting in the town I was born in began flooding my inbox.
In a bit of shock, I drove home, hugged my children a bit tighter and longer than the night before, and then the reality of what had happened that day in the town I was born in set in.
So the next morning, Camila, myself, and the kids, we loaded up the truck and drove to Uvalde. And when we arrived a few hours later, I got to tell you, even from the inside of our vehicle, you could feel the shock in the town. You could feel the pain, the denial, the disillusion, anger, blame, sadness, loss of lives, dreams halted.
We saw ministries. We saw first responders, counselors, cooks, families trying to grieve without it being on the frontpage news.
We met with the local funeral director and countless morticians who -- who hadn't slept since the massacre the day before because they'd been working 24/7 trying to handle so many bodies at once -- so many little, innocent bodies who had their entire lives still yet to live.
And that is there that we met two of the grieving parents, Ryan and Jessica Ramirez. Their 10-year-old daughter, Alithia -- she was one of the 19 children that were killed the day before.
Now, Alithia -- her dream was to go to art school in Paris and one day share her art with the world. Ryan and Jessica were eager to share Alithia's art with us, and said if we could share it, then somehow maybe that would make Alithia smile in heaven. They told us that showing someone else Alithia's art would in some way keep her alive.
Now, this particular drawing is a -- is a self-portrait of Alithia drawing, with her friend in heaven looking down on her drawing the very same picture. Her mother said, of this drawing -- she said, "You know, we never really talked to her about heaven before, but somehow she knew."
Alithia was 10 years old.
Her father, Ryan -- this man was steady. He was uncommonly together and calm. When a frazzled friend of his came up and said, "How are you so calm? I'd be going crazy," Ryan told him -- he said, "No, you wouldn't. No, you wouldn't. You'd be strong for your wife and kids, because if they see you go crazy, that will not help them."
Just a week prior, Ryan got a full-time line job stringing powerlines from pole to pole. And every day since landing that well-paying, full-time job, he reminded his daughter, Alithia -- he said, "Girl, Daddy going to spoil you now." Told her every single night. He said, "Daddy is going to take you to SeaWorld one day.
But he didn't get to -- he didn't get to spoil his daughter, Alithia. She did not get to go to SeaWorld.
We also met Ana and Dani- -- Danilo, the mom and the stepdad of nine-year-old Maite Rodriguez. And Maite wanted to be a marine biologist. She was already in contact with Corpus Christi University of A&M for her future college enrollment. Nine years old.
Maite cared for the environment so strongly that when the city asked her mother if they could release some balloons into the sky in her memory, her mom said, "Oh no, Maite wouldn't want to litter."
Maite wore green high-top Converse with a heart she had hand-drawn on the right toe because they represented her love of nature.
Camila has got these shoes. Can you show these shoes, please?
Wore these every day. Green Converse with a heart on the right toe. These are the same green Converse on her feet that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her after the shooting. How about that?
Maite wrote a letter. Her mom said if Maite's letter could help someone accomplish her dream, that then her death would have an impact, and it would mean her dying had a point and wasn't pointless -- that it would make the loss of her life matter.
The letter reads: "Marine biologist. I want to pass school to get to my dream college. My dream college is in Corpus Christi, by the ocean. I need to live next to the ocean because I want to be a marine biologist. Marine biologists study animals and the water. Most of the time, I will be in a lab. Sometimes, I will be on TV."
Then there was Ellie Garcia, a 10-year-old, and her parents, Steven and Jennifer.
Ellie loved to dance, and she loved church. She even knew how to drive tractors and was already working with her dad and her uncle mowing yards.
"Ellie was always giving of her gifts, her time, even half-eaten food on her plate," they said. They said, "Around the house, we'd call her the 'great re-gifter.'" Smiling through tears, her family told us how Ellie loved to embrace. Said she was the biggest hugger in the family.
Now, Ellie was born Catholic, but had been going to Baptist church with her uncle for the last couple of years. Her mom and dad were proud of her because, they said, "She was learning to love God, no matter where."
The week prior to her passing, she had been preparing to read a verse from the Bible for the next Wednesday night's church service. The verse was from Deuteronomy 6:5. "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might."
That's who Ellie was becoming. But she never got to read it. Service is on a Wednesday night.
Then there was the fairytale love story of a teacher named Irma and her husband, Joe. What a great family this was. This was an amazing family.
Camila and I, we -- we sat with about 20 of their family members in the living room, along with their four kids. They were -- the kids were 23, 19, 15, and 13. They -- they shared all these stories about Irma and Joe -- served the community and would host all these parties, and how Irma and Joe were planning on getting a food truck together when they soon retired.
They were humble, hardworking people. Irma was a teacher, who, her family said, "went above and beyond, and just couldn't say no to any kind of teaching." Joe had been commuting to and from work 70 miles away in Del Rio for years.
Together, they were the glue of the family. Both worked overtime to support their four kids. Irma even worked every summer when school was out. The money she had made two summers ago paid to -- paid to paint the front of the house. The money she made last summer paid to paint the sides of the house. This summer's work was going to pay to paint the back of the house.
Because Irma was one of the teachers who was gunned down in the classroom, Joe, her husband, literally died of heartache the very next day when he had a heart attack.
They never got to paint the back of the house, they never got to retire, and they never got to get that food truck together.
We also met a cosmetologist. All right? She was well versed in mortuary makeup. That's the task of making the victims appear as peaceful and natural as possible for their open-casket viewings.
These bodies were very different. They needed much more than makeup to be presentable. They needed extensive restoration. Why? Due to the exceptionally large exit wounds of an AR-15 rifle. Most of the bodies so mutilated that only DNA tests or green Converse could identify them. Many children were left not only dead, but hollow.
So yes, counselors are going to be needed in Uvalde for a long time. Counselors are needed in all these places where these mass shooters have been for a long time.
I was told by many that it takes a good year before people even understand what to do next. And even then, when they become se- -- secure enough to take the first step forward, a lifetime is not going to heal those wounds.
Again, you know what every one of these parents wanted, what they asked us for? What every parent separately expressed in their own way to Camila and me? That they want their children's dreams to live on. That they want their children's dreams to continue to accomplish something after they are gone. They want to make their loss of life matter.
Look, we heard from -- we heard from so many people, all right? Families of the deceased -- mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Texas Rangers, hunters, Border Patrol, and responsible gun owners who won't give up their Second Amendment right to bear arms. And you know what they all said? "We want secure and safe schools, and we want gun laws that won't make it so easy for the bad guys to get these damn guns."
So, we know what's on the table. We need to invest in mental healthcare. We need safer schools. We need to restrain sensationalized media coverage. We need to restore our family values. We need to restore our American values. And we need responsible gun ownership -- responsible gun ownership.
We need background checks. We need to raise the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 rifle to 21. We need a waiting period for those rifles. We need red-flag laws and consequences for those who abuse them.
These are reasonable, practical, tactical regulations to our nation, states, communities, schools, and homes.
Responsible gun owners are fed up with the Second Amendment being abused and hijacked by some deranged individuals.
These regulations are not a step back; they're a step forward for a civil society and -- and the Second Amendment.
Look, is this a cure-all? Hell no.
But people are hurting -- families are, parents are. And look, as -- as divided as our country is, this gun responsibility issue is one that we agree on more than we don't. It really is. But this should be a nonpartisan issue. This should not be a partisan issue.
There is not a Democratic or Republican value in one single act of these shooters. It's not.
But people in power have failed to act. So we're asking you and I'm asking you, will you please ask yourselves: Can both sides rise above? Can both sides see beyond the political problem at hand and admit that we have a life preservation problem on our hands?
Because we got a chance right now to reach for and to grasp a higher ground above our political affiliations, a chance to make a choice that does more than protect your party, a chance to make a choice that protects our country now and for the next generation.
We got to take a sober, humble, and honest look in the mirror and re- -- rebrand ourselves based on what we truly value. What we truly value.
We got to get some real courage and honor our immortal obligations instead of our party affiliations.
Enough with the counterpunching. Enough of the invalidation of the other side. Let's come to the common table that represents the American people. Find a mil- -- middle ground, the place where most of us Americans live anyway, especially on this issue.
Because I promise you, America -- you and me, who -- we are not as divided as we're being told we are. No.
How about we get inspired? Give ourselves just cause to revere our future again. Maybe set an example for our children, give us reason to tell them, "Hey, listen and watch these men and women. These are great American leaders right here. Hope you grow up to be like them."
And let's admit it: We can't truly be leaders if we're only living for reelection.
Let's be knowledgeable and wise, and act on what we truly believe.
Again, we got to look in the mirror, lead with humility, and acknowledge the values that are inherent to but also above politics. We've got to make choices, make stands, embrace new ideas, and preserve the traditions that can create true -- true progress for the next generation.
With real leadership, let's start giving us -- all of us, with real leadership -- let's start giving all of us good reason to believe that the American Dream is not an illusion.
So where do we start? We start by making the right choices on the issue that is in front of us today.
We start by making laws that save innocent lives and don't infringe on our Second Amendment rights. We start right now by voting to pass policies that can keep us from having as many Columbines, Sandy Hooks, Parklands, Las Vegases, Buffaloes, and Uvaldes from here on.
We start by giving Alithia the chance to be spoiled by her dad.
We start by giving Maite a chance to become a marine biologist.
We start by giving Ellie a chance to read her Bible verse at the Wednesday night service.
We start by giving Irma and Joe a chance to finish painting their house, maybe retire and get that food truck.
We start by giving Makenna, Layla, Maranda, Nevaeh, Jose, Xavier, Tess, Rojelio, Eliahna, Annabell, Jackie, Uziyah, Jayce, Jailah, Eva, Amerie, and Lexi -- we start by giving all of them our promise that their dreams are not going to be forgotten.
We start by making the loss of these lives matter.
Thank you. Thank you.
Q: Sir, when you spoke to the President, did he say anything about this? Were you grandstanding just now, sir?
Q: Are the changes that are being discussed (inaudible), Mr. McConaughey?
Q: What's your response to (inaudible)?
Q: What was your message to the President, Mr. McConaughey?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. I know that the President has an event right after this. I think it's running -- it's running a few minutes -- a few minutes behind. So, I will -- we'll do the briefing until we have to -- we have to move to the event.
I have a couple of things at the top, and then we'll open it up.
As I just mentioned, soon the President will sign into law nine bipartisan bills that support veterans, and he will be joined by members of Congress from both parties, veteran advocates, and veterans who will benefit from these laws.
President Biden ran on the promise to unite the country, which is why supporting veterans is a key part of his Unity Agenda announced at the State of the Union. Supporting our country's veterans is an issue that all Americans can agree on.
Among the impact of the bills being signed into law today are two that will improve access to breast imaging services for veterans, including those who experienced toxics -- toxic exposures during military service.
Other bills to be signed include three to honor the legacy of service to our nation, including one to award a single Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. Army Rangers World War II. The Rangers played a crucial role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, which began exactly 78 years ago yesterday.
Also today, the Senate voted to advance the PACT Act. The President was clear in his State of the Union that addressing toxic exposures is a priority and Congress should move with the urgency for our veterans.
Today, Congress took a major step forward. President Biden looks forward to final passage of this legislation so that he can sign it into law and continue to uphold our sacred obligation to support those who have served our nation, their families, caregivers, and survivors.
Today, the administration announced new investments from the American Rescue Plan to help provide every American with access to affordable high-speed Internet.
These investments will bring down costs for families and small businesses, particularly in rural and remote areas, and ensure affordability.
This morning, Treasury announced the first state awards from the $10 billion Capital Projects Fund, which will make resources immediately available in Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia, and West Virginia to connect over 200,000 homes that currently lack access.
On a sad note, our dear friend and colleague, Michael Gwin, will be leaving us for Treasury, where he will be ser- -- where he will serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. Gwin has served as the White House Director of Rapid Response for the past 16 months, responding to the most challenging and difficult issues imaginable. Yet, amidst these often emotionally-wrenching stories, Gwin's poise and moral clarity are unfailing, and his willingness and ability to step up has made him an indispensable member of the team.
And joining Gwin at the Treasury Department will be our very own Michael Kikukawa, where he will serve as a spokesperson. Michael, better known here to all of you, to all of us as "Kiku," has served not just as a Press Assistant but as the strong engine and reliable engine at the press shop. His relentless work ethic and dedication to the mission of this team have been second to none.
Kiku and Gwin, we will miss you both. Thank you so much. Very heart-wrenching, but I'm very excited for both of you. Wishing you the best.
And we do have some "hellos." I know we keep announcing people leaving, but we actually have people coming, backfilling -- some great, great folks who are joining our team. Two new members who are here to our team.
I'd like to first introduce Abdullah Hasan right here -- some of you know him already -- who will be joining us as an Assistant Press Secretary, having previously served as the Deputy Associate Director for Communications for the White House Office of Management and Budget. Amongst many topics, Abdullah will be covering civil rights, immigration, and climate.
We also would like to extend a warm welcome to Alexandra LaManna -- hello -- who is joining us on detail from Treasury, where she has served as senior spokesperson. Part of Alexandra's profile will be working on housing, infrastructure implementation, and other economic issues.
Abdullah and Alexandra haven't even gotten their full-time badges yet, but we are already getting them hard at work, and we appreciate all of their work thus far. It has -- we have felt the impact of it.
Okay, please join me in welcoming the team.
And with that, I think that's all I have. All right. Go ahead. Go ahead, Zeke.
Q: Thanks, Karine. I know we're getting ready to start here kind of late, and (inaudible) briefing, I'm hoping you might be able to pick this up after the President's event, just because we got a lot of people who have questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear you. I have other -- I have other obligations as well after this, so we'll see. We'll see what we can do. But I can't make any promises. But let's -- why don't we get going?
Q: Great. So, on the subject of guns, the President had a meeting with Chris Murphy, but he didn't speak to the public today. Does the President have a clearer sense of where things are, what is possible on Capitol Hill? And also, why is he turning to a Hollywood actor to make the message -- take the message to the American people? Does he feel like his voice doesn't matter?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: His voice does matter. You heard him speak on Thursday very clearly, very loudly, very passionately during primetime at a -- at a critical time during the day where he made sure that he can communicate with the American people.
And so -- he's the President of the United States. His voice carries and it does matter. What he says is -- has -- carries weight that is pretty tremendous.
Matthew was here because, as you heard, he has a very personal connection to Uvalde. He met with the family. He is from there. He was born there. He lives in Texas. And we thought hearing from him directly, him using his platform, is incredibly important.
We all know what it's like or how important it is for folks -- especially on -- whether you are an actor, whether you are in the business sector, wherever you are -- to use your platform, how critical and important it is.
And I think his words here today were incredibly powerful and emotional. And I thank him and Camila for coming here today. They met with the President, as I just mentioned. And so I just, you know, wanted to just address that, Zeke.
The President received an update, as -- as you all know, as we've mentioned, from Senator Murphy on the state of negotiations on Capitol Hill. He told Senator Murphy he strongly support his efforts to find a compromise, and encouraged him to get the strongest possible results.
In the end, the President said that the message he took from the families from -- at Uvalde, when he was there, was to do something. It was to "please do something." That's what the grieving family told him. Some of you heard that yourselves from the community memb- -- from the community when he was in Uvalde. And so that is what Senator Murphy and his colleagues are going to do. They're going to do just that.
Q: And on a different -- just on a different subject, the President is meeting with President Bolsonaro of Brazil. The AP is reporting that the Brazilian government, that President Bolsonaro wanted concessions from the President for that meeting and for his attendance at the Summit of the Americas that he wouldn't bring up Bolsonaro's casting doubts about Brazil's election system as well as environmental concerns in the Amazon. Can you confirm that report?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I cannot confirm that report. The President is looking forward to leaving tomorrow to head to the summit that clearly that we're -- that we are hosting.
I can say this: The United States continues to recognize Juan Guaidó as the Interim President of Venezuela. That said, while the interim government was not invited to participate in the main summit, they are welcome to participate in all three stakeholder forums and other events.
Q: Is the President now getting more directly involved in the negotiations on the Hill now that he has met with Senator Murphy?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I -- you know, I want to be very clear here: Senator Murphy has said this many times during interviews on various networks here that he believes it's time for the Senate to act. And that is what they're doing.
The President is encouraged about what he is seeing with this team of negotiators on the -- on the Senate side. And he is, like I said, encouraged and wants to continue to see them move forward and take action.
Q: And in the meeting with Matthew McConaughey, did -- did McConaughey go through the same elements with the President that he did here at the podium?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, they had a private conversation. I'm not going to readout their private conversation.
As you can imagine, the President went to Uvalde himself. He also met -- met with many of the family members. He also is -- heard many of the stories that Matthew came here to -- to share with all of you. So, they certainly connected on that aspect.
Q: Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q: Is the President willing to accept whatever agreement lawmakers come to, should they come to an agreement, when it comes to guns?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here's -- as you know, the President has been very involved in gun reform as senator, as Vice President, and, clearly, now as President, having signed the most executive actions on gun reform than any president at this time of their presidency.
And when -- when he was senator, he was -- he was talking about this today -- it took him years. It took him years to get the 1994 assault ban -- assault ban legislation. Now, that -- that was law for 10 years and expired in 2004.
And so, we haven't seen this type of -- this type of negotiations or this type of coming together from both sides in a very long time. It's been decades.
So, he is encouraged, he is optimistic about what -- about what he's seeing, about what he is hearing -- the update that he received. And so, we're going to see how those negotiations go.
And any -- any step, we bel- -- he believes any step is a step forward. He's going to continue to call for all of the things that you heard him lay out, when it comes to what he sees as comprehensive gun reform, on Thursday. But he also believes that any step forward is a -- is important.
Clearly, we're not going to negotiate from here. And we're going to leave the specifics to the senators.
Q: And one other question: Does he still seek to make Saudi Arabia a pariah state?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I spoke to this -- I spoke to this yesterday. And I could share some more thoughts on that now.
But look, the President was very clear when he was asked about this on -- on Friday, when he was delivering his remarks on the economy. And basically, he said, as President, he believes that if there is any -- any way to get peace, he feels like he should take that -- he should take that direction.
So, Saudi Arabia has been a strategic partner of the United States for eight decades. Every president since FDR has met with Saudi leaders. And the President considers Saudi Arabia an important partner on a host of regional and global strategies, including other efforts to end the war in Yemen, contain Iran, and counter terrorism.
Saudi pilots flew with ours in the war against ISIS, its navy patrols with -- with ours in the Red Sea and the Gulf, and the U.S. military personnel are based in Saudi Arabia.
As I've said, the President will meet with any leader if it serves the interests of the American people. That's what he puts first. He believes engagement with Saudi leaders clearly meets that test, as has every president before him.
I'm going to move around --
Q: But all of those things were true --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm going to move around, Ka- -- I'm going move around.
Q: All of those things were true --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm going to move around. I'm going to --
AIDE: Hey, Karine. He's about to get started.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm going to -- really? Okay, I'm going to take one more.
Q: All of those things were true when the President vowed to make them a pariah state. So, I'm just curious: What changed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm going to take -- I'm -- I'm going to -- Kaitlan, I'm going to take one more. I'm going to take one more.
Q: Just, on these negotiations: If changing background checks for younger people than 21 is what ends up happening, opening these juvenile records to more scrutiny is what comes of this, does the President believe that that is meaningful change? Is that satisfying? If that's what comes of this moment, is he okay with that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the President was clear last week that there's real urgency and -- to make sure something like Uvalde or Buffalo and many mass shootings prior can't happen again. And we're encouraged, again, by the progress that we're seeing.
You know, we're -- we're going to stay closely engaged. We're going to not negotiate from here. We're going to let the contours of the legislation and those conversations play out. And what we are encouraged by is that the conversation is happening, both sides are coming together. We saw the House taking some -- taking some actions last week. They're -- they also will take some actions this week.
What we -- what the President believes is that we have to do something. And like he said on Thursday, "Enough is enough."
Q: Is he confident there'll be a deal by the end of the week?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- I can't speak to the timeline. That is it going to be up to Senator Schumer and -- and Chris Murphy and their conversations that we're having.
(The press briefing stops for the presidential bill signing.)
(The press briefing resumes.)
Q: Welcome back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I am -- I am back by popular demand.
Q: Appreciate it. Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, absolutely. I'm -- and look, I just want to be very clear here -- you know, sorry about that. There are times where briefings get delayed for reasons outside of our control, and we wanted to make sure you all had the opportunity to cover the President signing those bills for -- to support veterans, which is incredibly important, as you all know.
And so, taking your questions is very important to us and -- which is why we do it almost every day and -- when we can. And it's why we strive to be responsive to your questions here in the briefing room; on TV, as I did this morning; and in individual conversations with administration officials. And our team does this on a daily basis.
So, with that, I wanted to just come in and take additional questions for a few more minutes. And, you know, I know a lot -- a lot of you have deadlines yourselves and have to do evening TV. So I won't be here for too long, but I did want to come out and take some -- and take some questions.
Okay. Let's see. All right. I'm going to try and call on people I haven't called and start in the back, but there is like all these --
Go ahead. Go ahead. I don't think I've called on you yet.
Q: Not lately, so thank you.
Listen, Matthew McConaughey was banging on that podium just a few minutes ago before he left, and he had some specific policy asks. And a lot of them were -- not all of them, but a lot were about guns.
He wanted to raise the age from 18 to 21 for AR-15s. He talked about a waiting period for AR-15s. And he talked about red-flag laws and background checks.
So my question is: You and the President have made very generalized comments lately about doing something. Why won't he demand one of those things be in an overall package?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You're talking about the President -- why won't he demand --
Q: I know he supports the policies, but --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q: -- is his message to these negotiators that those gun measures needs to be -- need to be in the package?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: His message to the negotiators is that we have to do something. His message is, to the American people: We have to do something.
He went to Uvalde, as you know. He went to Buffalo. And when he was in Uvalde -- and I was there with him, and we -- and some of you were there with him as well -- the thing -- the two words that he heard over and over again is please -- is: Do something.
And so, he is very encouraged by the engagement that he's seeing on the Senate side with the bipartisan group. And he wants to give them the space. We're not going to negotiate from here on what should be in the package, what should not be in the package.
But we believe it's a step forward. The President is going to continue to -- continue to call for and fight for all of the comprehensive components for -- to prevent gun violence that he talked about on Thursday. That will not stop. He's going to continue to do that. But we're just not going to negotiate from here.
Q: And John Cornyn, in his public comments, was talking today on the Senate floor about really hardening doors at schools and these sort of items. If the package only has that and not one of these specific gun measures, will it be a success?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I'm not going to negotiate from here. We're going to let them -- give them some space. It's a bipartisan -- it's a bipartisan conversation that's happening. It's going to be a bipartisan agreement, we -- we see or we feel.
And you know, Senator Murphy is very optimistic. And we're -- and he has said this is the most optimistic that he has been in some time. And he came in, as you know, and gave an update to the President.
So we're going to see how this -- this conversation continues to go.
Q: Thank you, Karine. Why do you think it is that 83 percent of people polled by The Wall Street Journal say the economy is "poor" or "not so good"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, when it comes to consumer confidence -- is what you're talking about there -- we know that can reflect concern and uncertainty about higher prices. People feel the effect of high prices when they go to the grocery store and they fill up their gans- -- gas tank, which the President understands very personally -- when he was growing up and understanding how -- how when prices elevate even just a bit, how much that can hurt a family, how much that can really affect, you know, someone's household.
But the fact is: We are in a fundamentally different place compared to when the President took office and compared to this time a year ago.
And so, you know, during this President -- during his pres- -- this presidency, people felt uncertainty -- uncertain about the economy generally, but they actually felt as good about their personal financial situations as they ever have, according to the Federal Reserve survey, with nearly 80 percent of adults reporting that they are financially comfortable.
So, that matters as well.
Q: But to the point about the -- you're saying that people feel good about their personal financial situation. High gas prices, people can't get baby formula, the supply chain is messed up, everything is more expensive. Where's the good part?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the survey that I just read off started in 2013. And that is the first time that we saw numbers like this since 2013. So that does -- no, that does mean something. Just like you gave me 83 percent, I'm giving you --
Q: And I understand that. Another number then --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I --
Q: -- newer than 2013, 61 percent are saying now, in this Wall Street Journal poll, they are generally pessimistic about people having an opportunity to achieve the American Dream. How's that going look on a -- on a bumper sticker?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I'm -- I guess what I'm trying to say, Peter, is that we understand that people are feeling -- feeling this. They are feeling the increase of prices, which -- with food, in particular, right now, and gas. That is -- that is something that we understand.
What we're trying to say, what I'm trying to say to you is that the economy is in a better place than it has been historically.
And so, we feel, here at this administration and other experts as well, is that -- we feel that we are in a good position to take on inflation. We are in a good position to really start really working on lowering prices.
We leave that piece to the Federal Reserve. They have the monetary policies to deal with the best -- to have the best tools to make sure that we bring down inflation. That's the -- that's the pain that the American family is feeling.
And so, that's what we're saying. We're trying to -- what we're saying is that we were in a different place a year ago, and now we are in a much better place economically. But there's still work to do, and we understand that.
Q: Okay. And then, just quickly, on gas prices. The Energy Secretary, Granholm, is saying, "Oh, well, if you went to Canada, you'd be paying $6.25 a gallon. If you went to Germany, you'd be paying over $8.80. In the UK, it's almost $8 a gallon." What kind of an argument is that: "Just be happy you don't live in Munich"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think what she was -- what she's trying to say and what we have all been trying to say is this is a global challenge. This is not just in the United States that people are feeling inflation or people are seeing elevated gas prices. This is a global challenge.
Q: And isn't it the President's job to protect Americans from global challenges?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He's doing -- he's doing his part in trying to make sure that we -- the American people feel the impact less.
But here's the thing, and we've talked about this: Since Russia invaded Ukraine, we have seen gas prices -- these are the facts -- go up by $1.51. We have seen food prices go up because of what -- of what Ukraine and Russia represent when it comes to wheat and corn. This is just a fact. This is what we have seen for the past several months.
The President has done -- he's tapped into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a historic way with a million -- a million barrels of oil a month for six months. We did -- we made the announcement of the E15, the homegrown biofuels that is going to help families in the Midwest.
So, we know there is more to do. We're not disagreeing here. We know that there is more to do, and we're going to continue to do the work.
Q: Does the President have any plans to invite any Republican senators to the White House before he leaves for Los Angeles?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- I don't have any -- I don't have any meetings to preview for you at this point.
Q: Has he spoken to any Republicans as it comes to gun legislation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have -- I don't have any meetings to -- or calls to read out.
Okay, go ahead.
Q: Karine, thank you. I know you don't want to negotiate from the podium. I just want to try one more time. It seems as though talks are coalescing around more funding for mental health, school safety, and then expanded background checks and encouraging states to adapt red-flag laws. Is that the type of compromise legislation the President would sign? Would he sign that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I -- again, I'm not going to negotiate from here. We don't want to -- I'm not going to talk through the contours of the plan. They're still having those conversations on the other side of the Hill.
Q: I guess the question is --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I can say -- but no, no. Let me --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me finish. I'll get to -- hopefully this will answer it, which is: He supports red-flag laws. That is something that he has supported for some time. He even talked about the red-flag law that is in Delaware -- is named after his son, Beau Biden, who was, as you know, the Attorney General of -- in Delaware.
He has talked about expanding background checks. I have talked about it. He has talked about it. We've all talked about it.
So, clearly, those are two things that we know are popular. The red-flag law -- red-flag law we saw -- I read a poll here last -- yesterday that has 72 percent for the red-flag laws. We know that expanding background check is overwhelmingly popular as well.
So, clearly, those are two things that he support. But I just don't -- we do not want to get -- give them some space, don't want to get in the middle of their negotiation.
Q: I guess what I'm asking, Karine --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, sure.
Q: -- is, particularly as it relates to the red-flag laws, what it seems to be coalescing around is a deal that would encourage states to adapt red-flag laws. Is that good enough for President Biden?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think it's a step. It's -- when red-flag laws are actually enacted, it saves lives. We have seen that in Florida. We've seen that in other states across the country. In California, there's been cases where the red-flag law has actually saved lives.
And we know, we understand not every component of what the President is calling for is going to stop every tragedy, but we have to take the steps, and we have to move forward, and we have to do something.
Q: There's been so much focus on the legislation. Is President Biden considering any new executive actions on the (inaudible) guns?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, the President said this himself: If there is any way or any other new actions that he can take, he will. His team --
Q: Is he actively considering any?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There's nothing that I can -- that I can preview for you at this time. I know that the team is looking at that. We just don't have anything for you -- to share at this time.
Q: Let me ask you on Roe v. Wade, if I might. We are anticipating the Supreme Court will render its final decision on Roe v. Wade. And based on, of course, that leaked draft report, it appears as though the Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.
What, if any, groundwork is the President, is this administration laying to ensure that women who want or need abortions can still have access to them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, protecting the constitutional rights of Americans afforded by Roe for -- for nearly 50 years, ensuring that women can make their own choices about their lives and bodies and families, is something that the President and the Vice President support.
For -- for we've -- we've taken actions over the past -- the past year and a half on making sure that -- making sure that women have the protection that they need, issuing a presidential memorandum to protect and expand access to comprehensive repre- -- reproductive healthcare and to revoke the Mexico City policy, a global gag rule that prohibits federal funding for organizations that provide abortion, counseling, and/or referrals; issuing a final rule to strengthen the Title 10 Family Planning Program, fulfilling the administration's commitment to restore access to equitable, affordable, client-centered quality family planning services.
So, we have done -- we have done an array of things over the past year and a half to give the protection that women need.
Obviously, the decision, it was a draft decision. We don't want to get into hypotheticals and we don't want to get ahead of of what is actually going to come forth. But it's something that it concerns us. All of the pieces of legislation that we see coming out of the states that are incredibly radical, we've called them that and it does give us concern.
Q: Are there any tangible actions that the administration will take if it's overturned on that day or that week to ensure that women who need abortions can have access to them or that they can cross state lines to access an abortion?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, one thing that I can say -- I don't have anything to preview or to announce or to lay out at this time. What I can say is that our team here -- the Gender Policy Council, the Domestic Policy Council, and the agencies who are involved, like HHS -- have been in constant communication with -- with groups on what we can do from here. I just don't have anything to preview.
Q: Karine, the January 6th Committee is going to hold its first public hearing on Thursday while the President is in California. Do you expect the President to get briefed on what the committee has found in its investigation, if he hasn't already? And how is he looking at these hearings? Does he see this as something that will move the needle in how the public perceives what happened on that day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, we're leaving, as you were kind of alluding to, tomorrow, and we're going to go to LA. The President is going to have a very busy week. And, you know, of course, will be keeping up on the committee's work, as he has been. And I'm sure he'll be following the news from the hearing as well.
I don't have anything else to -- in particular to share here. The President has been consistent voicing his support for the vital work of the bipartisan January 6th Select Committee. And he and his team have said many times it is critical that we have a full investigation into the events of January 6th to ensure something like what we saw that day can never happen again. And the work of this committee is crucial to that effort. And we will continue to speak out as appropriate or to defend our democracy and the rule of law, and to support those who are doing work to protect our democracy.
Q: Just one more. Senator Romney and Senator Ossoff have asked for a full investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. She was a Palestinian American journalist with Al Jazeera. She was killed last month while reporting in the West Bank. Will the White House be supporting an investigation into her death?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we're in close touch with both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The United States is not currently conducting an official investigation. As you know, we are working to bridge cooperation between the two parties.
We have made clear our view to both Israeli and Palestinian officials the administration's call for thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation of her -- of her killing. We expect full accountability for those responsible. We have also urged that both sides share their evidence with each other.
We continue to call on all sides to maintain calm and avoid any further escalation.
Q: Karine, thanks so much. Secretary Yellen said over the weekend to CNN that she was "wrong" in predicting that inflation was transitory. And shortly afterward, Treasury walked back the statement. I'm just curious if the White House or any senior aides here were involved in walking back that -- those comments.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I can tell you is that she -- she was -- even when you look at the transcript, she was clear on exactly what she meant by that. And she -- she -- the Secretary, you know, spoke to this herself to clarify her remarks. And it's true that nobody at the time foresaw the extent of the global challenges that have caused record inflation all around the world. In fact, even Wall Street and the private sector broadly thought that inflation would come down faster than it has.
I cannot speak to private conversation. But all I can say is she put out a -- as you know, put out a statement clarifying what she said.
Q: And just one more question. On Friday, senior White House staff met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to talk about some of the President's ideas for forgiving student debt. I'm wondering: What was the purpose of that meeting, as the President considers it? And was there any outcome from it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any readout from that meeting from Friday night.
Q: Thank you. Based on what you know about the situation in both Uvalde and Buffalo, is there anything that the Senate negotiators are considering now that would have stopped those two shootings, or even one of them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I -- look, I -- you know, I'm no expert here, but one thing that I do know that we all know is that both the shooters were 18. And one of the things that are -- that's on the table is raising the age limit.
Q: Are you sure that's on the table?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What -- I'm so sorry --
Q: Raising the age limit from 18 to 21 to buy AR-15s? Because John Cornyn has said that's not on the table.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. I'm just saying it's been discussed. I don't --
Q: Oh, I see. Okay.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm --
Q: Okay. If that was on the table, that would have affected these.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I --
Q: Okay. But --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You're -- you're asking me a question of when I thought -- what I think may have helped or -- stopped this awful (inaudible).
Q: Certainly it would have been. But in terms of what's on the table in the Senate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't -- I'm just saying that's been one of the conversations that's been out there. I do not know. Again, we're not negotiating from here. I'm just trying to make a point. This is something that the President supports -- raising the age from 18 to 21. Because one of the things that we do know is both of the shooters were 18 years old. The one in Uvalde, in particular, when he was 17, he asked his sister to buy him a gun. She said, "No." And as soon as he turned 18, he went and bought -- he bought -- he bought a gun.
And so, that is something that we have heard about, that's out there, and that is something the President talked about on Thursday.
And so, I was just speaking to your question on what you -- what I -- what, potentially, could have helped.
Q: Well, I'm actually asking what the sen- -- what among the things the senators are considering could have prevented this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And, again, I'm not going to negotiate from here. I'm just trying to help in a way to show, "Hey, this is something that we know is out there." This is something that the President talked about. I'm not going to negotiate from here. They're working through the contours of the plan, and we're going to let them figure that out.
Q: Can I just ask one quick one on red-flag laws? So does the -- does the President prefer a federal red-flag law? Or does he think it's better on a state-by-state level and the government -- or the federal government should incentivize states instead?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, he supports a red- -- he supports -- I want to be really careful here because he's not going to -- we're not going to negotiate from here. Right? We are going to allow the -- we're going to give them the space to come up with the contours of -- of the deal. And we're just going to give them that space.
What we're saying is: We support the red-flag law. The Pre- -- the President has talked about it. I'm not going to go into the nitty-gritty of what that looks like. We're going to let the negotiators figure that out.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q: Thanks, Karine. First -- or two questions. First, can you commit that going forward, if there was a guest or a celebrity here that you would ensure that they would stay at the podium and take questions from reporters --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I --
Q: -- after they speak?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That -- they're a guest. That is not for me to ensure.
Q: Can you try to have them stay and take questions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- they're -- Karen, they're a guest of ours. It is up to them if they want to take questions or not. We respect them and what they want to do.
Matthew was here. And when he was done, he said thank you and he walked away.
That is -- that really is up to -- is up to him.
Q: And on COVID: Last week, a guest, Dr. Jha, was here. But he did take questions after --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) Yeah, well that's a little different. He works here. (Laughs.)
Q: Absolutely. We appreciated him taking questions, but --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.
Q: He said that what keeps them awake at night is that the U.S. would run out of vaccines, not have enough of the next generation of vaccines, run out of treatments and tests in the fall. And this is something he has been saying a lot in interviews recently.
But can you give us an update on where the COVID funding talks stand on the Hill, in terms of what the White House is doing right now? What officials are meeting with lawmakers up there? Has there been any progress? Has the President talked with lawmakers about this? And is this getting overshadowed with the conversations that are happening right now on gun talks?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, it's a very good question. You know, look, just to kind of reiterate a little bit of what Dr. Jha has said is: Without additional funding, you know, we are unable to purchase li- -- lifesaving treatments for the American people, including our most vulnerable. We're already -- we've already cut down on our purchase of treatments for high-risk Americans.
Imagine an -- a 13-year-old with a heart condition who may not be able to access preventive treatment to stay safe from a life-threatening illness.
We're losing our spot in line while other countries are moving forward and buying next-generation vaccines for all Americans that may be needed in the fall and winter.
So I think that's what he's talking about when he says he's losing -- he's losing sleep. You know, when we think about the path forward and how we're going to get to where we need to be -- you know, we are working closely with members of Congress on a bipartisan basis to drive a path forward on COVID funding, and the President is committing to get -- committed to getting that -- getting it done.
And so, Dr. Jha and OMB Director have been -- have been on the Hill having those meetings.
So, you know, the President deals with multiple things at a time. So this is still a -- very much a priority. So we will continue doing our part to protect the American people. We'll use the few funds we have remaining to continue getting testing, treatments, and vaccine out to the -- to Americans for as long as we can.
We will continue to work the phones, hold briefings, and make our case public -- publicly and privately with lawmakers, imploring Congress to act immediately (inaudible) on our long-overdue COVID -- to act on our long-overdue COVID needs.
And at the end of the day, it's Republicans in Congress -- they need to act. They have to answer to the American people if they can't get the vaccine treatments and tests that we will need come fall.
So, you know, we're going to continue doing the work. The work doesn't stop.
Q: (Cross-talk by reporters.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, my gosh.
Q: Yeah, thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q: Following up on the January 6th question: There have been Republicans -- prominent Republicans, as well as outside groups, who are already making a concerted effort to downplay the entire thing before a single word has been said about -- in the hearings. Has the President -- what are his thoughts about that? And has he made any efforts to reach out to Kevin McCarthy, to Mitch McConnell about, "Hey, this is important. We ought to be on the same page with this"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the President has been really clear -- right? -- he supports the bipartisan effort -- the January 6th Select Committee bipartisan effort. But we're not going to get involved. That is something that is independent and needs to stay independent.
You know, it is important to protect our democracy. That is something that the President -- what happened on January 6th was a very dark day in our democracy. And so, we have to continue to find ways to protect it.
So he supports what they're doing. We're not going to get involved. It's an independent committee.
Q: Karine? Karine? Back here.
Q: Yeah, so you said that we're in a stable economic -- or we're transitioning into a stable economic growth. The Treasury Secretary also testified today we're going to a stable economic growth. What exactly is a "stable economic growth"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think the way that we're looking at it is just the data, just what we have seen in this past year.
I think people forget what the President inherited when he walked in. You had 20 million people who were collecting unemployment benefits. You -- you had -- unemployment was at more than 6 percent.
And the work that he did with the American Rescue Plan, getting that done, and the Democrats -- only Democrats voting for it, helped get the economy moving, helped get the economy growing.
And so, the way we see it is that we are in a strong place. The U.S. economy may grow faster this year than China's economy for the first time since 1976. With -- with the right policies, we are confident that the U.S. can transition from recovery to stable, steady growth and bring down inflation without giving all of these historic gains that I just laid out -- 8.7 million new jobs in this past year and a half.
And so, one of the things that we've been very clear about is giving the Federal Reserve the independence to deal with inflation. And they are committed to it; we are committed to it. And they have the strongest tools to come up with monetary policy to get that done.
Q: So -- but is that -- is that GDP growth, like under the Obama administration, 1.5 percent, 1.8 percent for the year?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I'm not going to get into, like, the specifics of GDP growth. But what I can say is the numbers -- the data that we have seen just on job growth -- 390,000 jobs in the month of May -- what we have seen is historic numbers, is a his- -- we are in a historic place in history -- historic place right now, as we have -- as we look at where we are with the economy. Very, very different than where we were a year ago.
And that is because of what the President has been able to do with a comprehensive plan to get people vaccinated, with a plan to get people back to work.
Remember -- and I know some of you know this -- schools were closed when he -- when he entered the administration. Businesses were closed when he entered the administration. The economy was in crisis. We are in a different place. That's what -- that's how we see this.
Q: One quick one. Are we in a recession then? Because the Atlanta Fed GDP now looks at a snapshot, and it's 0.9 percent. It's gone down from 1.9 to 1.3 for the second quarter. Two quarters in a row of negative growth is a recession. So are we there? And how close --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the way that we see it is we have the right tools, and we are in a strong place to continue to get -- to get our -- to be in this transition where we have stable -- stable growth. And that is what's important. And so, that's going to be our focus.
Q: Thank you. Will you follow up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. Thank you, guys. I actually -- I do have to go. I really do have to go.
Q: Thanks for coming back out.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. I appreciate that. Thanks, guys. Thank you.
4:37 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Matthew McConaughey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356348