Joe Biden

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

March 18, 2024

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:16 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday. Happy Monday. I have two items at the top before I turn it over to our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan.

Today, to mark Women's History Month, President Biden, alongside the First Lady and the Vice President and the Second Gentleman, signed a historic executive order that will direct the most comprehensive set of executive actions ever taken to expand and improve research on women's health.

These directives will ensure women's health is integrated and prioritized across the federal government and will galvanize new research on a wide range of topics, including women's midlife health.

The President and First Lady also announced more than 20 new actions and commitments by federal agencies, which includes the launch of a new NIH effort that will direct key investments of $200 million toward -- towards this work.

These actions also build on the First Lady's recent announcement that the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health Sprint for -- Sprint for Women's Health is committing $100 million towards transform- -- transformative research and development in women's health.

In his State of the Union Address, the President called on Congress to invest $12 billion in new funding for women's health research and he laid out his bold vision for transforming women's health research. And with today's announcement, he's keeping that promise.

Now, second, today the White House Office of Public Engagement will convene a roundtable on President Biden's efforts to support Black men's health. This event will be moderated by Charisse Jones of USA Today and feature actors Courtney B. Vance and Lamman Rucker; recording artist Raheem DeVaughn; licensed psychologist Dr. Robin L. Smith; and public health analyst from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Dr. Walker Tisdale.

Since the start of his administration, President Biden has prioritized tackling the mental health crisis. In 2022, he released a comprehensive mental health strategy designed to strengthen system capacity, connect more people to care, and create healthier environments.

To support this work and help advance how we transform mental health in the United States, the Biden-Harris administration launched 988 hotline, expanded community mental health centers, established new Centers of Excellence to help promote mental health.

The Biden-Harris administration has and will continue to invest critical resources to expand mental health and substance use support -- substance use support to Americans, including through the Biden -- the President's -- President Biden's proposed budget for fiscal year 2025.

And with that, I'm going to turn it over to our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who has an update on the Middle East region.

Go ahead, Jake.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Ka- -- excuse me -- thank you, Karine, and thanks, everybody. I've got a few opening comments and then I'd be happy to take your questions.

Earlier today, President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as you all have heard. The two leaders discussed the latest developments in Israel and Gaza, and they spoke about the state of Israel's military operations.

The President emphasized his bone-deep commitment to ensuring the long-term security of Israel. And he affirmed, as he did in the State of the Union, that Israel has a right to go after Hamas, the perpetrators of the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

Israel has made significant progress against Hamas. They've broken a significant number of Hamas battalions, killed thousands of Hamas fighters, including senior commanders. Hamas's number three, Marwan Issa, was killed in an Israeli operation last week. The rest of the top leaders are in hiding, likely deep in the Hamas tunnel network. And justice will come for them too, and we are helping to ensure that.

At the same time, more innocent civilians have died in this conflict, in this military operation than in all of the wars in Gaza combined, including thousands of children. A humanitarian crisis has descended across Gaza. And anarchy reigns in areas that Israel's military has cleared but not stabilized.

When the President visited Israel on October 18th -- the first U.S. president to make a wartime visit to Israel, I might add -- he said both privately and publicly that the United States has learned a vital lesson over the course of several wars: a military plan cannot succeed without an integrated humanitarian plan and political plan.

And the President has repeatedly made the point that continuing military operations need to be connected to a clear strategic endgame.

The President told the Prime Minister again today that we share the goal of defeating Hamas, but we just believe you need a coherent and sustainable strategy to make that happen.

Now, instead of pause to reevaluate where things stand in the campaign and what adjustments are needed to achieve long-term success, instead of a focus on stabilizing the areas of Gaza that Israel has cleared so that Hamas does not regenerate and retake terri- -- territory that Israel has already cleared, the Israeli government is now talking about launching a major military operation in Rafah.

The President and the Prime Minister spoke at length about Rafah today. The President explained why he is so deeply concerned about the prospect of Israel conducting major military operations in Rafah of the kind it conducted in Gaza City and Khan Younis.

First, more than a million people have taken refuge in Rafah. They went from Gaza City to Khan Younis and then to Rafah. And they have nowhere else to go. Gaza's other major cities have largely been destroyed. And Israel has not presented us or the world with a plan for how or where they would safely move those civilians, let alone feed and house them and ensure access to basic things like sanitation.

Second, Rafah is a primary entry point for humanitarian assistance into Gaza from Egypt and from Israel. An invasion would shut that down or at least put it at grave risk right at the moment when it is most sorely needed.

Third, Rafah is on the border with Egypt, which has voiced its deep alarm over a major military operation there and has even raised questions about its future relationship with Israel as a result of any impending military operation.

Now, the President has rejected -- and did again today -- the strawman that raising questions about Rafah is the same as raising questions about defeating Hamas. That's just nonsense.

Our position is that Hamas should not be allowed a safe haven in Rafah or anywhere else. But a major ground operation there would be a mistake. It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza, and further isolate Israel internationally.

Most importantly, the key goals Israel wants to achieve in Rafah can be done by other means.

On the call today, President Biden asked the Prime Minister to send a senior interagency team composed of military, intelligence, and humanitarian officials to Washington in the coming days to hear U.S. concerns about Israel's current Rafah planning and to lay out an alternative approach that would target key Hamas elements in Rafah and secure the Egypt-Gaza border without a major ground invasion.

The Prime Minister agreed that he would send a team. Obviously, he has his own point of view on a Rafah operation, but he agreed that he would send a team to Washington to have this discussion and have this engagement. And we look forward to those discussions.

The President and the Prime Minister also discussed the ongoing negotiations for an immediate ceasefire for several weeks in return for releasing hostages currently being held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza. We would look to build on that ceasefire into something more enduring and use the space created by a cessation of hostilities to surge humanitarian assistance at a vital moment.

So far, this deal has been more elusive than we would have hoped. But we will keep pressing because we regard this as an urgent priority.

As I've said before, Hamas could, of course, end this crisis tomorrow if it chose to do so. And as I've said before, far too little of the energy and the pressure to end this conflict has been applied to Hamas. We will keep pointing that out.

The President and the Prime Minister agreed to stay in close touch in the days and weeks ahead on all of these issues. And, of course, their teams are in daily contact on every element of this crisis, as well as the other threats that Israel faces from around the region and the shared threats that the United States, Israel, and others of our allies and partners face from Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East.

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


Q: Jake, you mentioned that the -- the ceasefire deal had -- had been elusive. Understand that -- that Hamas put a proposal forward. Is that still what you guys are working with? And is that still a live option at this point?

MR. SULLIVAN: Hamas has put a proposal on the table. This is after Israel, working with Qatar, Egypt, and the United States, had indicated a willingness to move forward on a six-week ceasefire in -- in return for the release of a number of hostages, leading to further phases from there, and Hamas having given us nothing for quite some time.

And the last time I stood at this podium, I pointed out something I believe today: If Hamas just handed over the elderly, the women, and the wounded, tomorrow, there would be a six-week ceasefire.

They've put a proposal on the table where they've added a series of other conditions as well. Now, the Israeli government has responded by saying they can't just accept that. They regard some of those conditions as going too far. But that's what a negotiation is about.

So, as we speak today, in Qatar, you have teams from Israel, Qatar, and Egypt sitting down and banging through those details to try to arrive at an outcome over the next few days where there is actually a deal. And we believe that those discussions are very live, that a deal is possible, that we should be able to achieve it, and that it is the best way both to get hostages home and to alleviate the suffering of the civilians in Gaza.

And from our perspective, we, the United States, are going to keep pushing on that. And the President had the opportunity to discuss that with the Prime Minister today.


Q: And, Jake, why --

Q: Thank you, Jake.

Q: -- why did the President feel that this was -- that this was an appropriate time for this delegation to come from -- from Israel? And why did he feel that these conversations would succeed in ways that your outreach to the Israeli government have not previously?

MR. SULLIVAN: Look, this is the natural evolution of a discussion between partners. We've had many discussions at many different levels between our military, our intelligence, our diplomats, our humanitarian experts, but we have not yet had the opportunity to have an all-encompassing, comprehensive, integrated, strategic discussion about how to achieve two things: one, the ultimate defeat of Hamas and, two, the protection of civilians and the stabilization of Gaza in a way that will lead to the long-term security of Israel as well as the -- the protection of innocent human life that is in Gaza.

So, from the President's perspective, we've arrived at a point where each side has been making clear to the other its perspective, its view. And now we really need to get down to brass tacks and have the chance for a delegation from each side on an integrated basis -- everyone sitting around the same table, talking through the way forward.

And from the U.S. perspective, this is not a question of defeating Hamas. And anytime I hear an argument that says, "If you don't smash into Rafah, you can't defeat Hamas," I say, "That is a strawman."

Our view is that there are ways for Israel to prevail in this conflict, to secure its long-term future, to end the terror threat from Gaza, and not smash into Rafah. That's what we're going to present in this integrated way when this team comes.

We'll have a back-and-forth, and we'll let you know how that unfolds as we go forward.


Q: Can you describe the tone of the call? There have been reports that they can be very tense, that they have ended abruptly. Can you sort of characterize what the tone was? And then, also, did the President say that an invasion of Rafah is the -- is his red line? And what does that mean?

MR. SULLIVAN: I went over the red line issue, which I know is the obsession of this group, last week. I've got nothing more to say on that front.

As you know, particularly for me, I think that's something that is posed in your questions; it's not stated as a declaration of our policy. And we've made that clear.

With respect to the call, I'm probably not the best person to, you know, give a, kind of, assessment of body language and tone. I can confirm it did not end abruptly. It ended in a totally normal way when they had each gotten through all of their points. And I would say it was very businesslike.

Each of them recognize that we are at a critical moment in this conflict. They share a common objective -- that is for Israel to prevail over Hamas. And they have a different perspective on this operation in Rafah, and they went into some detail on that and had the opportunity, really, to elaborate each of their respective views in a full-throated way, in the way they always do when President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu talk.

So, in that sense, I would say this call was much like previous calls that the two of them have had. They each agreed to have the teams get together, and then they agreed that the two of them would stay in touch as we go forward.


Q: Thank you, Jake. The deadline for Israel to comply with the National Security Memorandum 20 is coming up on Sunday. Has Israel responded in writing?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, when you say "to comply," what they have to do by Sunday is just provide credible and reliable assurances that they will abide by their international obligations, not obligations we've imposed upon them, but -- but obligations they have freely accepted with respect to international humanitarian law, which, of course, includes not arbitrarily impeding the flow of humanitarian assistance where they can control that.

So, I cannot tell you today -- confirm today that they have provided that. Obviously, as you said, they have several more days before they have to do so. And we anticipate that they will.

Q: And then, on a related note, Jake. On March 1st, President Biden said that he was going to insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more people the help they need. On today's call, did he make that clear?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, even before today, the results of the President making clear that this was a priority for him and his team working that at a detailed level, operationally, on the ground in Israel, has resulted in certain steps, including the opening of a new gate that we have seen since the President gave the State of the Union and work to flow more convoys to the north along the beach road as well, in addition to other steps, like the landing of the first ship through a maritime corridor on the beaches of Gaza and active work going forward to get that pier that the President announced set up off the coast of Gaza as well.

So, we have taken steps. The President reaffirmed today the need for Israel to do everything in its power and even more than it has already done to address the humanitarian crisis.

And obviously, we saw a U.N. report today, which Director Power of USAID spoke to quite eloquently. It's an alarming report about possible impending famine if everyone doesn't do their responsibility to ensure we address that.

That starts, first and foremost, with Israel, who has an obligation to step up and ensure that more is done to deliver food to starving people in Northern Gaza, but it's also incumbent on us, the United States and the rest of the international community, to step up as well.

We're proud to be the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, but there's more we can do, and there is more others can do as well. This has to be an all-hands-on-deck effort.


Q: Thank you, Jake. Given that alarming report that famine right now is imminent and the humanitarian catastrophe there, are words enough when it comes to discussions with Israel? Does there need to be some conditions put on military aid?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first, obviously, words aren't enough. It's action that matters. And the action that matters is flowing trucks' and ships' worth of humanitarian assistance -- particularly food, water, and medicine -- to people who are gravely in need of it, as elaborated in that report.

As I said, in the last few days, we've seen some steps forward. We need to see those sustained; we need to see them built on. But ultimately, our judgment comes down not to pledges or promises or words; it comes down to action. And we're going to continue to pre- -- to press on Israel to see the kind of action we want to see.

And then we're going to take responsibility to do our part. And that's, for example, what the temporary period is all about.

Q: And there are reports that more than 20 people have been killed in that hospital attack. How confident is the U.S. that Israel is doing everything in its power to protect civilians?

MR. SULLIVAN: I'd make three points about the reports of the attack at Al-Shifa Hospital overnight last night and into today. First, Israel states that it was going after senior Hamas commanders and Hamas militants, and it is clear that Hamas fired back at Israel from that hospital.

Second, we have seen Hamas, over the course of this conflict, use civilian facilities, including hospitals, to store weapons for command and control and to house fighters. And that places an added burden on Israel that very few militaries have to deal with: an entrenched insurgency, a terrorist group, using the shield of civilian institutions to protect themselves during a fight rather than meeting Israel on some open field of battle.

And then, third, it also tells us something else that -- of some concern that I spoke to in my opening comments. Israel cleared Shifa once. Hamas came back into Shifa, which raises questions about how to ensure a sustainable campaign against Hamas so that it cannot regenerate, cannot retake territory.

And from our perspective, it is connecting Israel's objective to a sustainable strategy that is the vital thing we need to focus on right now, rather than have Israel go smash into Rafah. And that is what the President talked to the Prime Minister about today.


Q: During the call, did the President threaten at any point to withhold military aid to Israel if Israel moves into Rafah or a famine does ensue in Gaza?

MR. SULLIVAN: The President didn't make threats. What the President said today was, "I want you to understand, Mr. Prime Minister, exactly where I am on this. I am for the defeat of Hamas. I believe that they are an evil terrorist group with not just Israeli but American blood on their hands. At the same time, I believe that to get to that, you need a strategy that works. And that strategy should not involve a major military operation that puts thousands and thousands of lives -- civilian, innocent lives at risk -- in Rafah. There is a better way. Send your team to Washington. Let's talk about it. We'll lay out for you what we believe is a better way."

And I will leave it at that.

Q: Did they talk about --


Q: -- Senator Schumer's call for new elections? And what did the President say about that?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, the Prime Minister did raise his concerns about a variety of things that have come out in the American press. I'm not going to talk specifically about any one of them because I want to, you know, let the Prime Minister speak for himself and also protect the -- the discretion of the call.

And I will just say that, from President Biden's perspective, this is not a question of politics. It's not a question of public statements. It's a question of policy and strategy. That's what he's focused on. That's what he was focused on in the call.


Q: Can you give us any detail on the timing of this meeting here in Washington? Is that in the coming days and weeks? And is it your expectation or did Israel commit to not proceeding with any Rafah invasion until that meeting takes place, or is that unclear?

MR. SULLIVAN: We have every expectation that they're not going to proceed with a major military operation in Rafah until we have that conversation.

And I ex- -- they talked about as soon as the end of this week. It could be the beginning of next week. They have not fixed a particular date because each side needs to prepare effectively. But within that timeframe, not a longer timeframe.

Q: Sorry. Just to clarify. That's your expectation, or did he exclusively commit on the call to not proceeding with a Rafah operation?

MR. SULLIVAN: I'm not going to put words in their mouth on this. I don't want to do that. You can ask them. But I think you will find that, when asked, they will indicate to you that they're not going to go ahead with this before we've sat down and talked this all through.


Q: Thanks, Jake. Vladimir Putin in a press conference spoke about a possible Navalny prisoner swap. He said -- he claimed they had agreed to exchange Navalny for prisoners in the West on the condition that Navalny never come back to Russia. Can you speak to this? Was there any plan in place?

MR. SULLIVAN: We have spoken to Russian officials over the course of months and years with respect to American detainees who are unjustly being held in -- in Russia. We have not heard a Russian official raise Navalny as part of a prisoner swap in any of those conversations.

So, if this is something they were interested in, it certainly sounds like they're coming to it quite late -- in fact, too late, obviously, since he's no longer alive -- because we did not hear that from them before.


Q: Thanks, Jake. Prime Minister Netanyahu was on CNN yesterday. He talked about having the support of the majority of the Israeli people for his policies, including going into Rafah. Is there more that the administration -- the U.S. administration needs to do to speak to the Israeli people directly so that they don't support this idea of going into Rafah now?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, inherent in the question is a -- is a -- kind of a -- an interesting irony, which is you have the Prime Minister speaking on American television about his concerns about Americans interfering in Israeli politics, and then your question is should Americans be speaking into Israeli politics, which, in fact, we don't do nearly as much as they speak into ours.

But that's not a constructive answer to your question. Just an observation.

In answer to your question, again, as I said before, from the President's perspective, this isn't really about politics or public opinion or public statements. This is about policy and strategy. And so, the President is not focused on what's popular, what's not popular, how do you shape public opinion. He's interested in how do we get to the right result, and the right result is the enduring defeat of Hamas, a two-state solution that has a secure Israel and a Palestinian state that vindicates the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and a broader normalization of relations so that Israel also has peace with all of its Arab neighbors.

He believes we need to drive to that outcome. And while it is true that many voices in Israel can't see that today, that is not going to alter the President's view, from his perspective, that that is what is not just in the U.S. national security interest, but it's really the only solution to Israel's future as a democratic Jewish state that is secure and at peace with its neighbors, including its most immediate neighbors, the Palestinian people.


Q: Thank you, Jake. The head of UNRWA, (inaudible) Lazzarini, said today that he was denied entry to Gaza, the day, as you mentioned, the report that Northern Gaza is facing imminent famine. So, is this an issue that you're raising with the Israelis?

And on another question, there is 5,000, according to the ICRC, prisoners that's been missing. Nobody knows anything about them. They're being held by the Israelis, including doctors and journalists, and the arrest of one of our colleagues at Al Jazeera this morning as well.

What can you do to push the Israelis to at least declare where are these prisoners so their families know where they are? Because most of them, according to our knowledge, there are civilians.

MR. SULLIVAN: So, with respect to Mr. Lazzarini's efforts to get into Gaza today, this is the first I'm hearing that he was denied access. Obviously, we'll inquire as to the circumstances of that.

Second, with respect to the detention of an Al Jazeera journalist today, I've seen the reports. I saw them just recently before coming into this briefing room. I have not had the opportunity to -- to raise that with my Israeli counterparts. We'll do so.

Obviously, we believe that the protection of journalists and the capacity for journalists to do their jobs, even in difficult circumstances, even in warzones, must be protected. That's something this administration takes very seriously in all contexts.

And then, finally, we have regularly indicated to the Israeli government that they have a responsibility under international humanitarian law not just with respect to the conduct of their military operations but, obviously, with respect to the treatment of and access to prisoners in their custody. That's something that we will continue to remind them of as we go forward.

Even as we would also point out that the enemy they are fighting doesn't even come close to the same sport, let alone the same ballpark of caring a lick about anything to do with international humanitarian law.

Q: Follow-up. Thanks, Jake.


Q: After the State of the Union, the President was picked up on a hot mic saying he told Prime Minister Netanyahu they were going to have a "come to Jesus" moment. Given what you've said about their conversation today on the Rafah operation, was that this conversation today?

MR. SULLIVAN: I'm not going to characterize that on behalf of the President. I will just describe what happened in the conversation, as I've done here today. And I'll let you all draw your own conclusions.


Q: Was Jesus on the call at all? (Laughter.)

Q: Jake --

MR. SULLIVAN: No comment. (Laughter.)

Q: So -- so, why is it that it seems so hard for this administration to stand up more firmly to Benjamin Netanyahu? He has been ignoring many of your requests. He's now threatening to launch an offensive in Rafah. And the answer from the White House so far has been pretty soft, and the U.S. are still sending weapons to Israel. So, it seems like there is a big cautiousness from the White House.

MR. SULLIVAN: That seems more like a statement than a question.


Q: I have another question on President Macron. What do you make of his state- -- his position becoming more (inaudible) and saying that he might send troo- -- not excluding the fact that he might send troops to Ukraine?

MR. SULLIVAN: I can't speak for President Macron. Obviously, he continues to make his points publicly, and, obviously, he has every right to do that. We've made --

Q: (Inaudible) troops?

MR. SULLIVAN: We've made our position clear, which is that we're not intending to send U.S. troops to Ukraine. President Biden actually reiterated that before the American people in the State of the Union, and we haven't wavered from that position. We're not wavering from it today.


Q: Can you talk a bit about Niger. Niger yesterday suspended the security cooperation with the U.S. Do you have any reaction? I think some of the things that they are saying is the U.S. doesn't really approach them in the right way. They come with this arrogance, which is almost like a form of humiliation, for the Biden administration. Do you have any reaction to the suspension of the security agreement with Niger?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, you've seen what we've said on this subject, which is that we've seen the Facebook posts from the CNSP. It came out Saturday night. We're in touch with them. This obviously follows discussions we had with them about our concerns with their trajectory. And I'll leave it at that because those discussions with the -- the authorities in Niger is ongoing.


Q: Thank you so much. Coming back to Israel and the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We are now -- we have now 1 million people faced with the risk of starvation, and aid is not getting in at the levels necessary to help those people. Who is responsible for that? And during this call, has -- was there any kind of commitment from the part of the Israeli Prime Minister to let more aid come into Gaza?

MR. SULLIVAN: The Prime Minister indicated that he intends to push his government to have more aid come into Israel [Gaza]. But as I said to an earlier question, the issue is not statements or representations, it's action; it's whether more aid gets in.

We've seen certain things over the past few days that represent steps forward, including the opening of this new gate, including other convoys that have gotten to the North, including throughput through Kerem Shalom and Rafah. But we've seen that before, and then numbers have dipped for a variety of reasons, some to do with just the difficulty of moving aid around Gaza once it gets inside, as we've seen in tragic circumstances.

And from our perspective, the key thing is that we need to flood the zone. We need to use every tool at our disposal -- every land route, every possible number of trucks, as well as sea routes, as well as airdrops to get as much aid in as possible.

Israel has a responsibility in this regard to facilitate the aid, and they can do more. The international community, including the United States, has a responsibility as well. We have done a significant number of things. We can do more.

So, from our point of view, this is an urgent undertaking, an urgent priority, and we will keep at it.


Q: Quick one on Russia and a follow-up on Haiti, if possible. I know you said, when asked about President Putin's comments yesterday, that you hadn't heard of a Russian official raise Aleksey Navalny as part of a prisoner swap. You said that they had come to the table too late.

Is that a way of saying that negotiations for -- to release reporter Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan are not on the table? Are there any active efforts going on right now for them?

MR. SULLIVAN: We have had a continuous effort to secure the release of both Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich. We will continue until they are free. And that means regular communication at senior levels with the Russian Federation, making a series of offers, which we have done over time and will continue to do.

So, no, we have not slackened one inch in our zeal to get the two of them out. It remains an utmost priority of ours. And that work will continue notwithstanding the tragic death of Aleksey Navalny.


Q: One more on --

Q: Tha- --

Q: -- Haiti -- sorry. The State Department announced this weekend that more than 30 Americans had been evacuated from Haiti, but they were evacuated from a northern city, not Port-au-Prince. And today, the State Department said that more than a thousand U.S. citizens have reached out asking about their options for departing the island. Are there plans for the U.S. to do more specifically out of the Port-au-Prince area?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, my understanding is that more than 1,000 Americans have been in touch with the embassy to seek more information. Some number of those have asked for information about departing. Others have asked for information about how to remain safely or, if they choose to depart in the fu- -- in the future, how they might do so.

So, the thousand is really a broad universe that encapsulates a number of different categories.

Second, as you noted, we did have our first evacuation flight out of Cap-Haïtien. More than 30 U.S. citizens were on it. And we will look to continue to operate out of Cap-Haïtien for people to be able to leave from there.

And then, third, of course, if we determine that there is a secure way to move American citizens who want to leave Haiti out of the Port-au-Prince airport or out of some other route, we will do so.

There's active planning for that. There's a- -- active analysis of -- of the risks of doing so. But we will stay in close touch with every American citizen who wants to be in touch with us in Haiti and continue to look for options to ensure their safe passage out of the country should they choose to leave.


Q: Why did President Biden wait so long -- why did he let 32 days pass between phone calls with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, so, first of all, our teams are in contact every single day at every level. President Biden gets a daily, twice daily -- sometimes nine times daily -- update on what is going on. And he reserves his calls for the Prime Minister for when he believes there's a key strategic moment that needs to come forward. That's point one.

Point two: The Prime Minister, of course, knows how to reach President Biden. If the Prime Minister felt he needed the President for some reason, he would have picked up the phone and called. And, of course, in the last 32 days, President Biden has never declined a -- a phone call from Prime Minister Netanyahu.

So, this pretty much the normal give-and-take of two leaders both operating their governments, both operating their foreign policies, both working with their teams, and then at a key inflection point, in the -- in the dialogue between the two sides, coming together and talking. I wouldn't make more of it than that.

Q: And there's a report that when President Biden was told his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas was starting to affect his poll numbers, the quote is, "He began to shout and swear." So, when he does that, is he shouting and swearing about Netanyahu or about Hamas or about his poll numbers?

MR. SULLIVAN: This is the "When did you stop beating your spouse" question, because I don't think he ever did that. And so --

Q: Excuse me?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, you -- you used that as the premise of your question, which is, "When he does that." He -- I've never seen him do that -- shout or swear in response to that. So, from my perspective, that particular report is not correct.


Q: What can you tell us about this temporary pier -- the timeline for it, how it's going to be secured, how soon aid may be delivered through those sea routes you're talking about?

MR. SULLIVAN: So, CENTCOM can go into the operational details on it. What I can tell you is that our original timeline, you know, extended out something like 45 to 60 days to have it fully in place. We're hoping to beat that, if possible, because we're moving heaven and earth to get, you know, all of the complex logistics associated with it fully integrated into the -- the pipeline for aid going into Gaza. And ultimately, it will be a scenario where CENTCOM assets move the pier off the coast, and then it will be IDF assets who actually secure it so that there are no U.S. boots on the ground in Gaza.

But that effort is very much underway. The CENTCOM Commander feels good about the progress we are making and that he will be able to move this on an expedited basis based on the original timelines that he provided.

Q: Jake, to the back?

MR. SULLIVAN: Just one more question. Yeah.

Q: Jake, do you have a reaction to Russian President Putin's victory? He will be president until 2030. Do you accept the result and his victory?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first, nothing about the election outcome was unpredictable because Putin had closed the political space, had locked up political opponents. Some of his political opponents had tragically died. And so, there was nothing free or fair about this election, and the outcome was preordained.

Second, the reality is that President Putin is the President of Russia. We've had to deal with that reality throughout the war in Ukraine, throughout the other aggression Russia has undertaken, throughout the other steps contrary to U.S. national interests that we have seen from this President and from the Russian Federation under his leadership. And we will continue to deal with that reality.

But that reality doesn't deny the fact that this election was not something that met any kind of benchmark of being free or fair.

Thank you all.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Jake.

Q: Thank you, Jake.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, Jake.

All right, Chris.

Q: So, I have a question about budget discu- --


Q: -- discussions over --


Q: -- the weekend.

Why did the White House object to plans that were taking shape over the weekend for the homeland security budget? And what do you want to make sure gets included in the final legislation? And --


Q: Last thing.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Just how close are you at this point, do you think?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I'm -- I'm not going to talk about reporting regarding ongoing negotiations. Going to be super careful talking from the podium here.

One thing that I will make clear is that, look, DHS needs a bill that adequately funds operational pace -- pace. Right? And we have seen, during the -- this past fiscal year, that that is what the administration is fighting for. We want to make sure that they have the operational funding to do the job that they need to be doing. And that is what I can say.

And I want to also add is -- let's not forget the past 10 months here. DHS has removed and returned more people than -- than during every fiscal year since 2013. So, they have maximized their operations, they have done the work to do what they can at the funding levels that there are -- that they are -- that they currently are operating in. And we want to do everything that we can to make sure that they have that operational pace.

So, I'm not going to get into negotiations from here.

Q: So, it sounds like we're talking about -- the issue is a dollar figure. The White House wants more money than is being offered.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just going to be super mindful and not negotiate from the podium. But obviously, we believe that DHS needs additional funding -- we've always said that -- to deal with the security operations and much more that we're dealing with at the border, obviously, and just more broadly, all the work that the DH- -- DHS has to do on behalf of the American people.

Q: And you can't say if there's been progress today or anything since the weekend?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the negotiations continue, and we are focused, certainly, on reaching an agreement. As you know, the -- the shutdown is set for this coming Friday, and we want to get -- certainly get to a place where we have -- again, DHS has what it needs to have the operational -- continue the operational pace that they've been having.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. As the Supreme Court considers the case about social media disinformation, misinformation, can you talk about what the administration believes is at stake in this case?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm going to be super mindful. It's an ongoing case. I'm just not going to comment. Would have to refer you to Department of Justice. We've been pretty consistent on this over the past year or so. So, I'm just going to be really mindful on that.

Q: And then I have a leftover Israel-Hamas question.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, sure.

Q: Because, over the weekend, the President talked about the importance of the freedom of the press.


Q: He toasted them at the Gridiron Dinner. Has he or anyone in the administration pushed Israel to allow foreign media into Gaza to cover it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as Jake said, there's continuous conversation that we have with the leadership of the Israeli government. I don't have anything to share on that particular question. You heard directly from the President as it relates to protecting the freedom of the press, protecting journalists. We've always been very clear about that. The President has spoken to that numerous of times.

I can't speak to that particular -- a particular conversation on that issue. We want to make sure -- right? -- we want to make sure that freedom of the press is respected, that -- that journalists are protected. And so, that is something that the President has had conversation with leaders over the past three years as it relates to that, as it relates to, obviously, humanitarian issues as well.

We've always had those conversations. It doesn't matter if it's our -- if it's our allies or friends or whoever it is, we've always been pretty consistent. But I can't speak to any direct conversation that the President has had on that issue.

Go ahead.

Q: What are the remaining sticking points on the DHS funding bill? And some Hill aides say that the White House came in at the 11th hour? Is -- did the White House step in too late?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, let's -- let's be very clear here and take a step back. When it comes to funding the government, that is something that is the basic duty of Congress is to do that. Right? It is their job to keep the government open. It is something that Congress has to do on behalf of the American people.

There are critical programs that Americans need, that American families need. The DHS funding, more specifically, is what is obviously being discussed -- is important -- right? -- to -- for DHS to do the work that they're currently doing, as we think about the border, as we think about the immigration system.

So, it is their job. It is their duty. I'm not going to speak into timeline as to when we started to have conversations with them. I'm not going to speak to negotiations that are currently happening. I'm certainly not going to do that at the podium.

We believe it is critical and important to continue the operational pace that -- that DHS needs to do their job. Obviously, we've been pretty consistent, as well, over the last three years asking for additional funding.

And so, I'm just going to be really mindful and not negotiate from the podium.

Go ahead, Selina.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Does the administration still have close contact with social media companies? And, in specific, are there still communications about removing misinformation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I'm going to be -- I -- I know there is a -- currently, SCOTUS -- well, I don't even know if it's happening right now. But there is this particular Missouri case. I'm going to be super mindful, super careful, and not to -- not to answer a question that is, you know, adjacent to what's happening with this particular case.

I don't have any conversations to speak to or to lay out to you about conversation with social media. Obviously, the President tries to communicate with Americans and meet them where they are. You see this -- you see us do that pretty consistently. I just want to be super mindful, as there is an ongoing case happening at this time.

Q: So, not even speaking about the particularities of the case, more broadly, can you talk about the administration's concerns on the kind of misinformation that's on social media --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, we've been --

Q: -- though that was specific about COVID?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We've been pretty consistent about the importance of -- you know, it is -- it is the responsibility of social media to make sure that -- that what is on their platform is -- you know, is not misinformation, not disinformation. We've been always very clear about that.

I just don't have conversations to lay out or to speak to. But we've been pretty consistent for at least the past couple of years on that.

Okay. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. A temporary pause on SB 4, the Texas -- the controversial Texas immigration law, is set to expire at 5:00 p.m. today if the Supreme Court doesn't take action. What is the administration's plans if that does go into effect?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. Going to be really careful not to comment on -- on a -- well, not to comment beyond what the DOJ filings have -- have laid out -- so, have shared with all of you. So, I'll say this. I will point out that Department of Justice makes clear that SB 4 is flatly inconsistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States in 2012 and more than a century of additional precedent.

But generally speaking, SB 4 is just another example of what we have seen from the governor of Texas, Governor Abbott, attempting to politicize what's happening at the border, politicize, obviously, what's happening with the immigration system.

And so, look, the President is going to be focused on -- on making sure that there's significant policy changes and resources we need to secure the border. And so, that is why he's going to continue to -- to call on congressional Republicans to pass the bipartisan border security agreement that came out of the Senate just a couple of months ago, a -- in a -- an agreement that was supported by the Border Patrol union, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and that we worked on for months.

And we believe that is going to meet the needs that -- that we have with the border challenges and deal with some real immigration policies. Outside of that, I don't have anything else to share. But clearly, the Department of Justice has been very clear on their filings on SB 4.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you so much. A domestic question, then two quickies on foreign adversaries.

First of all, what is the White House planning for Iftar this year? And what is your message to Muslim Americans about this particularly difficult year?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I -- I -- look, we are going to -- I don't have anything to share about an event as it relates to Iftar. What I can say is that we've been very consistent and very clear that this conflict is personal and painful for many. And -- and the President has been clear on that. We have been clear from this podium.

He respects all Americans to be -- to speak out and for their voices to be heard as long -- obviously, as long as it's peaceful, obviously. But we understand that it is a pai- -- painful time for a number of communities.

As you know, we've had White House official- -- senior White House officials meet with members of the different communities, whether it's Arab, Muslim, Palestinian communities, to talk about their views, to voice their concerns, and we welcome that.

I just don't have anything to share on any events or beyond that.

Q: Okay. So, Pakistan conducted two airstrikes over what they say are militant hideouts in Afghanistan. Was the U.S. consulted on that? Were these coordinated attacks? And are you concerned about the potential for violence escalating in that region?

And then a quickie on South Korea when I'm done -- North Korea.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. A quickie. A quickie.

All right. On Pakistan, just a couple of things that we do want to share with all of you. We are aware of the reports, obviously, that Pakistan carried out airstrikes in Afghanistan in response to attack in Pakistan on Saturday at a military post. We deeply regret the loss of life and injuries sustained during the attack in Pakistan and the loss of civilian lives during the strikes in Afghas- -- Afghanistan.

We urge the Taliban to ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched from Af- -- Afghan soil. We urge Pakistan to exercise restraint and ensure civilians are not harmed in their counterterrorism efforts. We urge both sides to address any differences through dialogue. We remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who wish to harm United States or our other partners or allies.

So, we've made that very clear. And we're going to continue to be consistent.

Q: Can you confirm South Korean reports that North Korea sent 7,000 containers of munitions to Russia? And if so, what -- what are the consequences of that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don't have anything. I have not seen those reports. So, don't have anything to share on that. I want to be really mindful and careful on that one.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Can you give us an update on the President's review of the China tariffs, whether that's nearing a decision point?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know you guys ask that question all the time, which I --

Q: It's a big one.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- I appreciate it. I don't have anything to share at this time on that.

Q: Pivoting to the UnitedHealth hack. I'm wondering if you can give us the latest of the administration's view on whether that is nearing a resolution or if you're still in the thick of it and whether it's possible to say whether you know yet whether American health data has been compromised by this hack.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I would have to refer you to HHS. I've seen the reporting, obviously, on this. Just don't have anything for you at this time beyond the reporting.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you.

Q: I was just wondering if you could comment on the Russian elections and whether you see Putin as a legitimately elected President.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I think Jake Sullivan did a very good job speaking to this. And one of the things that he did say, obviously, Putin -- Mr. Putin is the leader of Russia. He spoke to this extensively.

We are -- the results, obviously, also were predetermined. No one is shocked by the results coming out of the elections there.

I just don't have to a- -- anything to add beyond what Jake Sullivan laid out pretty well here --

Q: Thanks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- just moments ago.

Q: Thanks, Karine. It -- technically, is it still possible to avoid a shutdown, given the 72-hour review window that has to happen?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I think we have to be hopeful. This is, obviously, a -- a administration that is hopeful and hopes that Congress gets to -- gets to the bottom of this and gets to a point where we keep the government open. It is, again, their basic duty to do so.

As you know, there's negotiations I've been asked about at -- with the DHS. I'm not going to speak to them from here. But this is important. It's critical that we keep the government open.

It's not just DHS. There's numbers of other programs that Americans need that we have to continue. And so, this needs to get done.

Q: And then, on the Israeli delegation that's coming. Do we have a sense at this point of who is going to be leading that from their side or from the U.S. side?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything more to share on that. Obviously, as we get to a point where we're able to share more information on that par- -- when that meeting is going to happen, who will be part of that meeting, we'll have more to share. I just don't -- don't have anything, no -- any further details than what Jake sa- -- shared from here earlier.

Q: And is it fair to -- to understand from the detailed engagement that Biden is having with Netanyahu and with his government that this means that President Biden feels that the government is legitimate and should continue and that engagement with them can bear more fruit than it has in the past?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that "legitimate" --

Q: That Netanyahu's government is legitimate, that he is -- still views him as the legitimate leader and that his appeals to them -- to him can be successful.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, let's be clear, like, that is up to -- I mean, Bibi Netan- -- Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel. Like, that is something that we know. Right? That is something that is fact. You know, that doesn't change anything. That is the reason why we've been in constant communication with the Israeli government from all levels. Right? And so, that i- -- that has not changed. Right? That is -- as far as --

Q: I ask because Schumer suggested that that maybe should no longer be the case, right?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, that is something for -- as it relates to any elections or any- -- anything like that, that's up to the Israeli government. Right? That is something for them to decide.

I can't speak to that. What I can speak to is the President and his involvement and his engagement. I think it's important that he had this conversation with the Prime Minister today about Rafah, about -- about how we move forward.

And so, you know, Jake Sullivan did a really good job laying that out -- what that's going to look like, how that conversation went.

The President doesn't want to see a military operation go into Rafah. He's been very clear about that. He wants to make sure that innocent lives are protected. And we -- and it has to be done in a way that we don't see Palestinian lives -- you know, lose any more Palestinian lives, but understanding that Israel has to go after Hamas -- right? -- a terrorist organization. We understand that.

So, there's going to be a conversation with both sides. Obviously, it's going to happen. But I just don't have anything else to share further from that.

Q: Thanks, Karine. The President has quite a bit of travel this week. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about what he's doing beside his political activity, as well as how he's going to be engaged with these ongoing negotiations to make sure there's not a shutdown.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I'm going to answer your -- talk about your -- the last part of your question first.

Obviously, the President is always engaged, always communicating with his team. It doesn't matter where he is -- if he's at the White House or anywhere else in this country or the world -- he's president wherever he is. So, I'll say that at the top.

The President is going to be going to Reno and Las Vegas tomorrow. In Reno, he will participate in a campaign event. So, obviously, I will refer you to the campaign for more details on that particular event.

In Las Vegas, he will deliver remarks on lowering costs for American families, which is the priority as it relates to his economic plan on behalf of the American people.

On Wednesday, the President will be in Phoenix and will deliver remarks on Investing in America agenda. This is -- this part of a -- this is part of a busy travel schedule following the State of the Union, where the President is hitting the road, meeting Americans, talking to them directly about how he sees his vision, how he sees the future of this country for, obviously, the American people.

We'll certainly have more details to share. The -- the specifics on the political poi- -- parts of the trip, I would refer you to the campaign.

Q: And then just one more question. Next week, the President is going to be going up to New York, meeting with former President Obama and former President Clinton. It's a campaign event, but there is a report that came out today about President Biden's relationship with President Obama indicating that there might be some jealousy involved. I was wondering if you could speak to that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let's be very clear: The President -- the two presidents, President Obama and President Biden, have a very good relationship. You all have seen it over the -- the past several years. They -- they're like family to each other. And I'm just not going to -- to speak to reporting that we don't believe to be true.

Go ahead, Aurelia.

Q: Thank you so much. Another foreign policy question. On Saturday, Niger decided to cut all military ties with the United States. Can you maybe explain what -- what led to this decision? And how concerned are you that Niger is now one of the African countries seeking military cooperation with Russia instead of the United States?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. Jake spoke to this when he was here not moments ago. Let me just say some -- two toplines about -- about the situation in Niger first, which is: Since the coup last year, we fought -- we sought to -- we sought to work with the Nigerien junta towards a democratic transition and our shared security interest.

Last week, Assistant Secretary Phee, General Langley, and Assistant Secretary of Defense Wallander were in Niamey for a frank conversation with the CNSP to explore how we can chart a common path forward and our concerns about the lack of progress towards a democratic transition and operational consideration for us to maintain a long-term security partnership.

As it relates to -- to Russia, the Russian Federation's repeated violations of international law, to include its illegal invasion and ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine, represent a clear threat to the rules-based -- rule-based international system. So, we are closely monitoring the Russian defense activities -- closely, obviously -- in order to assess and mitigate potential risk to U.S. personnel, interest, and assets.

And so, that is how we are looking at that relationship in particular.

Go ahead. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Yeah. When will the President hold another news conference so we can ask a question of him without having helicopter noise or jet noise in the background?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything to preview -- to share. Obviously, the President -- the President, as you just say- -- as you were just saying, the President takes questions pretty regularly, enjoys having engagement with all of you.

I don't have a press conference to lay out for you at this time.

Q: But is there -- is there talk of one?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything for you. But as I said, the President enjoys engaging with all of you on a regular basis, and he'll continue to do that.

I think I have to go. I'll take your question last. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. The North Carolina Lieutenant Governor and other state officials sent the White House a letter about Awet Hagos, who was arrested in the state last week. I'm wondering if --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Say that -- say that one more time. Arrest of who?

Q: Yeah. Awet Hagos in North Carolina last week. I'm wondering if the White House has seen the letter and if you have any information about that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything to share on that particular letter. I'm happy to go back to the team and come -- and let you know.

Thanks, everybody. See you on the road.

Q: Thanks, Karine.

3:09 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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