Joe Biden

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby

January 17, 2024

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:33 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everyone.

Q: Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, today, the Biden-Harris administ- --(the briefing room sound system experiences technical difficulties) -- the levels. Is there a -- should I start? Sou- -- is -- do I sound, like, echoey?

Q: Yes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, well, sorry. Here we go.

Today, the Biden-Harris administration took new actions to tackle hidden junk fess by proposing a rule that would end excessive overdraft fees.

For too long, some banks have charged extreme overdraft fees, sometimes $30 or more, that often hit the most vulnerable Americans the hardest.

Today's proposal by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would cut the average overdraft fee by more than half, saving them -- saving the millions of families that pay these fees an average of $150 a year. That would add up to save Americans $3.5 billion a year. Unfortunately, some Republicans in Congress continue to defend the rights of big banks to exploit their customers.

President Biden believes it's wrong that some companies rip off Americans simply because they can, and his administration won't let them.

As we work to lower costs and build the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, we got more evidence today that Americans are feeling the strength of the economy. Retail sales beat expectation last month, capping a record holiday shopping season. From TVs to toys, Americans were able to buy gifts for their loved ones that were more affordable and arrived on time thanks to the President's work to fix and strengthen supply chains.

And today, a new poll from Axios showed Americans have a surprising degree of satisfaction where -- with their economic situation. The poll showed Americans are optimistic about their finances. Sixty-three percent say their finances are currently good, and eighty-five percent believe they will get better this year. That's not an accident; that's Bidenomics at work.

(Referring to the briefing room sound system.) The volumes are incredibly weird right now. Did we get that fixed?

Q: I think so.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, I think so. All right.

And now, as you all know, today, we're joined by my colleague, Admiral John Kirby, who's here to discuss the United States' continued response to the ongoing and escalating attacks by the Houthis in the Red Sea.

And with that, all -- I think it's all fixed for you now, Admiral. It's all fixed.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine. That was kind of weird.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That was very weird. Sounds like a gremlin was attacking.

MR. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

Look, as you all saw, United States today designated the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group. We took this action because of their continued reckless and indiscriminate attacks on ships transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. These attacks are a clear example of terrorism, violation of international law, and a major threat to innocent lives and to global commerce.

Now, just a couple of points. First, today's designation targets the Houthis, not the Yemeni people. The United States remains the world's leading donor of humanitarian assistance for Yemen. We recognize that more than 15 million people in Yemen are still in desperate need of food, water, and medicine. And we are taking a range of steps to ensure that these sanctions preserve the ability of aid organizations to be able to deliver all those much-needed supplies.

Second, this designation takes effect 30 days from now. And the reason for that is it'll give us time to work closely with those aid organizations to make sure that they understand all the ramifications of this designation, answer all their questions, and be able to provide enough context for them to have a measure of assurance as they continue to provide that humanitarian assistance.

Now, look, if the Houthis cease the attacks, we can certainly reconsider this designation. If they don't, as the President said, we will not hesitate to take further actions to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce.

With that --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks. John, can you talk a little bit about why the President decided not to redesignate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, which obviously would have restricted some of that aid? Is it purely because of that humanitarian assistance piece?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, you sort of answered the question. This particular designation gives us -- it actually gives us more flexibility, but it also gives aid organizations a higher level of comfort that they'll be able to provide this assistance without running afoul of sanctions.

You've -- we've already -- in designating them, already issued a number of licenses. The license, as you know, is basically like a waiver. It's a carveout -- when you have a sanctions regime that -- that allows for certain goods to continue to flow despite the sanction regime.

And so, yes, that's the big reason here.

Q: And then, (inaudible) the President could reconsider that designation should the Houthis stop these attacks? Are you essentially using this as a bargaining chip in negotiations or -- in public negotiations with the Houthis?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, that would suggest there's negotiations going on, and we're -- there's no negotiations here. It's not a bargaining chip; it's a way of holding the Hou- -- the Houthis accountable -- additional ways to hold them accountable.

I think, you know, if you look at the -- the levers of national power -- you know, there's an acronym for it: DIME -- right? -- diplomacy, information, military, economic. We're using all of those levers of national power and, frankly, international power to try to convince the Houthis to stop these attacks and, if they don't -- and they clearly haven't -- to make sure that we're holding them accountable for that.

Q: And just, lastly, on a different topic: the meeting that's taking place in a few -- in a few minutes with congressional leaders. We understand this is going to be focused mostly on situation in Ukraine. Is there a version you can provide publicly? What are they going -- what are lawmakers going to hear from the national security staff --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah --

Q: --- that you've not already telegraphed publicly about what's happening on the ground?

MR. KIRBY: Well, again, I don't want to get ahold -- ahead of the discussion. And I suspect that in that discussion there could be some classified content that they'll discuss.

But in the main, this will be an opportunity for the President and for the national security team to make sure that members of Congress fully understand the desperate, urgent need for weapons and capabilities for Ukraine to continue to flow.

As you know, the last security assistance package was December 27th. There hasn't been one since. There won't be one unless or until we can get some funding.

And it's not as if the war stopped just because our aid stopped. The Ukrainians continue to get attacked. They're moving into some defensive positions along that line, in the east in particular, and they continue to come under artillery shell, air attacks, ballistic and cruise missile, as well as drone attacks from the Russians.

And they are expending what they have. And I won't get into their inventory lists, but there are some weapons systems for which they are in more need than others right now. And the -- and they have to expend them, given ongoing combat.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Karen.

Q: Thanks. Last week, the President said it was "irrelevant" whether or not the Houthis were designated as a terrorist organization. Now, five days later, this announcement. Did he need to be convinced that this was the right step?


Q: And looking back, was it a mistake to take them off of the terrorist list back in 2021 -- just, like, consideration over these years?

MR. KIRBY: No. No, again, the previous designation was FTO -- Foreign Terrorist Organization -- which doesn't have quite the measure of flexibility in terms of humanitarian assistance. And so, a big reason why we delisted them -- literally, on day one -- was to address a dire, dire humanitarian situation on the ground. And, as I said today, it remains dire in many cases.

The Houthis are more concerned about getting weapons and capabilities and attacking ships in the Red Sea than they are about helping to look after the Yemeni people.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Karine. The President said last week that a private message had been delivered to Iran about the Houthi attacks. Could you talk a little bit about that message?

MR. KIRBY: No, I cannot.

Q: What can you tell us about what was communicated to the Houthis?

MR. KIRBY: That's the same question you just asked. (Laughter.) I'm not going to get into that. The -- as the President said, there was a private message delivered to Iran, and I need to leave it at that.

Q: Has that been effective?

MR. KIRBY: I'm just going to leave it right there. A message was delivered. And, of course, publicly, we have made clear our -- our concerns about what the Houthis are doing. We've made clear the support that -- that we know they're getting from Iran. And we're going to continue to take actions.

I would remind -- it doesn't get mentioned a lot in the context of the Red Sea attacks -- but this administration alone has issued some 500 sanctions -- or 500 entities have been sanctioned under this administration in just the last three years.

Q: And -- and a quick question on --

MR. KIRBY: Iranian entities.

Q: And a quick question on Iran's foreign minister, who spoke at Davos earlier today. He said , "The security of the Red Sea is tied to the developments in Gaza, and everyone will suffer if Israel's crimes in Gaza do not stop." He basically warned that all fronts will remain active until then. Do you have a response to that?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, let's -- to take it at -- just in a couple of pieces there. If you look at the -- it's 32-some-odd attacks that the Houthis have conducted now -- for the ones that were targeted at ships that were identifiable, because sometimes they launch a barrage and there's multiple ships and you're not really sure what ship is being targeted. But let's just take a look at the majority of the 32 where you can identify the ship that's being targeted. Not a single one was destined for Israel, and they were all destined for other ports with others -- other bits of commerce.

So, the whole argument that this is about the war in Gaza -- I mean, they're just driving a stake through a straw man. There's nothing there.

And as for the, quote, unquote, "resistance continuing," I -- I've said it many times; I'm happy to repeat it: We have national security interests in the region -- significant interests. And we have moved additional military resources, at the President's order, into the region to make sure we can protect those interests.

And we mean what we say. And if you doubt it, take a look at what happened just a few nights ago.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, M.J.

Q: In -- in his statement on the Houthis' designation, Jake Sullivan said that there would be an immediate reevaluation of the designation were they to stop the attacks. Can you just help us understand why that reevaluation would happen immediately? You know, would that sort of risk the potential of them starting up the attacks again if that designation were to be taken away pretty quickly?

MR. KIRBY: The -- the thing about sanctions designations that -- they are a pliable form of economic pressure. You can scale them up. You can scale them down. You can lay them on. You can take them off in a fairly simple way. So, Jake is right.

As I said in my opening statement, if they -- if they choose to stop these attacks, then we certainly have the option at our disposal to remove this designation that we just -- that we just issued.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: (Inaudible.) Thank you so much. I wanted to give you a chance to respond to Speaker Johnson, who said earlier today -- about the meeting on Ukraine, he said , "Before we even talk about Ukraine, I'm going to tell the President what I'm telling you, which is border, border, border." Do you think that's a legitimate position to say that even before you can have conversations about Ukraine, you have to settle the situation with the border?

MR. KIRBY: Today's meeting is about Ukraine. That's what we're going to focus on in this discussion. And, as the Speaker knows quite well, we continue to negotiate in good faith in a bipartisan way with the Senate -- with Republicans and Democrats up there on Capitol Hill -- about the national security supplemental and -- and about -- which obviously includes money for border security.

Q: And the Speaker also said that he has been asking the administration for more details about the spending, what has already been spent in Ukraine and also the endgame in Ukraine. What kind of message can the President deliver to the Speaker? He says that he hasn't gotten the answers that he's looking for in terms of how Ukraine should not become another situation like what we've seen in the Middle East?

MR. KIRBY: He'll get an opportunity to ask all those questions today at the meeting, and I'm sure our national security team would be happy to help give him the context that he says -- he says he's not getting.

I would remind that, since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine in February of '22, we have provided multiple classified and unclassified briefings to members of Congress. And this whole idea of a blank check also is not true. Every single aid package that we provided Ukraine we have done the consultations with Congress. So, there have been and will continue to be a lot of outreach from the administration with members of Congress about Ukraine.

Right now, though, you can't have those consultations because there's no aid going to Ukraine because we don't have the funding. And that's what the meeting about -- today is really all about, stressing the urgent need for that additional funding.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Thank you, Kirby. So, with regard to national security and Ukraine, has the threat level changed since the President last spoke from the Oval Office, spoke to congressional leaders about the urgency for this funding?


Q: I just wonder --

MR. KIRBY: Not at all.

Q: So, what -- what can he say that hasn't already been said to convince them to all get on board and take action?

MR. KIRBY: Well, again, without getting ahead of the President and the conversation that he hasn't had yet, one of the reasons our National Security Advisor and our Deputy National Security Advisor will be in this meeting is to bring members of Congress up to speed on what we're seeing right now on the battlefield and what the Ukrainian forces are facing now as winter is full upon them and the war hasn't stopped and aid hasn't continued to flow from the United States.

I mean, I think we're at -- we're in a bit of a different situation now in that regard than we were when the President gave his speech. Not that the national security implications are not all still valid; they are just as valid, in terms of the threat that Putin face- -- poses to the, quote, unquote, "world order" and to European st- -- stability and security.

But the situation now is different in terms of the -- the stoppage now of assistance going to Ukraine.

Q: And then on the southern border. Could the President use the Insurrection Act to federalize the Texas National Guard?

MR. KIRBY: I am not a legal expert on that. I'll have to take that question and -- and get back to you. I know of no -- just to -- just to make clear, I know of no intention by the President to do that.

Q: Thank you.

Q: John, I understand that the last provision of aid to Ukraine was December 27th. Right now, is Ukraine fighting with 100 percent of its capabilities? Do they have everything that at this moment they require?

MR. KIRBY: Without getting into their operational security and -- and -- and letting the Russians know what they have in their inventory, Peter, we'll -- what I can tell you is that, as I said earlier, there are certain types of munitions, certain types of weapons that they are expending at greater rates than others.

Q: So, you can't communicate --

MR. KIRBY: Given that --

Q: -- that they've run out --

MR. KIRBY: Given the threat --

Q: -- of anything because you don't want to give away --

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to give --

Q: -- disadvantages?

MR. KIRBY: -- away their inventory list. But I'm not going to -- I mean, I'm not going to pull any punches here. They are still going through artillery shells and HIMARS rockets and air defense capabilities at a pretty advanced clip, depending on what they're facing on the battlefield. And so, their inventories are running lower, without question.

Q: Shalanda Young said in -- I think it was December 5th -- in her letter, she said that we are running out of money and out of time . Should this be measured by Americans understanding the urgency as an issue of days, weeks, or months?

MR. KIRBY: It would depend really on the kind of system we're talking about, Peter. I mean, the -- there are -- there are some -- there are some munitions that -- that they have ample stores -- enough to get them into, you know, the next couple -- two, three months.

There are others where they don't have that kind of time. And a lot of that depends on what Russia does and how -- what they have to defend against. One of the key capabilities right now for them is air defense, because the drones and the missiles keep flying from the Russian side, and they're not stopping. So, air defense is definitely one of those critical capabilities.

Q: And then just a quick follow-up on the conversation that started here. Yesterday, we've been asking about the Houthis. Now, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin fortunately is now recovering; he's no longer in the hospital.

He and the President last spoke one-on-one December 6th. The last it was publicly read out, they shared a conversation that took place on December 9th. There have been at least three separate strikes -- the 11th, the 12th, and the 16th -- against the Houthis in that time, a time during which the two haven't spoken.

So, our understanding is they haven't shared a call -- at least dating back to the 9th -- for more than a week. Is that normal that he wouldn't speak to the Defense Secretary --

MR. KIRBY: I think they --

Q: -- with three separate operations in the course of that time?

MR. KIRBY: My dates are messed up, but the -- the -- I know the last time they spoke was Friday -- last Friday.

Q: Was last Friday?

MR. KIRBY: Just this past Friday --

Q: So just a few --

MR. KIRBY: -- whatever that date is.

Q: Whatever days ago that was.


Q: Okay. So more recent than we had --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: -- publicly heard. Fine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Admiral Kirby. On Turkey. The outgoing Turkish ambassador told VOA that he expects to see some positive developments in a month or so with regard to the sale of F-16s to Turkey. So, can you give us an update on this? And once Turkey completes the ratification process for Sweden's NATO membership, can we assume that the road for the F-16s will be cleared?

MR. KIRBY: The President has been pretty consistent: We continue to support the additional sale of F-16s and the modernization of the current F-16 fleet for -- for Turkey. That's a -- that's a consistent policy position that would -- that we've had since coming into office. That hasn't changed.

I don't have an update for you on dates and the calendar items in terms of what that looks like. But -- but our policy with respect to F-16s for Turkey has not changed.

Q: And, if I may, on Ukraine. So, there is -- there is still $4 billion in the PDA and -- for Ukraine. And I was wondering if, given the fact that the negotiations on the border are not moving, is it possible to use that authority now and replenish American stocks later when the Congress approves the supplemental budget?

MR. KIRBY: First of all, I -- I would disagree with the notion that talks are not moving. As I just said, the -- we believe those conversations with the Senate, in a bipartisan way, are making some progress.

And on your -- the -- the real central idea of your question is -- is this punishment authority? And, yes, there's additional funds authorized under PDA, but there's no replenishment authority funds to go with them, to back them up. And that's why we -- we don't have any additional ability to provide security assistance for Ukraine, because there's no replenishment authority built in.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: A couple more. Go ahead, Aurelia.

Q: Thank you so much. On Ukraine, I had a follow-up to Peter's question. Are you saying that the stoppage of U.S. aid already has an impact on the battlefield, in the sense that Ukrainians are refraining from certain moves or are on the -- doing stuff that they would do if they were, you know, assured of -- of continuing assistance?

And maybe another one, more specific. While he's trying to secure additional funding, does the President wish that European countries would do more themselves to support Ukraine? And more specifically, has he asked Germany to supply long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: I'll let Germany speak for what they will or won't provide Ukraine. We are grateful for the support that more than 50 nations continue to provide Ukraine. And each nation gets to decide for itself what that looks like, as appropriate. I mean, these are sovereign decisions. And there has been tremendous international support for Ukraine.

But, look, they're going to look at us, too. They're going to see how the United States reacts here. And I think we can expect that some nations may take cues from the United States. If we just pack it in and can't get the funding and decide, "That's it, we're not going to provide anything more for Ukraine," you can certainly see where there might be other nations who might feel like they want to follow suit here without our leadership. American leadership matters here.

On your first question, I certainly won't speak for Ukrainian military commanders and what they are deciding to expend on the battlefield or not. But you can ex- -- I would -- I certainly wouldn't be surprised if they aren't making battlefield decisions right now that are affected -- those decisions are affected -- or I should say informed by the uncertainty as they look to the West, as they look to the United States for additional support.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thanks a lot, Karine. John, the air campaign by the U.S. has not had a noticeable impact in terms of defer- --deterrence with the Houthi rebels. What makes you think that this terror designation will change that in any way?

MR. KIRBY: It's part of a -- as I said, a suite of -- of -- of tools at our disposal to hold them accountable.

Q: Will --

MR. KIRBY: And -- and I just want to remind: The attacks last week -- the large attacks that we conducted were designed to disrupt and degrade Houthi offensive capabilities. And we believe we did that.

That doesn't mean that we eliminated every single missile they own or every drone they can fly or every radar system that they operate. But we believe it had good effect on degrading their capabilities to conduct attacks.

And as I said at the end of my opening statement, we will take further action if we feel like we need to. They have a choice to make. They continue to have a choice to make. The right choice is to stop these attacks. If they don't, we'll continue to -- to act appropriately.

Q: Do you happen to know if the EU is going to take similar action to designate the Houthi rebels a terrorist organization in the way the U.S. has?

MR. KIRBY: I do not.

Q: No coordination with them on this front?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any prior coordination with the EU specifically on this, and you'll have to talk to EU officials about whether they're willing to take a similar approach.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Going to wrap it up.

Go ahead.

Q: Yeah. When was the last time President Biden spoke on the phone with Netanyahu?

MR. KIRBY: There has not been another call since the last one we read out. I don't have the exact date in front of me. It's been more than 20 days, I think.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead. Last question.

Q: Thanks, John. Over the weekend, the NSC issued a statement in response to a HuffPost report on the administration's post-war plans in Gaza stating that the quotes attributed to U.S. officials in the story were, quote, unquote, "made up." HuffPost has been seeking an apology and a retraction at the insinuation that their reporter made up or fabricated quotes in the story. Can you tell us on what basis did the NSC issue that statement? Why is the NSC suggesting that a reporter made up quotes?

MR. KIRBY: The -- the issue, as I understand it, Sabrina, was related to a document that was purported to exist that was -- in this article, and the -- the quotes from the purported document that were not accurate. And that was the issue. The issue was that the -- whoever was reading out this document was reading things that -- that there's not a record of a document that -- that says those things.

Q: Because the NSC said, "We stand by our original statement," which seemed to just generally imply that the quotes attributed to U.S. officials broadly in the story were made up. Obviously, as I said, HuffPost is seeking an apology and a retraction. Do you have any reaction?

MR. KIRBY: This wasn't an attempt to -- to question the journalism or to cast aspersions on journalistic ethics. This was a reaction to quotes attributed to a document that -- for which we don't -- we don't have -- we don't have a document that says those things. And that's -- and that's why the -- that's why the response was -- was drafted and written the way that it was.

I -- I have read it -- I can see where some people might see that reaction and -- and think we were trying to, again, cast aspersions on journalistic ethics and procedure, and that was not the intent.

Okay? Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Admiral. Appreciate that.

Q: Admiral, any update on the missing SEALs?

Q: Thanks, John.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Zeke, you want to reset us?

Q: Thanks, Karine. On the meeting this afternoon. Can you talk about what the President hopes to accom- -- hopes to accomplish? Is he -- is he trying to get a deal here, walking out of this meeting today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as the Admiral said, the focus on the meeting today is going to be on Ukraine and making sure that Congress -- the congressional members who attend understand that we need to continue the support for Ukraine.

It's -- he's going to particularly underscore that if we abandon Ukraine, there will be -- there will be consequences -- right? -- to Ukraine, to the people of Ukraine, to the people who have been fighting for their democracy for so long. And let's not forget, they're fighting against -- they're fighting against the aggression from Putin.

So, we have to be really clear here. A failure to -- a failure to act will -- certainly means that it will -- it will, you know, not be helpful to our national security. So -- and history has taught us -- history has taught us that if we do not, you know, get involved and -- and we're not -- and stop a dictator, we see what could happen. It could -- it could actually put our national security at risk.

So, that's going to be the focus today. It's going to be on Ukraine and really laying out why it's important to continue that support that we've been providing them.

Q: But if it's going to, you know -- the negotiations right now on immigration are taking place in the Senate. Does the -- you know, the President has the Speaker here. Will he discuss immigration with the Speaker?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I'll say this. The President obviously wel- -- is welcoming congressional members here. He's open to hearing whatever conversations that they want to have, right? And so, it is important, you know, to have these conversations, obviously, in a bipartisan way.

So, that may come up. I certainly don't want to get ahead of those conversation. But the purpose -- the purpose of this meeting is about Ukraine. That is the purpose of this meeting, and that's what the President wants to really lay out and -- the urgency to continue to support Ukraine and why that's needed now and how that affects our own national security.

So, that is the purpose. But, of course, members of Congress are going to come, and they're going to have things that they want to talk to with the President. We certainly welcome that.

Q: But why hasn't the President engaged in negotiations with the House? The White House (inaudible) on -- on border security, on -- on immigration -- this negotiation today was in the Senate, but obviously, you know, the House has a say here, and they are not happy with what's happening on the Senate side of things.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, the House went home in mid-December -- right? -- while -- while the negotiations were occurring and happening in the Senate in a bipartisan way. Obviously, Republicans and Democrats and here at the White House, we were having those conversations, trying to find a bipartisan agreement.

We were -- we were having those conversations, even through -- even through the holiday weekend -- I mean, sorry, the holiday break. And they decided to go home. Literally, they decided to go home.

And so, those conversations are going to continue. This meeting does not stop those conversations from continuing. We think it's headed in the right direction. So, that's important as we're talking about the border security and what we can do to make sure that we're dealing with that issue.

And so, we appreciate Republicans and Democrats in the Senate operating with us in good faith. And we think it's headed in the right direction.

Q: And, finally, do you think that, like -- that criticizing the House for going home improves your odds of getting whatever deals, should there be a deal with Senate, through the House? I mean --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean -- well, part --

Q: -- I'm just curious what strategy is here.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Here's the thing -- and I appreciate the question, and I get the question, but Republicans in the House have been incredibly -- they've gotten in the way. They have gotten in the way when it comes to border security. They have gotten in the way and voted -- and actually voted on pieces of legislation to take away some of the law enforcement, the CBP -- right? -- at the border. That's what they voted on in -- back in May.

So, we want to work with them. But they've been very clear where they stand. So, look, we're going to have -- the President is -- is looking forward to having a conversation with members of Congress, obviously, here with his own national security team, with other members of his team here. They're going to talk at 3:15.

And he wants to really lay out the importance of Ukraine. He is -- he's willing -- always willing to hear out members of Congress on what they want to discuss.

But we've been very clear, the Senate has been -- Republicans in the Senate have wanted to work with us. They're talking through us with -- negotiating, trying to find a bipartisan agreement, and that's the way to move forward.

Go ahead, Weijia.

Q: Thank you, Karine. To follow up on Tolu's question to Kirby --


Q: -- Speaker Johnson has made clear that they're not even going to talk about Ukraine until the border is addressed. And he's made clear that it's H.R.2 or bust. So, how is the President going to navigate that in today's meeting?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He's not the only congress- -- congressperson in the room today. He's not. He's not the only person that's going to be in the room. There will be other congressional members. The President has been really clear: He wants to talk about Ukraine, the urgency of making sure we continue that assistance to Ukraine; what that means not just for the broader world national security but also for us.

And so, Speaker Johnson is not going to be the only person in the room. And so, look -- but obviously, the President is going to bring people together. He wants to hear from -- from folks. And so, he's willing to hear what -- what these congressional members want to talk about. But the purpose of this meeting is to talk about Ukraine.

Q: But what can you get done without Speaker Johnson and --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm not saying we can't --

Q: -- Republican support?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm not -- I'm not saying that. I'm saying he's not -- you're saying if -- if he wants to talk about -- about something else, like border security, how can he -- how can the President manage the conversation. There will be other people in -- in the room.

And I think folks understand that U- -- that there is a national security importance of having this meeting. That's why the President is bringing folks together. And not only that -- let's not forget, they're going to hear, also, from the national security -- his national security team as well.

Q: Some people who won't be in the room are members of the press. And in the past, meetings with congressional leaders have been open. Is there a reason why today's is closed?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we had a similar meeting back in October, as you know. And so, that was an important meeting about national security, the supplemental as well. And so, that occurred.

Look, not all meetings are -- are public or have a -- a press component. The President, as you know, has a long track record in Washington, D.C., of -- of, you know, bringing folks together, getting a bipartisan deal. And so, we want to -- he wants to make sure we get straight to work. He wants to make sure that we have this really important conversation. He wants to get straight to it.

We expect some members of these -- members of -- of Congress to go to the sticks after -- after their meeting. So, you certainly will hear directly from them. And we will have a readout, as well, of the meeting.

So, there will be an opportunity to ask questions of the members. They'll be at the sticks. And then you'll hear directly from us as well.

Q: Thank you, Karine.

Q: To follow up somewhat on Weijia. Also, House Speaker Johnson said today -- I mean, he seemed to throw cold water on the Senate border negotiations when he said, "I don't think now is the time for comprehensive immigration reform because we know how complicated that is. You can't do that quickly."

How will the President receive that message today if Johnson says this is too complicated to do right now?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Making sure that we take care of our border is not too complicated. It's not. It's not. If people come together in good faith, as they've been doing in the Senate, we can get this done. We can get this done.

And let's not forget, the President actually put forth a comprehensive immigration proposal almost three years ago. Very -- almost three years ago. We had three years -- three years to work on something. If that was what the -- Speaker Johnson is concerned about, we had three years to work on it.

And so, look -- and if he -- and if he was really -- really concerned about it, then when these negotiations started before -- before the holiday break, they would have stayed. They would have stayed and -- and actually, you know, tried to be part of the solution.

Look, we want to have a bipartisan agreement. That's what we want. We want a bipartisan agreement because the President understands that's how we're going to fix the problem. That is it.

And -- and so, look, it's continuing. We're going to see what happens in -- with the Senate negotiations. We're going to see what -- where they land. Certainly not going to get ahead of that from here.

But it is important. It is important to get this done. And the President is not going to stop from -- from negotiating with the senators.

Q: And just a quick one. Beyond the congressional leaders, who exactly is going to be in this meeting? How did the White House come up with this list? Why this group?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I can say, as you all know and been mentioning, Speaker Johnson will be there, Leader Schumer, McConnell, and Jeffries, and the chairs and ranking members of the House and the Senate Committees on Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Appropriations, and Intelligence. So, that's incredibly important as we're talking about Ukraine, obviously, and that -- that part of our national security supplemental.

And also from the White House, so you all know, the Chief of Staff, Jeff Zients, will be there; National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan; Counselor Steve Ricchetti; Legislative Affairs Director Shuwanza Goff; Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines; OMB Director Shalanda Young; and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer.

Again, this is going to be about Ukraine. Some of this will be classified -- will have classified content. And so, that is why it's important for all of those folks to be in the room as we're having these conversations.

Q: Thank you. I understand you're saying the meeting is about Ukraine. If and when bo- -- the issue of border security comes up, which we know it will and is -- is expected to, what specific concessions is the President willing to make on the issue of border security?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I'm not going to negotiate from here. I'm not. There's been negotiations happening as it relates to the border security in the Senate for some months now between Republicans and Democrats. We're going to let that process continue. We're going to let that -- that -- that doesn't stop. Those negotiations, those conversations is not going to stop because the President is meeting with congressional members today.

Again, our focus today, the President's focus today is going to be about Ukraine and the importance of continuing to support Ukraine as they fight against tyranny, as they fight against President Putin's aggression. That's going to be the focus.

And I said the President is -- you know, he brings people together. Obviously, is -- is willing to -- to listen to what folks have to say. But that is the purpose -- is Ukraine. And those negotiations on the Hill, on the Senate side, is going to continue.

Q: And a quick one on the Vice President's abortion tour that is expected to start on Monday. She's headed to Wisconsin. She's kickstarting the -- the tour in Wisconsin. Can you share more details on that trip? And where else is she planning to go? What is the White House planning to achieve with this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, more broadly, on Monday is the 51st anniversary of the landmark decision Roe v. Wade. So, both -- both the President and the Vice Pre- -- President is going to be marking that landmark decision, that anniversary.

It's an important anniversary, as the administration works to defend reproductive rights for women across the country, while Republican elected officials pu- -- push extreme abortion bans that deny women the care that they need, force families to travel out of state for healthcare, and threaten healthcare providers with prosecution for providing the care that they are trained to provide.

So, obviously, it's an important day. We're going to -- we're going to mark that 51st anniversary. And you'll hear more from the Vice President's office as to what her kickoff tour is going to look like. So, I'd certainly refer you to her office. And then we will have more on what the President -- how the President is going to mark that day.

Q: Is -- is the President planning to join her at any point during this tour?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't -- I don't have any -- I don't have anything to -- to lay out on any -- of the President joining the Vice President on this particular tour. But what I can say is both the Vice President and the President are going to be marking this day on Monday. We will have more to share on what that will look like.

Go ahead, M.J.

Q: Karine, does the White House believe that Democrats have already made significant concessions on the border? And does it believe that Democrats, you know, have more room for additional concessions?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I want to be really careful. There are negotiations happening. If I speak t- -- from -- from here about it, I don't want to get in the way of what they're trying to make happen, which is come up with a bipartisan agreement to deal with border security.

Look, what the President understands -- and he's been around for some time, right? He's been in Washington for some time. He's been a senator, as you all know. He's been Vice President, as you all know. And he understands that it takes both sides to come together to deal with -- to deal with an issue.

And when you deal with a bipartisan situation, you put a -- put forth an agreement, you know, there are going to be concessions that are going to be made. I don't want to speak to them from here. I'm going to let the negotiators have those conversations. They will decide what works, what kind of deal that they can put forth.

But obviously, a bipartisan agreement -- that means both sides have to give up a little something. That's how bipartisan agreements work, obviously.

Q: And on a separate matter. Yesterday, in response to Governor Hutchinson suspending his presidential campaign, a DNC spokesperson said in a statement, "This news comes as a shock to those of us who could have sworn he had already dropped out."

Seems rather gratuitous, you know, not to mention not serious. I just wonder if the tone of that statement reflects how President Biden views the governor and views his now-suspended campaign?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I appreciate the question. This is something that we definitely want to address.

President Biden has deep respect for Governor Hutchinson and admires the race that he ran. The President knows him to be a man of principle who cares about our country and has a strong record of public service.

This morning, the Chief of Staff here, Jeff Zients, called the governor to convey this and apologized for the statement that did not -- that did not represent the President's views.

So, again, as -- as I just stated, Jeff Zients called the governor to apologize on behalf of the President and it did not -- it did not reflect his views.

Q: So, there was an apology that was conveyed to the governor. Was any action taken? Or was anything communicated to the decision by the DNC to put this statement out?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I can't speak to -- I can't speak to how the communication -- communication with the DNC. Obviously, it is a -- it is a -- the Democratic political arm, so I can't -- I don't want to speak to that. You would have to reach out to the DNC directly.

But what I can say is how the President felt. It did not represent his views. We apologized to the governor. He has -- he respects the governor's public service. And we just wanted to make that very clear.

Go ahead, sir.

Q: Yeah, another question on the border. Why hasn't the Vice President's Root Causes Strategy made a bigger difference in lowering the number of people who have been apprehended at the border?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, the Pres- -- the Vice President's -- what she's been able to do is meet with leaders in the region and talk about how do we -- to your point, the root causes -- how do we deal with what's happening in -- in those said countries and -- and offer up any -- any support that we could -- could offer up.

But, look, it's not just the Vice President here or this President or this administration. When it comes to immigration, it has been a problem that has existed for decades -- for decades. This sa- -- this system has been broken way before this administration stepped in.

So, the President took this very seriously. The first day of his administration, he put forth a po- -- he put forth policy ideas, a legislation in a comprehensive way to deal with this issue.

And so, now, I think what's really important -- and we can't miss this -- right? -- now there is an actual conversation, negotiations happening in the Senate, in Congress in a bipartisan way to figure out how to deal with border security. And I think that is the most important thing here. And we're -- we feel like it's going in the di- -- right direction.

Q: Is that -- is that particular strategy, though -- did it -- was it too narrow? Did it fail to anticipate the poss- --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What strategy?

Q: The -- the Root Causes Strategy. Targeting those --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all. Not at all.

Q: -- three countries --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but the --

Q: -- when we know now that --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait, but hold --

Q: -- the migration is coming --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on. There's -- there's root causes. There's dealing with a broken system, which is why we put forth a -- a immigration -- immigration proposal that deals with policy and funding.

And so, now we're having those conversation in Congress, and I think that's really important. And that's what we're hoping -- we're hoping that we can get to -- to a place where we come into a bipartisan agreement. And that's going to be the focus.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Another question on the border. Can you, sort of, talk about how the President views humanitarian parole for asylum seekers? Does he believe that asylum seekers should be able to stay in this country until their cases are heard?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I -- I want to be -- and I get the question. I just want to be super careful here, because I don't want to get into what's being discussed in Congress. So, I'm going to, you know, not say anything beyond what I have said -- is, like, there's negotiations happening. There's going to be different policy components that are going to come up, obviously. They're going to come up with a -- an agreement here that both Republicans and Democrats agree on on the Senate side. And then we hope that we can really deal with this issue. I just want to be super, super mindful and not get into specifics on policies.

Q: But even on the basic principle of someone seeking asylum, does the President believe they should be able to if they have legitimate concerns?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, obviously. We've been very clear about that. But I just want to be super careful. I don't want to go into a rabbit hole about each policy and what the President supports or believes in because there is a there con- -- there -- there are negotiations happening.

Q: Yeah. And my last question. Just -- Speaker Johnson says that he wants the border to be completed as one of his stipulations in this deal -- or the border wall -- I'm sorry -- the border wall to be completed as one of his stipulations. What's the White House's response to that (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We're having a -- a bipartisan conversation in the Senate about how we deal with border security. Going to leave it there and let the Republicans and Democrats who are actually coming to the table in good faith and have been doing that for months, which we appreciate -- and we think it's headed in the right direction -- we're going to let them have that conversation.

Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Karine. Why are you repeating this false claim that Republicans voted to reduce the number of Border Patrol agents, even though the Washington Post gave the administration three "Pinocchios" for that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we don't believe it's a false claim. Our statements were very direct here.

Last year, House GOP voted -- voted -- and not only did they vote for it, but they touted -- they touted their Limit, Save, Grow Act. That's the act.

Q: But there's no appropriations in that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me --

Q: And they vowed --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: They -- they limit --

Q: -- that it would never affect Border Patrol.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: They -- they -- they voted for and touted it. Right? This is an act. And this would have forced the elimination of 2,000 Border Patrol agents. That's what this act that they touted, that they voted for in the House. So, that was their proposal.

Q: It wasn't their proposal.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And -- and that was what they --

Q: They clearly --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- voted for back in -- in May.

Q: They -- they clearly stated at that time that Border Patrol -- also veterans' benefits and entitlements -- would never be impacted by any of the reductions. The -- and also, the bill never had any appropriations in it.

So, this claim that you guys are rolling out -- you know, it's the White House applying White House math to a bill that never had any appropriations. And moreover, the administra- -- or the members in Congress who, you know, put this together vowed that it wouldn't affect these things.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: If you --

Q: So, the reason I --


Q: -- I ask is because it's just -- you know, to voters, don't you think they know the difference between, you know, what is a truthful statement and what is spin? And is it insulting to them at all to keep saying it when it was -- it's just not true?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) One thing that the President does not do is insult vot- -- insult voters or American people, to be more exact, because I want to be careful about -- about this -- what I can say about this upcoming election.

What I will say is, if you look at the bill -- this act that they touted, that they voted for -- House Republicans -- back in May, they were -- it was very clear that it would have forced -- it would have forced the emil- -- elim- -- elimination of 2,000 Border Patrol agents. That's what that act would have done.

We were very direct about that. We were very clear about that. This is what they touted. This is what they put out there. This is what House Republicans voted for. I mean, that's where they are.

They have gotten in the way. Every time we are trying to deal with the border, House Republicans have gotten in the way.

So, we appreciate the bipartisan conversation that we're having with Republicans -- let's not forget -- with Republicans in the Senate -- that's why it's bipartisan -- and Democrats on dealing with the border -- the border.

House Republicans get in the way. They wanted to literally eliminate 2,000 Border Patrol agents in this particular act that they touted, that they voted for back in May.

Q: So, notwithstanding all of the factchecks on that, if you're saying that, you know, the White House, the President doesn't want to, you know, insult the American people, will the administration, then, amend its separate statement that implied that Texas officials were responsible for the deaths of three migrants, when, in fact, they had nothing to do with it? They had already been dead for an hour by the time Mexico told anyone in the U.S. about it. And the administration admitted as much in their court filing. They -- they acknowledged that in their court filing.

But the statement from the White House implies that Texas was responsible. And a number of outlets were forced to issue corrections and editor's notes because of that White House statement. So, will the White House amend that statement?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let's be sensitive here. Three people died. Three migrants died: two children and a woman. That was devastating -- devastating situation, heartbreaking situation. So, let's be really mindful of what we're talking about here.

Q: Of course.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I want to take a step back and -- and just, as you're talking about our statement -- look, as I -- as I mentioned, a woman and two children died. They drowned near Eagle Pass -- which is, as I said, devastating -- and that Texas officials blocked Border Patrol from access- -- accessing the area. That's what was happening at that time.

Our statement is consistent with DOJ's filing. As the DOJ filing said, there was an ongoing emergency situation that Border Patrol was blocked from accessing. There were other migrants in the -- in the water as well.

Q: That was separate, though. The ongoing emergency situation --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But I'm just saying there was --

Q: -- was separate.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- there was an ongoing --

Q: And the --


Q: The White House statement implied -- it says -- the White House statement says that Texas officials blocked U.S. Border Patrol from attempting to provide emergency assistance.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: To -- there were other -- there were other migrants in the water as well.

Q: Then why wasn't that included in the statement --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: There were other migrants in the water.

Q: -- that that -- that that's what you were referring to?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Our -- our statement is the -- is ver- --very much consistent with DOJ filing. Anything else specific you want to know about that, I would certainly refer you to DOJ.

AIDE: Time for a couple more.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead, Peter.

Q: Three college students -- Palestinian college students -- were shot in Vermont in November. I know you're aware of that.


Q: Nearly two months have passed since that time. They're speaking out publicly now for the first time. Has President Biden or this White House spoken to those individuals or their families in the period since?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: First of all, obviously, we -- we offered up our -- you know, our -- our sympathies and, obviously, were devastated to hear about this. And it's -- glad to hear that they have -- they are recovering.

We don't have any -- any readouts to give you on any conversation that we've had with these three students.

Q: I guess the question would be: The President, obviously, and other members of the White House have spoken with regularity with those who have been held hostage in Gaza. Recognizing the circumstances are very different, nonetheless, the White House does reach out to individuals of all sorts of communities, certainly marginalized communities, in circumstances not too dissimilar from this. So, why wouldn't the White House reach out to these individuals?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It's -- it's a very good question. I just don't have -- it could have happened. I just don't have a readout to share with you at this time.

Q: Even without a readout, can you just confirm to the press corps at some point if it did happen so we can be accurate?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely.

Q: And if it didn't, just let us know.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. Happy to let you know. But I -- it's hard for me to say -- to confirm or not --

Q: Okay.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- if they -- if they read it out --

Q: We'll wait for your confirmation either way.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. Thanks, Peter.

Q: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Appreciate that.

Okay. I think I have one more that I can go to.

Q: Afghanistan, please.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Owen. I haven't called on you in a while. Way in the back.

Q: Karine, good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon.

Q: Is the -- by any chance, is the White House following the trial in Hong Kong of pro-democracy advocate Jimmy Lai?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the U.S. strongly condemns the prosecution of pro-democracy advocate and media owner Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong under the PRC-imposed National Security Law. The U.S. renews our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Jimmy Lai, who has been in prison under Hong Kong's National Security Law.

The United States will continue to closely monitor developments with this and other prosecutions under the National Security Law.

Q: If he's convicted -- many call this a sham trial and, you know, that his conviction will -- is virtually guaranteed from the outset. And he's still got weeks to go in this trial. But if he's -- if he's convicted -- I know you're -- I know you don't have a crystal ball, but what will the President do in that likelihood?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't want to get into hypotheticals from here. We just condemned -- I just very forcefully, strongly condemned the prosecution of -- of Jimmy Lai. And so, we're going to continue to do that. And obviously, we're going to monitor the situation closely.

I just don't want to get it -- ahead and getting into hypotheticals or -- or how this is going to turn out. But obviously, we strongly condemn.

Go ahead, Ed.

Q: Thanks, Karine. I want to ask you about --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This is the last one.

Q: -- ships being redirected around the Red Sea. Freightos tracked shipping costs and found that the ships going to Europe -- the weekly cost for containers going to Europe are up 386 percent from a yea- -- last October; costs going to North America are up 99 percent. So, when does the White House feel like this could start putting pressure on prices and pass on to the consumer?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, obviously, our national security team here and our economic teams are -- are closely monitoring the -- the evolving situation in the Red Sea. It's something that we're keeping a close -- close eye on.

But what we've seen so far is that the impact of the ongoing conflict has had limited impact on the U.S. supply chains and energy prices. Diversions of vessels from the Suez Canal and to the Cape -- Cape of -- Cape of Good Hope has not had major impact on availability of products in the U.S. or capacity at the West Coast ports.

Again, our teams are going to closely monitor this. This is our national security team and also economic team. We're going to monitor this, but we haven't seen an impact at this time.

Q: And one last one. Last Friday, the President was at a coffee shop in Pennsylvania, and he seemed to be surprised that the smoothie was $6 and how expensive it was. I'm curious, is -- so, is the President now realizing the costs that Americans are bearing?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, when he went over to you all to -- to -- to the -- to the press corps, he was having a good time, right? Offered up to -- as you know, offered up to -- to buy them coffee. There was a big group there, and he made sure everyone got coffee and pastries. So, I just want to make that really clear.

Q: But his comment was $6, and "I'll -- I'll do it anyway."

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, I hear you, and that -- let's not forget what the trip was about. The trip was about small businesses, right? There have been 6 -- 16 million small businesses that have tried -- that have started and filled out for applications. That's a big deal. That is really important.

What that means is that they have the confidence -- small businesses, folks who are starting them, have the confidence in the economy to start a business. And that is -- I think that's also really important too.

And the President was able to do this or -- we've seen Americans able to start -- file for applications to start small businesses because of the American Rescue Plan. By the way, no Republican voted for that. And so, it's gotten the -- it's gotten the economy back on its feet and also given the confidence for small-business owners to start -- right? -- for people to start a small business. Sixteen million applications that we have seen.

And so, I think that's important. And look, you know, Republicans don't want to do that, right? They don't -- they're -- they're not interested in that at all. They're not interested in fighting Big Pharma. They're not interested in making sure that we're lowering -- lowering healthcare costs for the Americans.

They're not interested in that. That's why they didn't vote for the Inflation Reduction Act. That's why they didn't vote for the American Rescue Plan. And so, that was the -- that was the -- the point and the important part of the President going there to -- to Allentown. And I think it was a good trip. And you all saw that.

Q: But he still seemed surprised that the cost was so expensive.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He was joking around. He was certainly joking around with the press corps. He -- you -- you know that. He offered to buy coffee -- that's what he did -- and pastries.

But I think the most important thing about that trip is that he was able to visit a small business. He was able to talk about how this administration, because of Bidenomics, because of the economic policies that we put forward -- that we are seeing now a historic number of small-business applications. And I think that's important. They have the confidence now -- they have the confidence now to start their small business.

Thanks, everybody. We'll see you out on the road in North Carolina tomorrow. Thanks, everybody.

Q: Thanks, Karine.

Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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