Joe Biden

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

January 19, 2024

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:47 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Chatty Friday. We were just saying everybody is chatty out here.

Oh my gosh, the first row.

Q: Yes!

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let's give it up -- (applause) --

Q: Almost the second --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- give it up to the ladies. (Applause.)

Q: And no heels!

Q: Yes, we're all wearing snow boots.

Q: Should I move to the third row? It seems like --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Joe Joe, you have failed us in the second row. You have failed us in the second row. (Laughter.)

Q: Almost.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Almost. Almost.

All right. With that, good afternoon. Happy Friday. Thank you for those who were able to show up in this winter -- wonderful winter storm in D.C. I have a couple of things at the top.

So, today we got more evidence that President Biden's economic plan is delivering results that more and more Americans are feeling. Consumer sentiments increased 13 percent this month, rising to the -- its highest level in more than two years.

In the last two months, sentiments has surged by 29 percent -- the biggest two-month jump in more than 30 years. It's clear Americans are starting to feel President Biden's strong economy. Wages have risen faster than inflation for 10 months in a row. The unemployment rate has remained below 4 percent for the longest stretch in 50 years. Inflation has fallen by about two thirds. We have more work to do, obviously, but we are on the right path.

President Biden's agenda is a sharp contrast with congressional Republicans' plans to cut taxes for the wealthy and big corporations while raising healthcare and prescription drug costs for hardworking American families.

And a few moments ago -- I saw some of you have already been reporting this -- the President signed the continuing resolution passed by bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate that prevents a needless shutdown, maintains current funding levels, and includes no extreme policies.

Instead of wasting more time on partisan appropriation bills that violate the budget agreement two thirds of them voted for last spring, House Republicans must finally do their jobs and work across the aisle to pass full-year funding bills that deliver for the American people and address urgent domestic and national security priorities by passing the President's supplemental request.

Today, more good news, President Biden announced his administration is canceling debt for another 74,000 student borrowers across the country. With today's actions, the Biden-Harris administration has now canceled debts for 3.6 million Americans. And that's a big deal, as some will say around here -- a big deal.

The -- those receiving relief as a part of today's announcement include teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others who earn forgiveness after 10 years of public service.

It also includes people who have been in repayment for 20 years but never got the relief that they earned. And in practical terms, it means that today, thanks to President Biden and this administration, millions of American families have a bit more breathing room to start a business, save their -- save for their kid's college, or buy their first home.

From day one of the -- of this administration, the President vowed to improve the student loan system so that obtaining higher education provides Americans with opportunity and prosperity, not unmagi- -- unimaginable burdens of student loan debt.

The President will continue using every tool at his disposal to get student loan borrowers the relief they need to reach their dreams.

Turning to this -- this afternoon, the President's -- obviously, his schedule this afternoon. The President knows that mayors get things done, and he is looking forward to welcoming bipartisan mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting to the White House later today.

The President will highlight the ongoing partnership between federal and local governments to ensure communities across the country realize the full potential of Investing in America agenda.

The President will highlight the most significant investment in our nation's infrastructure in generations, the biggest investment in fighting climate change, progress preventing [and] reducing crime, our work to end homelessness, and much more.

With that we have the -- the Admiral here, John Kirby, who's here to discuss the Middle East.

Admiral, the podium is yours.

MR. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

President Biden had a chance to speak this morning with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The President and the Prime Minister discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages that are being held by Hamas.

The two leaders also reviewed the situation in Gaza and the shift to targeted operations that will enable the flow of increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance while keeping the military pressure on Hamas and its leaders significant.

The President welcomed the decision from the government of Israel to permit the shipment of flour for the Palestinian people directly through Ashdod port while our teams are separately working on options for more direct maritime delivery of assistance into Gaza.

The President also discussed recent progress in ensuring the Palestinian Authority's revenues are available to pay salaries, including for the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.

The President also discussed Israel's responsibility, even as it maintains military pressure on Hamas and its leaders, to reduce civilian harm and to protect the innocents.

The President also discussed his vision for a more durable peace and security for Israel, fully integrated within the region, and a two-state solution with Israel's security guaranteed.

Now -- and we'll have a formal readout of the call here shortly if it's not out already.

Just one last thing. This morning, U.S. forces conducted three successful self-defense strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. This is the fourth preemptive action that the U.S. military has taken in the past week against Houthi missile launchers that were ready to launch attacks -- in this case, anti-ship missiles.

CENTCOM -- Central Command -- will have a more -- more details on this a little bit later, but, as you know, there are U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea as well as international shipping.

These actions were, I want to stress again, done in self-defense, but it also helps make safer international waters for both naval vessels as well as mar- -- merchant -- merchant shipping.

Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Colleen.

Q: John, so the call with Bibi and the President today was the first since Christmas.

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about why the delay, especially because they were talking so frequently over the fall?

And then, also, on Bibi. Does the President think a two-state solution is possible with Bibi in office, given what he's said about it?

MR. KIRBY: On the modalities of the call and the frequencies, as I've said before, they will talk as appropriate. This was deemed by both leaders as the -- as the -- the best opportunity for yet another call, Colleen, and I have no doubt that there will be additional calls going forward, clearly.

The President still believes in the promise and the possibility of a two-state solution. He recognizes that's going to take a lot of hard work. It's going to take a lot of leadership there in the region, particularly, on both sides of the issue.

And the United States stands firmly committed to -- to eventually seeing that outcome. Right now -- and we're -- obviously, we're talking to them actively about post-conflict Gaza and what governance there needs to look like and the importance of an independent Palestinian state for long-term security, not just for the Palestinian people but for the Israeli people as well.

Currently, of course, we're rightly focused, as I said in the opening statement, on making sure Israel has what it -- continues to has -- have what it needs to defend itself.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Weijia.

Q: Thanks, Karine. And thanks, John. So, you continue to reiterate the administration's policy that you support a two-state solution. Senator Elizabeth Warren says that if "Netanyahu opposes that, then we need to question why we are supporting the Netanyahu government." So, why is the U.S. supporting a government that opposes U.S. policy?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not sure what the context means of supporting the government, but let's just take it -- I'm going to assume it's meant in the context of this war they're fighting. It is certainly supporting the Is- -- we're certainly supporting the Israeli governments to defend themselves.

But it's really bigger than that, Weijia. It's about supporting the Israeli people's right to exist, right to be a nation. I mean, again, you don't have to look any further than the 2017 manifesto of Hamas to see what their ultimate plans are. They want to wipe the country off the face of the -- off the map.

So, we're defending Israel's right to defend itself. The Israeli people get to decide who represents them, who their elected officials are. We don't decide that. And we will always work with whoever the Israeli people decide to put in -- into power and government. We'll always work with them, regardless of the differences, maybe, on political issues.

They chose this government. This is the government that is in charge of conducting warfare against Hamas. We're going to make sure that they have what they need, in addition to making sure, as I said in the opening statement, that we're doing everything we can to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Gaza.

Q: Warren is not alone in expressing these concerns. Is the President worried that, given what Netanyahu has said about opposing a Palestinian state, it could complicate the efforts to pass the supplemental?

MR. KIRBY: The President is under -- two things -- under no illusions of how elusive a two-state solution has been and how much hard work there's going to be ahead for all of us to try to get there.

On the -- on the supplemental -- again, I don't want to negotiate here in public -- we believe that we're making progress here in terms of working in a bipartisan way with the -- with senators. And we'll see where this goes.

But -- but the President comes away from the meeting with congressional leaders the other day -- largely, that was a meeting about Ukraine --

Q: Right.

MR. KIRBY: -- and bipartisan support on Ukraine, but that they understand the -- the urgency of -- of supporting Israel as well.

Q: Thanks, John.

Q: Thanks. Thanks, John. You've said that -- or you said yesterday that the U.S. is taking away capabilities from the Houthis with each and every one of these strikes and making it harder for them to continue to propagate these attacks. Can you quantify that progress, describe that?

MR. KIRBY: I would leave it to the Pentagon to go through their battle damage assessment. After every strike, they'll -- they'll do an assessment on how successful it was. They believe that they have had good effects on degrading some of these Houthi capabilities.

But clearly -- and the President alluded to this yesterday -- they still have some offensive capability. And we're going to keep taking the actions we believe we need to take to defend ourselves. But I -- I couldn't give you a percentage. That's really a better question for U.S. Central Command or for DOD to speak to.

Q: And you also said yesterday, the U.S. has additional options available to take on the Houthis. What is the administration waiting for to use those other options? Is there some red line or something that would happen?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think it'd be fair to say we're waiting on anything. I mean, we've been -- we've been taking shots as needed, including this morning.

Well, you know, three anti-ship cruise missiles were sitting on the rails ready to go, and we knocked them out before they had a chance to launch them. And we also designated the Houthis as a specially designated global terrorist. That allows us some additional economic levers that we didn't have available to us before. And we'll keep reviewing our options going forward.

Again, I'll say it that -- that the Houthis need to stop these attacks. They can make that choice. Clearly, they've made opposite choices. So, we have choices to make too, and we have options available to us as well. We'll continue to explore those options.

Clearly, one of the options that we are and will continue to take are in the military realm, if needed.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Andrea.

Q: John, just on the North Korean underwater nuclear weapons systems test yesterday. Do you have any information on that? What's your response to that? And --

MR. KIRBY: I don't have a lot of specific information. I -- we're not in a position where we can validate those claims. We're in touch, obviously, with our South Korean partners to see whatever information and context they might have about that. So, I can't -- I can't verify the claims by the North that they've -- that they've actually tested such a weapon.

It is -- it does, though, underscore the continued provo- -- provocations by Kim Jong Un and his regime in Pyongyang. The continued pursuit -- again, whether this is true or not, there's little doubt that they continue to pursue advanced military capabilities to threaten their neighbors and to threaten the region.

And that is why President Biden has taken significant steps to shore up our alliances in the region. You saw in Camp David a historic agreement between Japan and South Korea to improve trilateral cooperation; a new nuclear consultative group session with South Korea that was announced when President Yoon was here; as well as the addition of U.S. military -- particularly intelligence capabilities on and around the Peninsula so that we can get better information about what Kim Jong Un is up to.

But we haven't taken our eye off this one bit.

Q: Okay. And then on -- I'm sorry, just on Gaza and -- and that conflict. We've spoken before about your concerns about the conflict spreading. Now we have reports that a Palestinian American teenager was killed today in the West Bank. Can you confirm that? And was that something that President Biden discussed with Netanyahu during the call?

MR. KIRBY: We're seriously concerned about these reports. The information is scant at this time. We don't have perfect context about exactly what happened here. Seriously concerned about it. And we're going to be in constant touch with counterparts in the region to -- to get more information.

But it's -- it's definitely deeply concerning. But afraid -- I'm afraid I don't have more information to that right now.

Q: Did the President bring it up?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't believe that it was a subject of the call.

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

Q: Just back to the issue of the two-state solution. What would you say is the President's hope and expectation here? Is it that the Prime Minister's stance on this will eventually shift?

MR. KIRBY: The -- the hope is that when there's a -- when this conflict is over that we can work in a collaborative way with the Israeli government on -- and counterparts in the region on good governance in Gaza -- good governance that the President hopes can lead to -- (a reporter sneezes) -- a viable two-state solution.

Bless you.

And, again, he's not -- he's not Pollyannaish about this. He understands how hard it is. This is something he's been pushing for for a long, long time. He knows it's going to take dedicated leadership on all sides here to bring it about. And -- and that means constant engagement by his administration and -- and the national security team. So -- so, we're going to -- we're going to keep at that work.

Q: I guess I'm just wondering: If the two leaders are completely at odds on something as fundamental as the creation of a Palestinian state, do you know if the President has reason to believe that, at some point, the Prime Minister's view on this will change? Publicly, he has been very clear about where he stands on this.

MR. KIRBY: You mean the President has been very clear, publicly, where he stands on this?

Q: The Prime Minister has been very clear on the fact that he rejects the idea of a Palestinian state. The President also has been clear that he wants a two-state solution.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, this is just -- this -- we -- we're not going to agree on everything. We've said that. And good friends and allies can have those kinds of candid, forthright discussions, and we do. It's not going to change the President's view that the best long-term solution for regional security, particularly the security of the Israeli people, is a free and independent Palestinian state that they can live in -- in peace and security with -- and this is an important caveat -- with Israel's security also guaranteed. He still believes in that, and we're going to continue to talk to our Israeli counterparts.

This isn't about, you know, trying to twist -- twist somebody's arm or -- or force a change in their thinking. The President -- sorry, Prime Minister Netanyahu has -- has made clear his concerns about that. President Biden has made clear his strong conviction that a two-state solution is still the right path ahead. And we're going to continue to make that case.

Q: So -- so, what is the overlap there? I guess, you know, when the two leaders are having conversation, like their phone call today, what is it that the Prime Minister is saying to the President to indicate that that gap can be bridged?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get into the Prime Minister's side of the conversation. I think that's better for his staff that -- to speak to. All I can tell you is that the President reiterated his strong conviction in the viability of a two-state solution -- understanding, of course, that we're not going to get there tomorrow, that there's an active conflict going on, and that we want to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself.

But as we're talking about post-conflict Gaza -- and we have been now for many, many weeks -- you can't do that without also talking about the aspirations of the Palestinian people and what that needs to look like for them. So, we're going to continue to have those conversations.

Q: John, were the Prime Minister's comments yesterday a factor in why this call took place today? Was that something that the U.S. decided they wanted the President to speak with him today about that?

MR. KIRBY: No, this was a call that we've been actually trying to land on the schedule for quite a bit of time here. So, this was not -- you shouldn't read into the fact that the call happened today as -- as some sort of response to the Prime Minister's discussions or comments yesterday.

Q: And did they talk specifically about those comments yesterday? Or it was a more general reiteration of the President's support for a two-state solution?

MR. KIRBY: Again, without getting more beyond the readout, I would just say that there was -- certainly, on the agenda for both leaders was to talk about post-conflict Gaza, governance in Gaza, and, of course, a two-state solution.

Q: And can you just tell me a bit more about what the President meant yesterday when he was asked by my colleague whether the strikes in Yemen are stopping the Houthis and the President said, "No"?

MR. KIRBY: I think, you know, if you just look at what happened yesterday, it's pretty self-evident. They continue to have offensive capability and they continue to be willing to use it. We also have plenty of defensive capability available to us, and we continue to use it as well.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Did the President address Netanyahu's use of the phrase "from the river to the sea" in their conversation today? I know the White House has previously said that phrase is divisive, so --

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware that that specific phrase was discussed.

Q: Well, do you condemn him using that phrase?

MR. KIRBY: Look, there's a -- there's a connotation with that phrase. We've talked about this before. But when -- you know, when you use the phrase "river to the sea," it -- it speaks basically to the mantra of Hamas and in their manifesto, where they basically describe the geographic bounds of what they believe to be Palestine. And if you look at it on the map, if you go look at the -- the four corners that they describe it, it's basically the State of Israel. They just don't believe it should exist.

So, again, it's -- it's not a phrase that -- that we recommend using, given because of that context.

Q: But this wasn't Hamas. This was Netanyahu.

MR. KIRBY: I understand. I -- I don't have anything more on that. And I certainly don't have anything more on the conversation to read out with respect to that.

Q: You had talked about the hard work it will take to, kind of, come to an agreement of sorts on a two-state solution. Can you outline what that kind of work and conversation would look like? Does this mean more calls between Biden and Bibi? How -- how does he expect to --

MR. KIRBY: I think there's certainly going to be more calls between the two leaders. And there'll be more conversations between our two teams. I mean, Secretary of State Blinken has been there -- what? -- four or five times since the 7th of October, and I have every expectation --

Q: Does the President --

MR. KIRBY: -- he'll be back again as well. And we're -- we're going to continue to have discussions with the team across a range of issues.

I understand that the two-state solution is the issue today because of the comments in the press here. But every discussion we're having in the region has -- has a component of it about post-conflict Gaza and governance and what that looks like and, yes, of course, our continued interest in a two-state solution. But it also has to do with humanitarian assistance, with getting the hostages released, and making sure that Israel has the weapons and capabilities that it -- that it needs to -- to defend itself.

And I'll just end with this. I mean, prior to the 7th of October, as you all know, we were working closely with Israel and Saudi Arabia on a potential normalization deal -- a normalization deal that the President believes Hamas was also aware of. And it certainly could have been a contributing factor to the violence that they visited on the Israeli people on the 7th.

(Reporter sneezes.)

MR. KIRBY: Bless you.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I lost my train of thought. (Laughter.)

But the -- the point is we're -- we're still having discussions with counterparts about that normalization. And we've gotten some positive feedback, even from Saudi Arabia, about what that could look like going forward.

As a part of that normalization, should -- should we be able to get there -- and we were making progress before the 7th -- obviously, there would be a component in there for the Palestinians. There have -- there would have to be. And we're not giving up on that.

And if you're able to get to that normalization, that could be a significant milestone in overcoming some of the challenges of a two-state solution.

Q: Did the President in his call today with Netanyahu express any concern about Netanyahu continuing to say that he doesn't stand for a two-state solution?

MR. KIRBY: I think I'll just leave my description of the call the way it was, and you -- again, you'll see a readout here coming from us on -- on paper.

But, yes, they talked about -- they -- they talked -- in general talked about the possibilities of a two-state solution. And the President reaffirmed and reiterated his strong belief in that possibility.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Aurelia.

Q: Thank you so much. You mentioned progress on the front of the tax revenue issue in the West Bank. Does that mean the Israeli Prime Minister has committed to release his tax revenue?

MR. KIRBY: There was -- there was discussions in their -- in their Cabinet about that. And that was what I was referencing there was ongoing discussions within the Cabinet about the revenue and -- and using it appropriately.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Karine. John, earlier this week, you talked about the 500 entities -- about Iran -- 500 entities that have been sanctioned by the administration last year. Have you seen any impact of these sanctions -- any type of impact it has had on Iran's behavior?

MR. KIRBY: Five hundred entities since the beginning of the administration, not last year. Some 50 sanctions regimes, about 500 entities.

We know they've had an impact on Iran's economy, which -- which struggles. But look, we also know that there's other ways that you have to push back on Iran's destabilizing behaviors, including bolstering and strengthening our -- our military capabilities in the region, as well as working with partners. I mean, we've now got a coalition of 20-some-odd countries -- ships and aircraft and other capabilities -- trying to protect Red Sea shipping.

So, there's been a lot of effort here to -- to -- to hold Iran accountable for their destabilizing activities.

Q: And if you allow me, John, a colleague has asked me to ask you: Yesterday, Mexico and Chile, requested the International Criminal Court to investigate potential crimes against civilians in Gaza and the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel. Any reaction on this --

MR. KIRBY: We're aware of those -- of that report and the potential referral to the ICC. I don't have a comment for you on it at this time. We're still gathering more information about what this -- what this would entail.

But I want to say again that we don't have any indications that there's deliberate -- deliberate efforts to commit war crimes by the Israeli Defense Forces.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: John, yesterday, Jake Sullivan met with the family members of hostages being held by Hamas. I'm wondering if you can give us any -- any readout? Were -- was he able to provide any updates to the families? What -- what message did he have -- have for them during that time?

MR. KIRBY: The main message was that we're still working out this. And as I said in -- in the readout of the call, that was right at the top of the list for the President to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu about efforts to get another hostage deal going.

And I just -- I want to protect the private nature of the conversation. But -- but Jake also made sure that they were aware that those efforts are ongoing, and that they're serious. The discussions we're having are sober and serious about potentially getting another hostage deal in place.

I'm not suggesting and you shouldn't take away from this that we'll have something to announce imminently or that we're over the finish line. I don't mean to suggest that at all. There's a lot of hard work still ahead.

But we haven't given up on the effort. And the efforts are being taken very seriously by the national security team. And, you know, Brett McGurk was just in Doha last week, and that was a big reason why he was there.

So, that was -- Jake wanted to bring them together, A, to make sure they knew, you know, we still kept -- that we kept that connective tissue with them, that we still obviously care about their loved ones and getting them home, that they're a priority for President Biden, and updated them in general terms about the discussions that we've been having in the region.

Q: Was he able to give any kind of update about the condition or what was known about the condition of any of the hostages? Is -- do we have new information or any information about how the hostages are doing at this point?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any information to share with you about what we know about the -- the individual hostages. I will say, as I've said before: Regrettably, we just don't have a lot of tactile information about where they are or what specific condition they're being held.

And as I think you can imagine, it is very likely that they're being moved around quite a bit. So, it's hard to get real fingertip feel on exactly how they are. But we have to assume they're being held in just the utmost deplorable of conditions.

Q: On the supplemental, just given the latest developments, I mean, how is the President thinking of this idea of conditioning aid to Israel? Is this being pushed by some of his allies? Is that something he supports?

MR. KIRBY: We believe that the approach that we're taking right now has had results. And we're going to continue that approach, which is, obviously, making sure that Israel has the capabilities it needs, and that continues. But also urging them at every turn to be more precise, more targeted, more deliberate with respect to civilian harm; urging an increase in humanitarian aid and assistance; and of course, trying to get another humanitarian pause in place so we can do a hostage deal.

I would tell you, as I've said before, that this approach that we've taken of at once supporting Israel and their military capabilities, but also providing advice, counsel, lessons learned from our own experiences in this kind of fighting has had results. They have changed the way they have conducted operations.

In fact, they have already started a transition to lower-intensity operations, again, largely at our urging. They opened up Kerem Shalom, a second gate of humanitarian assistance, largely at our urging.

So, the President's continued discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu and at lower levels across our team has had results.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Patsy.

Q: Thank you, Karine. John, am I correct to understand that the President believes there is wiggle room in the Prime Minister's position in opposing Palestinian statehood? And what is the President prepared to offer beyond pushing for a Saudi-Israel normalization deal to convince the Prime Minister to accept the two-state solution?

MR. KIRBY: The Prime Minister should speak to his own headspace when it comes to that. And of course, he's talked poli- -- publicly about -- about a two-state solution.

All I can do is say what I've said before: The President still believes in the promise and possibility of that. He believes it's going to take hard work and leadership. He's willing to put his shoulder to the wheel for that eventual outcome.

At the same time, we've got to make sure that they have what they need to defend themselves, and we get humanitarian assistance in.

And, I'm sorry, your second question was --

Q: Yeah. I mean, what is he prepared to offer, whether it's a carrot or a stick in terms of trying to persuade the Prime Minister to go in line with U.S. policy?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm certainly not going to goti- --negotiate here from the podium about a two-state solution. It is something that is -- remains his policy, his desire to see it. We're going to continue to push for that.

Q: Okay. And Jordan says that Israel targeted their field hospital in Khan Younis today, injuring one patient and a staff. Can you confirm this?

MR. KIRBY: I cannot.

Q: And one more. Does the administration believe that the Houthis will stop their attacks if there is a ceasefire in Gaza? And does that play a factor into the calculus on --

MR. KIRBY: I think you got to take anything the Houthis say with a big grain of salt. We're not -- we're not taking what they say to the bank.

And this idea that this is somehow about Gaza just doesn't square with the facts. I mean, most of the ships that they're going after have nothing to do with Israel. So, we're not taking anything at face value.

They need to stop these attacks. We've got capabilities available to us to use it if we have to.

Q: Just to -- just to clarify: What's happening in the Red Sea, the attacks from the Houthis, does not play a factor into the calculus of whether or not you're pushing Israel for a ceasefire?

MR. KIRBY: No.

Q: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Brian.

Q: Thanks a lot. Thanks, John. On Ecuador. Is the U.S. and -- and the President considering ramping up its military assistance to Ecuador as it confronts these violent drug gangs?

MR. KIRBY: I'm aware of no such plans to do that.

Q: There was -- the U.S. had an inaugural working group on defense issues with Ecuador last year. Is the President wanting to ramp up that cooperation?

MR. KIRBY: I'm aware of no such plans.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, in the back.

Q: All right. Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John. Two questions. First, does the President plan similar calls, as he had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President El-Sisi of Egypt and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia?

MR. KIRBY: I have little doubt that there'll be additional conversations with both those leaders, as well as I'm -- I'm going to -- I suppose, King Abdullah of Jordan as well. But I don't have anything on the schedule to speak to today.

Q: All right. The other question is that when -- before he was inaugurated, President Arévalo of Guatemala came to the U.S. and met with Jake Sullivan and others in the National Security Council. I believe he had a call from the President before he was sworn in.

Is the administration discussing an apology for the 1954 coup in Guatemala come this June on its 60th anniversary?

MR. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. A couple more in the back. Go ahead, Jared.

Q: Thank you. So, on this call between the President and the Prime Minister, how much of it was focused on getting a better handle of, kind of, the timeline of these Israeli operations; the transition, I guess, to the less intense operations? And more broadly, is the President, is the administration satisfied with the progress that they're seeing Israel making reaching its objectives in the war?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have a time hack for, like, you know, how long they talked about each topic. I went through quite a list of topics. That call was about 30 to 40 minutes long. It's -- and where they discussed all these things.

Clearly, the President was interested in the Prime Minister's assessment of how things are going on the battlefield. And as I said earlier -- and they've acknowledged -- that they have, in fact, begun a transition to lower-intensity operations, which means less troops -- they pulled out a whole division from -- from the North; a slackening reliance on airstrikes.

But again, you know, it's really for the IDF to describe what those look like and -- and the progress that they're making.

And clearly, yes, the President was interested in Prime Minister Netanyahu's assessment of progress they're making. I won't divulge that. That's really for the IDF to speak to. But they have in general, in their press conferences, talked about the pressure that they've been putting on leaders of Hamas and the numbers of leaders that they've been able to take off the battlefield, and the resources and, quite frankly, underground architecture that they've been able to take away and degrade.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Oh, okay. John, thanks. Thanks, Karine. When it comes to Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments, is there concern that his public comments about a two-state solution could negatively impact the discussions on a hostage release?

MR. KIRBY: The short answer, I think, to that is no.

Look, obviously, each of these two leaders have stated publicly a different view on the promise of a two-state solution. It's not going to change President Biden's mind one bit. He still believes in it.

They also still both believe in the importance of getting these hostages home to their families. And that's why we're continuing to work at this. And as I said earlier to a previous question, that work is serious and it's sober and it's ongoing. And -- and we are represented at that table in the region, trying to get those hostages released.

And -- and I -- again, I don't want to -- I'm not going to put odds one way or another, except to say that -- that there's a lot of people in the region, including our Israeli counterparts, that are -- that are working on this.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, I'm trying get as many people as we can. Go ahead, Janne.

Q: Thank you. Thank you, Karine. And thank you, John. I have two questions on Russia and South Korea and North Korea. The Russian ambassador to South Korea said in an interview with the South Korean media that he was ready to improve relationship with South Korea and deny the North Korea and Russia arms deals. As you know, the North Korea and Russia's foreign ministers and President Putin have met in Russia this week. What is your interpretation of this? And a follow-up.

MR. KIRBY: We've talked at length about the burgeoning relationship between North Korea and Russia. I stood up here and showed you a graphic and a slide of the -- the belief we have and the desire by the Russians to purchase ballistic missiles from North Korea -- has happened; have been used in Ukraine -- as well as artillery ammunition.

So, the -- this burgeoning relationship between the two countries is certainly worrisome. It's worrisome for the people of Ukraine and our interests there as well, as well as it is for -- for the Peninsula.

Q: Quick follow-up. Kim Jong Un said that South Korea was a "hostile" country. He then --

MR. KIRBY: It's not.

Q: He then threatened to devastate South Korea and United States and Japan with nuclear weapons. Do you think these threats from Kim Jong Un are just the words, or do you think that there will be a real war?

MR. KIRBY: You have to take rhetoric like that seriously from a man in charge of a regime that continues to pursue advanced military capabilities, including nuclear capabilities. That's why -- and I won't go through the list of all the things that -- as I already said to a previous question -- that we're doing to try to address that threat. You have to take that seriously.

Kim Jong Un ought to focus more on feeding his people than on buying and purchasing advanced military capabilities.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Just a couple more. Go ahead. And then we have to start wrapping it up. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Yes, thanks, John. Do you -- John, do you still oppose a general ceasefire?

MR. KIRBY: Do we still oppose a general ceasefire? Yes.

Q: Why?

MR. KIRBY: For the same reason that we have in the past: We don't believe a ceasefire is going to be to the benefit of anybody but Hamas. We do support humanitarian pauses, as I said, to try to get hostages out and more aid in. But we don't support a ceasefire at this time.

I think it's important to remember that there was a ceasefire in place on the 6th of October, and Hamas, Mr. Sinwar -- Mr. Sinwar chose to break that ceasefire. He's the one that chose -- chose this war. There was a ceasefire, which we obviously were in supportive of, and Hamas chose to break it.

Q: And this -- is the current situation beneficial to Israel, speaking strategically here? The current situa- -- is the current situation beneficial to Israel?

MR. KIRBY: The current situation. What do you mean by "the current situation"?

Q: The ongoing conflict.

MR. KIRBY: The Israeli people have every right to expect that their military and that their government is going to act in their safety and security. And I guarantee you that if -- if this was any other country, including this one, we wouldn't stand for that kind of threat to live next door to us like that -- a threat that truly has existential ambitions.

They want to wipe Israel off the face of the map. So, the Israeli people have a right to expect that their government is going to try to protect them from that threat, which we still believe -- and certainly was verified in the call today -- that is a -- still a viable threat to the Israeli government, to the Israeli people.

Q: One more question on the Houthis. How long do you -- do you believe you can maintain that current course? I mean, striking them and then they strike back. You said you have other options. At what point you can use another option?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the President or his decision-making. We have plenty of military capability available to us.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. We're going to wra- --

MR. KIRBY: We'd like these -- just one -- I'm sorry.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm so- -- no, I'm so sorry.

MR. KIRBY: No, it's my fault.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm so sorry.

MR. KIRBY: I just got -- my throat caught, and I -- I got caught on my word.

We want -- we obviously are not seeking a conflict with the Houthis or a war in Yemen. The -- the best outcome would be for these reckless attacks by the Houthis to stop today.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right --

MR. KIRBY: But we have the capability we need.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sorry. Sorry.

MR. KIRBY: Sorry, sorry. Sorry, I did it again.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Last two. Go ahead. And then we'll end with you.

Q: Thanks, Karine. John, President Biden admitted yesterday that the retaliatory strikes against the Houthis aren't working. Why aren't they afraid of the U.S.?

MR. KIRBY: Well, you'd have to ask the Houthis what's in their mindset. I'm not going to get in between the ears of Houthi leaders.

They claim it's about Gaza. It's not. They claim that this is some sort of, you know, U.S. and -- and Britain effort to -- to have -- to wage war on them. It's not.

We're simply trying to do two things. We're trying to defend our Navy ships and sailors and the Navy ships and sailors of other nations that are in the Red Sea with us. And, two, protect international shipping. This is about self-defense.

And again, this -- this conflict -- well, first of all, we're not -- we don't seek a conflict. There doesn't need to be a conflict. But the exchange of fire that we have seen in recent days doesn't have to go on one day -- one day more if the Houthis would make the right decision to stop these attacks.

Q: Right, but they're a terrorist group attacking U.S. interests. You know, wouldn't your response make them stop?

MR. KIRBY: Again, terrorist groups commit acts of violence oftentimes for -- not just for the sake of committing acts of violence but for political posturing or political messaging of some sort, or perhaps tied to religious fervor.

And they are a designated terrorist group. They are conducting terrorist attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. And we have to respond to that. I don't know what the alternative would be. Should we just stop -- stop defending ships and just let them have their way with the Southern Red Sea? I don't think that's in anybody's interest.

So, we're not going to -- we're not just going to lay down here and -- and wait for them to come to a different approach. They need to stop the attacks. If they don't, we'll continue to defend ourselves and make it harder for them to conduct them.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, last one.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Admiral, the House Armed Services Committee has asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to appear publicly before them next month for failing to disclose his hospitalization. Would the White House support the Secretary testifying publicly?

MR. KIRBY: That'll be a decision for the Secretary of Defense, and he has to make that decision.

Q: And since he was released from the hospital, has he clearly explained to the President or any senior officials here what exactly happened?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into the -- the personal and private discussions that the Secretary has had with the President of the United States. They have spoken as recently as late last week. And as you heard the President say himself, he has full trust and confidence in Secretary Austin and his leadership at the Pentagon, and that will continue.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I appreciate it. Have a great weekend.

All right, Colleen.

Q: Thank you. So, I wanted to ask about the Uvalde report yesterday. The President had said that he hadn't seen the full findings but that he wasn't sure that there was criminal liability. So, a couple of things. I wondered if he had time to look through the full findings and if his opinion has changed at all. And then, also, if not, is there another way that law enforcement should be held accountable for the failures (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, there's a couple of things I want to say about that. The DOJ's report -- which is what you're obviously referring to, Colleen -- shows that there were multiple points of failure with the law enforcement response in Uvalde.

And so, we can only imagine how this news adds to the heartbreaking Uvalde families -- how they're feeling. And certainly, as -- as a mo- -- mom, myself, I -- this is one of those days that you wish never, ever happens and you don't want to imagine. So, this obviously is very heartbreaking, not just for the families for that -- for that community. And so, no community -- no community should have to ever go through what Uvalde community suffered.

And -- but I'll say this, and I think it's really important: that these families were able -- in Uvalde were able to turn things around. And they put -- they -- they turned their pain into purpose and helped pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which we know -- which we see it's already starting to save lives.

And -- and so, while the President is going to continue to take -- to certainly -- to do everything that he can through executive action to protect communities from gun violence, he's not going to stop to ask Congress to -- you know, to do something. You hear me say that. You hear him say that often. They need to do something to stop this epidemic of -- of gun violence.

And so, we've been very clear. We need universal background checks, a national red flag law. We must ban assault weapons, obviously, and high-capacity magazines. And this -- these actions can't wait. These actions can't wait.

And so, I just wanted to lay that out because that report was -- was, I'm sure, very difficult -- forget about us in the room -- very difficult for the Uvalde community, and the President understands that. I just don't have anything beyond that to add.

Q: Okay. Just -- sorry, one more.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, yeah. That's okay.

Q: On the -- the debate -- or the -- the discussions on funding. It sounded like yesterday there -- they were pretty close on the immigration and Ukraine funding agreements. And I just wondered if the White House was willing to concede more. I think part of the -- one of the main issues they were talking about was parole authority. I wondered if there were any more concessions being made or -- like, what's happening? (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, for the past several months, I've been very careful to not negotiate from here. So, I'm not going to -- to break that.

What I'll say is -- and I've said this many times: We really appreciate that senators, both Republican and Democrats, continue to have this conversation, continue to negotiate on border security.

Obviously, this is something that's import- -- that is very important to this President. It came up in the -- in the congressional meeting that they had two days ago. And the President was very clear that Congress needs to act. We need to be zeroed-in and focused on this and also the funding for Ukraine, as Ukraine continues -- continues to defend themselves from -- against Putin's aggression -- right? -- Putin's invasion. And so, that is some- -- something that we need to continue to do.

Obviously, there has been a global coalition that the President has upheld to -- including NATO alliances f- -- more than 50 countries -- in support of Ukraine as they're trying, again, to fight for their freedom. So, we need to continue to do that. The President believes all of the -- all of the parts and the pieces and what he's asked for in his -- in his national security supplemental needs to pass.

But going back to border security for a second, we think the conversations are going in the right direction. We are optimistic about it. It is important to act now. The immigration system, what we've seen at the border has been broken for decades now, needs to get fixed.

And so, the Pres- -- the President is going to continue to encourage Congress to act. And, again, we are very thankful and appreciative and encouraged by what we're seeing by senators, both Republicans and Democrats, continuing these negotiation processes.

Q: To follow on that: You say that you're encouraged they're going in the right direction. But the President was asked yesterday, "What are the sticking points in the border agreement?" And he said, "I don't think we have any sticking points left." If that's true, why haven't senators announced an agreement yet?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we're going to let them speak to that. But that's -- we've been saying it's headed in the right direction, right? We've been saying that we are encouraged by it, right? That is, I think -- what the President just said lays -- pretty much backs up what we've been saying.

So, I just don't want to get into specifics. As it relates any -- as it relates to a specific, I think the negotiators should speak to that. Let them have those conversations on the Hill. Let them talk to you all about what it is that they're discussing specifically.

I want to be very careful not to get involved in the negotiation process. It is -- we understand how this works. And speaking from that -- from here, from the podium, don't want to affect the progress that we believe that they're making on this.

Look, border security is important. We understand it's important to the American people. We have to do something. We have to get -- get some -- get some -- an agreement -- a bipartisan agreement put forward so that -- so that we can deal with that issue at the border.

Q: Did something change in the meeting that he had this week with leaders to give him that optimism? I mean --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah --

Q: What -- what does he -- does he think that it's close to a done deal to say that yesterday?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I want to be really mindful. The meeting two days ago was not a negotiation meeting. It was not. It was about Ukraine and the importance that -- the importance for us to continue to support Ukraine and how Congress has to act. And what's expected of us, not just in our national security -- obviously, it's important to our national security -- but also globally.

And so, that was the purpose of this meeting. It was not part of the negotiation. There are negotiations happening, as I just stated, over at the Hill, with Republicans and Democrat senators. And we're going to let those negotiation happen.

What we dis- -- what the President wanted to be really clear about is the importance in -- to continuing to support Ukraine as they defend themselves.

As you know, Ja- -- National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and DNI Avril Haines were a part of that meeting. They laid out some examples of the consequences for Ukraine on the battlefield.

And so, that is what the conversation was about. Obviously, and as you all heard from some of these congressional leaders, they brought up the border. Border security was discussed, but it was not nego- -- in a negotiation meeting.

Go ahead.

Q: J.B. Pritzker was in Des Moines this week and was talking about the inhumane practices of receiving -- you know, these -- basically, these migrants are still being sent by airplane to Chicago. Like, I -- I think the total number is 30,000 have been shipped to Chicago alone.

And the mayors are meeting in town. They're certainly going to ask for more resources. What -- what can the federal government do to help cities like Chicago that are really struggling with this, especially given the subarctic temperatures that --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: -- we're seeing right now.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And you've heard me say this very recently about how those actions that are being taken by Republican leader- -- leadership is a inhuha- -- inhu- -- inhumane, and it's demoralizing. And it doesn't -- it doesn't lead to the safety of -- of communities here.

And so, we've called that out, and we'll continue to do that.

And I've spoken to this already, but I'll -- I'll lay it out a little bit more. During the last year, what our administration was able to do, it -- in corrob- -- in corroboration with states and cities across the country, we launched this one -- one -- one-stop shop clinics to help eligible noncitizens get working permits and decompress the re- -- respective shelter system.

That was something that -- that -- that local leaders and state leaders asked for. And so, we were able to, obviously, work in collaboration in getting that done.

To date, these clinics have -- have served more than 10,000 people. So, they've been effective.

And so -- and another thing that you've heard us speak to is that we've provided more than $1 billion in grant funding for jurisdictions hosting recently arrived migrants. So, that's been important.

And, look, here's the thing. I just went -- I just had this whole -- kind of this whole back-and-forth with your colleagues here about border security and about this negotiation that's happening in the Senate. That's what we -- we would like to see. We want to do more. We want to do more, but it requires Congress to act.

That is where we are now. That's why it's so important that these conversations, these negotiations on Capitol Hill with senators, both Republicans and Democrats, have been going on for the past several months. We are encouraged. We want to see the supplemental passed. It is important to get that done as well.

Remember, border security was originally a part of the -- of the supplemental. So, we look -- we look forward to continuing collaboration with the states, these jurisdictions, obviously, just to see what else we can do. But in order to get more, Congress needs to act.

Q: I had a follow-up on what John was saying about deliberate war crimes. That seems to differentiate between deliberate and inadvertent war crimes. Can you say anything about --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I --

Q: -- what you're parsing is that -- that phrasing? I was -- it startled me because it seems to imply that you acknowledge that there have been war crimes committed. But perhaps not --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I --

Q: -- deliberate.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't think that's what the -- the Admiral was inferring to. He doesn't -- I don't -- I -- I can speak very -- I think very -- very, I think, forcefully and -- and say that that is not what he was referring to.

Look, we -- we have been very clear about Israel's absolute right to defend itself. That's something that we say all the time, right? Obviously, this is our relationship, what we believe, as well, its -- its obligation to abide by international law -- right? -- to make sure that we are -- they are protecting civilian lives, whether Israeli lives or Palestinian lives. We've been really clear about that.

And so -- and so, I just want to be really careful. I'm not going to go beyond what the -- what the Admiral said here. And I wouldn't parse his words too much here.

But we've been very clear on where -- where we stand on -- on -- on what -- what we believe we stand on. Obviously, we want to continue to have these diplomatic conversations, as the President had with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And our focus has always been making sure, obviously, no civilian lives -- right? -- one civilian life is too many; getting those -- that humanitarian aid into Gaza is incredibly important; making sure hostages -- American hostages, all hostages come home; and trying to continue these pauses -- these humanitarian pauses that you have seen the President lead on. And they have been very successful, as -- as the Admiral has said.

Q: If the International Court did rule that war crimes were committed, would the U.S. support --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm -- I'm not going to get into hypothetical- --

Q: -- that rule?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm just not going to get into hypotheticals from here.

Go ahead, M.J.

Q: Karine, does the President believe that a ban on menthol cigarettes would save the lives of Black Americans?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I want to be really careful. There's a rulemaking process that's currently happening. Not going to get ahead of that. That is something for, obviously, the respective agency -- FDA -- to -- to kind of take a look at that. I just don't -- I want to be really mindful --

Q: I wasn't asking about the rule. I was just asking whether that is something the President believes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I -- I hear you. I just want to be careful because there's a process -- a rulemaking process that's currently happening on that particular issue. And I just don't -- I don't want to comment on this rule because -- on that pro- -- on your question, because that rulemaking process is currently happening.

FDA is doing their part. They are the experts here. I'm just not going to get into specifics of -- of that at all.

Q: Well, they may be the experts, but I think there's abundant research that shows that this is a leading cause of deaths for Black Americans. I'm just asking whether the President believes that could be a benefit of banning menthol cigarettes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear your -- I hear your question, M.J. As you said, there are experts who have spoken to this. I'll let the experts speak to this. When there's a rulemaking process, this is -- this is always the case here. Because there's a rulemaking process, we're just not going to comment.

Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q: Thank you, Karine. What is the administration's response to the 14 House Democrats who voted with Republicans the other day to denounce the, quote, "open-borders policies" of the Biden administration?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- what do you mean? What's our comments on what?

Q: Well, do you have a response to 14 Democrats in the House believing that --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, the --

Q: -- this President has open-border policies?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, we've been very clear. We want to deal with what's going on at the border. That's why we're having these conversation -- these negotiations in the Senate with Republicans and Democrats.

The President understands that this is an issue that matters to the American people. And we feel like those conversations that are happening, those negotiations are heading in the right direction.

And so, the President understands. He put the border security -- right? -- there was -- that's part of the supplemental. His request on funding for border security was part of that national security ask, that emergency ask.

So, we believe we need to do more. The President understands we need to do more. And we -- we see Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want to do more.

Q: Is it -- is it still the position of the administration that the border is secure?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Our position is that we need to do more at the border. We have to do more at the border. That's why these negotiations are currently happening. That's our position.

Q: And is it the position of the administration that the efforts to impeach Secretary Mayorkas are unconstitutional?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What we believe is that what House Republicans are doing is playing political games. That's what we believe. And they're not doing their jobs -- the jobs that the American people want them to be doing.

And let's not forget, they won't even let Secretary Mayor- -- Mayorkas even testify. They want to impeach him, but they're not even let -- allowing him to testify.

And so, it is shameful. That's what we believe. It is shameful. And what we'd encourage these House Republicans to do -- and this is something that we saw coming out of the midterms in 2022 -- American people want to see Republicans and Democrats working together to deliver for them, to address the issues that matter. That's what we would rather see.

Q: On the constitutionality portion, though, I saw that there was a memo that came out that was touting this open letter from constitutional law professors, making the argument that impeachment based on policy disagreements is unconstitutional. Is that the approach the administration is taking to this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What letter are you speaking to? The same one?

Q: There was an Ian Sams memo that went out, and it was -- included an open letter from a number of constitutional law professors who are arguing that impeaching a Cabinet Secretary on the basis of policy disagreements is forbidden in the Constitution.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I'm going to let my colleague's letter stand for itself. I've been very clear on how we feel and what be- -- we what we think about these impeachment proceedings. And -- and a proceeding that is not even allowing Secretary Mayorkas to testify.

Q: I'm just trying to gather, though -- because it came to us from, you know, the White House, obviously --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: -- that, you know -- is this something that the administration is going to fight in court on the -- on a constitutional basis that this is not something that could happen?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. And I will say, I'm going to let my -- my White House colleagues at the Counsel -- at the Counsel's Office respond to that.

Go ahead.

Q: Karine, a month ago today when you were asked about whether the White House had any regrets about linking Ukraine aid with border funding, you said, "No, not at all." I wanted to know if that was still the case today. Does the White House have any regrets about this strategy?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all, because both of those things are important to the President. There -- they are emergency requests. That's why they -- he included it in the supplemental. And we believe all of it needs to move forward.

Q: And then, just very quickly, on student loans. There has been some Republican criticism from people like Senator Bill Cassidy, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, specifically saying that the President is pandering in this election year, trying to buy votes with these kinds of moves on student loans. There have been other lawmakers who have echoed something similar, saying it's not fair for Americans who didn't go to college to have to pay for those who racked up too much debt.

What is the White House response to that (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, we've heard that rhetoric many times before. That's nothing new, what you laid out to me. Look, the President made a promise that he would do everything that he can to take action to give American families a little bit of a breathing room. And that's related to student -- student debt as well.

And you heard at the top when I said -- I laid out that, you know, folks should not have to be crushed by student debt to be able to start a family, to be able to -- be able to buy a home. Right?

And so, this is what we have -- we've seen over the past several decades. And the President has been very clear: He's going to do everything that he can to give people a little bit more breathing room to give people -- make sure he lower costs for folks.

And that's what we're seeing. Right? We're seeing that from -- from an array of -- of folks just across the spectrum.

And so, I've heard those comments. That is not something that the President believes. The President believes that it is important. You've got -- you've got to remember, this is a president who grew up in a middle-class family, who -- who knows what it's like to sit around a kitchen table and try to figure out which bill are you going to pay. Are you going to pay that medical bill? Are you going to be able to pay that medical bill? Are you going to be able to put food on the table? Are you going to be able to pay the tuition for -- for your kid that's going to college?

And these are difficult conversations that American families have every month. And so, if the President can do something to give families a little bit of dignity, a little bit of an opportunity to really be part of -- of a growing economy, be part of the middle class, he's going to take that action.

Go ahead, Sabrina.

Q: Thanks, Karine. When the President was asked yesterday about Arab Americans not wanting to vote for him over Gaza, his response was to point to former President Trump's travel ban on Muslim-majority nations. Putting aside for a moment that most Arab Americans are Christian, is that the bar here, that his predecessor and likely opponent wants to ban Muslims and President Biden doesn't? And how does that relate to the substance of their criticism of Gaza?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I want to be really careful because there's a mix of -- of upcoming election on -- on -- in your question -- in 2024. Look, I would look at -- and I really want to be mindful here and careful.

I think what the President was doing was trying to give a reminder of where we were before -- right? -- what it looked like before in the last four years in the last administration.

You have a president that has been very clear in protecting Arab Am- -- Arab Americans or any communities that are under attack, any communities that have felt left behind. And so, he is -- I think his -- his record and what he's been trying to do for folks here in this country -- all communities, including the Arab -- Arab American community -- is very, very clear.

And so, I think he was -- it was a question that he was asked. He answered it very quickly. It probably -- you know, he -- he thought of it as, obviously, asked in a political way. And so, that's where he went.

But I just also want to be super careful because this is an upcoming election.

Q: And then away from the campaign, then. Since the conflict began, the President has sat down with Muslim leaders only once that we know of, on October 26th, and there was only one Palestinian American who was present for that meeting. Why has the President not met or engaged more directly with Palestinian American leaders in the more than three months since this conflict began?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you just stated in the top of your question, he has had direct conversation with leaders in -- in the respective communities. His team has -- regularly have stayed in touch with members and leaders of those respective communities that you just laid out: Arab Americans and Muslim Americans as well. And so, those conversations are obviously very important.

I don't have anything to read out or lay out of any upcoming -- upcoming discussions with those leaders in the -- in those communities. But he has been -- he's had direct conversation. He's had -- listened to them. Those were private conversations. We try not to read -- read out specifically what was discussed.

But obviously, the President and his team has been in regular communications.

Go ahead, Akayla.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Monday is obviously the anniversary of -- of Roe v. Wade. Do you have any preview of what the President plans to do to mark the day?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, as you know, the -- the campaign made an announcement of the four principles here -- the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, and the Second Gentleman -- are going to do an event on Tuesday as -- and touch on Roe v. Wade. I would refer you to -- to them on exactly what that's going to look like.

And, you know, the -- the Vice President is going to do a tour specifically focusing on Roe v. Wade. So, certainly, we would refer you to -- to the Vice President's office. And, certainly, we'll have more -- more to share on that.

All right. I was t- -- I'm being told to wrap it.

Go ahead, Sara.

Q: Thanks, Karine. On Wednesday, when you were asked about, ahead of the meeting, Speaker Johnson's H.R.2-or-bust position, you had said, Speaker Johnson is not the only congressman in the room. He has held to this hardline position.

But was there any indication from House members who were present in the meeting or in other conversations that have been had with House members that they -- there is a possibility of them taking on a Senate-passed agreement? Like, if -- if an agreement were to be reached and passed in the Senate, has he gotten any kind of assurances that the House would take that on?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I will say, I think there was broad -- a broad agreement in the room in that meeting that we needed -- they needed to deal with Ukraine and also the border. So, there was a broad agreement there. I'm not going to get into specifics on how that would look like.

But I think that's important. If both Republicans and Democrats in that meeting are saying, "Yes, we need to deal with this. We need to figure out how to make sure we support Ukraine. We need to figure out how to make sure we deal with the border security," I think that's important. And so, that is what we were able to get out of that meeting as well, that type of understanding of addressing those two things.

Q: But is he optimistic that even if -- you know, if the Senate is able to come to an agreement, that it would be taken on and passed in the House?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I'll say this -- I'll add to this. It was a balanced and constructive conversation. That's what we saw, and that's what happened. And there was, again, broad agreement to -- to certainly deal with making sure Ukraine gets the funding that they need, making sure that we deal with border security.

So, that is the two -- two important things that came out of that meeting. We are going to continue to have a conversation in the Senate, do the negotiations in the Senate on the border security to get something done -- something that the American people want to see. And then we'll see what happens.

I don't want to get into hypotheticals. I don't want to guess what's going to happen. Obviously, Speaker Johnson has been very vocal, and he can speak for himself. But it is important. It is important that we see a bipartisan agreement, bipartisan conversation happening. And we'll see where it goes. But the President is going to continue to encourage, obviously, Congress to move forward.

Go ahead, Joey.

Q: Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I haven't called on you.

Q: Yeah. Thank you. Well, regarding the House. And a version of this question was asked, I think, during the Air Force One gaggle yesterday. But with Speaker Johnson saying he is communicating regularly with former President Trump on border negotiations, does the White House believe that Speaker Johnson is, in fact, negotiating in good faith toward an agreement on the border?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I'm going to let Speaker Johnson speak for himself. What I can say is that, right now, we are in active negotiations with members in the Senate, and it is in good faith. With Republicans and Democrats, it is happening in good faith. And we are encouraged by where the conversation is going. We are -- we are -- we believe there has been progress.

And so, let's start there. Let's start there and let them do their job and continue -- or do their negotiations and continue to have those conversations. And I'm just going to let the House speak for themselves.

Q: Do you think Speaker Johnson actually wants a border agreement?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That's for him to speak to. I'm not going to speak fr- -- from here. I know I keep getting -- did I call on you, Weijia?

Q: Just a quick follow on -- on the border talks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.

Q: Very quick.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.

Q: Is the President open to passing, signing a border deal before one is reached on Ukraine or does it have to be concurrent?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- I can't speak to the timeline of all of this. What I can speak to is we are having those conversation in the -- in the Senate, negotiations, as I've mentioned multiple times already from here. I'm sure you've -- you're tired of me saying that over and over again.

And what I can also say is that we want to see the full national security supplemental move forward. That is what we want to see. We want to see it move forward, and that includes Ukraine, obviously includes Israel, obvious- -- obviously includes border security. That's what the President wants to see, and that is the direction that we hope that it goes in.

All right. I haven't called on you. Go ahead.

Q: So, is the White House supportive of the bipartisan tax bill that was introduced this week that expands the Child Tax Credit but also has a lot of cuts for businesses?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we think that -- we are encouraged by what we're seeing, obviously, with the tax deal that is -- that is going forward. And so, we think that's important. Obviously, the President passed the American Rescue Plan, as you know, very early on. It had the Child Tax Credit. The President has been very clear that he wanted to see that move forward in full, and it's -- you know, continuing that per- --more permanently.

And so, that is important. But we are pleased that the House and Ways and Means -- House Ways and Means Committee advanced a bipartisan tax bill that will increase that -- right? -- that will increase it.

And so -- and let's not forget, these -- this is for millions of families -- millions of families. It's going to lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty and support construction of hundreds of thousands of affordable rental housing, as well, in that bipartisan agreement.

So, it is a welcome step forward. And we believe Congress should pass it.

All right, guys. We'll see you on Monday. Thank you, everybody.

Q: Have a good weekend.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Stay -- stay warm and dry.

2:53 P.M. EST

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 https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/369343

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