Joe Biden

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby

February 13, 2024

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

10:24 A.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good morning. Good morning, everybody. Okay, so I have a couple of things at the top before we get going.

We applaud the bipartisan coalition of senators who came together to pass the supplemental agreement this morning, which protects America's national security interests.

This bill will enable the Ukrainian people to defend themselves against Russia's ongoing brutal and unprovoked attacks. It will provide Israel with what it needs to protect its people against Hamas terrorists, and it will deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance for vulnerable people around the world, including innocent Palestinian civilians suffering in Gaza who have nothing to do with Hamas.

The President urges the House to send this legislation to his desk immediately so that he can sign it into law. The costs of inaction are rising every day. America's leadership matters, and the world is watching -- is watching what the White -- the House Republicans do.

I also want to highlight a win for the American people against Big Pharma. Yesterday, a district court in Texas dismissed a case and -- it brought against President Biden's Medicare drug price negotiation program.

When President Biden came into office, he vowed to lower healthcare costs for American families. By -- by passing the Inflation Reduction Act, the President and congressional Democrats finally allowed Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for seniors, while every single Republican in Congress voted against it.

Despite Big Pharma's attempts to block the program, the administ- -- this administration is moving forward on fully implementing it.

The bottom line is: Americans shouldn't be forced to pay two to three times more for their prescription drugs than other developed nations.

President Biden will continue to stand up to Big Pharma and take action to lower healthcare costs for millions of senior -- seniors and their families.

Today, our thoughts -- our thoughts are with the families of the three students who were tragically killed one year ago at Michigan State University, the five students who were injured as a result of this horrific gun violence, and the countless others traumatized by that day.

Tomorrow also marks another painful tragedy, as we remember the 14 students and 3 educators who lost their lives six years ago at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

From Michigan to Florida, American children and educators are being gunned down in classrooms, on college campuses, and in their own homes and communities as guns remain the number one killer of kids in America.

The President has met with countless survivors of gun violence who have turned their pain into purpose by advocating for commonsense gun safety measures that protect communities and save lives.

In Michigan, young leaders demanded action from their legislators, ultimately leading to the most significant package of gun safety reforms to ever pass in the state.

In Parkland, students successfully organized and saw Florida pass a major gun safety package that included a red flag law and raised the age of purchase -- firearms.

Young people across the nation marched for their lives. And thanks to their collective efforts, President Biden was able to sign into -- into law the most significant gun safety law in nearly 30 years with Bipartisan -- with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

The President continues to stand with millions of young Americans who are calling on Congress to do more -- calling on Congress to do more.

As the President often says, nothing is beyond our capacity when we act together. And that includes ending the epidemic of gun violence once and for all.

So, with that, my colleague, Admiral John Kirby, is here to give an update on what's happening in the Middle East.


MR. KIRBY: Just an administrative note this morning -- I'm sorry, this afternoon.

Q: It's still morning.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, good morning to you. (Laughter.)

But this afternoon, the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons will meet at the White House for the third time now since the administration took office to reaffirm our commitment to combat human trafficking.

This task force is a Cabinet-level activity created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 that coordinates the federal government's anti-trafficking efforts. And that includes implementing our national action plan to combat human trafficking, which we released back in December of 2021.

Secretary of State Blinken, Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden will all chair this meeting and host it. They'll give remarks, and they'll have an opportunity to hear from leaders across the -- the interagency and Cabinet-level agencies about their accomplishments in trying to help us combat human trafficking as well as the challenges that they're -- they're facing and the things that we got to do better to -- to address this problem.

So, that's it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks, Admiral.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

Q: Could I get an update from the administration's perspective on how the talks in Cairo are going today? Is the White House seeing any substantive progress in those discussions?

I believe one Egyptian official said we could see a potential final draft of what a hostage deal could look like after today. So, what's the -- what's the perspec- -- what's your perspective?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, we're -- look, we're -- we're glad that these discussions are ongoing. And as I've said before, they have been -- they've been constructive and they've been moving in the right direction.

But I don't have a specific update for you today. And I wouldn't want to get ahead of discussions, as they're occurring as you and I speak right now.

So, very much reflective of the effort that the President has put into this, and the whole national security team is devoted to this. We want to get those hostages home as soon as possible, and that work is going on.

Q: And a quick follow-up. I know you were asked yesterday, but since Secretary Austin remains -- his health issues are ongoing, has the President spoken with the Secretary in the last couple of days?

MR. KIRBY: He has not spoken to him that I'm aware of. I'm not aware of -- of a call yet. He respects that the Secretary is, you know, still hospitalized, still being seen to by doctors for this bladder condition. And I think he wants to respect that process.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff.

Q: Thanks very much. John, do you have any indication that the Israelis are holding off on a Rafah offensive because of the strong words that President Biden has had about this issue?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know that we have any indication that -- of their timing one way or the other, Jeff. And that would be something for them to speak to.

But as you heard the President say, we don't -- we don't believe that it's advisable to move forward with a major operation in Rafah unless or until there has been proper accounting for all the civilians that are there.

Q: And the -- the King yesterday had some pretty strong words about the deaths of Palestinians. What was President Biden's sense of that meeting? And -- and does that impact his own advocacy with the Prime Minister of Israel as well?

MR. KIRBY: The President too had some pretty strong words about civilian deaths and how there's been too many.

Certainly, the conduct of the operations was of discussion yesterday. I won't go into more detail than that, but you can expect, of course, they talked about the conduct of the operations.

And as for what effect that conversation yesterday will have or the President's own thinking on -- on the -- on the conduct of the operations -- which, again, he's been very candid about on Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision-making -- I couldn't say.

I would just leave you with this: We have consistently conveyed our concerns to our Israeli counterparts, including the Prime Minister, about moving forward in Rafah in a major way without due consideration of civilians. And we have consistently conveyed privately and publicly -- but privately, too -- our concerns about the need to continue to look for ways to reduce civilian casualties.

As the President said yesterday, there's been too many.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thanks. John, the President said that there should be a credible and executable plan in place to safeguard civilians in Rafah before Israel were to launch any kind of ground invasion. What is -- in the White House view, what would a credible plan look like? How would you ever realistically move 1.4 million people out of the way?

MR. KIRBY: I think what -- what -- first of all, you know, they'd have to -- they'd be the ones that have to come up with this plan. I think what we want to see in any kind of a plan to make it credible would be to account for -- as I think M.J. was asking me yesterday, to account for the now more than a mil- -- a million people -- some estimates up to a million and a half -- that are seeking refuge in Rafah.

It's a small geographical space -- the Gaza Strip. Period. It's really small down there around Rafah. And you got a million to a million and a half people that are seeking safety.

And so, any credible plan that can be executable would have to take into account their physical movement -- safe movement, as well as proper subsistence for them -- you know, food, water, medicine, access to healthcare -- and -- and, you know, be able to stay together as family units. So, all of that would have to be factored in.

Q: Does the White House believe there is any possible plan out there that would be executable, given the infrastructure situation within Gaza right now?

MR. KIRBY: Again, we haven't seen what the Israelis are thinking or what -- what exactly they're putting pen to paper on. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he had tasked his army, the IDF, to do exactly that. So, we'll see what they come up with.

Q: On this funding fight -- obviously, you're urging Congress to act -- you all have been fairly optimistic. But realistically, I mean, Speaker Johnson doesn't seem to have any interest in bringing up this bill to fund Ukraine and Israel. So what is plan B? Is there a plan B if Congress doesn't get this done?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get into hypotheticals. I think the President was very clear in his statement: It's really important that the House now take this up and get it to his desk. As Karine said, it get -- if it gets to his desk, he'll sign it. It's critical.

This -- as we've said before -- we said it when we submitted the supplemental back in October -- there is no magical pot of money from which to draw to try to support these allies and these partners and to try to support -- oh, by the way -- significant humanitarian assistance needs not just in Gaza, but elsewhere around the world.

Congress needs to act. They need -- they need to be the ones to move forward.

Q: But are you seeing any cause for optimism that Congress is actually going to do anything?

MR. KIRBY: Well, it's --

Q: Because so far it certainly doesn't seem like the Speaker is moving in that direction.

MR. KIRBY: I think today is a -- today is a pretty optimistic sign that it got through the Senate. That's not an insignificant milestone. And, again, we're grateful for the bipartisan leadership in the Senate. Now it's time for the House to act the same way.

Q: And can you say broadly, I mean, this -- if this doesn't get done, this lack of funding, you know -- not to mention Trump's recent comments about NATO -- what message broadly is this sending our allies and the world about our ability to follow through on our commitments? I mean, can we be trusted?

MR. KIRBY: It sends messages if we don't get this done. It sends messages not just to allies and partners, but to potential adversaries as well that the United States can't be counted on, that we're not interested in being a leader on the world stage, that we aren't -- aren't going to be able to stand by our commitments to allies and partners who are fighting really critical fights here. Israel is in a fight literally for their lives. And the Ukrainians are, too, for their democracy.

So, I think it sends a strong signal to the whole world that -- that perhaps certain members of Congress aren't willing to show and demonstrate the kind of American leadership on the world stage that President Biden has.

Q: Jake Sullivan, yesterday, met virtually with the families of the six American hostages who are in Gaza. And in a statement after that meeting, the hostage family said that they expressed frustration with the pace of negotiations. Does the White House share in that frustration?

MR. KIRBY: We would love nothing more, Arlette, than to have every single hostage back with their families yesterday and the day before that. We are working with a real sense of alacrity and urgency here to try to get an extended pause in place, but it's been difficult.

I can't blame -- nobody can blame these families for being frustrated and for being anxious and being fearful. Of course, they are. Anybody would. Any of you would.

I -- and I think one of the things that Jake conveyed to them was how seriously we're taking the task and how hard we are working at it. And as I said earlier, we believe that the discussions have been constructive and that, in general, things seem to be moving in the right direction. But, you know, nothing is done until it's all done.

Q: Is something standing in the way from things moving faster?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get into the bits about negotiations and -- and what the -- what the points are that are still being horse-traded. But there are, in fact, active discussions going on about certain modalities that would have to take place to make this work. And, again, I think the less said about that publicly, the better.

Q: And then if I could just -- on Ukraine really quickly. Does the President plan on making any personal appeal to the House Speaker in a phone call or having him at the White House?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any personal appeal. Al- -- although, in terms of, like, today -- although, as you know, the Speaker was here at the White House and had a chance to hear directly from not only President Biden, but his national security team about the importance of supporting Ukraine and Israel going forward, how important this supplemental funding was. So the Speaker certainly has heard directly from the President.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, a couple more.

Go ahead, Aurelia.

Q: Thank you so much. I would have two questions on Gaza. The first one, yesterday during his remarks with the King of Jordan, the President said over 27,000 Palestinians have been killed in this conflict, and this is the best count that has been made public by Hamas.

So, do you confirm that this death toll is accurate and can be seen as the official death toll in Gaza? Have you been able to verify this figure?

MR. KIRBY: The President was referring to publicly available data about the total number of -- of casualties. And as he said, too many of that total number, unfortunately, are innocent civilians. He was referring to publicly available data.

Q: Okay. And my next question is: When the administration asked Israel to come up with a credible plan to protect civilians before it launches a major offensive in Rafah, does that mean that until now you think that Israel has been operating with a credible plan to protect civilians in Northern Gaza, for example?

MR. KIRBY: Again, we're not -- you know, it's hard to -- I don't want to get into armchair quarterbacking past operations here. That said, as you saw when they operated in North Gaza and then as they started to operate more in Khan Yunis, they did take steps to allow safe passage for civilians. They dropped leaflets telling them where to go and how to get there. They relied less on airpower.

So, there were efforts. That does not mean or does -- and it not excuse -- excuse any single civilian casualty. They are all tragedies. We don't want to see any.

But the Israelis have shown an effort in the past to try to account for the movement and the safety of civilians. And, again, as they ponder and consider major operations in Rafah -- now, with everybody moving down there -- because of what happened in North Gaza, because of what happened in Khan Yunis -- they have a special added burden to make sure that they can provide for their safety and security and sustenance.

Q: Thank you. I have a question about Venezuela. But first about the Vice President traveling to the Munich Security Conference this week. How important do you think the situation in the Middle East is going to be with the conference? And what kind of support the U.S. would like to get from allies for Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: There's no doubt that what's going on in the Middle East, I'm sure, will be a topic of discussion at the Munich Security Conference. There's no way it wouldn't. And I know the Vice President will have an opportunity to lay out, again, the administration's approach to the region writ large, as well as our -- our work -- continue to work with our counterparts in the Middle East specifically.

Q: And about Venezuela. So, do you have a reaction to the detention by the Venezuelan government of the human rights activist Rocío San Miguel?

MR. KIRBY: We are aware of reports that Rocío San Miguel and I think a couple of members of her family now have been taken into custody. We're deeply concerned about that.

This is a time when, as I have said before, Mr. Maduro needs to meet the commitments that he made back in the fall about how they're going to treat put- -- civil society political activists, as well as opposition parties, and even those members of -- that -- that -- of Venezuelan society that may want to run for office. They've got to meet those commitments.

And I won't go into speculating about what exactly happened here or what we might do as a result. But I can tell you, we're watching this very, very closely. And we're deeply concerned by her arrest.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John. I have two questions on the Indo-Pacific, one question on Ukraine.

So, first, the Senate bill that just passed, the White -- does the White House wish to have more fund for the Pacific in this bill or the next bill, specifically for countering China and helping Taiwan?

MR. KIRBY: The President, as I think he made clear in his statement, is satisfied with the bipartisan work that went into this Senate bill and the dollar amounts that are in each of the buckets there: Ukraine, Israel, Indo-Pacific, humanitarian assistance.

Q: Another on the Pacific. Indonesia is going to have election tomorrow electing a new president. What are -- what are at stake for the U.S. in relations to this Indo-Pacific strategy on this election?

MR. KIRBY: Well, it's -- what really matters is what's at stake for the Indonesian people. And we -- we want them to have a free and fair election, and we want the aspirations and the votes of the Indonesian people to matter. It's a vibrant democracy. And so, we look forward to seeing -- seeing them be able to go to the polls and -- and make their choices and make their voices known.

We -- as you know, we deepened our strategic partnership with Indonesia now. We're looking forward to continuing to find ways to improve that bilateral relationship.

Q: And on Ukraine, one last question. The U.S. has enough money right now to keep training Ukraine pilots on the F-16 for now, according to the National Guard chiefs. So, when will this training wrap up? And what's the status of sending those planes to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: You'd have to talk to the Department of Defense on that. I don't have that information.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Janne.

Q: Thank you, Karine and John. I have two questions on Russia and North Korea. The Russians' foreign minister stated that the North Korean Kim Jong Un's military threats were not (inaudible) and are a threat to risk signal of conflict on the Korean Peninsula and should be taken seriously. How can you explain the intent of that statement?

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry. I did not get what you mea- -- the foreign minister said what? Russian -- this is Lavrov said --

Q: Yeah. The foreign minister, no -- foreign ministry said that North Korean Kim Jong Un's military threats were not (inaudible) and that is that risk of -- signals of that conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Do you have any comment on this?

MR. KIRBY: Look, we take the continued efforts by Kim Jong Un to advance and develop sophisticated weapons systems and capabilities very, very seriously. We have to. And we also take our alliance with the Republic of Korea very, very seriously, which is why, as I've said many times, the President has added resources, added capabilities, really invested more in deepening our bilateral relationship with South Korea and our trilateral relationship with South Korea and Japan.

Q: Russia also has lifted some of North Korean frozen funds and also allowed the North Korea's financial bank account to be opened in Russia. So, at this point, can this been seen as compensation for the trade -- I mean, armed trade between Russia and North Korea?

MR. KIRBY: I can't confirm those reports that they've actually made those financial transactions and certainly wouldn't be able to speculate about what -- what motivated them.

But, obviously, we're deeply concerned about the continuing burgeoning defense relationship between North Korea and Russia.

Q: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Nadia.

Q: Thank you, Karine. Admiral, you've been asking Israel to avoid killing Palestinian civilians from this podium many times. So, I'm going to share the statistics with you. On day one, there was 198 people were killed; on day 128, 117. So, on average, it's a hundred. So, either Israel is not listening to you or they believe there's no consequences. So, which one is it? Or is it both?

MR. KIRBY: You'd have to -- look, I'm not going to speak for Israeli military operations, Nadia. You know that.

Q: I'm not -- but I'm not --

MR. KIRBY: No, no --

Q: -- asking you to speak for the Israeli military. I'm asking for you, because you defending the point of view, always, that no civilian should be killed. So, the number has never been reduced. It stayed steady all the time. So, I'm asking you --

MR. KIRBY: As the President --

Q: -- whether is -- the White House's message to Netanyahu, who defies every Democratic president, whether it's Clinton, Obama, or Biden -- and you know that this is a fact -- do you think that they're not listening to you, or they believe they can get away with it?

MR. KIRBY: As the --

Q: So, what pressure are you putting on them? That's what my question to you.

MR. KIRBY: As the President said yesterday, too many of the many thousands of people killed in the Gaza conflict have been innocent civilians -- too many. And we have been very, very clear about our concerns with our Israeli counterparts about that.

And I can't verify the specific numbers that you're giving me, but I also -- I'm not here to refute them. Too many is too many, and that's why we're going to keep working with our Israeli counterparts to -- to do everything we can to get them to reduce the number of civilian casualties. And they have been receptive.

I -- I understand that -- that there's still civilian casualties, and that's unacceptable. But they have been receptive to our messaging. They have been receptive to our ideas and our perspectives in the past. And we're going to keep doing everything we can to -- to get -- to get those numbers down.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sara.

Q: Thanks, Karine. John, yesterday, you said that we need to accept the possibility that some of the hostages being held by Hamas may no longer be alive. Does the U.S. believe that all of the remaining American hostages are still alive?

MR. KIRBY: We don't have any information to the contrary.

Q: And one more, if I may. Of course, any operation in Rafah would be Israel's decision, and they are the ones who need to come up with -- who need to present a credible plan. But has the U.S., has the President, have any senior U.S. officials offered their thoughts or consultations on what can be done to help Palestinian civilians in Rafah?

MR. KIRBY: We have consistently shared our concerns, our opinions, our perspectives, our lessons learned about urban warfare since the beginning of this conflict.

Q: But specifically about, you know, what to do in this case with where Palestinian civilians might be able to go in Rafah?

MR. KIRBY: We're not involved in drafting their plan for them. But we have absolutely committed to them our concerns about what that plan ought to be able to account for, yes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Gabe.

Q: John, when it comes to this credible plan to protect civilians, what happens if Israel does not provide this plan and moves into Rafah anyway?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to get into a hypothetical, Gabe. We've been clear about what our concerns are and what we want to see.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly that he's tasked the IDF to come up with such a plan. Let's see what they come up with.

Q: But does the U.S. have enough leverage now if Israel were to ignore it?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to, again, speculate about a situation that hasn't occurred yet. We've been very clear about our concerns. And -- and we'll -- we're going to wait and see what the -- what the IDF comes up with.

Q: And, finally, by when would the U.S. like to see this plan?

MR. KIRBY: It's really going to be determined by whatever timetable the -- the IDF is -- is on.

I want to make it clear here: This is a sovereign nation. They plan their military operations, and they conduct their military operations, and they make the choices. There -- there's not -- it's not like we give them a homework assignment, and they have to then turn in their plan to us for grading.

We have said that the -- from our perspective, as a friend of Israel and as a supporter of their efforts to defend themselves, we would expect that any plan for going into Rafah would properly account for the now more than a million civilians that -- that are seeking refuge down there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Niall.

Q: Hey, John. Thanks. I just want to circle back to my colleague -- I think it was Nadia -- asked a few minutes ago about the civilian casualties. And you said Israel has been "receptive" to our concerns. And for months, we have heard people at that podium talk about, "The civilian death toll is too high." It was too high at 5,000, 10,000, 15,000. Around 28,000 people have been killed. What does the White House base the assessment that Israel is receptive to its concerns?

MR. KIRBY: As I said, we have seen them take actions -- sometimes actions that -- that even I'm not sure our own military would take, in terms of informing civilian populations ahead of operations where to go, where not to go. They have taken steps.

Now, obviously, those steps, while noteworthy, haven't been enough to reduce the civilian casualties, which is why the President spoke so forthrightly about it yesterday and why we're going to continue to do everything we can to press the Israelis to be more careful.

Q: But, respectfully, he's been talking forcefully about it for a long time. And the Israelis are now -- have hammered people into this tiny corner in southwest Gaza, tight up against the Egyptian border, where people think there's a looming catastrophe happening. Shouldn't there be more forceful action than just words?

MR. KIRBY: We are working very, very closely with our Israeli counterparts. We've made clear our concerns that we would not support a Rafah operation that did not properly count -- account for the more than a million refugees that are down in -- in Rafah. We've been very, very clear and consistent about that.

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

Q: Merci, Karine.

Q: Thank you.

Q: John, two -- I have two question, quickly, on the DRC. And -- but first, on Haiti -- the meeting at Fort McNair. You -- you insisted yesterday, again, on the necessity of a significant force, international force on the ground. Is the U.S. more ready now to get involved in such a force?

MR. KIRBY: This -- so, what we're really focused on is -- is working with Kenya, who -- who has agreed to explore leadership of that force on the ground. So --

Q: But it's (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY: But that -- and that's part of the discussions that are going on at Fort McNair again today. I would not expect a U.S. force presence on the ground.

Q: And on the DRC, John, we're seeing, in Kinshasa, demonstrations -- anti-Western demonstrations like we saw in Niger, in Burkina Faso, in Mali. How worried is the U.S. that the situation can --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, we're -- we're monitoring it closely, as best we can. I don't have anything specific to -- to relay today.

But I can tell you that we're -- we're obviously in close touch with our colleagues at the State Department and, of course, our -- our embassy personnel down there in Africa.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Awesome, thanks. Thanks, John. Appreciate it. Thank you. Thanks, Admiral.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. All right, Seung Min.

Q: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Maybe tomorrow we'll start at 9:30. (Laughter.)

Q: On that note, a quick -- (laughter) -- a quick housekeeping question. Is there a particular reason --


Q: -- for the -- is -- should we expect to see POTUS --


Q: -- later today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I -- obviously, I want to be careful with that. I always am. There's always a possibility to hear from the President. I don't have anything to share about any- -- anything to add on his schedule that's public facing.

It's starting early, honestly, because of my schedule. And I appreciate you all being here at 10:15. I have -- I also have a busy schedule, just like all of you.

But no, I don't have anything to share at this time.

Q: Okay. And I wanted to drill down a little bit on Speaker Johnson's resistance to bringing up the Senate bill. So, what is the White House strategy to get that Senate bill through the Senate, aside from your public comments and public pressure on Speaker Johnson?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, a couple of things I do want to -- to -- do want to lay out. I love to do this, as you know. Washington Post. Speaker Johnson said "the package's failure to address U.S. border security makes it a nonstarter." "Johnson… helped torpedo an earlier version of the legislation that includes sweeping border security measures and other re- -- reforms."

Axios. "Johnson criticized the lack of border security provisions in the bill." And then "Senate -- Senate Republicans largely rejected a package that included border security provisions… due in no small part to Johnson."

The Hill. "Johnson slammed the package for excluding border security provisions." But there -- "but earlier this month… Johnson declared the foreign-aid-plus-border security package dead on arrival."

I mean, it is very confusing from what's coming from the Speaker. Very confusing. He's been very clear for years, even as recently as November, December of last -- of last year, saying how important it is to deal with the border, "We can come up with a bipartisan solution."

And all of the sudden, he wants to -- he wants to not move forward with the border, as we know. And now, we have a bipartisan support coming out of the Senate to move forward with an important package -- a national security package -- obviously, that does include the border -- and he doesn't want to move forward.

And, you know, we should not be playing politics with our national security. That's where we are. We should just not be playing politics with our national security.

Look, we have been very clear. We're going to continue to be clear: Congress has to act. They need to act. These pro- -- these components that are included in the national security supplemental or what came out -- obviously, out of the Senate is critical. It's crital to -- it's critical to our national security -- not just abroad but here at home.

And so, we're going to continue to call on Congress to act, call -- and politics should not be be- -- should not be part of this. It should not be part of our national security efforts here.

Q: So, there is no strategy aside from the public pressure. I mean, are you encouraging Democrats to do a discharge petition or any other sort of --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, it is up to --

Q: -- procedural maneuvers on that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is up to Democrats in Congress to figure out how they're going to move forward in their -- in their procedure -- right? -- to get this done.

And also, Repub- -- remember, this is a bipartisan -- a bipartisan -- has bipartisan support, certainly, out of Senate. And you've always said -- you've always heard us say there is bipartisan support for -- for -- for these important -- important components to the national security supplemental. So, we've always said that.

And so, look, we are going to put the pressure on. You saw that in the President's statement. You saw -- you saw that when I came and spoke here at the top. We have to put public -- public pressure here, because it is something that is critical -- critical to Americans, critical to our national security not just here, obviously, but abroad.

And -- and, you know, I said at the -- at the end of my -- my topper, when I was talking about this particular piece, is, like, the world is watching. The world is watching, and they're not just watching what's happening here at the White House. They're watching what's happening in the House, right? They're watching what House Republicans are going to be doing, because the Senate did their job. So, what is the House going to do?

Q: And one on CPI, if I may.


Q: We're seeing some price pressures that can't necessarily be explained away by shrinkflation or continued issues with supply chains. If you look at the cost of services, such as auto repairs or healthcare, those costs are still rising.

So, what is the White House's message or what is -- to Americans who, for example, may have to take out a loan to fix their car? What specifically is the administration doing to lower the cost of services?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And that's a good question. And, look, we've been very -- very clear here that prices are still too high. We're going to do everything that we can to lower costs. That is something that we've done, whether it's junk fees -- right? -- whether it's healthcare; whether it's the Inflation Reduction Act that also includes healthcare provisions in there to -- so that Medicare can -- can certainly negotiate with Big Pharma, hence lowering some prescription drug costs, which is incredibly important. Energy costs. All of these things are incred- -- important to the American people. So, we're going to continue to do that.

We've looked -- we've -- because of the President's action, he's been able to lower costs at the pump. And so, that's mattered as well to Americans across the country.

So, we're going to continue to do the work.

Obviously, we understand there's more work to be done, but this is an economy that is in a much different place than it was a year ago; a much different place, obviously, than it was three years ago. When you see -- when you see eggs and milk and products like that at the grocery store going down -- they're lower than they were a year ago -- that's important.

And so, when you see, you know, 14.8 million jobs being created in this administration, that's important. When you see unemployment under 4 percent, that's important.

But, obviously, we're going to continue to do the work to make sure that we do everything that we can to lower costs. And that is a number-one priority for this President. When he talks about his economy or his economic policy, economic plan, that's what you see.

Go ahead.

Q: Committee chairs have sent a letter to the Attorney General asking for the release of the transcripts and recordings related to Hur's investigation. Given your insistence that the special counsel's characterizations of the President's demeanor were inaccurate, are you eager for this material to be made public? Do you support their release?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look -- and I just want to be really clear, it's not just us. There was also a bipartisan voices and the legal -- illegal experts who have said it was wrong -- flatly wrong. Right? It was -- it was gratuitous. It was inappropriate how that was characterized in -- in the special counsel report.

I will add that this was a 15-month investigation that interviewed 150 witnesses, examined 7 million records, and cost $3.5 million of the tax- -- taxpayer money -- 3.5 million taxpayer dollars. They explored every theory and found that there was no case to be made.

So, House Republicans wasted their time, are waste -- continuing to waste their time, and they're not being serious to do their jobs. We just -- I just went back and forth about, you know, this important piece of -- piece of legislation that just came out of the Senate in a bipartisan way to deal with our national security concerns, and they're not doing their job.

They are saying -- obviously, Speaker Johnson is saying he's not going to move forward with that. So, we want them to pass that. We want them to pass legislation to help secure the border and work with -- on the real issues.

You know, for any other specific on the tran- -- the transcript or anything related to that -- the letter, I would certainly refer you to my colleagues --

Q: So, you won't say --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- at the White House Counsel.

Q: Given that you think the report is flatly wrong and gratuitous, you can't say if you want the material to be made public, if the American people --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What -- no, what I can say --

Q: -- should see this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- it's being -- they're discussing it. They're looking at it. There's a process that's involved. And so, the White House Counsel can -- obviously, has taken these questions from all of you. And so, they're looking into it. I just don't have anything further to say about that.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Is the President a fan of "The Daily Show"?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. I was not expecting that. I -- I would have to ask him.

Q: Did he watch Jon Stewart last night? (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sounds like you did, Jeff. Was it good?

Q: He was pretty critical of the President --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, really?

Q: -- as well as the former President. And I guess my question is --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He said this about President Biden?

Q: He was critical of both.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Got it. Oh, you said, "As l- -- as well as the former."

Q: "As well as." Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I gotcha. Gotcha, gotcha.

Q: Does -- and so, my kind of follow-up to that --


Q: -- more jokey question is: Does -- does the White House feel like it made the right decision putting President Biden out on Thursday night and to have the press conference that he did? And related to that --


Q: -- do you feel like the White House's response pushing back against the Hur report was as quick and as robust as you would have liked it to have been?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm assuming this is responding to Jon -- "The Daily Show"?

Q: Partly, yeah --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Okay.

Q: -- and other critics as well.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, look, you -- I think, and we believe, the President went out on Thursday -- on the day that the report came out, it was important -- we believe it was important for the -- for the American people to hear directly from this President and to lay out in a very forceful way what we thought about -- about the special counsel report -- what he thought about the special counsel report.

And not only that, he took your questions. He stood there and took questions from all of you. I think that's important. It's important. He believed that's important to -- to have -- to do.

And then the next day, by the request of the White House Correspondents' Association, which we obviously have a good relationship with and respect, we were asked to bring -- to bring Ian Sams to the podium, from -- obviously, the spokesperson from -- from the White House Counsel, and he did. And stood here for 45 minutes, approximately, and took questions.

And so, I think we are going to do everything that we can, especially as it relate -- obviously, as it related to the special counsel report, which we believe -- let's not forget: It said there is no there there. Right? It said that the -- the case is closed. So, let's -- you know, that's what they said. There's nothing to prosecute. So, we want to be really clear there.

But we also -- the President is going to stand and defend himself. The characterization, the way that report was characterized was not -- not just me saying this -- legal experts on both sides said it was flatly wrong and it was gratuitous and it was inappropriate.

And so, the President is going to defend himself and -- to the American people and make that very, very clear. And so, we believe -- he believes he did the right thing. And, you know, we're going to continue to -- to speak on this very, very loud and clear.

But anything specific related to next steps and what happens after -- after last week, certainly my -- the White House Counsel's Office can answer that more specifically.

Go ahead, Joe Joe.

Q: Yeah. Thanks. I wanted to circle back to a question that Admiral Kirby was asked about President Biden yesterday now saying 27,000 Palestinians have died in the war in Gaza. That appeared to be numbers from the Gaza Health Ministry. Last fall, President Biden said he had, quote, "no confidence" in those figures because of the health ministry's ties to Hamas. Does President Biden and the White House now have confidence in the figures coming from the Gaza Health Ministry?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the Admiral kind of went into this a couple of times with some of your colleagues about the data. There's data out there that speaks to -- speaks to the -- the lives lost -- innocent lives lost, obviously, in Gaza -- the Palestinian lives.

And so, we have said over and over: One -- one is too many, and we mourn those lives. And we're going to continue to be really clear about that.

And not only that, you know, you hear us talk about the humanitarian pause. We want to make sure that happens. We want to make sure that moves forward. That's why you see Secretary Blinken was in -- was in the region recently.

You hear that from the President. He just spoke to the Prime Minister, Netanyahu, just a day or so. And those conversations are -- are about -- and also, obviously, meeting with King Abdullah. All these conversations are about what can we do to make sure we do everything that we can, obviously, to get that humanitarian aid into Gaza and also get those hostages home.

That's what we want to see. And that's why it's so important that -- also that that national security supplemental got out of the Senate in a bipartisan way. And we need to get that moving as well, because that has important humanitarian assistance, as well that -- that the people in Gaza are going to need.

And so -- and also, people in Israel are going to need as well, really important humanitarian aid.

So, you know, I don't have anything to add to what the Admiral shared with all of you, but we mourn -- certainly we mourn the lives lost in Gaza. And obviously, we want to make sure that that's -- that -- that doesn't happen -- that doesn't continue to happen.

Q: But it seems like there's been an evolution in terms of how the White House -- how the administration is viewing the numbers being reported out of Gaza from the -- from the health ministry. I mean, is that fair to say that --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, here's the thing: We know thousands of lives have been lost. We know that. We know that. And, you know, we're going to speak to that when asked. We're going to say that is not okay. Right? We're going to say that is not okay.

Obviously, we're also going to continue to say Israel has a right to defend itself. We're going to also have those conversation with the Israeli government on how to make sure that we cont- -- that we -- that they make sure that they follow the international humanitarian law and that they protect civilian lives -- innocent civilian lives.

So, those conversations are going to continue to happen. But we know -- we know thousands of lives have been lost.

Go ahead.

Q: The House is expected to have round two of their attempt to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the Homeland Security Secretary, today. Has the President been in touch with Democratic leadership about their efforts to block it? We know that every vote counts, so has he been checking in to make sure that all Democrats are actually going to be there for the vote?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can -- I can tell you that, obviously, the Office of Leg Affairs here who does -- who deals directly with Congress, they're in regular touch with congressional members. I don't have any specific conversation that the President has had on this particular issue.

Look, you know -- and I kind of -- I've been saying this for the past couple of minutes. It's like the -- the House Republicans need to do serious work -- work that actually matter, work that's actually -- the American people care about. This is -- this is not it.

The impeachment of Mayorkas -- let's not forget: Mayorkas played a big role in trying to get -- when we were -- when the border -- border security conversation was happening and there was a deal that came out of the Senate -- a bipartisan negotiation deal, Secretary Mayorkas was very much involved in that. And we wanted to see meaningful change.

And Republicans got in the way. They got in the way and didn't want to see that happen.

Now they want to continue -- continue on the sa- -- the shameful process of impeaching him. It's baseless. It is baseless.

And so, look, they should drop this. There's a bipartisan -- you know, a bipartisan agreement that came out -- out of -- for the national security supplemental. They should focus on that instead of doing another political stunt.

So, we're going to be -- you know, we're going to be forceful about that. And, look, they need to do their jobs. They need to do their jobs instead of playing political games.

Q: And on another topic really quickly. The Washington Post is reporting that the CDC is expected to shift its COVID isolation guidance, saying that you don't have to isolate once you're fever-free for 24 hours and symptoms are mild and improving. Does the White House feel this is long overdue?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I -- I saw that reporting. Want to be really careful because CDC is going through their pr- -- process. They're going to decide the guidelines, so I don't want to get ahead of that. So, let's -- let's let CDC go through their process. I just don't want to get ahead of them.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks. I just wanted to return to what Joey was asking you about with those -- the numbers.


Q: Because the President is not generically saying or -- or broadly estimating thousands of lives have been lost. He's saying a very specific number of 27,000. So, if he's not relying on the Gaza Health Ministry numbers that he's previously disparaged, what is he -- is he relying on something else to arrive at that figure?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the Admiral spoke to this, and he said there's data out there. So, we can get back to you on that. He said it, so we'd have to connect with him on that piece. But that's how he responded to one of your colleagues.

And so, I think the point that we're trying to make is, indeed, thousands of lives have been taken -- innocent lives, innocent Palestinian lives -- and that's a tragedy.

Q: But 27,000 is a lot more --


Q: -- than a thousand, so (inaudible) --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No -- but I hear you. No, I hear you. I hear you. And that's -- I'm not going to refute what the President said, obviously.

And that's too many, right? One -- we say one is too many. The number should be zero.

And so, what the President wanted to do yesterday is make sure that, you know, he was very clear that lives have been lost, innocent lives have been lost, and we mourn those lives. And we want to make sure that, you know, that doesn't continue.

And so, our policy is still the same, but we want to make sure that innocent lives are protected.

And that was the point that the President was trying to make.

And -- and, you know, I'll just -- I'll just leave it there. I know that Kir- -- Admiral Kirby spoke to data that's out there. So, obviously, I would refer you to him.

Q: I just -- you guys aren't citing other data, necessarily. I -- I was assuming that you're just sort of saying "public data" so that you won't have to admit that he's using these numb- --


Q: -- the Gaza Health Ministry.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I -- I hear you, Matt. I'm going to have to refer you to -- to what the Admiral said just moments ago.

Q: And then I just wanted to ask for a point of clarification. Earlier, you were asked about the transcripts being released --


Q: -- as some House Republicans have called for. And you said that House Republicans are wasting their time and they're not being serious. Were you referring to something else? Or are you referring to them calling for the transcripts to be released as "not being serious" --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm just --

Q: -- and "wasting time"?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wh- -- what I'm saying is that there are a bunch of things that matter to the American people that they have just not focused on. Right? That's what I'm talking about.

As it relates to the transcripts, that's something that, obviously, the White House Counsel is -- is looking at. They said they're looking at it, so I would refer you to them.

Go ahead, Justin.

Q: Thanks. Seung Min asked you about the possibility of a discharge petition. And I wanted to follow on that and ask if the President has had any conversations with progressive Democrats in the House specifically. Because if you were to pursue a discharge position, it would likely hinge on folks who have expressed real reservations for providing additional military aid to Israel but who are probably broadly supportive of the President's agenda.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don't have -- I don't have conversations to read out to you on that particular issue or topic.

Q: And then on inflation. I know you were asked about it earlier, but there are elements of the report -- food, shelter, or services -- that all kind of accelerated certainly above estimates. And I'm wondering -- you said the economy was in a much different place. Is there any worry that inflation might actually be picking back up and that we could see sort of a --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we have concerns --

Q: -- a boomerang effect?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- basically. Look -- and you -- you've heard Jared say this from this podium -- and many others who are part of our economic team -- is that we've -- we certainly -- we look at trends -- that is something that we do here -- and not read too much to -- to -- you know, to data from one month. That is how we operate here. And others do as well.

But we certainly understand that there's more work to be done to lower costs. That is something that we're aware of. And so, certainly not going to get into forecasting from here. We're going to try and continue to make co- -- progress in lowering inf- -- in lowering inflation as we transition to a steady and stable -- stable economic growth, which you hear us speak to that very often.

And so, what I will say is, inflation is down two thirds from its peak. Core inflation is the lowest since May 21st [2021]. Prices fell over the last year -- as I mentioned before, gas, milk and eggs -- all important products that matter to -- to the American people. And we know that rental inflation has slowed, but it takes a while to show up in CPI.

And so, look, that's -- what we say, we look at the trend. We see how -- how the economy is moving, and we don't focus on -- on a one-month -- one-month data. And so, I think that's what's important here.

But we're also going to do -- continue to do the work to lower costs.

Go ahead.

Q: Yeah, I -- I've seen reports that a task force has been created to prevent the accidental retention of presidential records. What is their deadline? What is their mission? Does the President think this is going to work, or does -- or is there an expectation that people are still going to walk home with records?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I'm going to refer you to -- the specifics of that task force, obviously, to the White House Counsel's Office. But the President believed it was important enough -- right? -- to move forward with a task force. He takes this very seriously -- you know, this process of documents -- takes it very, very seriously and wants to make sure that we -- you know, the next stages, the next steps of this moves in a -- continues to move in a transparent way.

So, as far as any specifics to it, I would refer you to the White House Counsel's Office.

Q: So, you don't have a deadline, like --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- I don't have a --

Q: -- that they would need to --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have a timeline --

Q: -- get it done before the next president?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I -- I don't have a timeline for you.

Go ahead, Gabe.

Q: Hi, Karine. Earlier, you mentioned that the President or the White House thought it was a good idea for him to come out last Thursday. Just want to clear it up. Was it the President's idea to come out Thursday?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It was the President's idea. Yes. He wanted --

Q: It was his idea?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It was his idea.

Q: And how forceful was he when he, you know, came out and --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I --

Q: He said he wanted to do it at that time?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, you saw the President out -- do this -- make a statement, take questions from all of you because he wanted to do it.

Q: Did anyone advise him against it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- I'm not going to get into private conversations that the President has. The President is the President of the United States. If he says he wants to speak to -- directly to the American people, he's going to do that.

Q: And following up on something that Mary asked and some others have asked as well. Independent of whether House Republicans are asking for those transcripts, why won't the White House commit to releasing even a redacted version of the transcripts if it has classified information?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm not saying that we're not committing. I'm saying that they're looking at it. I'm saying that they, meaning the White House Counsel's Office, is looking at it. I just -- I just don't have anything to share with you at this time.

It is not a "no," and it is not a "yes." It is: We are looking at this. There's processes, there's protocols, and they're looking through that.

Q: And finally, it's our reporting that the notebooks that were part of this investigation are currently in the custody of the FBI. Does the White House or does the President want those notebooks back?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything for you on that. I don't.

Go ahead, Gerren.

Q: Thanks, Karine. The White House this afternoon is convening the descendants of families of civil rights icons and Black historical figures like Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, MLK, Malcolm X, et cetera. What -- this is also perfectly timed for Black History Month.

What -- what does the White House hope to achieve with this convening? This is the first time of such a thing happening. And what will be discussed? Will they -- will they be discussing the rollbacks on affirmative action and attacks on DEI perhaps?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, obviously, we're honored to have the -- over 30 descendants convene later today at the White House, as you just stated, to celebrate Black History Month. It's -- and -- and as we work to advance the values -- the values their ancestors spent their whole lives trying to achieve.

So, the legacy of these icons and their families can't be understated. The Biden-Harris administration looks forward to continuing to work with these generation of leaders to improve outcomes for Black Americans.

And we're proud of what we've been able to achieve, if you think about the record Black -- low Black unemployment, which is really important; if you think about Black-owned business -- small businesses that has really boomed under this administration; making sure that we increase homeownership and also lower -- lower healthcare costs.

And so, those are the things that, obviously, we're going to continue to work on. We're proud that we've been able to do. We are honored to have over 30 descendants here at the White House, especially in this important month of Black History Month where we acknowledge the -- the sacrifices that they've all made. Don't have anything specific or any details to share. But this is an important moment, and we are looking forward to having them here.

Q: One more question.


Q: The D.C. City Council had a preliminary vote the other week on a Secure D.C. bill that expands the detention -- detention for youth and adults who commit violent crimes, establishes drug-free zones, et cetera. Given the President's signing of a overturning of a D.C. criminal code last year, does the White House have a position on this new D.C. bill that seeks to address public safety here in the nation's capital?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as police chiefs will tell you across the country, we've seen, actually, a significant drop in crime last year, in 2023. And so, obviously, the President's efforts to fund the police and measures to prevent crime are working.

According to this 2023 FBI data, there has been significant, obviously -- a drop in -- in crime, including one of the largest yearly declines in homicides ever.

And so, look, if you even compare it to what we saw -- what we saw in Trump's administration in their final year, we saw that in the U.S., in this country, that the largest increase in murders ever recorded.

So, the President took action. We're seeing -- we saw -- we're seeing a decrease in -- in last year. And so, look, we want to do more. Obviously, the President respects the D.C.'s right to pass measures that strengthen both public safety and public trust but not, certainly, going to comment directly on the proposal that's still being debated. So, we're going to let D.C. go through their process.

And we're going to do everything that we can to continue to lower crime here in the U.S.

Okay. All right. I have one more. Go ahead, Tia. I haven't called on you.

Q: Thank you.


Q: Is President Biden aware of the outcome of Pakistan's election recently? And is there any stance from the White House on that upset outcome where a majority of the seats in that Parliament are independent?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, obviously, yes, the -- the President is very much aware. Millions of Pakis- -- Pakistanis turned out to vote last week, including record numbers of Pakistani women, members of religious and ethnic minority groups, and young voters.

So, certainly, we congratulate the Pakistani people for participating in last week's elections -- including poll workers, civil society members, and journalists and election observers who have protected Pakistan's democratic and electoral institutions.

And so, we are -- we are proud to stand with likeminded democracies, as we consistently convey clearly, both publicly and privately, to the Pakistani government and across the Pakistani political spectrum the need to respect the will of the Pakistani people and ensure a transparent election process. It is critical, and it is obviously important.

All right, everybody, I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks, everybody.

11:18 A.M. EST

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

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives