Joe Biden

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

March 05, 2024

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:54 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. So, I want to begin by sharing some news on how President Biden is fighting for working families and lowering costs by taking on corporate rip-offs.

Ahead of his State of the Union Address, the President is convening his Competition Council this afternoon to announce new actions to crack down on hidden junk fees and promote competition. President Biden is establishing a new strike force, co-chaired by the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, to crack down on illegal pricing.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is slashing credit card late fees from an average of $32 down to $8. This will save consumers $10 billion a year, an average savings of $220 for the 45 million people who are charged late fees each year.

The Department of Agriculture is finalizing a rule to protect small farmers and ranchers. The Federal Communications Commission is circulating a proposed rule that would ban "bulk billing," helping lower Internet costs and increase choices.

Our administration's actions to ban hidden junk fees will save Americans more than $20 billion a year. The President will make clear in his State of the Union that he will continue fighting to lower costs for families.

I have some news we'd like to share with you all. On March 15th, President Joe Biden will host Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Ireland for a bilateral meeting, followed by St. -- by a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House on March 17th, continuing a longstanding St. Patrick's Day tradition.

The leaders will reaffirm the close and enduring partnership between the United States and Ireland and the extraordinary bonds between our people. They will discuss our countries' shared commitment to continue supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia's brutal aggression, as well as our cooperation on a range of other global issues.

They will reaffirm their steadfast support for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as we welcome the recent restoration of Northern Ireland's Executive and Assembly.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff will also host the Taoiseach and Mr. Matthew Barrett for a breakfast at the Naval Observatory on March 15th.

And as you can see when I walked out, three of our amazing wranglers came out with me. And so, before we get started with the briefing, I have a couple things that I want to say.

So, you know, they're moving up in the world. They're going to stay in the family but still moving up -- and it's so well deserved of all three -- into new roles, obviously.

Allyson Bayless has been by my side since day one and a rockstar wrangler -- I'm going to get emotional -- for the last two years, is -- is moving over to the campaign. There is no one who worked harder or more hours than -- on our team than Allyson, as you can -- as you can all attest by the hours of the day that she responds to your emails. She accomplishes everything with diligence and composure. And she always has a bright, bright sunshine spirit, even when we -- even I'm in -- when in my dark spaces, as we tend to joke around. And she has a -- an incredible sense of humor and a wit that is unmatched.

Silas Woods has -- has the biggest heart of everyone that I know. And sometimes I worry about him because he has such a big heart. And every single day, I see him go above and beyond to coordinate movements, get you all what you need and make accommodations for everyone as he -- as he can. And some of you don't know he's often the reason you're able to get that shot, right? Silas is really good at getting that shot -- shot, get in the room, or hear what the President has to say, obviously.

There isn't a single person here who doesn't have a kind word to say about Silas, and there's no better teammate, which is why the Second Gentleman is stealing him from us. He came from OVP, so now he's going back, essentially, to that world. The Press team won't be the same without Silas, but we're glad we'll still get to work with him every day. I'm going to miss you very much, Silas. Literally, the biggest heart of anyone that I know.

And finally, Davis. Davis Conger came to us from the State Department, having traveled the world with Secretary Blinken. He's brought skill and professionalism to our team, and he's -- and he is someone you always know you can rely on. Every day, he has brought competence, kindness, and coolness under pressure to his job. He's always so even cool -- even-keeled and cool, which is why Annie Tomasini has hired him as an advisor in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff.

Three -- three incredible new roles for three incredible young people. We are extraordinarily proud of all of you -- the work you've done and the work you will now continue to do at a higher level, obviously, on behalf of this President. And so, I'm super, super proud of you. You guys are like -- like my kids who are flying out -- flying off. So, I'm glad you will still be part of the broader team, obviously. And I'm really, really sad to see all of you go, but I am so personally, personally proud of all of you.

And now, they're going to get up and they're going to walk out -- (laughter) -- because there's so much work to do, as you know, as wranglers. But thank you, guys. Love you all.

MS. BAYLESS: Thank you, Karine.

MR. WOODS: Thank you, Karine.

MR. CONGER: Thank you, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)

All right. With that, Admiral John Kirby is here to give an update on the Middle East. And, Admiral, the floor is yours.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Q: Good afternoon.

MR. KIRBY: This morning, I think you all are tracking, the Department of Defense conducted another airdrop of humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Three U.S. C-130s dropped 60 bundles with a total of over 36,000 Meals, Ready-to-Eat. We were joined in this endeavor by several Jordanian aircraft as well.

As President Biden has said, this will be a part of a sustained effort while our -- with our international partners to scale up the amount of lifesaving aid that we're getting into Gaza.

And as I said last week, we're exploring other channels to get aid into Gaza, including a maritime route. To that end, we are looking at both military and commercial options to move assistance by sea. There's still an awful lot of work that's being done on this to flesh it out.

Of course, we're also going to continue to urge Israel to facilitate more trucks and more routes, opening up more crossings so that more aid can get in to people in need and increase that flow.

And, with that, I'll take some questions.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Zeke.

Q: Thanks, John. That number on the -- the 36,000 meals. Was that just the U.S. contri- -- contribution to that? Or was that also the Jordanian contribution to that airdrop?

MR. KIRBY: That was just the U.S. The Jordanians flew -- I believe it was four aircraft. And I can get you the exact number of how much they dropped. But it was -- it was food that they dropped too.

Q: And then in terms of the scale of that, I mean, that's a drop in the bucket of what the need is in Gaz- --

MR. KIRBY: Oh, certainly.

Q: -- in Gaza right now. And you talked about the maritime corridor planning as well. I mean, this war has been going on for, you know -- for, you know, five months now.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: Why isn't the U.S. and its allies further along in the planning stages for a maritime corridor or other operations like an air drop with more equip- -- with more equipment, more resources, more personnel on standby? Should -- you know, from the moment the President gave the go-ahead, shouldn't there have been more contingency planning to get more aid in much faster?

MR. KIRBY: We've been working on the humanitarian assistance from -- since the beginning, as you said, many months ago. And quite frankly, the best and most efficient way to get aid in to people in a confined space like that in a very urban environment is on the ground.

I mean, yes, you can move more volume in -- in ships, whether they're military or commercial ships, but eventually that stuff has to get ashore, then it has to get loaded onto vehicles and then trucked in. Right?

So, the trucks are the best way to do that. And that's why we've been working so hard to -- to try to increase the flow. And during the week-long pause that we had before, we were able to get it up to 200 trucks a day.

It was through President Biden's urging that we got the Rafah Cros- -- Crossing open to aid. It was at his urging that we got Kerem Shalom open. But it just hasn't -- the flow just hasn't been enough to meet the need. And as the war has progressed, the need has gotten obviously much more dire.

So, it's not like we -- even though we're just now talking about airdrops, it's not like the idea of airdrops just -- just happened, just dropped out of the sky. It's been something we've been talking about for quite some time. And the maritime route as well.

The maritime route, yes, it can move more volume at sea, but it also is going to require a heavier logistics lift and some infrastructure ashore and very much going to need the support of allies and partners. And so, those discussions are ongoing.

Q: And then does the President have any plans to meet with Benny Gantz before he leaves Washington this evening?


MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ed.

Q: Thank you for answering that one.

MR. KIRBY: So, we can go and move on from Ed now.

Q: Nope. A few others here. (Laughter.)

The President this morning signaled that he's concerned about violence in Jerusalem and in the region in the coming days. Is there something specific he's been told to anticipate?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I won't speak to specific intelligence one way or the other, Ed. I mean, obviously, this is something we're -- we're always mindful of, particularly given what's going on between Israel and Hamas. But I don't think I'm going to elaborate on that.

Q: There -- just to backtrack on something from last week. I don't think you've been asked about this, at least on camera. But when he was in New York and suggested he had reason to believe there would be a ceasefire by Monday, and that hasn't happened, why did he think that at the time?

MR. KIRBY: He was referring to updates and briefings that he'd been getting from the national security team about the progress of negotiations. Obviously, we all wish that that had happened. We wish that it would happen today. But we're still -- we're still negotiating. We're still trying to get there.

Q: And on Haiti. Is the U.S. continuing to monitor that situation? And does it have any sense of the whereabouts of the Prime Minister?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. As far as I understand, no. I will let the Prime Minister speak to his travel. But I'm not aware that we have any keen sense of what his whereabouts are.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mike.

Q: Thanks. Just following up on Haiti. You've called on Americans to evacuate. How should they do that when the airport is under attack?

MR. KIRBY: We -- again, I'd refer you to the State Department to -- they're the ones that issued that -- that advisory. Not a safe time for Americans to be in Haiti right now. There are other ways to leave. Again, I'll let the State Department do that.

They're -- they're in touch with -- or are making themselves available to Americans who are there and want to -- want to get that information.

Q: You said yesterday that you're working to expedite this multinational force led by Kenya to deploy to Haiti as soon as possible. They've said that they're ready to deploy within 72 hours. The holdup is funding -- in part, U.S. funding -- that was pledged by the administration that's being held up, as we understand it, by Republicans in Congress.

How urgent are those conversations? And how are you going to expedite it if you've got this -- this key holdup?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I'm not sure that that simplistic explanation is exactly accurate, that the -- that that is the only thing holding this up. But let's put that -- but let's put that aside.

You're right, we're going to need some -- we're going to need some support. And we are working actively with members of Congress. I mean, we -- I think -- I think we can all recognize that this is in our interest as well as the region's interest and certainly the interests of the Haitian people to get a more stable, calm, secure environment there.

Q: So, just one last follow-up. If -- if that's a simplistic explanation, then what -- what is the holdup?

MR. KIRBY: Again, we -- there's -- they've al- -- Kenya has already agreed to do this. That's a big first step. And we're working with Kenya, we're working with other partners to see if we can get this multinational security mission up and running as soon as possible.

I just don't have any more updates for you other than that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Selina.

Q: Thanks, Admiral. Thanks, Karine. You had said yesterday that part of the reason why it's so hard to get aid into Gaza is, in some cases, because of the Israeli War Cabinet. Is that acceptable?

MR. KIRBY: There's nothing acceptable about the dire situation on the ground in -- in Gaza in terms of the lack of food; lack of water; lack of medicine; in some cases, a lack of fuel. That shouldn't be acceptable to anybody. So, short answer to your question is: No, it's not acceptable. And that's why we continue to work with our Israeli counterparts.

As I said in my opening statement, and you've heard the President say as well and the Vice President, that it's time for Israel to open up more crossings and allow more aid in.

Q: And on the Vice President. There were reports that the National Security Council had asked her to, quote, "tone down" her speech on Sunday. What can you say about that?

MR. KIRBY: I would point you to what the Vice President's spokesperson already said about that story, in -- in calling it inaccurate.

Q: Does the administration still believe it's more effective to withhold public criticism of Netanyahu in order to have more sway in private? And is that private sway waning?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm just -- I don't think I'm going to accept the premise of that question. I mean, we have been nothing but candid and forthright in private with our Israeli counterparts and, certainly, in public in the comments that we have made.

And you've heard, again, from the President and the Vice President in just recent days expressing very clearly what our concerns are with the humanitarian situation in there and how it is unacceptable and how we need the Israelis to step up and do more.

Q: And just lastly, Hamas said today they won't accept a deal that does not include a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. Is that realistic? And if not, where do negotiations go from here?

MR. KIRBY: I ain't going to negotiate in public. We -- we've been working this real hard. As -- you heard from President Biden just today that we're still hopeful we can get there. But nothing is done until everything is done, and not everything is done in terms of this negotiation.

So, what we're looking for and what we want: a temporary ceasefire for about six weeks that will allow us to get more aid in and, more importantly, get all those hostages back with their families where they belong and reduce the violence. That's the deal on the table.

And as the President also said today, it's a rational deal, and the Israelis have been cooperating. They have been negotiating in good faith on this. It's time for Hamas to step up to the plate, take a swing, and let's get this thing done.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff.

Q: The -- Hamas is saying that they have now extended a deal that Israel has not responded to. Israel is saying that Hamas has to accept the deal that you've been referencing with regard to hostages. What's -- can you sort out what's true in both of those things? And can you also comment on -- has it been more difficult to have these talks in Cairo without an Israeli representative at the table?

MR. KIRBY: I, kind of, sort of, already did it, Jeff, but I'll -- I'll -- maybe I'll take it a different way. There has been, throughout the process of these many weeks, back and forth between the sides -- proposals, counterproposals, and -- and haggling over the details and all the modalities of how this is going to work in terms of the phasing of the hostages and how many and the release of Palestinian prisoners and how many and how that's all going to take place.

There is now a framework. There is a deal, as the President said today, that has been the result of all this back and forth. So, the back and forth has happened. There's a deal now, and the onus is on Hamas to accept it.

And you had a second question.

Q: Israel hasn't been at the table --

MR. KIRBY: Oh, in Cairo.

Q: -- since -- since Sunday.

MR. KIRBY: Again, I won't speak to Israel and the presence or -- of their negotiators one w- -- they get to speak to that.

But as I said earlier, the Israelis have negotiated in good faith. They have agreed to this framework. Th- -- they have taken it right up to the end, and now it's up to Hamas.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kevin.

Q: Given that Hamas has now responded to the -- to the deal, and that they have not agreed to it as written, is it still practically possible to come up with an agreement by the start of Ramadan?

MR. KIRBY: That -- look, the negotiators are working hard on this, Kevin. That's what we -- we hope will happen, but we'll have to see.

Q: So, you -- there's -- there is still a belief that that is a possibility?

MR. KIRBY: I didn't say a belief. I said we hope that we can get this done as soon as possible.

We would have liked to have this done two, three weeks ago, if not before then. We are where we are. And we're working on this really, really hard.

Q: And given what the President said about the potential dangerous situation should an agreement not be reached, what conversations is the White House having with Israel about, for example, the situation around the Al-Aqsa Mosque? What -- what are, sort of, the conversations in advance to try and curb some of the violence that the President is --

MR. KIRBY: I don't think the Israelis need --

Q: -- worried about?

MR. KIRBY: -- need to be reminded by the United States that they live in a tough neighborhood. And I don't think they need to be reminded about the prospect of violence, particularly in a sensitive time like Ramadan. They don't need us to remind them of that. They're -- they're well aware of it.

Again, we're -- we're going to continue to work with them, as we have, to help sure -- make sure that they can defend themselves against Hamas, make sure that the Israelis -- the Israeli citizens are safe and secure as much as possible, and that we can try to get this hostage deal in place.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Yeah, thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh. Go ahead, Joe-Joe.

Q: Hey, thanks, Karine. John, why isn't President Biden meeting with Benny Ga- -- Gantz whi- -- while he's in Washington?

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Gantz asked to come to Washington and asked for a series of meetings with administration officials, and he's getting those. He met with Jake Sullivan yesterday. He met with the Vice President yesterday. Today, he's met with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. All of these conversations have been constructive and productive.

And we hope that Mr. Gantz goes home informed by the conversations that we had and the concerns that we expressed.

Q: I mean, was it a scheduling issue with the President being in Camp David or was it --

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Gantz had a chance to meet with senior levels all the way up to the Vice President of the United States. And -- and, you know, again, we think these -- these conversations were constructive and productive and -- and hope that he goes home informed by them.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Andrew.

Q: Thanks. John, the President and the Vice President -- and you, for that matter -- have both said that the situation with getting aid into Gaza is too difficult. The Vice President said that Israel needs to allow more aid in. "No excuses."

What is preventing the President from communicating to the Israeli government that if they don't allow aid, we will not continue supplying weapons? Why is that not a fair trade -- no aid, no bombs?

MR. KIRBY: Because the President still believes that it's important for Israel to have what it needs to defend itself against a still viable Hamas threat. And maybe some people have forgotten what happened on the 7th of October, but President Biden has not.

Q: John, how does keeping aid out of Gaza contribute to Israel's right to defend itself?

MR. KIRBY: Keeping aid out of Gaza is not the right thing for any purpose. It's not about -- it's just -- it's just not acceptable on the face of it, as I told Selina, and that's why we're working -- more than any other country, by the way -- to increase the flow. I mean, it is U.S. aircraft that are dropping these -- this food out of the sky in the last couple of days.

Q: Yes, but you -- you keep saying -- and you said yesterday -- the holdup -- that the problem is the lack of capacity being delivered on the ground. And that's -- that's the Israelis and, to some extent, the Egyptians, but mostly the Israelis. How is that -- and you said it's not acceptable earlier --

MR. KIRBY: You guys -- you're looking at this as a zero-sum game.

Q: No, I'm not.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, you are, sir. It's, "Well, if they're not doing what you want, then cut off the aid so they can't defend themselves." That's not the way we're going to do this. It's not the way we have done this. They have a right to defend themselves. They need the capa- -- wait, wait, let me finish.

Q: Okay.

MR. KIRBY: They need the capabilities to do that. There's -- there's aid that's desperately in need. And you know what? We can do that too. We can do both. Both are important. And both are going --

Q: Not if the Israelis --

MR. KIRBY: -- to be pursued by this administration.

Q: -- don't let it in, sir.

MR. KIRBY: I know -- I know you don't approve of necessarily the policy choices that we've made, but --

Q: I don't -- I have no opinion on the --

MR. KIRBY: But --

Q: -- policies. I'm just asking questions, sir.

MR. KIRBY: But we -- and I'm answering them.

We can do both. We can influence our Israeli counterparts to do more, to be more careful, to let more aid in, and we can continue to work to get that aid in ourselves.

Q: And one more follow-up, then. Israel -- according to Israeli media, the Israeli Defense Forces and industrial base are ramping up or preparing to ramp up domestic production of weapons that are currently U.S. supplied -- including dumb bombs, firearms, that sort of thing -- to be -- to be commenced next year, 2025.

Is the President concerned that this would lower U.S. leverage? And is th- -- is there a window that's closing during which the U.S. has the leverage and influence to get the Israeli government to do certain things with respect to human rights, for instance, allowing more aid into Gaza?

MR. KIRBY: The President's concerned, as I've said, about Israel being able to defend itself against a still-viable threat. We'll let the Israelis speak to their defense industrial base plans and intentions.

They're a sovereign country. They get to make those decisions, and we respect that. They're also a key ally and a partner, and we respect that alliance and that partnership as well.

The other thing that's keeping the President up at night is the humanitarian assistance and the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza. And that's why he has ordered these air drops. That's why we continue to urge -- very, very stridently -- the Israelis to open up more crossings on the ground to supplement the -- to supplement the aid that's already getting in and to try to improve what's not getting in.

And that's why, as I said in my opening statement, the President also has the team looking at maritime options.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Aurelia.

Q: Thank you so much. I want to ask you about some remarks the French President, Emmanuel Macron, made today. So, he urged Ukraine's allies not to be cowards, and he also added that he --

MR. KIRBY: Not -- not to be what?

Q: Not to be cowards.


Q: Cowards.


MR. KIRBY: Oh, cowards.

Q: Cowards. Cowards.

MR. KIRBY: Sorry.

Q: Sorry, my accent. And he added that he fully stood behind those controversial remarks he made last week about sending troops to Ukraine. So, what do you make of this rhetoric? Do you think the time has come for stronger language on Ukraine? Or is this not helpful?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to parse President Macron's words. I mean, he certainly has every right and ability to -- to speak for himself and his views. All I can do is speak for President Biden, the Commander-in-Chief. And the President has been clear: We have been extraordinarily strong in leading international efforts to support Ukraine for the last few years.

We need Congress to help right now -- pass that supplemental -- so we can continue that strong leadership and support more -- a coalition of more than 50 nations that the United States put together to support Ukraine.

He's also been very clear since the very beginning of this war: There's not going to be U.S. troops on the ground fighting inside Ukraine. And you know what? President Zelenskyy isn't asking for that. He's just asking for the tools and capabilities. He's never asked for foreign troops to fight for his country. He -- he and his troops want to do that. But they need the tools, and that's what we need to help with.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. We're bumping up against the President's schedule. Go ahead.

MR. KIRBY: Sorry.

Q: Thank you, Karine. I have questions on the Indonesian election, but just to finish up on Gaza. Is the Gantz meeting with the VP and also with Jake a signal that the administration is looking forward to a future Israeli government without Netanyahu?


Q: And maybe this one is for Karine. Will the President use any part of his State of the Union Address to acknowledge the anger of American Arabs and Muslims and progressive Democrats and explain to them why he's not imposing conditionalities on Israel?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm going to go around, and I'll get to that question. Let me just get to a couple more people before we lose the Admiral.

Q: Okay. Great.

And so, just on the Indo- -- on the Indonesian election. China, the United Kingdom, Australia, and several other countries have congratulated Indonesia's President-elect, Prabowo Subianto, on his apparent victory. Is there a reason why the administration is waiting?

MR. KIRBY: We congratulate the Indonesian people on a successful election. The President looks forward to early engagement with the new administration and to strengthening our cooperation under what is already a strategic partnership.

We're obviously closely following the ongoing vote count, and we understand that Minister Subianto has a significant lead. We've had excellent cooperation with him since the time he was Defense Minister. And, you know, if he is, in fact, finally elected, then we look forward to continuing that relationship.

Q: And just to clarify. The President-elect does have a long track record of allegations of human rights violations. He was at one point the son-in-law of former President Suharto, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years, and his Vice President-elect is the son of the outgoing President, Joko Widodo. Is the administration concerned at all about democratic backsliding in Indonesia?

MR. KIRBY: We're never ba- -- we never back away from our concerns about the need for human rights, civil rights, and all the values of democratic institutions. And the President absolutely will not shy away about expressing our concerns.

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

Q: Admiral, to ask that question more directly, or one of the other questions that was just asked: In Israel, the Vice President's meeting with Gantz was seen as a snuff to the Netanyahu government. Was it?

MR. KIRBY: The meeting with Minister Gantz, again, was at his request. He is a member of the War Cabinet. There is a war going on. And we believed it would -- it was a good opportunity to have a discussion with the War Cabinet about the way in which we're supporting Israel and the things that we want to see Israel do.


Q: The President was asked this morning how his relationship was with Netanyahu these days, and he responded, "Like it's always been," and then he smiled.

MR. KIRBY: Yep. (Laughter.)

Q: What was -- what do you -- what do you make of that?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know if I can improve upon that.

Q: What would you add to that?

MR. KIRBY: I wouldn't.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. (Laughter.) All right. Let's --

Q: One question -- one question on Haiti.

MR. KIRBY: I still like my job. (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got -- we've got to --

Q: One question on Haiti. The administration has provided more than $126 million in humanitarian aid to Haiti in 2023. Where has that money gone? And is it -- has it been affective?

MR. KIRBY: I can get you a -- Gabe, I'll get you -- we can get you a rundown of exactly how that -- those funds were allocated. But we are -- we're proud of the humanitarian assistance that we have and will continue to provide Haiti.

But the -- right now -- man, right now, the focus has got to be on getting that multinational security element in there to help create the conditions where the people of Haiti can live free and in security so that humanitarian assistance can get there more freely and get to the people that need it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Last question to the foreign pooler. Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Admiral. Following up on Aurelia's question. There's been some pushback on Macron's comments from the Germans and also from the Swedes as well. Is the U.S. worried that Ukraine's allies are starting to splinter?

MR. KIRBY: No. There has been tremendous international support and unity for Ukraine. The Pres- -- as you know, we met with the Prime Minister of Italy just last week. They've been strong. There's -- there's incredible unity. Everybody shares the same concerns that we do about just letting Putin take Ukraine and what that means for their safety and security and for the security of -- of the NATO Alliance.

No. No, we're not concerned about that.

Q: And are you worried about the stalling of this U.S. aid -- that it's putting more pressure on European Allies and causing fractures on -- at all, in that sense?

MR. KIRBY: We're worried that the delay on the national security supplemental and the assistance coming from the United States is going to have a detriment- -- actually, already is having a detrimental effect for Ukrainian soldiers on the battlefield. That's the main concern. And the time is way past now to get them the tools that they need to defend themselves.

Their defensive lines are starting to shift now, going in the wrong direction, because the Russians continue to push west out of the Donbas.

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

All right. As you know, the President's event is going to start shortly. Zeke, you have anything?

Q: Yeah. Do you have a, sort of, broad rundown of how the President spent the last few days at Camp David preparing for the State of the Union? Who was with him? Does he have the final speech text at this point?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, so, as you know, the President has been working on, as you just stated in your -- in your question to me, the State of the Union Address for the past several days. I'm not going to get into any specifics as to who was with him.

It's -- you know, it's -- it's some- -- it's going to be a moment that's incredibly important to him. Obviously, he's going to be not just addressing Congress but also millions of Americans who will -- going to be tuning in. And he's looking forward to that, to talking about the accomplish- --accomplishments that he's made the last three years and also the vision -- the vision that he has for this country, obviously, for the American people.

I'm just not going to get into any specifics or details. We'll have, certainly, more to share with you all tomorrow as we get closer.

You know, the State of the Union Address is incredibly important. He's going to be working on it, I believe, until the very last minute so he gets it just right. Because it's going to be an important moment. But don't have anything beyond that.

You heard me talk about the Competition Council, how that is part of the President talking about wanting to focusing on lowering costs for the American people.

Obviously, he's going to talk about our democracy; our freedoms -- right? -- fighting -- continuing to fight for that; reproductive freedom, how that's an issue that the American people truly care about. You're going to hear him talk about that.

And so, there's a lot of issues in front -- obviously, in front of the American people that they care and they want to hear directly from the President about. And so, that's what he's going to focus on.

We'll certainly have more to share as we get closer to Thursday.

Q: And then, on a different topic. A bit of a kerfuffle this morning across Lafayette Park at the Department of Veterans Affairs, running an effort to ban the display of that i- -- that iconic Time Square kiss photo on -- on V-J Day at the end of World War Two.

Was anyone at the White House consulted in that -- in the drafting of the initial memorandum? And then, did anyone at the White House call up the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and say, "Rescind that memo"?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, just -- I want to be really, really clear. The VA is not going to be banning this photo from VA facilities. So, I just want to be super, super clear about that. I know, as you just said -- you described it as a "kerfuffle." There was, obviously, some reporting on that.

I can say that -- I can definitely say that the memo was not sanctioned. And so, it's not something that we were even aware of until you all started reporting on it. But we are not banning that photo. And I'm just going to be super clear about that.

Any specifics about the memo and the process over there, certainly, I would prefer to the VA.

Q: But once you were made aware of it and after that -- after the memo, sort of, spread on social media, did the White House direct the Veterans Affairs Secretary to rescind it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- I believe the VA Secretary made a statement on this, so I'd refer you to the statement --

Q: But did he say it under his own -- of his own volition?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, he did that on his own volition. But he -- I would refer you to his statement. And just re- -- I'm really reiterating what the VA said. The VA Secretary said that it will not be -- that particular photo will not be banned from any facility -- VA facility. So, I want to be very, very clear about that.

Okay. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, Karine. President Biden has said a possible endorsement by Taylor Swift --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.)

Q: -- is "classified." How disappointed is he that she is telling people to vote but not for him?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Going to very careful. We're talking about 2024. And so, I can't comment on what Taylor Swift is saying or not saying. I have no idea. I'm not seen those statements.

And I'll just -- I'll just leave it there --

Q: Okay.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- and be mindful.

Q: Different topic. How is President Biden going to fix the border if he can go years without talking to the head of Border Patrol?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He was literally just with the head -- the Chief of the Border Patrol just this past Thursday in Brownsville, Texas. You all reported it. You all saw it. He was with -- he was with the Chief -- Chief Owens, I believe.

Q: The Chief who was in charge for two years before that said, "I've never had one conversation with the President or the Vice President." How is that possible?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, one thing I will say about Chief -- you're talking about Chief Ortiz?

Q: This is Chief Ortiz. Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, he was invited, I believe, to participate in the President's first trip -- visit to El Paso, which was back in January of 2023, and he did not attend. He was invited. He was invited. He is -- he did not attend.

What I can say is that you saw -- you saw the President with the present chief, which I think is important, because we are dealing with challenges at the border, because the President has take- -- made that a priority, worked with the Senate in a bipartisan way to come up with a way to move forward on the border, on immigration. Republicans rejected it because of what the former President, Donald Trump, told them to do. He told them to reject that proposal.

So, the President is going to continue to be steadfast, focus on an issue that a majority of the American people care about, which is the border.

Let's not forget, if that policy had went into law, it would have been the toughest and the fairest bipartisan border security agreement in decades -- in decades.

Q: And last one.


Q: Will President Biden publicly address Laken Riley's murder, allegedly at the hands of an illegal immigrant who was released by law enforcement multiple times, on Thursday night? I know he's put out a statement. But what about at the State of the Union?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You -- look, let me -- I do want -- this is such a tragic story and, obviously, situation. This is someone's life that was lost, so I do want to always acknowledge and extend our deepest condolences to -- to her family and to her friends and the people who -- who loved her. And so, want to always be sure to say that and -- because it's so tragic.

Look, I don't have anything to share about the President's speech as it relates to that particular question that you have. But we -- you know, we want to always -- always be sure that we li- -- lift up the families who have lost their loved ones in that way.

And I would reiterate -- you just asked me about the Border Patrol chief. The President was just there with the current chief, Owens. The President went to the border -- obviously, Brownsville, Texas -- to lift up the importance of doing something -- of doing something at the border.

And I would be remiss if I did not continue to say that Republicans rejected a bipartisan proposal that came out of the Senate. And so, if they truly, truly cared about what was going on at the border; if they truly cared about this immigration policies and trying to fix that, trying to move forward in a step, in a way where we have a tough and fair law, they would work with us on it. They wouldn't listen to the former President, who is clearly telling them to reject -- telling Republicans to reject it for their -- for his own political gain. And that's shameful. That's truly shameful.

Go ahead, Selina.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Will the President be watching the election results come in tonight?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, the President is going to be talking about the Competition Council today. He is continuing to work, obviously, on his State of the Union Address, because it's important to him, and he knows how important it is for the American people to hear directly from him. I don't have a -- I don't have anything to share. I've not spoken to him about his plans tonight.

Obviously, he will be kept updated. And he'll -- he'll be aware of what's going on tonight as -- as we see elections happening across the country. I just don't have anything specific on that.

Q: And the Consumer Bankers Association has been very critical of the Biden administration's rule to cut the credit card late fees. They called it "anything but" a win for consumers and "knowingly putting consumers' financial health at risk." What's the administration's response to that criticism?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I totally disa- -- we totally disagree, obviously. The President has always been very, very clear: He's going to do everything that he can to make sure that we lower costs for the American people. And what we are seeing is that -- we're seeing, you know, corporations, obviously, not passing along their gains to Americans -- to American consumers. And we've always been very clear about that. And so, we want to make sure that we protect -- we protect Americans. We want to make sure that we, obviously, protect American consumers.

So, we disagree with that sentiment. We disagree with that statement. And the President is always going to put the American people first.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q: Karine, does the White House have a position or comment on latest bill in Congress to crack down on Tik Tok -- just introduced today, I believe?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I have not seen the text or had an opportunity to speak to our Office of Leg Affairs or any -- anyone else in -- in the -- in the White House Office, so I don't want to get ahead of myself and speak to that.

Obviously, we'll take a look, as we normally do on any legislation, that believe will -- will be beneficial to the American people. I just can't speak to that at this time.

Go ahead, Kevin.

Q: Robert Hur is supposed to testify a week from today. Has the White House made a decision on releasing the transcripts of the President's interview with him?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I would refer you to the -- my colleagues at the White House Counsel's Office.

Q: Okay. And the Dartmouth basketball team has become the first college sports team to vote to form a union. Does the White House think that that's a good idea? Is that a smart move for college athletes?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I'm going to, obviously, let -- let teams make their decisions for themselves. We're not going to weigh in on that. As you know, the President is a union guy. We say that all the time, but I'm not going to comment on any particular team or actions that they're taking. That's for them to decide.

Q: To the back?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q: Karine, Senator Sinema just announced that she's not running for reelection. She's going to retire at the end of this term. I'm wondering if the White House has any comment.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I have not seen that. Obviously, that is news -- news to me. Look, we have had opportunities to work closely with the senator on some really key, important bills. She was leading -- one of the leading negotiators on the border security bill that came out of the Senate in a bipartisan way. We appreciated her efforts on that. And there are some other, obviously, ways that we've worked closely with her.

Outside of that, I don't want to get too far ahead. I -- this is the first time I'm hearing the news. But she's been a partner with us on many critical issues that matter to the American people. And I think that's important.

Q: Is there any -- anything you can tell us about the President's travel after the State of the Union this weekend and -- (a reporter sneezes) -- and into next week?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think the -- the --

Q: Excuse me.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Bless you.

I believe the campaign has made some announcements on some travel that the President will be doing after the State of the Union, so I would refer you to them. It is common that after a State of the Union, the President goes around and -- goes around the country to speak directly to the American people. You're going to see the President do the same. But I would refer you to the campaign on specific stops that he has coming up.

Go ahead.

Q: Karine, I just wanted to ask about the Meta -- the breakdown this morning -- hundreds of thousands of users. Do you have any more information on that and whether it's connected to a cyberattack?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, obviously, we all are aware of what happened from -- for the last couple of hours -- the incident. And so -- so, don't have anything at this time. We are -- we are not aware of any specific malicious cyber activity -- so, I can say that -- or any specific nexus as it relates to today's election. But we would have to refer you to the individual social -- social platforms, obviously, for any more information on that.

Q: Okay. Thank you. A quick separate one on the minibus spending agreement in Congress right now. It would divert about $45 million in fees from the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. So, I'm just wondering, given the administration's take on antitrust, is this a concern that that money would be going away?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as it relates more broadly, you know -- well, I'll say this: You know, the President obviously strongly supports funding for antitrust enforcement, which is critical to promoting competition and lowering cost for consumers. It's a -- this is a bit more complicated, so I just want to break this down a little bit.

The antitrust funding proposed in the funding bill is -- is a 4 percent increase over the last year and a 26 percent increase since 2021. Because of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, every agency is subject to budget caps, so preventing us from fully funding programs the way we want to.

These full-year bills represent a compromise. Obviously, this is what has come together with these -- with these six different bills. So, no -- no one got everything they wanted, obviously. That's what a compromise is. But they fund the government, prevent a damaging shutdown, and protect our progress. And that's what happens when you come with a -- when you come forward with a compromise -- a bipartisan compromise.

Go ahead.

Q: Karine, is the President aware or have any concern about the number of Super Tuesday states that have campaigns for uncommitted votes, ceasefire write-ins -- essentially, a vote against the President -- because of his stance on the war in Gaza?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I'm going to be super, super mindful. These are -- obviously, people are -- are voting right now, and I cannot speak to any upcoming election or -- as voting -- as voting is happening. So, I'm going to be super, super careful about that.

But what I will say is what I said last time when I was asked about Michigan specifically: The President thinks it's important for people -- for Americans to voice their opinions, to have their voices heard. He thinks that's incredibly important. We understand how painful this moment is for many Americans, for many communities -- obviously, the Arab and -- the Arab community, the Muslim community, more specifically. And so, we get that.

But I just want to be super careful and not speak to upcoming -- upcoming election -- upcoming voting that -- voting that's happening right now, to be more specific.

Q: Karine, can I just follow up?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know you had a -- I know you had a similar question.

Q: Is that -- is that also the message that the President will be saying during the State of the Union? And then I think you mentioned to my colleague that he will be taking this message around the country after the address. Is Michigan one of those destinations?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, not going to get into the states. I know that the campaign announced a couple of states already that he's going to be going to right after Thursday. So, you can expect the President to be visiting multiple states across the country the next, obviously, couple of months.

I'm not going to get into that. I would refer you to the campaign specifically on the most upcoming states, the announcements that they've made.

And I just kind of laid out, you know, what the President has been very clear about, the understanding of how people should have the right to voice their opinion, to voice their concern, to voice their pain. And that's what the President is going to consistently do. He's a president for all Americans, obviously.

As it relates to the State of the Union, I'm not -- I'm just not going to get ahead of any specifics on what he's going to say as it relates to that question.

Go ahead, Ed.

Q: Thanks, Karine. So, Cookie Monster posted on X that shrinkflation is making his cookie smaller. The White House official Twit- -- Twitter, or X, responded that -- blaming shrinkflation, basically, on companies. So, does the President, again, believe that shrinkflation and inflation are solely a company problem? Or do his policies play any role in that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, also, from my tweet, I believe we said, "C is for consumers getting ripped off." Right? And -- and the President -- the President has called on -- on companies to stop -- to stop, you know, taking advantage of Americans. He's been very clear about that.

He's repeatedly called on large corporations, more specifically, to pass along their savings on to their customers. We've said that. We've been very consistent about that. And that includes rip-offs such as shrinkflation. We see that. And -- where the size of a product, for those who don't know, gets smaller, even as the price stays the same or increases. That's what we've been seeing.

And so, it's giving families less bang for their buck. And the President has said -- and I'll quote him -- "Tired of being" -- the President said, "Americans are tired of being played for suckers."

And so, the President is going to have the Amer- -- the American people's back. That's what he's going to continue to do. He's going to talk about this -- not just shrinkflation but other ways that he sees corporations are ripping off Americans. You're going to hear from him shortly about the -- about the -- what he's doing next to -- to deal with junk fees. And I think that's really important.

That's what Americans want to see. They want to see their president fighting on their behalf.

Q: And out of that Competition Council, the President is announcing that strike force. Why did it take the Cookie Monster to speak up or an election year for this strike force to go? Why not do it year- -- a couple years ago when inflation was 9 percent?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't -- I disagree with the premise of your question there. It did not take the Cookie Monster. If anything, it feels like the Cookie Monster is responding to us and what we've been saying about shrinkflation. (Laughs.)

I can't believe I'm having a conversation about the Cookie Monster at the podium. (Laughter.) But that is where --

Q: Does the President have full confidence --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But that is -- but that is --

Q: -- in the Cookie Monster? (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That's a good one. I'm glad you're awake. I'm glad you woke up for me. I know you were nodding off in the back earlier. But --

Q: But why did it take -- why did it take so long to announce a strike force --

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

Q: -- when inflation was 9 percent?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- here's -- we'll -- here's the thing. The President's Competition Council has been going -- going on for some time now. Right? He has taken this very seriously in finding ways to lower costs for the American people as we are obviously dealing with inflation -- right? -- obviously dealing with that because of what we are coming out of with the -- with the pandemic.

So, the President has taken action. He's going to continue to do that. I would say the strike force is just another way -- along of many other announcement that this President has made -- in dealing with large corporations ripping off Americans -- right? -- and dealing with how do we get rid of junk fees.

And so, that's what you're going to hear from the Amer- -- from the President. So, to say that, you know, now, all of the sudden, he cares about this is not true. It is a false premise. It's a false question, because the President has been dealing with this for some time now.

And now he's making a new announcement on -- on the strike force, and I think it's important. And so, you'll hear more from him momentarily.

Q: Yeah. And one more, if I may. The President, I noticed, had -- had notecards la- -- at the border when he was doing his briefing there. He also had notecards last Friday with the Italian Prime Minister. Why does the President rely so heavily on notecards?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You're upset because the President has notecards? You're --

Q: I'm not upset. I'm asking you why.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You're asking me a question about the President having notecards?

Q: I'm asking why does he rely so heavily?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President, who has had a -- probably one of the most successful first three years of an adm- --administration than any modern-day president -- he's done more in the first three years than most presidents who had two terms. You're asking me about notecards? I don't think that's --

Q: Can you answer --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't think --

Q: -- his question?

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

Q: I'm asking you why he -- why he relies so heavily.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm not speaking to you right now, James. I'm talking to -- I'm talking to your friend over here, Ed. So, thank you so much -- but thank you so much for interjecting.

Go ahead, Ed.

Q: I was just asking why he relies so heavily on notecards.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think what's important here and what the American people care about is how this President is delivering for -- for them. And that's what he's doing. And that's what's the most important thing here.

All right. I'm going to take --

Q: In the back.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm going to take -- go ahead. Did I call on you already?

Q: You did. So, if you want to go to the back and then --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Wait. No, no, no. I can't do that.

Go ahead, Karen.

Q: -- come up here --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, no. Go ahead, Karen. Go ahead, Karen. Go ahead, Karen.

Q: Aleksey Navalny's widow, Yulia, was invited to the State of the Union by the White House, but she's unable to make it. Did the President extend that invite personally when he met with her last month?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, yes, I can -- I can confirm that she was indeed invited to the State of the Union. She is no longer able to attend. I would have to refer you to her and her people as to specifically why. But I can confirm that, yes, she was invited.

Q: Did the President extend that invitation --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, the President did.

Q: -- when they met?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, the President did.

Q: Karine, first it was Elmo --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) All right. Go ahead.

Q: -- now it's Cookie Monster. Are there -- are there --

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

Q: -- any other "Sesame Street" characters the President would consult?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jon. Jon, go ahead.

Q: Thanks a lot, Karine. The President recently said that he'd be open to meeting with the House Speaker in regards to that Ukraine funding bill. Is there anything to report? Is the President reaching out to the House Speaker in terms of a one-on-one conversation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, they just met -- the Big Four just met last week. They talked about the importance of, obviously, the national security supplemental, which includes the Ukraine funding. They talked about, obviously, avoiding a shutdown, which we are glad to see that Congress is doing that.

And, as you know, they had a pull-aside, they had a brief meeting afterwards. Not going to get into what was discussed. It was a private meeting. But the President has spent some time with the Speaker over -- I mean, just -- just last week -- literally, they were together just last week.

I don't have anything else to share.

All right, guys. We're going to wrap it up.

Go ahead.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Is the White House concerned about another --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible.) (Laughs.)

Q: Oh, I'm so sorry.

Q: No, no. No --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no. I'm more so teasing. I'm giving Ed a hard time. Go ahead.

Q: Is the White House concerned about another bank failure after New York Community Bank showed signs of trouble?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, obviously I want to be super careful, right? This is something that is monitored by -- by regulators. And this is something that we take very -- that they take very seriously and are always monitoring.

I don't want to get ahead of that. And we're always going to keep an eye on -- on that -- or they will, more -- more specifically, regula- -- regulator- -- regulators. I just don't have anything else to share beyond that.

All right.

Q: In the vein of that question about the Speaker --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. Yes. Yes, yes.

Q: -- one of mine was: He did, last week, extend a bipartisan olive branch to the former President to work with him on border security. Beyond saying that rhetorically, has there been any other attempt to reach him to talk about possibly working together? Have you heard from the Trump camp about it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, it -- as it relates to the Trump camp or campaign, that's something that I would refer you to the campaign on.

Look, the President has been very clear, and I think you've seen it in his action. The fact that we worked with Republicans to try and get to a border security proposal -- we did that because we believe it needed to be dealt with in a bipartisan way.

And I would add that when -- when we are able to work in a bipartisan way, in a bi- -- in a -- on behalf of the American people, we get things done. Right?

We see that with the CHIPS and Science Act. We saw that with the prevent -- gun violence legislation -- right? -- anti-gun violence legislation. You saw that with the infrastructure legislation.

Remember las- -- last time around, during the last four years, of the -- of the last administration, it was a punchline. Infrastructure, you know, Week was a punchline.

Q: But beyond saying it last week, there's been no active attempt to get the former President --

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

Q: -- on board?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm -- I am saying to you I don't have anything to read out.

But I do want to say, when we work in a bipartisan way, we are able to get things done on -- for the American people. We just are. And we see that. We see that with historic pieces of legislation that will change the lives of Americans for generations, which are incredibly important -- issues that a majority of Americans care about. And I think that's important.

I don't have anything to read out on any outreach.

I would certainly refer you to the campaign on anything specific as it relates to the Donald Trump campaign.

Q: Thanks, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks, everybody.

2:42 P.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

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