Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates and NSC Coordinator For Strategic Communications John Kirby

December 11, 2023

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

11:17 A.M. EST

MR. BATES: We're en route to Philadelphia, where the President will build on his decades-long commitment on behalf of firefighters. President Biden will deliver remarks at the announcement event for the city of Philadelphia receiving a $22.4 million SAFER Grant award.

The President has fought for firefighters and prioritized issues affecting them throughout his career. His remarks today will underscore his unwavering support for the firefighting community and pay tribute to those killed during the tragic Fairmount rowhouse fire in 2022.

Last night, Mike Bresnan, the leader of IAFF Local 22, who is joining us today, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that these funds mean President Biden, quote, "kept his word" to deliver funds that will allow them to re-establish the firehouse that could have responded the most rapidly to the tragic Fairmount fire.

Also, today marks a milestone for our implementation of the CHIPS and Science Act, as the Department of Commerce announced its first preliminary agreement with BAEs -- BAE Systems, Incorporated, for a CHIPS Incentive award of approximately $35 million.

Today's announcement is the first step of many to come.

Over the coming year, Commerce is going to award billions more to make sure semiconductors are made in America, to invest in research and development capabilities, to keep us at the forefront of new technologies, to strengthen our national security, and keep bringing good-paying manufacturing jobs back to America.

And with that, I'll turn it over to Mr. Kirby.

MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Andrew. So, tomorrow, as you know, the President is welcoming President Zelenskyy to the White House for a series of discussions. And I believe President Zelenskyy will be doing some -- (coughs) -- excuse me -- some other meetings in town with some key officials.

We're looking forward to this visit. It's a chance for the President to get an update from President Zelenskyy about how things are going on the battlefront, but also to make it very clear to President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people that we're going to continue to support them, particularly at this very difficult time.

As winter approaches, we're seeing now increased missile and drone attacks by the Russian Armed Forces against civilian infrastructure. We expect that that will continue, particularly against energy infrastructure and as the Russian forces continue to try to take offensive action against the Ukrainians all along that front, but particularly in the East.

And obviously, the other -- the other bit of context here is, of course, the -- the negotiations on Capitol Hill about funding the President's supplemental request. I think you'll hear more from the President tomorrow in -- in that context, but he'll continue to make clear his -- his case for why additional funding for Ukraine and Israel are vital to our own national security interests at this time.

And he'll -- he'll keep urging the negotiations forward and urging compromise, where -- with the goal of getting these -- all these national security issues fully funded as -- as we need. They're all urgent. They're all -- they're all important.

Now, just quickly, yesterday marked Human Rights Day, the start of Human Rights Week and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And obviously, we remain committed to working together towards a freer and more just world for everybody.

On Friday, the United States took action to promote accountability for human rights abuses and violations by imposing visa restrictions and sanctions on 37 individuals and 13 countries. We're obviously going to do -- continue to take these sorts of actions to hold people properly accountable for the way they treat each other and their own population and the population of other -- of other nations.

So, with that, I'll take some.

Q: John, can you talk about the decision to invite President Zelenskyy at this moment? Did President Zelenskyy request to come to D.C. to lobby for the supplemental? Did President Biden invite him? What are you hoping that this -- this visit kind of makes a difference in this at this moment?

MR. KIRBY: This was an invitation by President Biden. And, again, I think it comes at a critical time. This is exactly the right time to be having President Zelenskyy in town to have these discussions.

Because of what's going on in Ukraine, the increased activity we're seeing by the Russian Armed Forces as winter approaches, but also what's going on on Capitol Hill and the argument that the President is going to be making with all of you tomorrow about the need to fund this supplemental.

Q: Kirby, what will --

MR. KIRBY: But he came at the President's invitation.

Q: What will the President tell Zelenskyy about the supplemental aid? I mean, he can't really promise that it's coming for sure, right?

MR. KIRBY: I think, without getting ahead of the President, I can assure you that -- that he will make it clear to President Zelenskyy that we're standing firm on this supplemental request. We absolutely need to get additional funding to support Ukraine going forward.

Now, and he'll also talk to him about the approach that him and his team has taken on Capitol Hill, but I don't want to get further afield than that.

Q: Will we have a new weapons package? I know you just had one last week. Will you have another one to announce, do you think?

MR. KIRBY: Well, again, I don't want to get too far ahead of the President. But as you know, Steve, we don't have too many more weeks left in this year to be able to provide security assistance. So, I would fully expect that you're going to see us announce additional security assistance before the end of the month.

Q: Kirby, there's the new reporting that Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus munitions in an October attack in southern Lebanon. Some rights groups are saying that it should be investigated as a war crime. Does the U.S. have any comment on that?

MR. KIRBY: We've seen the reports. Certainly concerned about that. We'll be asking questions to try to learn a little bit more.

I do think it's important to remind that white ph- -- phosphorus does have a legitimate military utility in terms of illumination and producing smoke to conceal movements.

And obviously, anytime that we provide items like white phosphorus to another military, it is with the full expectation that it will be used in keeping with those legitimate purposes and -- and in keeping with the law of armed conflict.

But we've seen these reports. They're -- they're fresh. Just don't have any more on it right now.

Q: Just to follow up. Obviously, that is something that occurred in Lebanon. Is the U.S. concerned about this conflict spiraling out and involving more countries and more fronts beyond where it is right now?

MR. KIRBY: We absolutely don't want to see this conflict spill over into Lebanon. We don't want to see a second front. We don't want to see it escalate and widen.

And so, it is also in the context of that that we're -- we're concerned about these reports.

Q: John --

Q: Are you all --

Q: -- and so, the UAE and other nations are really pushing for another ceasefire in -- in the war right now. Can you kind of tell us a little bit about what the U.S. is doing at this point to communicate to Israel what you're interested in as far as seeing another temporary pause?

MR. KIRBY: Well, so, big dif- -- you know, a difference between a ceasefire and humanitarian pause. We still don't support a general ceasefire here. That leaves Hamas in control of Gaza. But we absolutely do support additional humanitarian pauses.

And we are in active -- and when I say "active," I mean daily conversations with our partners in the region, from the Arab states as well as in Israel -- about the likelihood of getting humanitarian pauses back in place.

Don't have any progress to report today, but it is an active issue of discussion and conversation with our -- with our partners. We think it's still valuable.

Now, I will say that even -- even absent a humanitarian pause -- and, again, we want to get one back because we want to get those hostages out -- we are still working with the Israelis to get humanitarian assistance in. And there was a big backlog of trucks over the weekend that are -- that have started to flow in now.

It looks like Kerem Shalom will be -- will be available for additional humanitarian assistance convoys in the near future. That's a good thing.

So, even without the pause, we haven't let up off -- off the gas in terms of the humanitarian assistance.

Q: Is the White House in touch with Alexei Navalny's team? And are you all concerned about his disappearance?

MR. KIRBY: We're deeply concerned about these reports that he's now been gone for, allegedly, a week and neither his representatives or his family know where he is. He should be released immediately. He should never have been jailed in the first place.

And we're going to work with our -- with our embassy in Moscow to see how much more we can find out.

Q: Kirby, just one more. Can you confirm that Jake Sullivan is traveling to Israel this week to meet with officials there?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything on Jake's calendar to -- to speak to today. But -- but, you know, if -- if and when we get to a point where we can talk about it, we will.

Q: Taiwan --

Q: Could you --

MR. KIRBY: One thing I'd say, though: There's a -- look, you have seen repeated visits by senior offic- -- officials from the administration to the region since October 7th. I would fully expect that you're going to continue to see that.

Q: John, on China. Taiwan has arrested two service members for trying to share sensitive U.S. helicopter tools with China. Is that something that concerns you? What are you doing to prevent China from getting access to sensitive technology like this?

MR. KIRBY: I haven't seen those report, so let me take that question and get back to you. Obviously, we take our operational security and classified information, the capabilities our mili- -- military systems very, very seriously.

But I'll have to take -- I'll have to take that question.

Q: Have you had time to re- -- have you had time to review the Section 702 legislation that was introduced?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, so, there's two things moving forward here on Capitol Hill which are important to watch this week. There's one bill proposed by the House Intelligence Committee which fully reauthorizes 702. We think that's important. 702 is critical to our national security. Going after Zawahiri, the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack -- all of those were -- our response was aided by access to 702 information. So, there's some reforms in the House Intelligence Committee proposal that we think will be difficult to get to, but -- but, in general, it reauthorizes it.

There's another one in the House Judiciary Committee that basically guts it and would really be damaging to our national security.

And so, we urge members of Congress, if you're going to move forward this week, move forward on the one proposed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Q: On the F-16 that crashed into the Yellow Sea --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: -- near South Korea. Any update on that for us?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know much more than you do. I mean, the Pentagon has already spoken to this. Apparently, the pilot ejected and is in reportedly good condition. That's a good thing.

I don't know what the cause of the mishap was.

Q: Can I --

Q: I think the ground is coming up pretty soon. So, Andrew, if we (inaudible) -- a couple questions for you, too. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, John.

MR. KIRBY: You guys done with me? (Laughter.)

Q: See you soon.

Q: Thanks, John.

Q: Andrew, any comment on things moving forward with a potential impeachment inquiry of the President? And, also, does the White House believe that the President's son, Hunter, should testify this week?

MR. BATES: I am not going to weigh in on that process except to say that President Biden is laser- -- laser-focused on the issues that matter most to American families. You see him today getting ready to deliver for firefighters in Philadelphia.

Like I mentioned, we're making an historic announcement in advanced manufacturing to keep bringing jobs back from overseas. He's focused on what matters to American families, not Marjorie Taylor Greene's conspiracy theories about his own family.

Q: Senator Murphy indicated that the White House will be stepping up its engagement this week on the supplemental, specifically on border policy. Any updates on what the White House is going to be doing this week?

MR. BATES: Last week, you heard the President make the case to Congress and the country on the urgent need to support Ukraine in its fight against Putin. He has repeatedly conveyed that message to congressional leaders personally. Our Legislative Affairs Office, OMB, NSC -- they are in close touch with lawmakers from both parties, and -- and we'll continue to do that.

Like we have said, like you heard from Director Young, from Secretary Blinken yesterday: Our own national security is at stake in Ukraine. Putin has indicated that if he is successful there, he has designs on other Eastern European countries who are members of NATO and who we are obligated to defend. And like the President has been exp- -- explicit about, we would defend them. So, it would be infinitely more expensive in every way not to act on this supplemental.

Q: Does the White House see Trump's "dictator" comments as a threat to national security? And what are you doing to prevent, you know, the U.S. from getting a dictator?

MR. BATES: Now, I'm going to follow the Hatch Act and avoid commenting on the 2024 election.

But I want to be very clear: President Biden has been working to protect American democracy and to unite people of all political views against these unprecedented threats we've seen to our democracy in recent years, since before January 6th. And those warnings are bipartisan.

You've heard a number of Republican congressional leaders weigh in similarly. You've heard members of the McCain family echo the President's warnings. You -- you've heard -- you've heard Jay Michael Luttig, a retired judge, echo the President's warnings.

And I want to say: It is wrong to suspend the Constitution and abuse federal power to persecute critics and trample the First Amendment. It is wrong to override the will of the voters, as upheld by over 80 federal judges and the Trump administration's top election security official. It is wrong to engage in violent rhetoric and spread dangerous conspiracy theories that have cost brave police officers their lives.

Q: Thanks, Bates. We're heading to Philadelphia. Do you have a comment on the University of Pennsylvania president resigning after her congressional testimony?

MR. BATES: I'm not going to weigh in on personnel matters directly. You saw our response last week to the hearing. We were full-throated. The President believes strongly that this is a moment to put your foot down and to ensure we have moral clarity. He has done that consistently. He always will.

I -- I saw that she issued a statement withdrawing those comments. That was the right thing to do. I've seen others have done the same. That was the right thing to do.

Q: The President has a relationship with the University of Pennsylvania. Did he talk to anybody in school leadership about the incident -- the board of trustees, the school president -- about what happened there?

MR. BATES: I don't have any private conversations to read out to you.

But, again, genocide is an obscenity. And it is the responsibility of every leader any time it is raised to speak out in very clear terms that that is an attack on the dignity of every single American and we have to reject it.

Q: Andrew, is he going to say something similar tonight at the Hanukkah reception?

MR. BATES: I -- I am not going to preview the President's remarks. But, as you mentioned, that is an important event. It's something that he takes very seriously on a personal level. And I know we put out some details for all of you about who will be joining us, including Holocaust survivors. But I -- I'm not going to get ahead of his -- his remarks here.

Q: Thank you.

Q: How do you guys define success for President Zelenskyy's meeting with Speaker Johnson?

MR. BATES: President Zelenskyy, like you were hearing Mr. Kirby underline, is the most effective advocate for Ukraine. He is someone who is respected across the country and in both parties in Congress, and no one can better articulate why we -- we need to continue the very successful efforts that we have led in the world.

Remember that the President has led a coalition across the world, united in defending our values: democracy, sovereignty. I know there are a lot of congressional Republicans who talk about sovereignty.

We should also keep in mind that if congressional Republicans want to be serious about joining President Biden in countering Iran, there is no better way to do so than to vote for this supplemental. Iran has been critical to Putin's war effort. And they also are assisting Hamas; they sponsor Hamas.

So, we need to keep that context in mind this week.

Q: Thank you, Andrew.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Do you know how many visits he has made to Pennsylvania in the last year or so?

MR. BATES: We can try to get that for you. I don't know offhand.

Q: Okay. Thanks. Appreciate it.

11:33 A.M. EST

Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates and NSC Coordinator For Strategic Communications John Kirby Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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