Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

May 17, 2022

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Buffalo, New York

9:07 A.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello, hello, hello. Okay. I'll try and speak loudly.

Good morning. As you all know, we are headed to Buffalo, where the President and the First Lady will mourn with a grieving city. During the trip, the President and the First Lady will visit Tops Market memorial where they'll pa- -- where they'll pay their respects to the lives of lost -- to the lives lost in Saturday's tragic shooting.

Afterward, the President and First Lady will meet with family members of the victims, law enforcement and first responders, and local leaders at a community center to offer their condolences and comfort to those affected by this tragedy.

After, the President will deliver remarks at the community center. The President will call this despicable act for what it is: terrorism motivated by a hateful and perverse ideology that tears at the sco- -- the soul of our nation. He'll call on all Americans to give hate no safe harbor and to reject the lies of racial animus that radicalize and divide us and lead to the act of racist violence we saw on Saturday that took the lives of 10 Americans.

President Biden will call on Congress to take action to keep weapons off war -- weapons of war off our streets and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people who have a serious mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves or others.

And the President will call on Americans to seek a more perfect union and embraces the diversity that has made us the world's strongest and most dynamic nation in history of the world.

We -- we're joined on Air Force One by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Brian Higgins who represents Buffalo.

On the ground in Buffalo, President Biden will be joined by Governor Kathy Hochul, Buffler [sic] -- Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and Buffalo City Council President Reverend Darius Pridgen.

In the -- in his meeting with first responders and local officials, the President will meet with the Buffalo Police Commissioner and De- -- and Buffalo Deputy Fire Commissioner among many other state and local leaders.

We will, of course, share all of the -- all of that in pool notes as we normally do.

Finally, I want to make sure you all saw that, on Thursday, President Biden will welcome the Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of Finland to the White House.

We've got a short flight, so I'm going to just get to it. And, Chris, do you want to kick us off?

Q: Sure. So, the President said earlier when he took office that he wanted to boost efforts against domestic terrorism. Obviously, you know, this attack was carried out despite those efforts to refocus on white supremacy and domestic terrorism. Are there gaps in the administration's efforts? And what is being done to boost those efforts now?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I know that -- that Congress, right now, is looking at the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. We've been -- we've been asked about that, so I just wanted to give an answer on that. You know, we're still studying the details of the legislation, but the President has been clear in his commitment to countering domestic terrorism threats.

I talked a little bit about this yesterday, about what we have been doing in particular here in the administration. You know, we've been working to implement the government-wide National Strategy to Counter Domestic Terrorism President Biden directed his national security team to develop on his first full day in office. Recognize that that has evolved into the most urgent terrorism threat the United States faces today.

So, that works -- that work includes -- just very quickly -- improving information sharing; adding resources to prevent domestic terrorism recruitment; increase our support for federal, state, and local law enforcement in addressing domestic terrorism nationwide; confronting long-term contributor -- contributors to domestic terrorism; and rooting out hate and bigotry to fight gun crime.

As we have talked about, we are going to continue to call -- I said that at the topper -- on Congress to expand background checks, renew our ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and confirm Steve Dettelbach to head ATF.

I do want to go back to -- a second -- about law enforcement. And I also said this yesterday, but the way that the law enforcement -- local law enforcement reacted and was on top of what happened in Buffalo and the other cities was -- they should be commended.

And so that's what we want to continue to do: provide them the assistance that they need; when this sad events -- these sad events happen, that they're able to react in the way that's saving lives and protecting lives the best that they can.

Q: Karine, on NATO, Turkish President Erdo?an made some pretty strong comments yesterday suggesting that he would not want Finland and Sweden to join the Alliance. With those leaders coming to the White House tomorrow -- or on Thursday, excuse me -- what is the U.S. prepared to do to assuage Turkey's concerns? Have the Turkish government communicated anything they want from the U.S. in terms of concessions? And what is the U.S. prepared to offer Turkey to reassure them about their -- the Sweden and Finland NATO campaign?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, Secretary Blinken spoke to this on Sunday. He held a press conference in Berlin -- you know, meeting with his counterparts in NATO.

Look, we -- we are confident that they will reach a consensus as an Alliance and -- on an entry process should they decide to apply. So, that -- we're confident that, again -- and Secretary Blinken -- so I'm just really re-upping what he says: that there will be a consensus as it relates to Turkey and Sweden and Finland of applications.

Q: What gives you confidence in that, given that -- I mean, after Blinken's comments, Erdo?an's tone seemed to get even less optimistic or willing to allow them into the Alliance?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, as we know, there's a lot of support for Sweden and Finland to -- to join NATO. We've seen that in polling. We've seen that in voice support just across -- across the NATO Alliances. And so, we have every confidence that there will be a consensus.

There -- there's conversations happening. I cannot speak for the Turkey government as what they need or what they're looking for. But again, we feel very confident. And I'm -- that is something that the -- Secretary Blinken said himself after -- when he was in Berlin recently.

Q: Karine, a question about guns. Can you give us a sense of what the administration's intelligence is or view is right now of the potential for copycat attacks and what's being done on that? And then I have a follow-up.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don't have anything to share on any copycat attacks. I know I heard reporting that there was one in Buffalo, I think yesterday. That is something for, like, the local -- clearly, the local -- local enforcement to -- you can go to them and ask them exactly what was happening there.

I don't have anything to share on the federal government side. I laid out what we're doing, what we have done in fighting domestic terrorism, but I don't want -- I don't have more to share.

Q: Further on the issue of guns: Gun prevention groups or gun violence protection groups -- prevention groups, rather -- have been pressing the White House to start an office of gun violence protection. Is that something that President Biden is considering, particularly in light of this most recent attack?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I would have to go back to the team and see if that is something that's actually on the table. I have not heard of that. I could understand why that is being requested or asked, especially what we have been seeing these past -- this past weekend. I just don't have anything more to share or preview or anything to --

Q: All right. Just one last follow-up on that, sorry. It's just -- what is next then for this administration in terms of next steps on gun violence and gun reform?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, you know, we've said -- you've heard us say this: Our country is facing an epidemic on gun violence that is costing lives every day, as we've seen most recently in Buffalo and other examples. The President is using every tool he can to fight gun violence. He's done more through executive action than any President in their first history -- in their first year in office.

And I -- for example, we heard on Friday how over $10 billion from the Rescue Plan has been spent or committed on ways to fight gun crime. The President wants cities and states to use even more. The Justice Department issued a tough new rule to stem the flow of ghost guns, which are increasingly being found at crime scenes and which are the weapons of choice for terrorists and criminals.

But there's so much more to do, and that's why we are calling on Congress to act on what I was talking about: the expanded background checks, renew our ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine, and confirm our ATF nominee as well.

Q: Karine, you were talking about the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. That -- it's somewhat broad in what it would do -- increasing resources, what have you. Does the President think -- does the President believe that there should be a domestic terrorism statute that allows prosecutors to charge suspects of mass shooting with domestic terrorism?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So in light of today's evolving domestic terrorism threat, we have to consider whether legislation -- legislative reforms could meaningfully and materially increase our ability to protect Americans from acts of domestic terrorism while simultaneously guarding against potential abuse and outreach.

You know, we have asked the Department of Justice as part of our strategy to counter domestic terrorism, as I just laid out, to closely examine whether new legislative authorities that balance safely -- safety and the protection of civil liberties are necessary and appropriate. And this is something they have said they are carefully considering. So, this is still in progress as something that they're looking at.

Q: And also, yesterday, you were asked a couple of times about whether or not certain commentators and media, whether or not certain members of the Republican Party as well should share some blame in amplifying "replacement theory." It seems like the administration at this point is not calling out by name some of those people that have, in fact, amplified that theory.

Can you walk through the thinking of the President and the White House of why this is not a time and why it's not effective to call them out? Or do you feel that it's not effective, and will you call them out by name?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the people who spread this filth know who they are, and they should be ashamed of themselves. But I'm not going to give them or -- give them or their obnoxious ideas they're pushing the attention that they desperately want.

So, the President has already called out this -- this poisonous, false, hateful ideology, including on Saturday and Sunday, saying, "Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America" and that "We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America."

Every leader should condemn that hate and certainly not echo it. We're going to focus on what unites us as Americans. That's going to be what we're focusing on.

Q: So we should anticipate, in that case, as a follow to this, that we won't hear that from the President today either?

THE PRESIDENT: So, I mean, just to reiterate, Jonathan, I'm not going to give them a platform. So, I just want to make that very clear.

But we're going to make our case directly to the people. We have a vision for this country -- one where we combat hate, racism, and violence.

We denounce white racism and domestic terror. We hope all will join us in denouncing hate and racism, as well as the conspiracy theories that run rampant online.

For today, as I stated earlier, is I -- the President and the First Lady are going to comfort the grieving victims and the families who lost their loved ones. And he's going to listen to them, he's going to talk to them, and he's going to be there for them as their President.

Q: And one more on a different topic. Over the weekend, there were a number of large demonstrations and rally in defense of abortion rights. The President, of course, has spoken that he supports that as well. Why did he not appear at any of these?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So the President and the Vice President were energized to see the many people peacefully gathering this past weekend. The administration continues to do everything possible to protect access to women's reproductive rights, including working closely with abortion rights groups, providers, and elected officials, and more. But he was, indeed, gen- -- energized to see what -- folks coming out, peacefully protesting, and speaking out.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sally.

Q: Yeah, just on politics quickly. Does the President have any plans to watch the Pennsylvania returns tonight? Obviously, it's his other home state. It's a really important primary for both parties. And when can we expect to see more of him on the campaign trail heading into November?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don't have anything on his schedule on what that's going to look like the next several months, going into November. So, as you know, I'm not going to go into politics from here.

But, obviously, Pennsylvania, as you were saying, Sally, is near and dear to the President -- to President Biden. And he spent a lot of time on the ground there as President talking about his plan to lower costs for the American people there and the need to get something done in Congress.

He's going to continue to take his plan to the people of Pennsylvania and throughout the country. And as you've heard President Biden say over and over, "Don't compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative."

Right now, the ultra-MAGA congressional Republicans want to raise taxes on the middle class, take away a woman's right to -- to right -- right to reproductive healthcare, and oppose the administration's work to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and put more cops on the beat.

The President isn't going to shy away from underscoring the contrast between congressional Republicans and the work he and his administration are doing to lower prices and make our communities safe and stronger. But I don't have anything for the -- his future role as we go up into November.

Q: And just quickly on --

Q: And, Karine -- and just --

Q: Oh, sorry --

Q: Last one, Karine --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible) follow up.

Q: No, just on one other topic. Yesterday's Cuba announcement from the administration -- how closely is that related to the Summit of the Americas coming up? And when can we expect to see those formal invitations go out to the nations?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don't have anything new on the invites just quite yet.

But let me just give you a little bit of the announcement yesterday: The Cuban people are confronting an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, and our policy will continue to focus on empowering the Cuban people to help them create a future free from repression and economic suffering.

The President is fulfilling his commitment to the Cuban- American community and their family members in Cuba by facilitating family reunifications, strengthening fam- -- family ties and facilitating educational connections, increasing support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs, ensuring that the remittances flow more freely to Cuban people while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses.

These policy are designed to center on human rights and empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. And so that is -- that is our focus.

I know you asked me "Why now?" So the -- following the large-scale protests in July 2021, President -- President Biden directed his national security team to take action in two primary ways. And those are -- those what -- is what I just listed out. And that's where it came from.

Q: So one quick follow-up on Cuba.


Q: Why does the Biden administration feel confident in the safety of the U.S. resources they're sending to Cuba with these new steps when these anomalous health incidents haven't been solved?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, you know, I get -- I understand the question, but at the same time, we have to make sure that we're helping the Cuban people.

To your -- to your question, that's something that we're monitoring, clearly, and just keeping a close eye on. But we also have to make sure that the Cuban people does -- do not suffer.

Q: And does the U.S. have a plan?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So that's our focus there.

Q: Does the U.S. have a plan if those attacks continue in Cuba?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything more to share beyond the announcement that we made yesterday. We are going to have our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, with me at the podium tomorrow. So we can -- that's a question you can ask him.

Q: Can I sneak in one more quick one?


Q: Just -- do you have an update on when the President will make a decision on student loan relief? And also, I'm wondering if the administration has assessed whether or not even relief for $10,000 -- what kind of impact that could have on inflation.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So let me start with your first question. We have no policy to announce yet.

But as a reminder, no one has been required to pay a single dime of student loans since the President took office. You know, I will note that the administration's actions have already provided more than $18.5 billion in targeted debt relief to more than 750,000 borrows [sic] -- borrowers. This is through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness -- borrowers who have a total and permanent disability, borrowers who were misled by their college or university, and borrowers who attended ITT Technical Institutes.

Again, the policy has not been -- we haven't announced it yet.

So this is your question about inflation: And -- but I do want to state that Jared Bernstein has spoken to this before -- your question, Zolan -- and he's mentioned that the impact on inflation by pausing federal loan repayments would be almost negligible, in his words -- something like 0.001 percent.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thanks, Karine.

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

9:25 A.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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