Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

February 03, 2023

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1:49 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, guys. Hello, hello, hello. Okay, I'm going to do this really fast.

As you know, we are en route to the home of the future Super Bowl champion, Philadelphia Eagles. As the First Lady would say, "Go Birds."

This week, the President visited Baltimore to make a historic investment in the rail along the Northeast Corridor and traveled to New York City to announce funding to complete -- to complete a critical early phase of the Hudson Tunnel Project.

Today, the President and the Vice President are traveling to Philadelphia to announce hundreds of millions of dollars in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to upgrade Philadelphia's water system and replace lead service lines.

Today -- today's visit continues the administration's focus on implementing its economic agenda to deliver real results for the American people, its aggressive work to replace all lead service lines in America in the next decade.

Everyone deserves safe drinking water in America. Your ZIP Code shouldn't determine whether your kids are at risk of lead poisoning every time they access a basic necessity.

The President and the Vice President will be joined in Philadelphia by EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Governor Josh Shapiro, Senator John Fetterman, Senator Bob Casey, Congressman Dwight Evans, and Mayor Jim Kenney.

I think I'm just going to go to questions. I do have a week ahead, but I could -- we could always send that out, unless you want that right now.

Q: We'll do questions. So, Karine, a couple balloon-related questions.


Q: When did the White House learn about the balloon? And why was there a delay in, you know, disclosing that the balloon was out there?

Secondly, did the President make the decision to cancel the Secretary of State's trip? And what does this episode say about U.S.-China relations at this time?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. That's a lot of questions right there.

Q: Got them all in.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, he was -- the President was briefed on this on Tuesday. He was -- he has been -- continued to receive regular briefings and updates from the national security team.

I just want to reiterate what the Pentagon said earlier today -- my counterpart. We've detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now, as you all know. It does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.

President Biden was briefed, as I just stated. And he's -- and he asked the military to present options. It was the -- it was the strong recommendation by Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, the commander of Northern Command not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people on the mili- -- on the ground.

President Biden took the rec- -- that recommendation from the military seriously -- of his advisors, clearly. The President will always put the safety of the security of the American people first.

And as my colleague said over at the Department of Defense earlier today, we are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table.

I can say, as it relates to Blinken's trip, the President agrees with the Secretary -- Secretary's decision to not go to -- go on this trip, and it was a consensus that -- that it was not appropriate to travel to the People's Republic of China at this time.

We note that -- the PRC statement of regret, but the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable this -- this occurred.

And to your question about the relationship moving forward: Look, the President is always going to put the safety of -- of Americans and the security of American people first.

Under this President, we are more prepared to -- to outcompete China, protect our national security, and advance a free and open Indo-Pacific than ever before.

Many of the efforts we have been pursuing are bipartisan, underscoring the alignment at home and -- and on this key issue. And so, that's how we're going to continue to proceed.

I think I got everything, but --

Q: Karine, may I ask a follow-up?


Q: Will the United States attempt to capture this balloon while it is in U.S. airspace?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you heard from -- from my -- from my colleague, they are clearly keeping an eye on the balloon and going to continue to monitor it. We're not going to give any more specifics than that. But it is something that the Pentagon is -- is keeping a close eye on. And I'm just not going to get ahead of -- of the flight path or the pattern or anything like that. I'll just leave it to the Department of Defense.

Q: Has the President ruled out, then, shooting it down, if he's already taken that recommendation? Or is that still something he's considering?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we're going to continue to monitor. I'm going to, clearly, leave it to the Department of Defense to -- to figure out the next steps as they monitor this. But I just don't have anything else to share.

Q: Karine, when you said that --

Q: Was the President --

Q: When you said that it's not appropriate for him to go right now, what does the President think would be the appropriate conditions under which the Secretary of State's travel could go ahead?

And also, DOD and you have just clearly stated it's a surveillance balloon, and the Chinese are trying to sell it as, you know, a weather intel-gathering balloon. So you're not -- you seem to not be buying their propaganda here if you think --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, again, we've acknowledged their statement of regret.

Q: Yeah, but they're saying they're not gathering intel the way you have laid it out.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear you. I hear you. I -- I'm -- what I'm saying is -- look, I'm going to refer you to the Department of Defense as it relates to intel.

But I will -- I will reiterate what my colleague has said, which is: We acted immediately to take all necessary steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information. We are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table.

And as the -- as the Pres- -- as the Pentagon -- my -- the Pentagon have said, this is a high-altitude surveillance balloon. It will -- it is well above commercial airspace.

And again, as my colleague has said at the Pentagon, it is well above 60,000 feet. It does not pose a military or physical threat. And again, I don't have anything more to share on that. I would refer you to my -- to my colleagues.

Q: Karine -- Karine, if this was already found out by Tuesday, why did it take so long for the decision to cancel Secretary Blinken? And if you can just clarify when that decision was made. And also, are there any plans for President Biden to call President Xi over this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any -- as it relates to a conversation with President Xi, I can tell you this: Our national security team has communicated directly with the Chinese government about this at several levels. And I just don't have any calls to preview for you.

As it relates to the President's -- the -- Secretary Blinken's trip, I leave it to the State Department to explain that further.

But again, as I said, the President agrees with the pres- -- with the Secretary postponing this trip.

It is very bumpy, and we are being asked to sit. And thank you, everybody. I'll see you on the ground.

1:55 P.M. EST

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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