Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Tampa, Florida
11:55 A.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Today we head to Tampa, Florida, where the President will contrast his commitment to protecting and strengthening Medicare and Social Security and lowering prescription drug prices with congressional Republicans' plan to cut these programs.
Unfortunately, there is a long history of congressional Republicans' efforts to cut these programs. Last year, the Republican Study Committee, which includes -- most House Republicans called for deep cuts -- deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits.
Senator Mike Lee said, quote, "One thing that you probably haven't heard from a politician: It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots, and get rid of it." End quote.
And Florida- -- Florida's own Senator Rick Scott is promoting a plan to put Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security on the chopping block every five years, which would put the health and economic security of 63 million Medicare beneficiaries -- 69 million Medicaid beneficiaries and 65 million Social Security beneficiaries at risk.
The stakes are high for America's senior -- seniors. And in Florida today, the President will highlight the work his administration is doing to protect and strengthen Medicare and Social Security.
I also wanted to update you all on the President's continued commitment to securing paid sick leave for rail workers. As you know, the President signed a bill in December that averted a rail disruption and ensured union members would receive the 24 percent pay raise in their tentative agreements. When signing this bill, the President committed to continuing the fight to secure paid sick leave for all workers, including rail workers.
This week, C- -- CSX, the nation's largest railroad, and two -- and two of its unions, BMWE and BRC, negotiated agreements ensuring that M- -- BMWE and BRC members can take up to seven days of paid sick leave annually.
These agreements came following continued advocacy and involvement from the Biden administration, pushing railroad leadership to reach an agreement that secured paid sick leave for workers, which continues to be a priority for President Biden.
The President's -- the agreements between CSX, BMWE, and BRC to provide paid sick days are good -- are good steps, ensuring no covered worker has to risk their income to take a day off when they are sick.
Securing paid sick leave for rail workers will continue to be a priority for the President. And we are strongly urging other rail companies to follow suit.
With that --
Q: Thanks. I have two topics. Can you talk a little bit about what the White House wants to accomplish with President Lula's visit tomorrow?
And I'm wondering: Obviously, one theme is always democracy ver- -- against autocracy. But are there limitations to achieving that with a leader who still maintains good relations with Cuba, Venezuela, has said Zelenskyy is just as responsible for Russia -- or for what's happening in Ukraine as Putin?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the President is looking forward to meeting with the President of Brazil tomorrow. As you mentioned, they're going to have a bilat at the White House.
We are going to have a backgrounder later this afternoon that the National Security Council is going to hold. So I don't want to get ahead of what's on the agenda, what will be discussed, but I would refer you to the backgrounder that's going to occur later today.
Q: Do you just have, like, a broad thematic --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don't want to get ahead of what the NSC folks are going to do. And then, clearly, we'll have a little bit more to share tomorrow during the briefing.
But just want to let them set -- set the tone and set the -- set what will be discussed, an agenda, or give a little bit more flavor. And they're going to do that today at the backgrounder.
Q: And not commenting on any imminent Cabinet departures, but the Biden administration was the first administration in more than 20 years to not have an Asian Cabinet Secretary. And I'm wondering in future -- in future Cabinet departures, would the President commit to rectifying that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, not going to get ahead of any personnel announcements from here. As far as we know, as far as I know, as far as you all know, Marty Walsh is still the Secretary of Labor. (Laughs.)
Q: I wasn't asking about him. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm just saying -- I'm just saying that is still true today, but I just don't have anything else to share. Once -- if something comes up that we need to share, certainly we will -- we'll do that.
Q: Well, what about the diversity aspect?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean --
Q: Because we've heard a lot of anger from the AAPI community about this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I do want to say, like, we've talked many times about the President's diversity commitment in this administration, making sure that this is indeed the most diverse administration that we have seen in modern politics.
And it is, right? We have seen that over -- over again. You've heard us say that over and over again that this is the most diverse administration ever -- I shouldn't even say "in modern times." Ever.
And so, look, every community is important to this President. Clearly, we want to make sure that we have an administration that represents the United States. He thinks that's important. And we'll continue to work towards that.
So, the AAPI community is important, like every other community. I just don't have anything to share on that particular -- that parti- -- or any announcement, any personnel announcement to make.
But I can assure you that this is a President that is committed to making sure that communities are being represented in his administration. And he's proven that. And that has been proven to be the case.
Q: Karine, just to --
Q: So, we're on a trip to Florida to talk about Social Security and Medicare, which are both on a path to insolvency. What is the White House plan to put them back on sound fiscal footing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Put Medicare and Social Security?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, you've heard the President talk about this for -- gosh, since -- since the campaign about how it's important to fight for Medicare, how it's important to fight for Social Security. And he's going to continue to do that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, he's going to certainly call out Republicans when they're trying to -- when they're trying to, you know, put a bull's-eye on those two piece- -- two programs that taxpayers pay into, that taxpayers actually deserve.
And you've heard me talk about it. We're talking about seniors. We're talking about vets.
But if you look at the Infl- -- the Inflation Reduction Act, for example -- right? -- that has -- in that -- in that piece of legislation that the President signed just last year, it strengthens Medicare. It protects Medicare. It helps lower costs, in particular, especially for seniors.
So, the President has taken actions in the -- in his legislation, piece of legislation turned into law, where we -- where he zeroes in on making sure that we're protecting Medicare.
Now, look, the President has been very clear. He's -- you heard him. You heard him during the State of the Union. You heard him yesterday in Wisconsin. You heard him in the interview that he did with -- with PBS.
Republicans, if that's what they want to do, which they have said -- we have the receipts from many of you who have laid out -- you know, we like receipts here, as the young people say -- that have laid out -- that have laid out and said when -- you know, said specifically -- Republicans in the House have said --and Senate -- have said that they want to sunset these two programs and have put up -- put forth plans on how to do that.
So, what we want to see -- the President is going to put his budget out on March 9th. He's going to -- he's going to lay out how he's going to put forward a fiscally responsible budget for fiscal year 2024. And he's asking -- he's asking the House, you know, Republicans to put forth their budget. If this is what they want to do, okay, let's see what your spending cuts are.
But again, the President is going to continue to fight for these key consequential programs that Americans deserve.
Q: And when he was on the campaign trail in 2020, the President actually campaigned on increasing Social Security benefits in a number of areas. Is that still on the table? And what is the President going to do on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don't want to get ahead of the -- of his March 9th budget. I'm not going to get ahead of what he's going to talk about specifically or what he's going to lay out. I know better -- I know better to not get ahead of the President, so I'm not going to do that.
What I can say for sure and for certain, and what the President has said over and over again, is that he's going to protect, he's going to fight, and he's going to call out these House Republicans and Senate Republicans who have continuously said over the years and especially the last several months that they want to cut those two key benefits, again, that taxpayers deserve and pay into and should benefit from.
Q: In the State of the Union Address, the President did say that he had a plan to shore up the Medicare trust fund (inaudible), but he didn't mention -- didn't say the same thing for Social Security. Does that mean he doesn't have a plan for that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm just not going to get ahead of what the President is going to lay out on his budget -- in his budget on March 9th. I'm just not going to get ahead of it.
Q: And have you looked at the budget cuts that the House Budget Committee released yesterday as a suggestion of where to start on some budget cuts? Are there areas of agreement that you see there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So -- yeah, I saw that. Look, what we think is this is a list just -- just another set of Republicans' suggestions that would raise costs for seniors -- that's how we see it -- middle-class families, and students; take away people's healthcare; increase poverty; and reverse our progress on jobs.
That's how we saw the list that they put forth. Republicans need to put forward, again, a complete budget, like the President is going to do on March 9th -- a complete budget proposal to see what their fiscal priorities are.
And so, that's what we want to see. That's what we're going to call out for. And we need it to be -- we need it to be in full, and we need it to be transparent, just like we're going to do.
Q: I have a couple. But right off the top, on Turkey: We've obviously seen the catastrophic death toll continue to grow. I know the administration has both been in contact and been working on aid proposals. Any update from the U.S. side on that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, thanks for that question. What we -- clearly what we are all witnessing and seeing in Turkey and Syria is devastating.
So, two urban search-and-rescue teams from USAID composed of 159 members and 12 rescue dogs are now on the ground to support Turkey's search and rescue efforts. We have also deployed approximately 170,000 pounds of specialized tools and equipment, including hydraulic concrete-breaking equipment, saw torches -- saws, torches, and drills, along with advanced medical equipment to assist with search-and-rescue operations.
We also have U.S. personnel on the ground working to address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquakes. U.S.-supported humanitarian partners are also responding to the destruction in Syria as well. And the Department of Defense is working to identify any future capabilities that might be needed to support the response.
As you know, the President called the President of Turkey just a couple of days ago. I don't have any calls to read out. But clearly, we are -- we stand by, and we have -- clearly are ready to assist in any way -- in any way possible.
Q: Okay. And then, obviously, the President is traveling to Florida. The governor of Florida is currently in a bit of a battle with Disney at this point in time. I was wondering if the President was going to weigh in or had any thoughts on that, from his point of view.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't know about you all, but I certainly would not get into a fight with Mickey Mouse. (Laughter.) I don't think that would be the thing that I would be doing.
And I don't think that's what Governor Sanders, as you heard from her rebuttal -- I don't think that's what she meant when she said there's a choice between "normal and crazy." So I'll leave that there.
But the President -- as you know, Phil -- is in Florida today to talk about very real things that matter to Floridians -- as I mentioned, expanding affordable healthcare and protecting Medicare and Social Security from dangerous attacks by Republican officials, as you'll hear the President continue to call out and do.
Q: We received more details about the scope of the Chinese surveillance balloon program. What's the U.S. policy if we detect new balloons heading towards the country? Is it to shoot them down before they enter U.S. territory? Or what is it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I kind of got this question last time. It's a hypothetical question, so I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.
Clearly, every -- every event is going to be very different. As we -- as you've heard us -- as you've heard reported, there were three balloons during the Trump administration that were not shot down -- right? -- that we were able to move out of the U.S. continental air. And this one -- this last one clearly was something different.
But I'm certainly not going to get into how the intelligence community or the Pentagon moves forward with this program and how they assess. Just not going to get into details on any hypotheticals, which is not possible to do in reality.
Q: Was the President surprised by the Republican response to his allegations about Social Security and Medicare cuts during the State of the Union address?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President actually responded to this a little bit yesterday during his interview, and he said -- he said, look, it wasn't all Republicans, it was just a certain sector of the Republican Party, the extreme.
And he understands that -- look, you know, he has said, especially after the midterms, he's ready to work across the aisle to work with Republicans to get things done for the American people. That's what they want to see. They want us to put aside political warfare and actually deliver.
And he wants to build on the progress that he's made -- the economic progress. You heard him talk about that at the State of the Union. He spoke directly to the American people.
And he has an economy that we believe and the data shows that works: building an economy, growing an economy from the bottom up, middle out; not believing and not doing the trickle-down economy -- the trickle-down economy that we've seen for decades upon decades.
But at the same time, he is not going to shy away of calling out Republicans who have been very clear and deliberate by putting, you know, their plans during the midterms about how they were going to cut down or get rid of or sunset Medicare and Social Security. And that is something that he is proud to do. That is something that he is proud to fight for. And you'll hear more from him today in Florida.
Q: Senator Rick Scott has responded, essentially saying that the President should resign. He put out an ad in Florida accusing the President of cheating on his taxes and gutting Medicare. That's his response. What's the White House response to --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I do have a response. And -- like CNN's factcheck la- -- just two nights ago verified, as the President said: Scott's proposals would sunset all federal legislation, including Medicare and Social Security. That has been factchecked by one of your colleagues here -- or, you know, network here, CNN.
Speaking of factchecks though, Senator Scott's attack on us for lowering drug costs has been roundly debunked. Senator Scott's ad only cements that congressional Republicans are targeting Medicare, repealing the AARP-backed Inflation Reduction Act. As Scott is now calling for, it would be the largest cut to Medicare benefits in decades.
Every time Rick Scott opens his mouth, he proves the President's point. He doubles down. He doesn't step away. He actually doubles down, as he did this morning. The man who got rich overseeing the biggest Medicare fraud in history -- let's not forget that -- is protesting too much, once again.
So I'll leave it there. Go ahead.
Q: Karine, a couple more on China that are hopefully less hypothetical. (Laughter.) Do you think the partisan response of Republicans bashing the administration for its handling of it sort of plays to China's hands here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I'm just going to keep it really simple and basically repeat what the President said. And he said that -- he was very clear: "Make no mistake about it…if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act and protect our country." And that's what he did.
He put the -- he made sure that we protected Americans. We made sure that -- remember, when that ball- -- balloon was on its -- on its path, we were able to collect sensitive, secure information from that balloon. We were also able to protect any national security, sensitive information that was on the ground as it was moving on its path.
And when it got to a place where it was safe, where -- where the Pentagon felt like American public -- the American citizens would be safe and protected, the President ordered to shoot it down. That's what we did. That's what a Commander-in-Chief does. And we responded very clearly. And we proved -- we believe, the President believes -- that we will respond when needed.
Q: You know, China seems to be digging in on this, though. So do you think -- should we expect that there are further consequences for China, for this program, which you guys are, you know, continuously briefing us on?
Or do you want to, sort of, put that balloon episode behind you and -- you know, you shot it down, and this is sort of like the end of this episode? Or should we expect more actions against the Chinese?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'll say this. Look, we, the United States, sent a clear message to the PRC that it's a violation of our sovereign -- sovereignty was unacceptable by shooting down the balloon, protecting our own sensitive intelligence, and maximizing our ability to track the balloon and recover the pay- -- payload to get more information on the PRC's program.
The U.S. will also explore taking action against PRC entities linked to the PLA that supported the balloon's incursion into U.S. airspace.
We will also look at broader efforts to expose and address the PRC's larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security and to our allies and partners as well.
As we saw, the second balloon over Central and South America that they just acknowledged, they -- China -- has no explanation for why they violated the airspace of Central and South America countries.
The PRC's program will only continue to be exposed, making it harder for PRC to use this program. And that's how we're going to move forward.
Q: Okay. One more on China. The President obviously called out Xi Jinping during the State of the Union and again last night, in this interview. Also said China has enormous challenges, you wouldn't want to trade with -- with him as a leader.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry says his comments are "highly irresponsible and violate basic diplomatic protocols." Do you have a response to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I will just say what the -- what the President has said before and especially during the State of the Union. We -- make no mistake about it: If China threatens our sovereignty, we will act and protect our country. I'm just going to leave it there.
Q: Oh, one quick follow-up. Why hasn't the President agreed to the Fox Super Bowl interview yet?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don't have any -- I don't have anything to preview on Sunday.
Q: Fox said this morning on their shows that they -- you guys haven't agreed. And why -- why would he want to miss the chance for a big Super Bowl audience?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear -- I hear the question. I just don't have anything to preview for you about Sunday.
Q: One more, unrelated. Has the President spoken with Senator Fetterman? Are -- do you guys have any updates on his health condition?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, clearly, we wish Senator Fetterman a speedy recovery. And just don't have a -- I don't have a call to preview for you. But, clearly, we -- you know, we hope he recovers quickly.
Q: Without asking about a specific hypothetical trip --(laughter) -- administration officials --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) I wonder which one this is.
Q: Officials have been clear, though, that they want to elevate the moment of one year since the Russian invasion. Can you talk about what the process has been in preparing for that, which is just a couple weeks away?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I -- as I've mentioned before, we've had internal conversations about how we are going to commemorate the one year -- one year of, you know, Russia's brutal war against Ukraine.
And as you have seen and you've heard from the President, especially when the -- President Zelenskyy was here, we continued our strong support for the people of Ukraine as they are fighting against this -- fighting this against -- fighting this brutal war. And we're going to continue our security assistance as long as it takes.
I don't have anything to share beyond that, but that is -- that is something that we're looking into -- as you mentioned, Phil.
And the President just -- just, you know, answered this question when he was asked on -- on the South Lawn as he was boarding Marine One, and he said he just hasn't made a decision yet. So, I'll leave it to what the President said.
Q: On Senator Scott, what's the difference between his legislation that proposes sunsetting federal programs and the President's -- the legislation that Biden introduced as a -- in 1975, as a senator? Is the only difference the fact that Biden is no longer in favor of that? Or is there any other differences between those two?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'm just -- I'm just going to say this. The President ran on protecting Medicare and Social Security from cuts. And he reiterated that in the State of the Union. He's been very clear these past couple of years.
Rick Scott has the opposite point. That's just -- that's just what is -- we're seeing from Rick Scott. He's actually doubling down, tripling down, quadrupling down on that -- on his view. And it keeps -- and his plan that would sunset both programs.
So, Scott did that again just this week. I think he did that this morning. Meanwhile, he's also pushing for the biggest Medicare cut in dec- -- in decades by wanting to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act.
That is -- when I was asked about how -- what else he's doing to strengthen Medicare, the Inflation Reduction Act actually does that. And if you cut it, you know, that's going to have huge ramifications, as well.
So, a bill from the 1970s is not part of the President's agenda. You have to listen to what the President said the last couple of years about protecting and fighting for Medicare and Social Security. And that will remain the case.
He was very clear when he spoke to millions of Americans at State of the Union about that, he'll be clear today when he's in Florida, on what he's going -- on what he sees the fight ahead and how important it is to protect, again, what taxpayers have paid into and what they deserve: Medicare and Social Security. Something that if you're talking -- if you're thinking about it, you're thinking about seniors and veterans.
And this is something that he is going to be a fighter on.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. I'll see you on the ground.
12:16 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 https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/359627