Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre

May 09, 2024

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Mountain View, California

6:40 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello. I have nothing.

Q: This is kind of late, isn't it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The gaggle or --

Q: Yeah, yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We just got on -- didn't we just get on the plane?

Q: But it's almost seven o'clock.

Q: Late in general.

Q: Late in general.

AIDE: We said 6:30 tentatively, and it's only 6:40. So --

Q: No, no, no, I'm not talking about that. I mean, just in general. Like the scheme of the day.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: In life?

Q: Yes.

Q: The flight is late in the day.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It's -- I don't know. I was going to say something, but it's inappropriate, so I won't say it.

Q: Go ahead.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Nope. Nope. Nope. (Laughter.)

Have at it. (Laughs.)

Q: How is the White House responding to the pushback that you all have been getting from the President's comments yesterday that he's not going to give Israel the offensive weapons it needs to go into Rafah?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, my colleagues over at -- my colleague over at the State Department had a briefing today and I think did a really good job laying that out. Admiral Kirby did a gaggle this morning also discussing -- discussing all of this as well.

Here's what I'll say and just kind of give a li- -- little bit of a laydown, as they did. So, as you all know, obviously, last night, the President outlined what has been our policy on Rafah, that his support for Israel's defense is ironclad, and -- and Israel has every right to go after Hamas and those responsible for October 7th massacres.

What we do not support is a major ground operation in Rafah, a city now sheltering over 1 million people, since we believe there are better alternative ways to go after Hamas. The President has said that publicly and has communicated that repeatedly and directly to the Prime Minister.

What the President made clear on CNN is that we do not want to provide materiel support to such an operation, describing how we have held a shipment of high-payload, unguided munition as we discuss with Israel our concerns about their use in dense urban environments. For him, this is straightforward.

We will continue to provide Israel with all of capabilities it needs to defend itself, but he does not want certain categories of American weapons used in a particular type of operation in a particular place.

More broadly, the President has -- has directed his team with continuing to work with Israel to refine their strategy to inf- -- to inflict an enduring defeat on Hamas. Smashing into Rafah, in his view, will not advance that objective.

So, that's the laydown of how we see things. That's a laydown how the President laid -- spoke to last night, obviously, on CNN. And that's how we see it moving forward.

But, look, when it comes to Rafah operations, we have been very clear on this. We've talked to all of you publicly. Obviously, the President, as I just stated, has said this privately, not just to, obviously, the Prime Minister but also to our Israeli counterparts. As you know, we had two, we thought, very concrete, important virtual -- virtual meetings that were led by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in the past several weeks laying out our concerns.

We've been very public and private about our concerns about a -- a ma- -- a major operation going into Rafah. We're talking about 1.5 million civilians, Gazans, who are in a densely populated area of Rafah -- areas of Rafah, and we want to make sure that there is a plan that protects them, there is a plan that makes sure that, you know, we are protecting the lives of these innocent civilians who are seeking refuge in Rafah.

So, we've been very clear about that. And that's what you heard from the President. Again, he put a pause on a particular type of weaponry because he is concerned about -- about how Israel potentially could move forward into Rafah.

But, look, we have not seen any -- any movement. But we want to be very, very clear on this. We have to make sure that we protect those 1.5 million civilian lives.

Q: Prime Minister Netanyahu said that --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: -- reportedly said that they would fight to -- fight by their fingernails, if they had to. That doesn't sound like they're responding very well to the -- the President's -- you know, that they're responding very well to any sort of pause in arma- -- in armaments or anything.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I mean, all you have to look at is the Pr- -- what the President has done since October 7th.

The President has committed to Israel being able to defend itself. Israel's -- Israel's security is ironclad. You've heard us say that over and over again, as -- as recently as a couple of weeks ago, as you know, when we saw Iran send hundreds of missiles and drones into -- into Israel. We stepped in and helped defend -- Israel defend itself. And you saw others -- partners and allies -- step in as well to help Israel defend itself.

That is our commitment here. And with the national security supplemental, we pushed for that to get through so that Israel can also get the -- get the security assistance needed to defend themselves.

What we are talking about is a particular operation -- the Rafah operation. Again, 1.5 million people living in -- in -- not l- -- seeking refuge, to be more exact, in Rafah. And we want to make sure that they are protected.

But we will be committed -- we are committed, the President is committed to Israel's -- Israel's security and able to defend itself, and that is ironclad. That has not changed. That has not changed.

Q: Will Netanyahu listen?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, that is for the Prime Minister to speak to. As you know, the President spoke to the Prime Minister on Monday. They talked about humanitarian aid, obviously, as we mentioned, and making sure that one of the crossings are open so that we can get more trucks in. He also talked to him about Rafah operations.

We've been very clear about this. We've been very consistent. Our -- again, our commitment to Israel's security is ironclad. But we want to make sure -- as it relates to this Rafah operation, we want to make sure that there is a comprehensive plan on how we would -- on how -- how Israel would deal with the innocent civilians -- the 1.5 innocent civilians in Rafah. We want to make sure that they are protected.

But our -- our support for Israel's security has not changed. This is a pause. This is a pause that we're talking about on one particular shipment. It is a pause.

Q: Is this threat, though, based on any intelligence or briefing that the Israelis gave to the administration on what they intend to do in Rafah?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as you know, we've had a back-and-forth, as I just stated, with Isra- -- our Israeli counterparts. We -- I mentioned that the President spoke to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. We read that out on Monday. I'm not going to go beyond what the readout has been.

We have not seen any -- any operations moving forward in Rafah. But we want to be very clear of our concerns. And this is a pause. This is not a -- a stopping of weaponry so that they -- so that Israel can defend itself. This is a pause on -- on the -- on -- on, you know, a situation that we've been very clear and concerned about. We've shared our concern about the Rafah -- potential Rafah operations, but we have not seen anything. Just want to be very clear.

Q: Is there a time frame for the pause? Like, how long --

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

Q: Is it until Rafah -- until Israel says, "We're done in Rafah"? Is it --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have a timeline, but we are continuing those conversations with our Israeli counterparts. We are in ongoing communications. I just don't have anything else beyond that.

Q: Karine, does the White House have a comment about the letter that was sent by a top Biden fundraiser, Mr. Saban, to Anita Dunn and other White House advisors about -- talking about there are more Jewish supporters than there are Palestinian supporters of the President?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- I ha- -- I can't speak to that letter. Sounds like a campaign letter, so I -- I just can't speak to that.

As it relates to supporters, potential donors, I just want to be really, really mindful. And I have not seen this letter, so I can't -- I don't have a direct comment to it.

Q: Karine, can I ask this in a way that will try to -- (laughter) -- get around your Hatch Act violation concerns?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: The President earlier was asked about debating and said -- responded by saying, "Set it up." Would -- would it be correct to interpret that as a glib, maybe insincere response to that question? Or would it be correct to say that the President is open to an earlier debate?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I think -- (laughs) -- I got to be mindful. Again, as you just stated in your question, in trying to ask me the question -- before you asked the question, in trying to ask me the question, I just want to be super careful. It's a debate. It's part of the campaign. I -- I want to be mindful and respect the Hatch Act.

All I can do is -- is -- you know, is send you to the President's statement and also the President's campaign. I just -- I don't want to even step foot -- you know, dip my toe in that. I got to be super mindful.

Q: Karine, the President said that in addition to the 2,000-pound bombs you outlined, the U.S. will also not provide Israel with artillery shells to use in Rafah. Is that the case? And, if so, can you give a full accounting of what the U.S. will not provide Israel?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just give you -- just bear with me for a second. So, we have paused one shipment of weapons. It consists of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs. We are especially focused on the end use of the 2000-pound bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings, as we have seen in other parts of Gaza.

We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment. Not going to speak beyond that shipment. I want to be super mindful. I also emphasize the President spoke of a hypothetical: if Israel invades Rafah. That has not happened yet, as I've stated many times.

I would also note that the United States has surged billions of dollars in security assistance to Israel since the October 7th attacks; passed the largest-ever supplemental appropriation for emergency assistance to Israel; led an unprecedented coalition to defend Israel against Iran -- Iranian attacks, as I've mentioned already; and will continue to do what is necessary to ensure Israel can defend itself from the threat it faces.

We are also committed to ensuring Israel gets every dollar appropriated in the supplemental. In addition, we just approved the latest tranche of foreign military financing, which is $827 million worth of weapons and equipment for Israel. So, we are very specific about -- particular about what we're concerned about. And I just don't want to go beyond -- beyond that.

Q: So, artillery shells will continue?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't want to go beyond what I just stated.

But, look, I think the -- the bigger piece of this -- right? -- is that 1.5 million ci- -- civilians are living in Rafah in -- in a densely populated areas, right? And they are there seeking refuge, seeking shelter. And the President wants to make sure that their lives are protected.

We understand, obviously, the importance of going after Hamas operatives. That is something that we certainly support Israel doing. But we want to see a comprehensive plan. And that's the conversations that we have been having back and forth.

We have provided Israel with some alternatives -- I'm not going to get into that, obviously, from here -- on how to do that, how to be strategic in going after those Hamas operators. And so, those conversations are going to continue.

And our commitment -- our commitment to Israel's security continues to be ironclad. As I just laid out, we are going to make sure every dollar of the appropriations that is coming out of the national security supplemental, indeed, gets to Israel. That is our commitment.

But we believe we have to -- we have to make sure that those civilian lives -- more than 1 million -- is protected. And we've been pretty consistent about this over and over and over for the past several weeks.

Q: What do you mean by "alternatives"?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I -- and I said, I'm not going to get into the al- -- I'm -- what I was talking about is there's been back-and-forth, obviously -- right? -- with the -- our Is- -- Israeli counterpart that the National Security Advisor, Jake Sul- -- Sullivan, has been leading. And we've offered alternatives on how to move forward in getting those Hamas operatives that we believe -- we believe in Israel's goal in -- in doing that.

I'm not going to get into sp- -- specifics. But we've talked -- we've said this before. I think the National Security Advisor said this at the podium. I'm just not going to get into specifics from here.

Q: Karine, as we were taking off, the FAA bill was being stalled in Congress over a fight over slots -- additional flights into DCA. Does the White House have an opinion on how lawmakers should handle that issue?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'm going to let that process play out. I'm not going to get ahead of that, but certainly will -- will let congressional members deal with that.

Q: Karine --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: An Inspector General for the VA found that the Veterans Administration improperly awarded 11 million in bonuses.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Improperly? I'm sorry?

Q: Yeah, improperly --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.

Q: -- awarded 11 million in bonuses and has had a hard time paying it back. Does the President still have confidence in VA Administrator McDonough?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He has confidence in VA Administrator McDonough. I -- I can't speak to that particular report, it sounds like, that you're laying out. I don't have any -- I don't have any insight in that.

But I know that the President respects Secretary McDonough. As, obviously, you know, they worked together in the Obama administration when the Secretary was then Chief of Staff, and I know they have a -- a good relationship, a close relationship. And certainly, one of the reasons why he appointed him is because he respected his leadership.

I can't speak to that particular report at this time.

All right?

Q: I have one other question. Do you know if the President is aware of the case in Florida -- the apparent -- a Black member of the military, an Air Force airman, was shot and killed by police in an apparent case of them going to the wrong apartment?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I heard -- I've read those reports. It happened, like, earlier this week. I haven't had a chance to speak to the President about that. So, I can't speak to his -- his knowledge of it.

All right.

Q: Can you talk to us a little bit about why we're on the airplane? Like, what's happening these next two days? If --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Why we're on -- I ca- -- (laughs) --

Q: Is there any official --

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

Q: -- capacity, or is this all fundraisers?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can say that the trip that we are -- obviously, we're headed to California, headed to Seattle. Those are campaign trips, and certainly, the campaign can speak specifically on what we'll be doing.

So, I can't -- can't say beyond that.

Q: So, there's nothing official that you --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, no, this is -- this is strictly on campaign.

All right? Thanks, everybody. Appreciate you all.

Enjoy dinner --

Q: Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- or whatever time it is. Yes, dinner. Thanks, everybody.

6:56 P.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 https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/371727

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