Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby

April 16, 2024

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Avoca, Pennsylvania

12:55 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just have one thing at the top, and then I'll turn it over to the Admiral.

Starting today, the President will kick off his three-day swing through Pennsylvania. As you know, we're on our way to his hometown of Scranton, where he will deliver remarks at a campaign event. I'll refer you to the campaign for more details on the event.

Tomorrow, the President will travel to Pittsburgh, where he will participate in two campaign events. I'll refer you to the campaign for more details.

President Biden is investing in Pennsylvania, and it's working. The unemployment rate in the state is near a record low of 3.4 percent, down from 7.4 percent when he took office.

Four hundred and eighty thousand applications have been filed to start new businesses. That's up 36 percent.

He invested $16 billion in roads, bridges, public transit, replacing lead pipes, and other infrastructure.

Thanks to the President -- to the President's Inflation Reduction Act, 2.9 million seniors are saving money on Medicare from the 35 bucks cap of insulin to free vaccines to lower drug prices. And 420,000 Pennsylvanians have health insurance -- health -- health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

On Thursday, the President will travel to Philadelphia for campaign events, as I mentioned. The President will remain focused on the historic economic progress from the last three years. And this week, you'll hear directly from him in stops across the state on how his administration is doing exactly that.

With that, as you can see, the Admiral is here to take any questions you may have on the Middle East and anything else.

Go ahead.

MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Karine. I can just go right into questions.

Q: As Israel -- as Israel considers whether to attack Iran, what advice has the U.S. given the Israelis?

MR. KIRBY: Well, again, these are going to be Israeli decisions to make and for them to speak to one way or the other.

In the President's call with the Prime Minister on Saturday night, he lauded the commendable effort to successfully knock down the vast, vast majority of missiles and drones that Iran threw at them. And -- and, again, our view was it was an incredible success, and that success alone sends a lot of strong messages to Iran and to our partners in the region, as well as to Israel, about how strong they are and how -- how utterly Iran failed.

The President does not want to see -- and he said this before: He does not want to see a war with Iran. Don't want to see the conflict widen or deepen.

Q: John, yesterday, I believe you said that you would -- that the President would not support a standalone bill. We see that Speaker Johnson is suggesting four standalone bills, I believe. Would you all be opposed to a series of standalone bills?

MR. KIRBY: We -- we do not -- we don't support a standalone bill that only funds Israel, because Ukraine needs munitions too.

Now, look, I think we still have to see the Speaker's proposal in more detail. The important thing is that the House moves this week to help us get security assistance for Israel, Ukraine, and also for the Indo-Pacific. They need to move this week.

And as for the details, we'll wait and see what the Speaker comes up with.

Q: So, you're okay with four bills?

MR. KIRBY: Again, we're going to wait and pass judgment after we've had a chance to take a look closer at the Speaker's proposal.

The important thing is that our allies, like Ukraine and Israel, who are under the gun -- literally, under the gun -- get the security assistance they need as quickly as possible. So, we want them to move this week.

Q: And, right now, you're not sure of the details of the bills -- if they're something the White House can support at this point?

MR. KIRBY: I think we just need to see more right now than we do -- I think we need to see more than we have right now to be able to -- it does appear, at first blush, that the Speaker's proposals will, in fact, help us get aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel, and needed resources to the Indo-Pacific for a wide range of contingency -- contingencies there. At first blush, it looks like that. We just want to get more detail.

Q: So, whether it's all together or separate is not a deal-breaker per se?

MR. KIRBY: Again, at first blush, it looks like the Speaker's proposal does cover those immediate needs, and they are immediate needs, but we're waiting to get a little bit more detail before we -- we say one way or the other.

Q: John, the Speaker said that it would include loans to Ukraine and other, I think, accountability measures that the White House before has said that, you know, would complicate the -- the distribution of aid.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Have you had a chance to evaluate those at all? And -- and can you talk about what the President said to the Speaker in their phone conversation yesterday?

MR. KIRBY: Same answer as I gave before. I think, again, it appears at first blush that these proposals do get the necessary security assistance to Ukraine and Israel at a critical time right now. We want to learn a little bit more.

I won't go into more detail about the conversation with the Speaker. I think Karine has already talked to you guys about that. And I'll leave it at that.

Except that -- the only thing I would say is that the President stressed very strongly that we've got to move this national security supplemental funding as quickly as possible. We need to see the House move this week.

Q: And I know --

Q: Is -- is the President watching or being briefed on former President Trump's trial in Manhattan?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President is going to Pennsylvania today, and he's going to do a three-stop tour. He's going to focus on how he's continuing to help the American people. And you'll hear directly from him today. That's his focus. His focus is on the American people.

I don't have anything else.

Q: It's been 11 days since the World Central Kitchen's -- the investigation into the World Central Kitchen strike was released. Why is the U.S. review of that report taking so long?

MR. KIRBY: We're -- we're still taking a look at that. I don't think we've -- haven't come to any conclusions one way or another about it. I think you can expect we want to -- want to do this in a thoughtful way.

Q: I heard what you said earlier that, you know, Israel's response will be its own. But has Israel told the U.S. what it's planning to do at this point?

MR. KIRBY: I will refer you to the Israelis to speak to their decision-making process. That's really for them to speak to, not us.

Q: Going back to Ukraine for a second, John. What's the situation on the ground? How under stress is the Ukrainian military?

MR. KIRBY: It's incredible the -- the stress that they're under, particularly in the Donbas area where the Russians continue to push west out of Avdiivka. They keep making -- it's not a lot of progress every day, but it's a little bit of progress every day. They're pushing back against the deeper defensive lines of the Ukrainians.

And it's not just in the east. There is some movement down in the south as well. But just as critically, the se- -- you know, Saturday night when we were watching 300 missiles and drones getting launched from Iran into Israeli, Mr. Putin was still firing those same Iranian drones and missiles into Ukraine at various sites, knocking out their energy infrastructure, going after the defense industrial base.

So, it's a very active scene in Ukraine and the need is acute there as well, which is why we said earlier we wouldn't support a standalone Israel bill that -- because it wouldn't account for what Ukraine needs.

Now, again, the Speaker has put forward a proposal that would factor in Ukraine, so we'll have to see what that looks like.

Q: Yesterday, Ukraine's president gave an interview to PBS News in which he wondered why, essentially, allies could not shoot down missiles over Ukraine -- similar he gave the example to Iran -- and he raised that in the interview.

MR. KIRBY: And I mentioned this yesterday, I think. I mean, it's a different fight altogether. The President has been very clear that there won't be U.S. boots on the ground. The United States will not get involved in a combat role in the war in Ukraine. It's a different fight. It's a different --

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. KIRBY: It's a different -- we -- we have long said we're not going to be involved in a combat role in Ukraine. The President has been very -- very, very consistent on that.

Q: Is it different just because Russia has nukes?

MR. KIRBY: It's -- we've been very consistent on that. It's a different fight altogether, a different set of circumstances.

Q: Because of the nuclear issue or because of like, different --

MR. KIRBY: Different set of circumstances.

Q: Any update on the Rafah meeting?

MR. KIRBY: No update on the meeting to speak to today, Steve. We're still hoping to have another round.

I will add that after the virtual meeting, there were -- I'm sorry -- there were technical talks at a lower level on the staff. Those talks continued between the Israelis and the United States. And we're hoping to get another meeting on -- for Rafah here in coming days. But I don't have anything on the schedule.

Q: Has there been any communications with Iran since the attack that happened over the weekend --

MR. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: -- through the -- through those indirect channels?

MR. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of.


Q: What was the -- oh, sorry. Last thing. What was the President's reaction to the protests about Gaza yesterday that shut down major thoroughfares in big cities?

MR. KIRBY: I haven't had a chance to speak to the President about his personal reaction to -- to that. You know, and I think Karine has already talked very much about the protest activity. And I'll -- I'll leave it to her.

Thank you.

Q: Karine, will the President talk about the U.S. Steel-Nippon merger at all when he's in Pennsylvania?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I don't have anything to share about that. But obviously, the President's commitment to steel workers continues and stand. He's a union guy. But I don't have anything to share about tomorrow's event.

We'll certainly have more later today. We'll have a press call. So, I would urge you and your colleagues to certainly join the press call later today.

Q: Do you know when the last time was the President spent the night in his hometown?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The last time he's been to Scranton?

Q: For the night.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The night? Oh, that's a good question. I do not know. I can find out for you.

Q: To what extent is this sort of a homecoming for him going back to his hometown?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think you'll hear directly from the President. This is going to be -- this is a homecoming for sure. I had an opportunity to talk to him about it this morning.

Going back to Scranton is always -- it always feels good to go see where he spent a lot of his childhood. And so, you all will be able to see that directly.

I got to be careful because it is a -- that portion is a campaign portion. So, I would -- we'll certainly refer you to the campaign. But it al- -- always feels good to be back in S- -- Pennsylvania. Always feels good to be back to Scranton for this President.

Q: Inflation has been a stubborn concern for a lot of Americans. You know, do -- does the President think that his tax plans will, you know, help alleviate some of those concerns by, you know, pulling more taxes from the -- from the wealthy?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the President's tax cuts for working families and the middle class are fully paid for by making billionaires and big corporation pay for their share -- fair share. His tax plan would lower costs for families with lower taxes, lower healthcare costs, and lower utility bills. That's the President's focus.

And unfortunately, what we're seeing from congressional Republicans, they want to give big tax breaks for mil- -- billionaires and -- and corporations. They see a total opposite way of giving Americans breathing room. They are not doing that, and we're trying to do that.

Q: So, I guess what I'm trying to say is: Americans are concerned about inflation.


Q: The President wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations. How is that addressing their concerns about the economy?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think our focus when it comes to the economy -- we say this all the time -- is building an economy from the bottom up, middle out and making sure that we're continuing to lower costs. That's the thing -- right? -- that is the thing that Americans care about when we talk about the economy: How do we lower costs?

And this is something that the President has continued to do over the last three years -- right? -- whether it's healthcare from -- you know, beating Big Pharma; whether it's doing everything that we can to lower the cost at the pump -- at the gas pumps because of Ukraine, because of COVID. And so, he's going to stay really focused on that. You hear us talk about junk fees. And so, look, that's going to be his focus, is continuing to do that.

I do want to say, I think we had confirmed that the President spoke to Speaker Johnson, and Speaker Johnson shared the plan with him. Obviously, we're going to look at the details of -- of that plan. But you heard from the Admiral, you heard from National Security Council, you heard from the President over the weekend how important it is to move forward with that -- that -- for getting aid to Ukraine and, obviously --

Q: Was it accurate that -- was it accurate that Speaker Johnson initiated the call? I believe he told Fox News he called the President.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, I can confirm that. I just don't want to go into details of the -- of the call. And the Speaker did share the plan with the President.

Q: Splitting it in four pieces seems kind of risky, right? I mean --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, want to be super mindful. We're going to see the details of -- of what he is planning. But we've been really clear: We want to see all of the parts that the President has talked about, getting that really important funding for Ukraine, Israel, Indo-Pacific, obviously that humanitarian aid that's needed right now -- dire situation in Gaza, as we talked about. We do not want to see a standalone. We want to see all of these components move forward.

But we want to be super mindful here. We're going to see the details -- what's -- what's in writing -- the details of the -- of the plan. But, obviously, we want to see what -- what the Speaker has to share.

Q: Karine, a -- a second Republican -- House Republican endorsed the motion to vacate against Speaker Johnson over the Ukraine funding. If the Speaker does push forward with this, you know, effort to get the Ukraine aid, would the President recommend Democrats come to his aid if there's a challenge to his leadership?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, again, as you know, Justin, I get this question often, and -- and we've been very consistent. We don't get involved when it comes to congressional leadership, how they choose their leadership. That is something for Congress to decide on.

And, obviously, you know, Leader -- Leader Jeffries, who is the Democratic Leader in the House, that's something for he and his caucus to -- to decide. I just don't want to get involved -- we've been very -- or speak to it. We've been very, very clear about that.

I think we're going to have to sit. All right?

Q: Okay.

Q: Thanks, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks guys.

Q: Thank you, Karine. Thank you so much.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You're very welcome.

1:07 P.M. EDT

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

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