Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby

December 20, 2023

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Milwaukee, Wisconsin

10:32 A.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, I have a topper for you.

So, today we're headed to Milwaukee, as you all know, where President Biden will visit the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce to highlight how Bidenomics is helping drive a Black small-business boom.

Black business own- -- sorry. (Laughs.) Blas- -- Black business ownership has been particularly encouraging, growing at its fastest pace in 30 years. The President will also announce new investments in Milwaukee and communities across the country as -- as a part of this Investing in America agenda, which has provided billions of dollars to fund hundreds of projects in Wisconsin alone, meaning safer roads, better bridges, cleaner water, and good-paying jobs for the people in Wisconsin.

And a little bit of news for all of you. Just ahead of the President's remarks today, the President will make a brief stop at Hero Plu- -- Plumbing to meet with its CEO, Rashawn Spivey.

After, the President and the CEO will drive together to the event, and Rashawn will introduce the President.

Hero Plumbing is a Black-owned small business removing lead pipes in Milwaukee.

Hero Plumbing is one of the important small businesses across America that will help meet Pr- -- President Biden's commitment to remove all the -- all lead service lines in the nation by the end of the decade.

This ambitious goal is being funded by $15 billion through the President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, historic legislation that many Republicans, including Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, voted against.

Nevertheless, President Biden and his administration will continue to make historic investments to support small business -- small business, including Black-owned businesses in Wisconsin and beyond.

And we're trying to do this really quickly because we know that -- that Secretary Blinken is going to give his eleven o'clock end-of-year press conference.

I'm going to turn it over to the Admiral.

MR. KIRBY: And just a very quick update on humanitarian assistance.

So, two days ago, 60 trucks went through Gaza, 60 more trucks went through Kerem Shalom; 120 yesterday; 100 trucks went through Rafah, 60 went through Kerem Shalom -- or 160.

And for the first time now, World Food -- World Food Program trucks were able to enter right -- emanating from Jordan to go right into Gaza, so that's a significant step forward.

We think that we'll be able to get U.S. goods in now more directly here in coming days. We're looking forward to that.

And so, all told, since the conflict began, almost 5,000 trucks in.

Again, we recognize there's still a great need for more. We're going to keep pushing for more, but this is another sign of how it was important for us to urge Israel to open up Kerem Shalom. You're already starting to see now a tangible benefit to the people of Gaza on the ground.

With that --

Q: John, what did the United States get for releasing Alex Saab?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of where we are right now. I -- I appreciate everybody is interested in this right now. I just -- I can't confirm these reports. I'm not going to -- I'm not going to go into any more detail. But as -- as we can, we'll certainly update you on things.

Q: John, how advanced are -- is this most recent effort for a pause in exchange for hostages?

MR. KIRBY: It's -- it's serious. We -- I don't have anything specific to announce or speak to. I mean, this is something we've been working on since the last pause ended. So, these are very serious discussions and negotiations, and we hope that they lead somewhere.

Q: Related to Venezuela, is there any update on the sanctions review that -- the process of the State Department --

MR. KIRBY: I just don't have anything on Venezuela today.

Q: On the U.N., what -- where do things stand with the Security Council on a resolution with Gaza?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, again, I'm not going to get ahead of the back-and-forth up there. There's still very active discussions going on on trying to get another resolution in place. I'll certainly let Linda Thomas-Greenfield speak to that effort.

I would just tell you, as we've been saying, it's important for us -- if the Security Council is going to speak on this -- that there's a condemnation of Hamas and what they did on the 7th of October, there's a recognition of the need for Israel to be able to defend itself, and there's, of course, a significant commitment by all members on getting humanitarian assistance in to the people of Gaza.

So, again, I don't want to get into the modalities of it. We're -- we're still talking to our partners up there. But those things are important to us. They're important to many countries around the world.

Q: The death toll in Gaza is likely to reach 20,000 today. Is that acceptable? And can Israel reach its stated military goals without killing thousands more?

MR. KIRBY: Look, the right number of civilian casualties is zero. We don't want to see any more innocents killed or wounded, either on the Israeli side or certainly in Gaza. We know many, many thousands in Gaza have been killed; many, many more thousands have been wounded.

And that's why -- and so there's -- there's no number -- let me be very clear: There's no number of an innocent civilian killed or wounded that's acceptable, nor should it be acceptable by anybody, which is why we're going to continue to work with the Israelis about being more precise, more targeted, more deliberate in -- in their military operations.

And as I've said before, they have taken on our concerns, and they have been receptive to that, and they have adapted their military operations to try to bring the number of civilian casualties down.

Doesn't mean they've eliminated it -- we want to see the number zero -- but they have made some efforts.

Q: Kirby, there's a report that President Xi told President Biden that -- in San Francisco -- that China will reunify with Taiwan and they have not decided on a timeline yet for that. Have -- can you confirm that? And --

MR. KIRBY: So, I'm not going to get into the specifics of the discussion between the two leaders. I think you can understand I'm not going to read out that -- that private conversation.

President Xi has been public and clear about -- about his desires for reunification. That's not -- that's not something different or new. We have been clear, and the President was clear with you guys and with President Xi, that we still adhere to the One China policy. We don't support independence for Taiwan. We also don't support a change in the status quo unilaterally and certainly not one by force. And as the President has said, there's no reason for this to come to blows.

Q: Kirby, any update on Alexei Navalny's whereabouts? And how concerned is the U.S. government about his disappearance?

MR. KIRBY: We're very concerned about these reports. Can't confirm them, but we're concerned about that, as we have been. I -- he should never have been detained in the first place.

And we call, again, on Moscow, the Kremlin to immediately release him and to make sure that they can keep his family informed about his whereabouts.

Q: The leaders of Hamas's political office in Doha have said they're in discussions with Fatah in the West Bank about teaming up with the Palestinian Authority in some kind of post-Gaza arrangement. Is the U.S. okay with that specific faction of Hamas being involved in discussions on the future of Gaza?

MR. KIRBY: What we've said -- and it may -- is still true today: We believe that the Palestinian Authority should and can have a role in post-conflict governance in Gaza. They -- that's their mandate. That's their writ.

Now, we also have said repeatedly that we believe that the PA needs to be revamped and revitalized. There are some things they have to address to make themselves credible and authentic in that space. And that's -- that's really where we are.

Q: John --

Q: President Zelenskyy said yesterday, "I am certain the United States of America will not betray us." What does the White House say to him now that Congress is wrapped up for the year and there is going to be no new aid for Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I can't anything better than the President did the other day. We're going to continue to stand with Ukraine. We're going to continue to do everything we can to get them the support that they need.

But we have -- have got to have support from Congress. They've got to move on this supplemental request. We've got one more left before the end of the year, and then the funds that had been appropriated by Congress for this purpose will run out.

The President -- he said it himself. He's -- he's confident that we are approaching this in a good-faith way. We want our colleagues on Congress to approach these discussions in a good-faith way.

There has been -- there has been some progress made. I won't get ahead of it. But we'll have to see where -- we'll have to see where it goes.

Q: And do you have timing on when that last security package will go?

MR. KIRBY: Before the end of this month (inaudible).

Q: John --

Q: Just following up on that. I think you use the term, and others, "kneecapping" of Ukraine over and over again. So, we're there, more or less, now. What are the immediate impacts that we're going to see as a result of --

MR. KIRBY: I mean --

Q: -- Congress not doing what he says is their job?

MR. KIRBY: Some of this is going to depend on if we can get a deal and we can get supplemental funding -- how soon in January we can get it. We got one more package that we can do before the end of this month.

And as you know, it takes some days, sometimes weeks, for some of that material to get to Ukraine. So, it's really important that in January we can move forward with some kind of supplemental funding for them, because the fighting is not going to stop.

We have seen that the Russians are -- they actually are and continue to intend to want to conduct offensive operations, particularly in the east around this place called Avdiivka. And we believe -- we have every reason to believe that as the ground freezes towards the end of January and into February, that will make it easier for Russians -- Russian forces to go on the move.

Not to mention, even as we're talking here, he's continuing to fly drones and missiles into energy infrastructure in -- into Kyiv to try to weaponize the wintertime. So, even just from an air defense perspective, all of these materials are really, really important.

So, time is not on our side. We want to get this funding as soon as we can. And obviously --

Q: John. John.

MR. KIRBY: -- it's -- it looks like it's going to be more like early -- you know, into January. But the sooner the better.

Q: John, the Red Sea coalition, any update on whether the Saudis or UAE are going to participate?

MR. KIRBY: I'll let those countries speak for themselves, Steve. Some -- some -- some countries -- well, they get to decide whether they're going to announce their participation or -- and what that's going to look like. And we want to respect that.

And they'll have their own -- some countries will have their own, you know, domestic reasons for -- for characterizing their involvement in a way that they're comfortable with. Some will be more public than others. But we respect that.

I mean, it's -- it's already in place. The operation is already in place. It's already -- we've got coalition ships in the Red Sea. And we hope that that'll -- we'll be able to add to that.

Q: John, the ODNI report out on Monday on election interference from foreign powers in the 2022 midterms identified Cuba as one of the countries that had directly attempted to influence, specifically, Florida races. And you have, now, Florida officials in Congress calling on the White House to specifically condemn Havana for that activity.

MR. KIRBY: We have -- we've been nothing but crystal clear about our concerns over foreign interference in our elections, no matter who's doing it. It's unacceptable. And it obviously needs to stop. And we'll -- we won't be afraid of calling that out. And we're also going to not -- not shy away from doing what we have to do to make sure we can protect the integrity of our -- of our elections.

Q: Is there a reason you won't specifically condemn Cuba for that specific activity?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I mean, I think we just -- we just did. You know, the foreign interference in our elections is unacceptable by any country, by any nation state, by any foreign actor, period.

Q: The top Hamas leader is in Cairo for meetings with Egyptian officials. What do you anticipate coming out of that? And what is the contact with the administration and the Egyptians?

MR. KIRBY: Let's not get ahead of where we are right now. I mean, I think we'll -- we'll let this conference go forward and then -- and I think I'll just leave it there.

Q: John, I know you're not confirming Venezuela right now, but in gen- --

MR. KIRBY: But you're going to ask anyway.

Q: -- in general, is there any concern that with, you know, deals like this, like prisoner swaps, that it sets a precedent that countries can get whatever they want if they take American hostages?

MR. KIRBY: We -- you know, we deal with this question nearly every time we arrange to get Americans home.

I'll just say this: Nothing is more important to President Biden than the safety and security of Americans overseas. Commensurate with that obligation is doing everything we can to get those that are detained overseas in a wrongful way home with their families where they belong.

Sometimes that means you got to make some difficult decisions. He'll -- he'll never make a decision that's -- that's going to be damaging to our national security interests. But he will not be afraid of making decisions that could be difficult, and maybe a little hard to swallow at first, in order to get Americans back home with their families.

That's -- that's really the goal. That's really the -- the purpose.

And, again, I'm not going to confirm these reports right now. But I can tell you that -- that he doesn't take any of these decisions lightly. They're all -- they're all very serious and soberly applied.

But, again, the focus is getting wrongfully detained Americans home. And we've been very successful in this administration. Now more than 30 have -- have been released and back with their families, and we're going to keep up that effort.

Q: Thanks, John.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.

Q: I appreciate it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, thanks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey, guys. All right. What you got?

Q: Do you have any reaction to the Colorado Supreme Court?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we follow the law here. I cannot comment on anything that is -- that is related to an upcoming election, like 2024. And this is a legal process. So, I'm just not going to comment.

Q: Karine, now that --

Q: Does the -- does the President believe that Donald Trump was an insurrectionist?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm just not going to get into -- just get in -- I'm not going to get into a legal process here. Obviously, there is one. I'm not going to get ahead and -- I'm not going to speak to the decision that Colorado has made. I'm just not going to comment on it.

Q: Can you say if the White House would like the Supreme Court to quickly pick up this case to get it settled?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I can say is: The President is not involved, we're not involved in this. This is a legal process. I'm just not going to comment.

Q: As a general matter -- (laughter) --


Q: -- does the -- does -- does the White House believe --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I knew this was going to happen, but go ahead.

Q: -- that -- that major party political candidates -- that courts should decide which major party political candidates should be on the ballot?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just not going to get involved in any court decision that's made -- the Supreme Court, any court decision. It's a legal process. Going to leave it alone, not comment. 2024 -- I'm not going to comment. Hatch Act. We try to do our best to follow the law. And just not going to comment on this.

Q: Karine --


Q: -- now that, you know, it's -- there's not going to be a Ukraine border deal by the end of the year, what specifically is the President planning to do over the holidays to try to secure a deal for when they come back?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you stated, there's not going to be a vote on the border security deal this week. We feel like it's going in the right direction -- the conversations are going in the right direction. That's very important.

Obviously, it's critical to -- for Congress to move forward with their -- with our national security supplemental. And so, negotiations, conversations are certainly going to continue. And so, we hope that it moves quickly. It needs to move quickly.

You heard -- you've heard from us how critical it is, if you're looking at Ukraine and the battlefield. The battlefield -- it's hurting what's going on in the battlefield, that they're not getting this funding, they're getting smaller amount of aid. There's one more -- there's one more aid for this month that we'll be able to give them. It is not -- and they're continuing to get attacked -- right? -- every day by Russia's aggression.

So, obviously, we need to get this done. We need to get this done very, very quickly. And so, we're -- we're asking, you know, congressional Republicans to not hold this up. Right? That's -- we've been very, very clear about that.

Q: On that time- --

Q: What specifically is the President going to be doing over the holidays? Will he be making phone calls to Republican leaders?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I've said this many times to all of you, in front of all of you, whether at the podium or here on Air Force One, that the President has had regular conversations with congressional leaders. He has. He's been in touch with them. As you know, he has longstanding relationships with many of them.

And he has given, obviously, his team -- right? -- to -- to have those conversations, to do the negotiations. They have his -- you know, they have his support.

And the President has a history. We have done many of these bipartisan agreements over the past two years. And so, we need a bipartisan agreement.

That's the direction that we think it needs to go. The conversations are headed in the right direction. And that's what's important. We need to get this done.

Q: On the timeline, you say we need to get this done. They need to get it done quickly. Congress has a massive to-do list when they come back in January. And all of these deadlines are going to start colliding.

Can you, without talking about, you know, the budget agreement from a couple months ago, what does the White House want to see in terms of the timeline priority -- the supplemental first and then government funding ahead of the January 19th deadline? Like, what does the President want to see get done?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And I -- I appreciate the question, Karen. I'm not going to get into timeline. Look, this is -- these are -- those are things that Congress has to do. Right?

These are things -- when you -- and you've heard me say this. When we talk about the supplemental -- the national security supplemental and the domestic supplemental, those are emergency asks. Right? The President asked for those because he believes we need those. We need the funding that we're asking for.

Obviously, the budget -- that's an agreement that the President made many, many months ago.

And so, look, these things have to happen. It is Congress's job, it is their duty to get this done on behalf of the American people.

I'm not going to get into which one comes first or second. These -- these things just have to get done.

Q: Do you feel better that there is a deadline of January 19th for government funding, in terms of the supplemental being addressed? Or is there a concern that the supplemental gets put on a back burner because of that pressing deadline?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we see the supplemental as being an emergency request that gets -- has to get done. The budget -- that is the basic, basic job of Congress to get that done.

These are critical asks. These are critical needs. One of them deals, obviously, with our national security, Ukraine, Israel, and other things -- border, as we're having those -- those -- those agreement and trying to getting to a bipartisan agreement. That's obviously critical. And just having the government running for the American people is critical.

And so, they have to get to this. They have to work towards this and get this done on behalf -- this is about the American people and our national security. They got to get this done.

Q: Karine, we reported this week that the DeSantis administration in Florida, over the summer, contracted with a vendor to train a special forces unit in the state -- the Florida State Guard -- to use potentially lethal force against migrants trying to enter the United States by sea.

Did you see that report? And do you --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I -- look, I have not -- I can't speak to that report specifically. I would have to get back to the team and -- to get back to you on that particular report.

What I can say is -- you know, and I said this a little bit yesterday at the podium -- as we -- what we have seen from Republican leaders, as it relates to border security, immigration more broadly, have been political stunts.

What they do doesn't actually help. It doesn't actually change or make -- make their communities safer or make -- whether it's Texas, whether it's Florida -- safer. It actually puts it more at risk.

And their political stunts that tend to be cruel, tend to be dehumanizing, demoralizing. And we want to do -- we want to do something that is in a -- as we're seeing right now in the conversations that are -- been happening in Congress -- that is in a bipartisan agreement.

The President put forth -- and you've heard me say this over and over again -- almost three years ago, a comprehensive immigration legislation because he took this seriously and wanted to see and have -- work with Congress to make that happen.

And so, now we're in a place where there's this -- these -- this bipartisan agreement happening on border security, which we think it's in the right direction. And we're involved in those discussions, obviously. And we want to get that done.

And -- and, look, sadly, Republican leaders -- they are not doing this in a way that's helpful to our -- to our security or to their community. And it has been political stunt after political stunt.

And that's just speaking broadly, not speaking directly to the inquiry.

Q: I wanted to follow up on the Apple patent dispute.


Q: About a decade ago, President Obama intervened when Apple had a dispute with South Korea's Samsung. Is the calculus different this time because the dispute currently is between two U.S. companies?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I -- I'm not going to compare the two disputes. Obviously, this is something that we're tracking. I think the deadline for this is December 25th.

USTR has the authority, obviously, to make the decision, and that's something that the President certainly has given USTR -- the -- Ambassador Tai to deal with.

I just don't -- don't want to get ahead of her process. And she'll certainly decide where we would go forward, so don't want to get ahead of that.

Q: Do you have any further reaction to Nippon Steel's decision to buy U.S. Steel?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything further, Steve, to what I said at the podium yesterday.

And want to be super careful, because there probably will be some sort of review -- a regulatory review. So, just want to be really, really mindful and not get ahead of that.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Is there -- is there any consideration to separating out the Ukraine supplemental from border funding, or does the President intend to move forward with linking the two together?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, we have -- as I kind of stated when -- when Karen was -- was asking me questions a moment ago, the national security supplement -- supplemental is important. It's critical. I don't have anything else to add to separating anything. But we asked for it because it's emergency. All of the requests that we put in that supplemental is important: Ukraine, Israel, border, and obviously other pieces of that too. So, we want to see that get done. We want to see that get done.

Right now, the negotiations on getting a bipartisan agreement on the border -- on border security is going in the right direction. So, we appreciate that. We want to continue that.

Obviously, we got to get that done right away. And so, that's what we're going to focus on.

Go ahead.

Q: Can you speak to why he wanted to go to Milwaukee, specifically, today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the President says this all the time: He -- he is a president for red states, blue states. He goes to urban areas, obviously, rural areas. You've seen him do that the last two years.

He's going to talk about Black business, small business, in particular, and the boom that we're seeing in that -- in that -- in -- with Black -- Black small businesses, specifically, and small businesses -- small businesses, more broadly, especially under -- under his administration.

And it's been -- it's been really impressive, right? More than 14 million people have signed up to start up a small business. That's really important. Bipartisan infrastructure legislation has been a -- has been critical. Inflation Reduction Act has been critical.

And -- and the -- and also, the American Rescue Act was critical to all of this -- all of the boom that you're seeing, all over the economy getting back on its -- certainly, on its feet.

And so, you're going to hear directly from the President about this. I mean, he's going to go to multiple states, and he has gone to multiple states. And I think he feels it's important for American people to hear directly from him. And that's what you're going to hear from him today. And we're really excited about this trip.

Go -- go ahead.

Q: Your colleague --

Q: No. No, no. Go.

Q: Your colleague, Ben LaBolt, had noted that the -- his opinion, the Conan O'Brien interview was extremely insightful and better -- I think maybe he phrased it a little different -- than some --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You're talking about a --

Q: -- of the news -- the news of --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- you're talking about a tweet?

Q: -- the news --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The tweet from --

Q: Yes, his tweet. Yeah, yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, okay. Okay.

Q: So, just in general, should --- what should -- what's the White House's thinking as we enter an election year? Is that the preferable place for the President to be in a space with non-journalists, with entertainers talking about?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I -- look, we've been always very clear about this. We're going to meet the American people where they are, and that's going to take different platforms, different venues. And I think it's important.

I mean, look, I was in the room when the President did the interview with Conan O'Brien. And it was -- you heard from the President about -- on -- in a very personal way. You heard him tell a story in a very different way, and he was given the space to be candid. And I think it was a great venue.

And what's going to be really important here, I think millions of -- millions of Americans are going to hear directly from the President.

Look, we're going to do it many different ways. We're trying to reach as many Americans as possible, and we think it's important to meet them where they are. And so, we thought it was an important interview. We'll -- we'll be doing many different types of interview, including interviews with you all, but also interviews with like -- folks like Conan O'Brien. And we think -- we think it's important.

Q: One more for me.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. Go ahead.

Q: The Vice President is chairing the National Space Council today. What are the toplines from that -- from that meeting? And what does the President want? Is he concerned with slippage of the Artemis program? We see that, because of some of delays with the private sector partners, that the launch dates may be delayed for Artemis 3 and beyond?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, it's a good question. I have not seen what the agenda is for the Vice President's meeting. Obviously, I would refer you to her team specifically. It's an important -- it's an important meeting, and it's important part of her portfolio, obviously. But I just don't have anything specifics on the agenda and what -- what goals are coming out of this particular meeting. So, I would refer you to her team.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

Q: Thanks, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: See you on the ground.

Q: Thank you.

10:58 A.M. EST

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

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