Joe Biden

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

February 01, 2024

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Detroit, Michigan

1:32 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. So, I just have one quick thing at the top.

So, after decades of opposition and without the support of a single Republican in Congress, President Biden enacted a law that finally takes on Big Pharma and gives Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices.

President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act will save millions of seniors on some of the -- the costliest prescription drugs on the market. And today, Medicare will send initial offers to manufacturers of the first 10 drugs selected for drug price negotia- -- negotiation to help bring down the price of these prescription drugs.

This is the first time ever that Medicare is not accepting the drug prices the pharmaceutical companies set. The Drug Price Negotiation program is a prime example of the ways President Biden is working to lower costs for American families. And he won't stop fighting for results, even as Republicans in Congress continue to try to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, cut Medicare and Social Security benefits and ins- -- and insurance for millions, and keep -- keep healthcare costs high.

The administration remains focused on continuing to protect these programs and deliver lower costs for seniors and hardworking families.

And one more thing -- I know folks are asking about this -- as it relates to the dignified transfer tomorrow. So, we're working with the families, and we'll respect their wishes, as you all can understand. We'll have more information, obviously, on what tomorrow will look like, as we normally do, in the daily guidance, which will be released later this evening.

And so, with that, I have my co- -- my colleague here, Admiral John Kirby, to discuss the executive order the President signed today.

Admiral.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Karine. Just before I get to that, right before leaving Washington, the President placed a call to the European Commissioner -- European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, to thank her and the E- -- the European Union for a significant financial aid package that they just approved for Ukraine, some $50 billion, which will go a long way to helping Ukraine as they continue to battle back against Russia's aggression.

And then, just briefly, today, on the -- on the executive order. I think you all saw that today the President signed a new executive order that will implement new measures to address actions that undermine peace, security, and stability in the West Bank.

This EO will allow the United States to issue financial sanctions against those directing or participating in certain actions, including acts or threats of violence against civilians, intimidating civilians to cause them to leave their homes, destroying or seizing property, or engaging in terrorist activity in the West Bank.

And the State Department also today issued four designations under this new executive authority, and -- and that's all public. And you guys, I'm sure, have seen that.

I do want to remind that this executive order came in the heels of a -- of a Cabinet memo issued by Jake Sullivan back in November, directing departments and agencies to -- to take appropriate action and to develop further policy options for dealing with the violence -- the settler violence in the West Bank. And that was followed in December by Secretary Blinken announcing visa restrictions for certain individuals who are involved in this violence.

So, again, the President has spoken very, very clearly on this since the very beginning -- that the settler violence in the West Bank is unacceptable, and we'll continue to examine tools at our disposal to deal with it.

That's it.

Q: John, how do you determine the four people when there are hundreds of incidents against West Bank Palestinians? Do you expect there to be more, including on Israeli government officials? And is this a signal to them who support -- openly support and facilitate these violence?

MR. KIRBY: There's no plans to target with sanctions Israeli government officials at this time. I'd refer you to State to speak about how they chose these four individuals. This was an initial set of designations. I'm not going to preview whether there will be more or not going forward, but it is a new tool that we're going to take a look at using appropriately.

And I think I lost your -- you had one more question.

Q: Yeah, I mean, is this a signal to those officials in the Israeli government who openly support and facilitate such violence, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, who's -- who supply the weapons to these people who perpetrate?

MR. KIRBY: I think -- I think it's a signal to the whole world how seriously President Biden takes this violence against the set- -- the settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. He's been very, very clear on that for a long, long time. It's got to stop. It's unacceptable. It's a -- it's a detriment to peace and security, certainly there in the West Bank but to the Palestinian people in general.

Q: Does the -- is there any significance to the timing around the EO, particularly as sentiment grows in the U.S.

regarding the U.S. position in Gaza?

MR. KIRBY: As I said, I mean, this -- this process of looking at tools at our disposal really started in November with Jake's memo. That led to visa restrictions, and then that led to work with the Treasury Department and the State Department on another tool. And the tool is -- that we're choosing today is this EO that will authorize sanctions.

So, again, it all really stems from Jake's memo back in November to direct agencies to take a look at what tools we have at our disposal.

Q: Is the -- the EU deal, does that give any breathing room for the U.S. to continue negotiations for the border and Ukraine? You know, the funding that has -- that -- the EU funding for Ukraine, does that provide any cover, you know, as the U.S. continues to negotiate for the border?

MR. KIRBY: So, a couple of things, I mean, it's a financial aid package.

Q: Yeah.

MR. KIRBY: It's not designed for security assistance. And it's certainly going to be welcome to the Ukrainian people, no question about it, because it will help alleviate some of the financial strains that they're already under. And so, again, we -- we welcome it.

But it's not a substitute for American leadership when it comes to security assistance. And that is why it's so critical for us to continue to urge Congress to pass that national security supplemental. There's $60 billion-plus in there for security assistance for Ukraine.

As I've said many times, it was carefully arrived at. The Ukrainians need it. And we need Congress to act on it.

(Cross-talk.)

Q: Just quickly, did President Biden tell Prime Minister Netanyahu the executive order was coming?

MR. KIRBY: We informed the Israeli government before it was announced.

Q: Was it conveyed at that level, though?

MR. KIRBY: We informed the Israeli government before it was announced.

Q: Real quick, just to follow up on the -- on the timing. I understand you're saying that Jake, you know, issued a memo in November. But the issue with settlers goes way back even before the October 7th attacks.

MR. KIRBY: It sure does. Yeah.

Q: Why did the administration, you know, never take any actions and is only doing so now? I mean, is this a sign of political pressure to appear a certain way? Is that -- is that why the EO is finally coming through?

MR. KIRBY: No, not at all. A couple of thoughts here. First of all, to -- to work on sanctions through an EO and sanctions designation -- sorry, I just hit your mic -- you know, that takes time to develop the -- the tool itself and then to choose who and how you're going to designate entities or individuals.

I mean, there's a -- there's a lot of just administrative staff work that goes in to the -- to building of sanctions as a -- as a tool and the designations that go with it. So, I mean, this was a -- this was a long time in train.

And again, what -- what you're really seeing now from us -- the visa restrictions, these sanctions -- it's an outgrowth of the -- of the dramatic increase in settler violence --

Q: (Inaudible.)

MR. KIRBY: -- or violence on set- -- sorry, settler violence on Palestinians in the West Bank, which have -- has been a result of the attacks on the 7th of October.

Q: Is the -- is the increase significant? And is that what the U.S. government is watching?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, this is -- this is a direct answer to the dramatic increase in violence that we've seen by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank --

Q: John --

MR. KIRBY: -- since the 7th of October.

Q: Kirby, should we expect any forthcoming remarks or speech or comments from the President? There's been a lot of activity in the Middle East: There's this new executive order today; the death of U.S. service members -- obviously, we know he's going to the dignified transfer tomorrow; massive protests today in -- in Washington, around the White House and downtown, closing bridges. I'm just wondering if the President is considering addressing the nation about the events that have unfolded in the region but also here in -- in the States over the past few days?

MR. KIRBY: He has kept up a pretty steady drumbeat, I think, of talking to the American people and to our -- our allies and partners around the world, publicly and privately.

And I would -- while I don't have anything on schedule to speak to in terms of a set piece event, I have every expectation that you'll continue to hear from him about what's going on in the Middle East.

Q: John, can you give us an update? There's some reporting that the U.S. has selected sites for its response to the fatal attack --

MR. KIRBY: I don't --

Q: -- including Iranian sites in Iraq and Syria. Is there anything you can share?

MR. KIRBY: No, I can't. I'm not going to --

Q: Can you say whether the President has made a decision, or is this still a deliberative point?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I'm not going to telegraph punches, as I've -- as I've said before. I'm not going to get into speaking about potential future military operations one way or the other. That would be the worst thing I could possibly do.

The President has made his decision about responding. Options were presented to him. He made his choices and -- and his decisions. And -- and we're going to -- and we're going to move out.

As I said the other day -- or yesterday -- this will be a multitiered approach over -- over a period of time. The first thing you see will not be the last thing you see.

Q: Any update on negotiations to bring the hostages back?

MR. KIRBY: No updates for you today. I mean, the work continues. We're -- we're very actively involved in these discussions, but I don't have a specific update for you.

Q: Admiral, on the timing of this. You know, we saw the three troops unfortunately killed this week. Why are we waiting now to do something? Why -- why was there no action before when there were these increased attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East? What's -- why are we doing action now as opposed to before?

MR. KIRBY: My goodness. There's been a lot of action. I mean, the -- the -- as the attacks have -- have continued against our troops in Iraq and Syria, you have seen us respond swiftly and appropriately. And as matter of fact, in previous retaliatory strikes that we have taken, you've seen us go evermore after the IRG [IRGC] specifically and IRGC targets. So, we have --

Q: Things have ramped up now. Talks are -- talks are ramping up now.

MR. KIRBY: Talks are ramping up?

Q: About the President saying he's picked a -- you know, he's made decisions about this.

MR. KIRBY: Look, I can't speak for why certain officials think it's in -- in anybody's best interest to get out there and -- and be speculating in public with anonymity about military operations in the future. I think that's highly irresponsible.

What I can tell you is that -- that we have taken this threat seriously from the beginning. And the -- the attacks have been appropriate, and they have been more aggressive in -- in recent weeks and months by us, is what I'm talking about.

And now, as I said the other day, there are three American soldiers that were killed, and we have three grieving families. So, if there's escalation here, it's an escalation on the part of these militia groups.

Q: John, Chinese warships are reportedly escorting commercial cargo vessels transiting through the Red Sea. How does the administration view these naval escorts? And has there been any coordination between the Chinese and -- and us?

MR. KIRBY: I know of no coordination between the PRC, the PLA Navy, and the U.S. Navy or the coalition in the Red Sea. I'm not aware of -- I can't validate reports that they're escorting. I had not heard that reporting.

Q: But if that were true, would this be something that the U.S. approves of?

MR. KIRBY: Look, we've said many times that if the Chinese want to be helpful to this effort about protecting shipping in the Red Sea, then we would certainly welcome that. But I can't verify those reports.

Q: Kirby, there's a report from my colleague that precision equipment for Russian arm makers came from Taiwan. Have you seen the report? Is the White House aware?

MR. KIRBY: No, sir, I have not seen that. I can -- but I'll take the question.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead (inaudible), Admiral.

Q: A couple of Republicans in Congress have called on the Speaker to put forward an aid bill for Israel without any offsets or IRS cuts of any kind. Is that something the White House would support, a standalone Israel aid bill?

MR. KIRBY: We submitted the national security supplemental as a package -- you know, Ukraine, Israel, Indo-Pacific, and border security -- because all those things are important to the President. He believes they're all important to our national security. And that's the approach that we're taking with Congress right now, to work on that package of -- of funding for all four of those -- those areas. That's -- that's where our head is right now.

Q: I'm not sure which of you can answer. But can you say whether the President will speak to the Arab American community or the Muslim American community while in Michigan? And if not, what is his message --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look --

Q: -- more broadly, to them?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things I do want to make sure that you all have, which is that the trip today in Michigan, obviously, is a political trip. I said this yesterday at the podium. It's organized --

Bye, Admiral. (Laughter.)

(Cross-talk.)

Q: He ran away.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He's like, "Okay, I'm out of here."

-- which is, obviously, organized by -- by the campaign. And so, I'm going to let them speak to the trip itinerary. I believe they did a background call yesterday. So, I'm sure you all have that information.

But I do want to say, more broadly, that the President has met with Americans with varying opinions about the conflict between Israel and Hamas, obviously -- something that I've mentioned many times at the podium. Officials at the White House are also in regular contact with Muslim and Arab American leaders in Michigan and across the country.

And as part of those ongoing conversation that the Biden -- the Biden-Harris administration is having and the outreach, obviously, that we're doing to the Muslim and Arab American communities, senior Biden administration officials will travel to Michigan in February -- we're in February now -- to hear directly from community leaders on a range of issues that are important to them and their families, including the conflict in Israel and -- and Gaza.

So, I don't have any additional details at this time, but obviously, when -- when we're able to share more information, we will. But as I just stated, we do have White House officials --

Q: Can you --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- that are -- that are planning to go out to Michigan in -- in the next couple of days, if not -- if not -- several weeks, if not a couple of days, to -- to Michigan.

Q: Karine, two senators --

Q: Could you be specific of who they are?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I -- we'll have more to share. I don't have specific on who -- specifics on who those folks will be.

Q: And has the President engaged --

Q: You got two senators -- you've got two senators and one congressmember on this flight. Were invitations extended to the entire Michigan delegation for this trip?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we normally extend invitation to -- to both -- both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, when we travel into the state. Obviously, when it comes to the congressional member, it's usually -- the person that usually comes is the person's district that we're going into. So, we usually have the two senators and then congressional members -- usually the person that represents that state -- that district -- pardon me.

Q: How is his relationship with Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, who is clearly upset and, you know, representing a lot of her constituents who are also upset?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, which we -- we've said -- we've said many times that we understand how difficult this is for many -- obviously, many different communities around this time as we're seeing what's happening in the Middle East, more specifically with Israel and Hamas. And we understand. We get that.

And -- but, look, I'm not going to get into -- we don't -- you know, we don't speak to every private conversation that the President -- that the President has with members of Congress. Obviously, he has a long -- long-standing relationships with many members of Congress because of -- because of his own career -- 36 years as Senator, 8 years as Vice President, as you all know, and being President for the past 3 years. So, just not going to get into private -- private discussion.

Q: Karine, a quick couple --

Q: Sorry. Was she invited and didn't come, or was it just that Congresswoman Dingell was invited because it's her district?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I'm just saying that we normally extend invites. And so, the -- the folks that normally come for the -- for congressional districts are usually the person who -- who represents that district. But I -- you know, the Office of Leg Affairs usually extends invites to both -- both sides of -- both folks -- Republicans and Democrats. But we're -- we're not going into Congresswoman Tlaib's district, obviously.

Q: Just to follow up on that, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: Is the President meeting with any Arab American community leaders today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any meetings to speak to at this time. Obviously, this is a political meeting. All of the arrangement for it -- a political trip, to more -- to be more precise -- all -- this entire trip was done and organized by the campaign. So, any specifics on that -- I think they've actually spoke to that when -- when they did a backgrounder yesterday. And so, I would let -- I would let the campaign --

Q: They did not do a backgrounder yesterday.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Or they put out a background -- they put out --

Q: They -- we just saw the note, but it didn't have any details.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Okay, when they put out a note on this particular trip -- a background note on this particular trip. So, they will have that information as to how -- why they -- you know, what's going to happen today and how they led that -- how they kind of put that together. I just can't speak to a campaign --

Q: Can you speak to the event after the UAW event? Is that a fundraiser? Is that meetings with --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It's all --

Q: -- the community? Is that --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It's all a political trip. You would have to ask the -- you have to ask the campaign who (inaudible).

Q: Just a general guidance policy. When the President travels, the White House often puts out detailed guidance of where he's going. Even if it's, you know, a fundraiser that's closed door, it will say the city. The guidance for this travel has all been "greater Detroit area."

Is there a specific reason why the White House is not being fully transparent about where the President is going specifically today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I don't have anything to share. I mean, what we have in the guidance is what we have in a guidance to share with all of you. I don't have any -- I don't have any specifics on that.

Q: Was there a specific decision today? Was there concerns about why the White House would not put out -- obviously, there's been a lot of protesters around --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Not that -- I mean -- I mean, honestly, not that -- not --

Q: -- (inaudible) --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- not that I'm tracking. Not that I'm tracking.

Q: Can I just follow up on --

Q: Can former President Trump -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Q: May I just follow up on Nandita's question on the timing. This EO --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The timing of -- oh, the EO.

Q: The EO.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: I mean, we heard about the EO. We heard about the background call on the EO maybe like 15 minutes before it came out. And, you know, we were just -- I was just wondering whether it had anything to do with a Michigan trip so that the President can say something to American Muslims and Arab (inaudible).

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, you heard from the Admiral. He said that this -- these types of things -- these types of sanctions take a long time. They're not easy to do. They don't turn around very quickly. These take time.

So, I don't -- I don't have a timeline for you. This is something that, obviously, the State Department can speak directly to.

But these types of sanctions -- when we do sanctions, they do take a -- when, especially in this -- in this particular instance -- the State Department and other agencies that do sanctions like the Treasury or the Department of Justice -- it takes time.

Q: Yesterday --

Q: Karine, just on -- like, just your -- the President's personal reaction to, you know, the families in Michigan who've lost relatives in Gaza who are now refusing to meet him? There's now the "abandon Biden," you know, campaign that's kind of taking off. What is his personal reaction to what's happening in Michigan right now? And, you know, is he going to stop and talk to protestors? You know, is he like -- you know, how is he thinking about today? And what's his message?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, the President has always been very clear that -- and I've said -- I just said it moments ago, that he believes Americans have the right to share their varying views and varying opinions on situations, just as long as it's peaceful. We've been very clear about that.

And we also understand that, you know, this is a difficult time. We get that. I mean, this is a President that understands that.

I don't have anything else more to share. I think people have a right to share their views, again, just as long as it's peaceful.

We've been very clear about where we stand on what's going on in Israel and Hamas, as far as believing that Israel does have the right to defend itself, just as long as -- it followed the -- they have to follow international humanitarian law. And we've had conversations with them, obviously, from the top -- from the top down, from different -- obviously from the National Security Council and also with State -- the State Department and the President himself have been continuing in those diplomatic conversations.

And, look -- and we see what's going on. We see what's going on -- the lives that are being lost by innocent Palestinians. We have to remember that Hamas is a terrorist organization. And sadly, what they do is they embed themselves in -- you know, in infrastructure where folks live, in hospitals. And it is -- it is what they do.

And so, look, the President, again, understands this is a difficult time but also believes that -- that folks have the right to -- you know, Americans have the right to view their opinions.

Q: So, there's a lot --

Q: Trump said yesterday that he would block the Nippon Steel takeover of U.S. Steel. Does the White House have any comment on that or any update on the timeline of that review? Would it still be ongoing by the time -- past either the inauguration of a second Biden term or otherwise?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I want to be careful on commenting on everything that the candidate -- because he is a candidate --

Q: Right.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: -- Donald Trump says.

I think, as it relates to the review, I don't have a timeline for you. It's ongoing. I just don't -- I can't say much more -- much more than that.

Q: I have a question on Venezuela, Karine. It's actually for Kirby before he escaped. Can you confirm that the U.S. government is holding back delivery -- no, sorry, that's not it. (Laughter.)

Can you confirm reporting of a years-long U.S. operation sending undercov- -- undercover operatives into Venezuela to build drug-trafficking cases against the country's leadership? This just came out today.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I -- I don't have anything to share on that at this time. Obviously, we can look into it.

Q: Can you have the answer to -- a follow-up --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Yeah, we'll get that answer and follow up with you.

Q: And then just one more (inaudible).

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: Can you confirm that the U.S. government is holding back delivery of 31 SeaGuardian and SkyGuardian drones to India until they carry out a meaningful investigation into the conspiracy to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don't have anything to say on that. I can't confirm --

Q: Karine, yesterday, President Trump met with the Teamsters. We understand that the union has also extended an invite to President Biden. Is he confident he's going to win that endorsement? When is that meeting coming through? Is he -- is he talking to the Teamsters leadership? I would imagine there are a lot of conversations underway --

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.

Q: -- right now.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I want to be really careful about talking about any endorsement. That's something that the campaign can speak to.

Oh, we are being told to sit down. We're about to land.

So, I don't want to speak to -- to that. That is something that I would --

Q: When is the meeting? When is he meeting?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have any -- a meeting to -- to read out to you at this time.

Q: Karine, really fast -- there's a poll out where Americans are viewing the economy in a much more favorable light, but they're not attributing it to any of the President's policies. I mean, I don't know what's -- what to say.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, the consumer confidence is going up. That's really important. And it's because of what the President has done. Bidenomics is -- is working. Unemployment is under 4 percent. Fourteen million jobs. He's going to continue to lowering cost.

And so, we know -- economists have said -- it takes a long time to make that connection.

But consumer -- consumer confidence is up, and that's what matters and that's what we want to continue to see.

All right, guys (inaudible).

Q: Thank you, Karine.

1:54 P.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 https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/369621

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