Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Kansas City, Missouri
12:00 P.M. CST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. I hope you're all ready for some good, great, amazing barbecue. That's a joke. Ha ha.
Okay, a quick overview of what we'll be doing today in Missouri. As you all know, the President will visit the Kansas City Area Transport- -- Transportation Authority, where he will be briefed on the Authority's operations and how it is benefiting from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
He will be joined there by the Authority's president and CEO Robbie Makinen, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, and Representatives Sharice Davids and Emanuel Cleaver.
President Biden will also hear from the president of the local Ama- -- Amalgama- -- Amalgamated -- sorry -- Transit Union, Will Howard, on how members of his union benefit from the funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.
The historic investment in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide more than $670 million for public transportation, making commutes easier so people can get to work and home faster. It will also help Kansas City's ambitious "zero fare, zero emissions" plan to reduce pollution and increase opportunity by providing free public transit and transitioning its bus fleet to electric buses.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will also support projects like replacing the Buck O'Neil Bridge in Kansas City and a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
Today, we're also -- we -- we're also launching the Build Back -- I'm sorry, we're also launching Build.gov and an accompanying bill -- an accompanying brand "Build a Better America." So again, that -- we're launching Build- -- Build.gov and an accompanying brand, "Building a Better America."
"Building a Better America" represents the heart of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law -- how these historic investments will bring Americans together to rebuild our country's infrastructure better than before and change people's lives for the better.
You'll start to see this at today's event, listening sessions with Cabinet members, and across the administration's digital channels.
In the coming months, Build.gov will grow to serve as a hub for governors, mayors, Tribal Leaders, businessowners, union members, and Americans to learn more about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, how to help rebuild our country, access resources for their communities, see progress the administration is delivering, and much more.
With that, Darlene, you want to kick us off?
Q: Thanks. Two questions to start. The first one is on Russia. Is the President concerned that his credibility may suffer if, despite the threat of severe consequences to Putin -- if Putin goes ahead and invades Ukraine despite the meeting yesterday and the threat of severe consequences for foreign invasion?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just first say, the President actually took a couple of questions right before boarding Marine One. So, I just want to give you, from him -- directly what he said was, you know, his conversation was a "straightforward" conversation. "There were no minced words. It was polite." But he made clear if, in fact, that Putin invades Ukraine -- Russia invades Ukraine -- "there will be severe consequences" and severe "economic consequences."
He also made it clear we would provide the defensive capabilities to the Ukraine -- Ukrainians as well.
The "good news" and the "positive news," the President said, "is that, thus far, our teams have been in constant contact… We're having meetings at a higher level, not just with us but… at least four of our major NATO Allies and Russia to discuss."
He was also asked, "Are you confident that [Putin] got the message and knows this is different?" And he said, "I [have] absolute confidence he got the message."
So, again, we -- the goal here -- and as Jake Sullivan said yesterday during the briefing with Jen Psaki -- was that our goal is to make sure that we head to diplomacy and de-escalate. That is going to be the focus. That's what the teams are going to be working on. And that was what the President said directly and in a straightforward way to Putin.
Q: And on the Democracy Summit tomorrow and Friday, in addition to talking about upholding democracy abroad, can you give us a sense of whether the President will talk about what he's doing to uphold democracy here at home? For example, will he talk about the struggle to get voting rights legislation passed? Will he talk about the January 6th insurrection -- those kinds of things?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don't want to get ahead of what the President is going to say tomorrow. But as -- all the things that you just mentioned, Darlene, are clearly things that the President feels are key and important things that we need to address here in our country.
But I do want to say this: On day zero of the Summit for Democracy, we are excited to be convening over 100 governments and even more members of civil society and the private sector to focus on what the President has called "the challenge of our time," reversing the ongoing global democ- -- democratic recession and ensuring that democracies deliver for their people.
So that is kind of the goal, as we all know, of the summit. And that's going to be focus of the summit.
I don't -- again, I don't want to get ahead of the specifics of what the President is going to say. But, clearly, what you just listed out are things that are critical and key and important for our own democracy.
Q: Karine, so to follow up on Russia briefly: So when the President was talking about Russia and the U.S. and NATO Allies meeting, when he said that just before -- as he was leaving the White House, what was he talking about? Is that -- is that something that's happening at the leader level? When is that happening? Can you tell us more about that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, basically, what the President was talking about -- you know, he said that there are conversations happening at different levels, as you just said.
Look, the two Presidents tasked their teams to follow up on the issues discussed yesterday. And as the President said, you know, his engagement with Russia will be closely coordinated with our allies and our partners that we're constantly having conversations with.
As you know, we put out readouts over the last couple of days. But we don't have anything more to share on specifics at this point, beyond the President's comments and what Jake said yesterday during the briefing yesterday.
Q: Should we expect to see a follow-up face-to-face meeting between Vladimir Putin and President Biden?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything else to share on that. As you know, yesterday's conversation, as the President said and as Jake said, was useful. And they're just going to continue moving forward with making sure that -- it's all about de-escalation -- right? -- and making sure that we go on a path of diplomacy.
Q: Karine, the President said that that meeting with NATO and Russia would be about Putin's security concerns. Can you can kind of explain what concerns that the Russian President raised in their conversation that the President believes is worthy of a potential summit between those kind of bodies?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Are you talking about --
Q: When the President was departing today, he said that they're "having meetings at a higher level" with "at least four… major NATO Allies and Russia to discuss the future of Russia's concerns." And so, I'm wondering -- and I know you said you couldn't say what forum that would be, but what Russia's concerns were that were worthy of discussion.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't know if you're talking about the NATO component and Ukraine. Is --
Q: I don't know what the President was talking about when he said "Russia" -- like what Russia's concerns were that he believes NATO should be brought in on.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, let me -- let me touch first on the NATO component because that came up. I think Jake actually talked about this yesterday.
So, you know, the President told Putin in their call: One nation can't force another nation to change its border, one nation cannot tell another to change its politics, and nations can't tell others who they can work -- who they can work with.
So, the United States has consistently expressed support for the principle that every country has a sovereign right to make its own decisions with respect to its security. That is written into the founding documents of the Alliance, and that remains U.S. policy today and will remain U.S. policy in the future.
You know, whether there will be negotiations -- I think that's the other part of your question -- as we said in the meeting readout, the two Presidents tasked their teams to follow up, as I just stated, and we're going to continue to stay in close coordination with our allies and partners.
We have found a way to have discussions at the height -- at the height of the Cold War, and we've done this in the post-Cold War era through the NATO-Russia Council, the OSCE, and other mechanisms. There's no reason we can't do that going forward.
Q: And then yesterday, the President pulled the nomination of Omarova to be Comptroller of the Currency. And I'm wondering -- you know, Janet said at the end of November that you strongly support her nomination and that you weren't going to pull it. And so, I'm wondering what changed between now and then.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, thanks for the question, Justin. Let me just say a couple of things because I think this is really important. So, as you saw from the news yesterday -- as you just stated, Justin -- the President has accepted her request to withdraw her name from nomination for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. You can expect -- and so we put out a statement on that.
But the President nominated Saule because of her deep expertise in the financial regulation and her longstanding, respected career in the private sector, the public sector, and as a leading academic in the field.
She has lived the American Dream, escaping her birthplace in the former Soviet Union and immigrating to America. She went on to work at the Department of Treasury under President George W. Bush and currently works as a professor at Cornell Law School.
As a strong advocate for consumers and a staunch defender of the safety and soundness of our financial system, she would have brought invaluable insight and perspective to our important work on behalf of the American people.
But from the very beginning of her nomination, she was subjected to inappropriate, often very personal, unfair, and completely unacceptable attacks. And so that's -- now she requested to withdraw, and we respected her decision to do that.
Q: Karine, the President said today, before leaving the White House, that he was confident that Vladimir Putin "got the message." But does he leave that conversation yesterday more confident that Putin will not invade Ukraine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, Jake -- Jake Sullivan actually addressed this. Basically, the ball is in the court of President Putin.
The President, again, was direct. He was straightforward. Like, he made -- you know, he made the United States' positions clear on what was happening -- on what is happening in Ukraine. And so, now it's -- we're going to continue to have those conversations on the staff level. That's the way they left it, as I've said before.
And again, the goal here is de-escalation. The goal here is to go down a path of diplomacy.
Q: And last night, the House passed a new National Defense Authorization Act, which has significant reforms to the military justice system. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who's
been a leader on this issue, says that the reforms don't go far enough, that this has basically been "gutted…behind closed doors" and "doing a disservice to our service members and our democracy." Does the White House believe these reforms go far enough, or was more needed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just say a couple of things, because it's -- this is clearly very important. And it was a --it was a -- we reached a historical point yesterday with meaningful reform of the military justice system's handing of -- handling of sexual assault cases. It includes critical recommendations made by Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assaults -- IRC -- called for by the President and Secretary Austin, including removing investigation and prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command and creating dedicated units to handle these cases and related crimes.
The President believes that this legislation takes groundbreaking steps to improve the response to and prevent -- prevention of sexual assault in the military and express gratitude to Secretary Austin for his strong support as we have worked towards this moment.
The President would also like to thank Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Joni Ernst, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier for their tireless work, over many years of it, to advance these important reforms.
The President would also like to thank Senator Jack Reed and Congressman Smith for their steadfast efforts to find common ground and reach a deal that implements key recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault.
These changes will ensure that any service member who experiences sexual assault or related crimes -- including women, men, LGBTQI+ individuals -- will be able to rely on a military justice system that is independent from command influence and control and with spec- -- specialized prosecutors who will be equipped to handle these complex cases in a trauma-informed way. So, the administration is also pleased to see that.
Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Senator Gillibrand and others, military prosecutors will also have independent authority to prosecute the additional seriousness of crimes of murder, kidnapping, and manslaughter.
Look, this is -- as I said, this is -- this a -- it takes steps to improve the system, and so this is a step forward and we welcome it.
Q: Karine, has the White House got a response to this story that came out saying that President -- former President George W. Bush -- this is speculating -- might have been a target of a Havana Syndrome-type attack, based on the symptoms that he and the former First Lady experienced.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I can't speak to anything that's speculated. I -- this is the first time I'm hearing about this report, and so I would have to go back and check with our team.
Q: Okay. And on the Supreme Court, I'm sure you've digested the 300-page report, but there's a recommendation -- there's an idea for an 18-year term that's called "worthy of consideration" by the commission. Where is the President now on a term limit for Supreme Court justices?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Let me -- so, the commission unanimously voted to approve their report yesterday and sent it to the President, as you all know. Soon, the White House will post it online and release it to the press.
Like we said previously, out of respect for the work of this diverse committee made up of many different viewpoints, the White House will not comment until the President has reviewed it.
But I'll say this: That it is absolutely unprecedented in American history to have a commission with this purpose, at this scale, bringing this much expertise and so many diverse perspectives to bear, to weigh in on these important and substantive questions. And the President is deeply appreciative of all the experts who have participated in this process and worked so hard to make their historic contributions. So, I don't have anything to share at this moment.
Q: Will he make his positions known before the big cases come down in the summer? I mean, when is he going to -- he'll make his views known before the big cases come down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don't have a timeline for you right now.
Q: May I ask you a question about Germany? Germany has a new chancellor today. Does the President plan to meet Olaf Scholz, you know, soon? And if he does, how confident is the President that Germany would support strong sanctions against Nord Stream 2?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. So, for the first part of your question, President Biden thanks former Chancellor Merkel for her many years of leadership and extends the congratulations to Germany's new chancellor. And the President is looking forward to building on the strong ties between our two nations and working closely together to make progress on today's global challenges.
The President looks forward to speaking with the chancellor, but I don't have any specific call to review.
And on your other question -- so, we have had extensive conversation with incoming and outgoing German administrations, as it relates to Nord Stream 2 -- right? -- that's the question you were asking? -- in the context of a potential Russian invasion. But I'm not going to get into private diplomatic discussions, other than to say this is an important priority for the Biden administration, as you all know.
We are continuing to work with Germany to implement the July 21st Joint Statement of the United States and Germany on Support for Ukraine, [European] Energy Security, and Other [Our] Climate Goals.
And I'd point you to the clear commitments our countries made in the joint statement to take action if Russia attempts to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine.
Q: So, the President has ruled out unilateral use of U.S. forces to help in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but is there concern amongst White House officials and larger administration officials about the threat of a proxy war that could extend for a long time -- indirect involvement that could carry on for years and years and years and could become, as Chris Murphy has said, the "next Afghanistan"?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just first say this -- and you're talking about the sta- -- the comment that the President made before getting on Marine One about the troops -- troops in Ukraine -- U.S. troops in -- specifically?
So, as the President has made clear, if Russia chooses to pursue confrontation, the United States and our European allies will impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy. That includes strong economic measures.
We would provide additional defensive materiel to Ukraine, which Jake Sullivan talked about yesterday, above and beyond what we are already providing, and fortify our NATO Allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such an escalation.
So, what the President said was that the United States is not currently considering using unilateral force to confront Russia. Jake just talked about it moments ago at an event that he was at. That's not our fo- -- our current focus. But we are preparing for all contingencies, as we have been doing for weeks now, including preparing specific, robust responses to Russian escalation should they be required.
The President laid out very clearly to President Putin that there will be significant and severe consequences if he chooses to further invade Ukraine.
We have been consistent in our message to Russia: The United States does not seek conflict. Diplomacy and de-escalation is the only responsible way to resolve this potential crisis. Russia should return to dialogue through diplomatic avenues, such as the Minsk Agreements. And that is -- that is our position.
Q: So, Vladimir Putin has also recently said that his appetite is also for de-escalation to diplomacy. But it seems to me -- and essentially what I'm wondering is, is there -- is there an ability to reconcile the two positions: the U.S. saying that you cannot tell another country what alliances to join, et cetera, and Vladimir Putin drawing a red line saying that Ukraine is not to be a NATO member? Is there even common ground possible here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here's the thing: I'm not going to predict or lay out any potential ways to get a -- get to the question that you're asking. All I could say here is that, you know, both teams agreed to get together -- and they have been having constant communication -- to talk about ways to de-escalate and to talk about ways to, you know, go down the road of diplomacy. And that is -- that is the direction that we're trying to go down.
Q: You also mentioned additional contingencies -- there's always the chance of additional contingencies later down the line. Do those additional contingencies, if you can respond to it, include the potential for offensive capability (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I'm not going to respond to what our contingency plans are going to be. Clearly, that is a conversation that's going to have -- that (inaudible) with the teams, between Russia and the United States and our -- also our allies. We've been working closely with our European allies in lockstep. So, I'm not going to get into what that could potentially look like.
Q: Karine, can I ask a couple things that are happening in the House right now? One is the potential resolution -- the censure resolution and stripping of committees of Representative Boebert over her Islamic- -- Islamophobic comments that she made towards Representative Omar. Does the President support her being stripped from her committees?
And a second is: Former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has refused to further cooperate with the January 6th committee. Does the President support a criminal contempt effort from the Justice Department there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me -- on the -- on your second question first: As the President has said before, January 6th was one of the darkest moments in our country's history. And it's vital that we have a full accounting of what happened to ensure it never occurs again and never happens again.
The position of the White House regarding Meadows's testimony is clear and laid out in our letter detailing the President's discussion not to assert executive privilege.
As we wrote, the decision was made in recognition of these unique and extraordinary circumstances where Congress is investigating an effort to obstruct the lawful transfer of power under our Constitution. The President has full faith in the January 6th Select -- Select Committee's ability to carry out that work. And that's where we are on that.
Q: And on Representative Boebert?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, so I don't have anything to share on that. I haven't spoken to him about that particular question you just asked me.
Q: Just two quick ones on today. You mentioned the launch of Build.gov -- the website and branding.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Build -- yeah, Build.gov.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. I want to say "Build Back Better."
Q: Right. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But it's -- we got to get that first -- (laughs) -- done and signed. But build -- Build.gov.
Q: And you said something about branding. Is this in any way recognition by the White House that BBB -- Build Back Better -- that you're still having trouble -- that people are still not understanding what that is, what it will do?
And then, secondly, you mentioned federal support for the Buck O'Neil Bridge. Is there previous federal money going to the replacement bridge that's under construction, or is there new --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, those are great questions, Darlene. So, the accompanying brand -- just to put it out there -- is "Build a Better America." And, you know, as you can imagine, we're constantly messaging, as you know, to the American people every day, making sure they know what it is that the President is doing to make their lives easier, to deliver for them. And we're constantly looking for different avenues and different ways to do that. And so, this is part of it.
The President has been, you know, traveling the country for the past several months -- certainly for the past several weeks on -- specifically on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. And when he even -- when he talks about the Infrastructure Law, he mentions the Build Back Better framework as well -- two pieces of -- two pieces of his policy -- economic policies that's going to make lives of Americans so much better, lower costs.
And as we know, with the law -- the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law -- you know, make sure that we're dealing with that hard infrastructure, make sure that we're dealing with broadband, and make sure we're taking the lead out of water.
So, this is all part of what we're trying to do to continue to message with the American people. And so, this is an opportunity to do that in Kansas City, Missouri, today.
Q: And then, federal support for the Buck O'Neil Bridge?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don't any details about that. So, I would -- I can -- I'm happy to check with the team and get more specifics on if there has been past federal support. I don't know.
But I know that this -- what we're saying here is the Infrastructure Law -- the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help kind of rebuild many of these builds and high- -- highways and tunnels across the country.
Q: Karine, I know the President talked about it at -- before he left -- the President talked about the Pfizer data and the Omicron variant.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, yes.
Q: But could we get a -- just a more full response from the White House --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: -- about your reaction to this news today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely, Karen. No problem.
So, this is encouraging news. As you said, the President spoke to this on his way to Air Force One today. It shows vaccines continue to offer protection against the variant. These early studies are helpful to inform our understanding of Omicron. And as Dr. Fauci said Tuesday, we continue to gather data on vaccine effectiveness, as well as transmission and severity. And we'll keep the public informed as we have scientific updates.
But the news today is an important reminder to get boosted. It increases your protection and offers you protection against Omicron. We need everyone to get vaccinated and boosted to be ready to face this threat and to help us end this pandemic. That is the whole -- you know, the whole goal here is to, you know, get out of this pandemic and make sure that we get ahead of what's to come.
Q: Just one on Meadows. Just one on that. We're -- so we've got Meadows not cooperating to the extent the committee thought. The Bannon trial is set for the summer. We've got people pleading the Fifth. Is there a concern that these various events could run this thing out into the -- into a new Congress and therefore stop the committee from doing what it's trying to do?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, we have complete trust in the committee and the July -- in the July 6th -- January 6th -- pardon me -- Select Committee's ability to do their work, and we're going to leave it to them to do that.
Q: Karine, any reaction to -- we're seeing the UK, Australia, Canada all join the Beijing Olympics diplomatic boycott. Is that -- was that the goal to get all these countries to follow you guys? And what's the expectation about what that's going to achieve?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, you know, decisions to -- countries' decisions to boycott the Olympics -- that's their own kind of -- their decisions that they have to make for themselves.
We made our stance very clear on where we stand with the 2022 Winter Olympics. And -- but, you know, it's up to them. It's up to them to decide how they're going to move forward and if they're going to boycott or not.
Q: Another sports question. Can you say if the President will attend the Army-Navy game Saturday in New Jersey?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, such a good question. I don't have anything to preview about his weekend -- weekend stops and what he's going to be doing or if he's going to be attending events.
But I'll say this, the President has said this before and it bears repeating: The United States has the finest military that the world has ever seen, and the President is so proud to be the Commander-in-Chief of such an incredible group of warriors.
As the President says at the end of nearly all of his addresses -- you probably will hear it today -- "May God protect our troops, current and future."
Q: Thank you, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right.
12:28 P.M. CST
Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353688