Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton

March 11, 2024

En Route Manchester, New Hampshire
Air Force One

12:22 P.M. EDT

MS. DALTON: Hey, good afternoon. You're going to need to bear with me because we do have a couple of things at the top today.

Good morning. I have a few items here. As the President says, a budget is a statement of values. And his budget released today makes a few of his values very clear.

His budget invests in all of America to make sure everyone has a fair shot and we leave no one behind. It lowers costs for families for housing, prescription drugs, healthcare, childcare, utilities, and college. It lowers the deficit by $3 trillion dollars on top of the $1 trillion in deficit reduction he has signed into law already by making the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share. And it protects and strengthens Social Security and Medicare, securing the Medicare Trust Fund indefinitely.

Congressional Republicans have made their values clear in the meantime. They have repeatedly fought to slash critical programs that the American people rely on. Their plans would increase the deficit by $3 trillion with even more tax cuts for the rich and big corporations. They want to repeal the President's progress in taking on Big Pharma, wealthy tax cheats, and big corporations.

While President Biden is fighting for the middle class and working families, congressional Republicans are fighting for the rich and special interests. Their records reflect that and so do their plans for the future, which is a great segue for the fact that we're on our way to New Hampshire today, where the President will discuss his administration's historic work to lower healthcare costs.

Through the Inflation Reduction Act that every single Republican in Congress voted against, President Biden took on Big Pharma and won, giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices for families. He capped insulin prices at $35 for people on Medicare. He capped total out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 for people on Medicare. And he's driven Affordable Care Act coverage to record highs with the uninsured rate at a record low and reforms that are saving millions of people an average of $800 per person per year.

Today, the President will call on Congress to act to lower healthcare costs for even more Americans. He'll call on Congress to apply the $2,000 cap on prescription drug costs and $35 insulin to everyone, not just people on Medicare. He'll call for allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for at least 50 drugs per year. And he'll make permanent improvements to ACA coverage that are set to expire in the fall of 2025.

That's a very different vision than what Republican elected officials have laid out. They have locked arms with Big Pharma to stop Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices. They continue to talk about repealing the ACA. They continue to talk about supporting changes to Medicare that would cut benefits and throw people off the program.

As President Biden made clear in his State of the Union, if any Republican elected official tries to repeal the ACA or cut Social Security or Medicare, he will stop them. The President won't stop fighting for results in the face of these attacks from Republican elected officials and as Big Pharma spends hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying to try to stop the administration from lowering costs.

That's what you're going to hear from the President today.

And finally, I do want to echo the President's deep gratitude and recognition for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, who will be departing the administration later this month.

As you will read in the President's statement, no one understands the importance of fair housing market and access to quality and affordable hous- -- housing better than Secretary Fudge.

So, I wanted to briefly highlight a few key accomplishments from her tenure. Under her leadership, HUD removed barriers to homeownership, resulting in more than 1.5 million new FHA homeowners and the highest rate of first-time homebuyers in 20 years.

At her direction, the Department worked closely with partners at the federal, state, and local level to increase the housing supply, particularly the supply of affordable homes, while allocating historic resources to address homelessness.

And with Secretary Fudge at the helm, HUD strictly enforced fair housing laws and took a stance against racial bias and discrimination in the appraisal market.

We are so grateful for Secretary Fudge for her years of public service as mayor, as a member of Congress, and as a Cabinet Secretary -- and, of course, as a trusted advisor to the President. We wish her nothing but the best in her next chapter.

And while Secretary Fudge may be leaving the Department, this administration's work to lower housing costs and create more affordable housing will continue.

As you heard during the President's State of the Union Address last week and detailed in his budget proposal to Congress, President Biden laid out his plan to lower housing costs for working families nationwide by building and renovating more than 2 million homes, cracking down on big landlords who use antitrust laws to price fi- -- fix and drive up rents, and providing a $10,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers and people who sell their starter homes.

And, with that, I'll take some of your questions.

Q: Why is she leaving? And does she know when her last day is?

MS. DALTON: I'll refer you to HUD on any of those particulars. But as I said, she has led a historic tenure over the last three years and we're -- we wish her nothing but the best.

Q: So, she let the President know what her last day is going to be?

MS. DALTON: She did. She informed the President, and he wishes her absolutely nothing but the best. In fact, this morning, you might have heard him shout her out at the National League -- League of Cities speech. We wish her nothing but the best in the future.

Q: Do you have a plan for replacing her? I mean, it's kind of late in a fourth year of a fourth term. What -- or, excuse me, first term. Will he nominate a replacement?

MS. DALTON: Certainly, he'll nominate a replacement. But I don't have anything on that front to share with you today.

Q: Does the President intend to watch the hearing tomorrow -- the House Judiciary hearing on the Hur report?

MS. DALTON: I have nothing to preview in terms of the President's plan tomorrow.

Q: Does the White House intend to have a Ramadan event this year, given the Muslim community's stance on the war and (inaudible)?

MS. DALTON: That's a great question. Obviously, the President will issue an -- a statement and -- and -- as he usually does, to mark the occasion of Ramadan. I don't have anything to preview in the way of events. But certainly, this is a holy time of year. The President will extend his typical well wishes to the Muslim community here and around the world.

Q: On Israel, can you say, when is the last time the President talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu? And are they planning to talk in the next couple of days?

MS. DALTON: I believe the last time they spoke was mid-February. So, just a couple of weeks ago. They've spoken more than a dozen times since the October 7th attacks. And our teams are in touch on a daily basis in addition to that.

Of course, we don't typically preview calls between heads of state, and so I won't do that here. But, of course, our teams have been in regular touch, and so have they.

Q: Just how -- how does the President characterize his relationship right now with Prime Minister Netanyahu, given the exchange of some, kind of, testy comments that they've had in the last few days?

MS. DALTON: I think we've been clear and consistent in saying the President has a -- has held a decades-long constructive, productive relationship with President Netanyahu. They're -- that -- that length of that relationship, the -- the relationship that they've had allows them to be direct and honest at time where that's needed. But there's no change here in the strength of the two leaders' relationship.

Q: He said the other day that going into Rafah would be a -- a red line. And then, I believe the Prime Minister said, "Well, we're doing that anyway." What is his -- what are his thoughts about the Prime Minister obviously not caring that much about what the President said?

MS. DALTON: Well, look, I -- you know, the President was clear this weekend in his view that Israel has a right to self-defense, to protect itself in the face of an existential threat that's posed by Hamas. He's also said that he believes Israel needs to do that in a manner consistent with the laws of war and pay greater attention to the level of humanitarian suf- -- suffering and the unacceptably high level of civilian casualties that we're seeing.

The President has also, you know, I think, iterated in that -- in that interview that our view is that no military operation should take place in Rafah if there is not a credible and implementable plan to take care of the safety and security needs of the more than a million civilians who are sheltering there. And we've seen no such plan.

So, the President was very clear in his remarks. I don't think it is productive for me to add speculation there one way or the other. You know, I think he's been very clear about what our overall position is. And we're not going to get into, sort of, hypotheticals or back-and-forth.

Q: When do --

Q: Does "red line" mean anything if --

MS. DALTON: Sorry, I didn't hear that.

Q: I mean, all -- the things about protecting civilian life and -- and et cetera. The President has been saying that since, like, days after October 7th. So, what is does a "red line" mean differently than what it's -- what he's been saying?

MS. DALTON: Again, I don't think that it's productive to assign a red line, sort of, terminology to what is a very complex set of policies. So, I'm just going to leave it there. I think the President was very clear about what his overall approach and view of the situation is and what needs to happen.

Q: Do you have a sense of how what -- of whether the White House can do anything to fundamentally change how Israel is prosecuting this conflict? There seems to be back-and-forth and continued defiance. But does the President have push or pull with Bibi or any sense that what the President wants will actually happen or be taken into account?

MS. DALTON: Look, I'm not going -- I just said a moment ago that the President -- you know, he's had a dozen calls with the -- with Prime Minister Netanyahu since October 7th. They last spoke a couple of weeks ago. Our teams are in daily touch.

And certainly, we remain deeply and -- and urgently engaged in the situation in the region to achieve our goals, which are, as the President laid out this weekend, to achieve a temporary ceasefire that allows the basis for a more durable -- a durable peace; to alleviate the humanitarian suffering that we are seeing; to get our hostages home; and to make sure that this doesn't bleed into a wider conflict.

All the while, we need to make sure that Israel continues to have what it needs to defend itself against a very real existential threat.

So, th- -- there are a lot of issues here. The President is working on them very urgently. I don't think it's productive for me to -- to speak about private conversations in any more detail than he's -- he talked about over the weekend.

But certainly, you've seen the actions that we've taken in -- in recent weeks with the expansion of humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza through land, water, air corridors. You've seen the President be very vocal and forthright about what we think about the situation on the ground and what needs to happen from here.

But I'm -- beyond that -- beyond what the President said this weekend, I'm just not going to expand.

Q: To sort of follow up on that. Do you -- is there any consideration being given or any advocacy for tying U.S. aid to Israel to their response to this -- responsiveness to what President Biden is asking?

MS. DALTON: You know, the President has addressed th- -- this himself before. And I think you've heard him say, and I'll reiterate here, that he thinks that there are other approaches, which we have taken and are taking, that are more effective in obtaining our goals.

Q: How does President Biden -- or how does the United States -- we've asked -- we're going to build this port in Gaza to bring in aid. President Biden said on Friday that the Israelis would be in charge of protecting that port. How can we guarantee that that's not just going to -- going to become another front for fighting instead of a place to get that aid into Gaza?

MS. DALTON: Look, I -- you know, again, I think -- I would refer you to the DOD on to any of these sort of operational questions around the establishment of this pier. It's a process that's going to take several weeks. It will be complicated. But I -- I think it's best left to DOD to discuss the manner in which they'll construct that and provide for safe shipments of humanitarian aid through the pier.

Q: And then, in his interview with Jonathan Capehart, President Biden apologized for calling Laken Riley's killer an "illegal." Does -- does he feel like he needs to apologize to illegal immigrants for calling them what they are -- or using the term "illegal"?

MS. DALTON: Well, first of all, I want to be really clear about something. The President absolutely did not apologize. There was no apology anywhere in that conversation. He did not apologize.

He used a different word.

I think, what's -- what's -- what we should be really clear about is the facts. So, in addition to the fact that, you know, the President did not apologize, I want to make another thing clear. The President spoke directly to this in the State of the Union Address not four nights ago, when he spoke passionately about knowing what it means to lose a child and extended his deep grief and condolences to Laken Riley's family in -- in front of the entire country in the -- in the House Chamber.

And beyond that, I think it's unconscionable that there are some people who are playing politics with this young woman's tragic murder -- and particularly at a time when, let's not forget, House Republicans are standing in the way of a bipartisan border security agreement that is the toughest bill we have ever seen in history. And they're doing so because Donald Trump feels that the American people's safety is less important than his personal politics. That's the fact.

Q: Can I --

Q: President Biden said that --

Q: Can I pivot to the budget real quick? I know that bu- -- budgets are a statement of value and all of that stuff. But is there a sense of what, if anything, in this budget is politically achievable in an election year in which, even as you pointed out, Biden is trying to draw contrast between what he wants and what Republicans want? Is there anything he can tell the American people about what the priorities are or, you know, if anything actually will come of it?

MS. DALTON: Well, I think the President believes there's no reason -- there's no reason to assume we can't get this done. This is a statement of his values, a statement of his priorities, and -- and a doubling down on an incredibly expansive set of popular proposals that he has pursued to date.

Lowering healthcare costs -- we continue to hear from Americans all across the country about how important it is that they have a little bit more breathing room on their healthcare pre- -- premiums, how transformational it is to have insulin capped at $35 a month, to have seniors be able to have their insulin -- or their prescription drugs capped at $2,000 a year.

Today, we're in New Hampshire talking about an expansion of what has been already an historically popular set of proposals from this president.

So, look, we're going to work across the aisle in good faith to try and get these things done for the American people. We think that the President's agenda is incredibly popular, and we encourage Republicans to join us.

Q: On -- on the issue of the speech today and -- and most of his speeches have been about drug costs, the economy, inflation, things like that. But on the other hand, he talks about this election being about the last guy tried to basically end democracy, wanted to stay in power despite losing. Is there kind of a disconnect between such a big issue like that and drug costs and -- and gas prices, things like that?

MS. DALTON: This is a both/and. You know, the President -- he took a -- in his State of the Union speech, he focused on three things, right? He talked about defending democracy here and around the world. He talked about defending freedom here in the United States, from reproductive healthcare, to making sure that politicians aren't choosing what books our -- our kids can read.

And then he talked, really, about an expansion of his economic agenda. Building the -- rebuilding the economy from the bottom up and the middle out is how we have achieved 15 million new jobs in the first three years of this administration, not to mention the strongest post-pandemic recovery of any major economy in the world.

And he talked about a series of new proposals, like the one we're going to talk about in New Hampshire today, to double down on that and take it even further.

But, you know, the President, as you may know, has also given a series of speeches on the threats we face to our democracy. He's talked about this not being unique to the United States -- certainly the threats to the democ- -- democracy in Ukraine and Israel and other places in the world, front and center.

And you'll continue to hear from him on both (inaudible) the need that we have to continue making economic progress on behalf of the American people.

Q: Can I ask you: On the trip to New Hampshire today, President Biden didn't -- thanks. Sorry. He didn't go -- he didn't primary in New Hampshire, but he still did very well there. Why is it so important for him to go back and to campaign now?

MS. DALTON: Well, this isn't a -- an official speech that he'll give in his official capacity. The President frequently travels all across the country talking in -- coast to coast, red and blue states and purple states -- about his agenda and how he's delivering to the American people.

I think you've heard me say before, he thinks communicating with people out in their communities is one of the most important things that he does as Commander-in-Chief.

And I would add at this moment that we are incredibly proud to have a New Hampshire delegation that has been at the forefront, really leading the charge on some of these healthcare proposals that have saved Americans money and made their prescription drug costs and healthcare more affordable.

Q: Can you give us a sense of what the President wants to do in his meeting tomorrow with the Polish leader?

MS. DALTON: I don't have any preview to share with you that -- on that today, but I'm sure that my NSC colleagues will be doing some of that a little bit later this afternoon.

Q: And one other reaction question. President Trump -- former President Trump over the weekend talked about a 10 percent tariff and wanting to have his tax cuts extended. Does the President have a reaction to those policy pronouncements?

MS. DALTON: I'm not sure I'm familiar with the -- those particular comments. And given that you're speaking to the 2024 candidate, I probably should punt to the campaign on that one.

Q: And on you. I understand this is your last gaggle today. Can you say what your last day is at the White House?

MS. DALTON: Wednesday is my last day, and it has been a huge honor to work with all of you. You know, I've been in this town a long time -- 20 years -- and it has not jaded me a bit. I'm very proud of that.

And I think, you know, for me -- I'm trying not to get emotional -- but participating in this tradition of the White House press briefing, the White House gaggles, I still believe this is one of the most powerful expressions of how the world's greatest democracy views its commitment to the American people and to a free press.

And it's been an enormous honor to be part of that -- a bit part of that for this administration and this President. And maybe that's a great place to leave it.

Q: Congratulations.

Q: Can you share anything on where you'll go next?

MS. DALTON: I don't have anything to share with you now, but I'll keep you posted. Thanks.

Q: Congratulations. (Applause.)

12:40 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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