Joe Biden

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton

December 05, 2023

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Boston, Massachusetts

10:54 A.M. EST

MS. DALTON: Today, the United States organized a second flight to get much-needed assistance into Gaza with 36,000 pounds of food assistance and medical supplies airlifted by DOD at USAID's request. A U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft delivered the items to Egypt where they will be transported via ground into Gaza and then distributed by U.N. agencies.

This delivery came as USAID Administrator Samantha Power arrived in Egypt to meet with local officials and Egyptian and international humanitarian organizations that are working to accelerate the pace of vitally needed assistance into Gaza.

Since the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the United States has worked to urgently address the dire humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. This assistance has included mobilizing more than $100 million in additional humanitarian assistance to civilians; airlifting more than 90,000 pounds of U.N. medical, winter, and food aid; and providing half a million pounds of emergency food assistance to help civilians affected by the conflict.

President Biden and other senior members of the administration will continue to work to sustain and expand the international humanitarian response and keep rallying the international community to do the same.

And another brief word on a milestone back home. As of yesterday, President Biden made -- made history on nominating a historic number of judges.

Since the beginning of his term, President Biden has made nominating and confirming deeply qualified judges who are dedicated to our Constitution and the rule of law and who represent the diversity of our nation a core priority.

Yesterday, we passed an important milestone of 160 successful Senate confirmations, two thirds of whom are women, and two thirds of whom are people of color. That, of course, includes the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown -- Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

President Biden looks forward to building on this groundbreaking record and honoring his promises to the American people.


Q: Thanks. Two questions on Ukraine. President Zelenskyy is addressing senators today. Can you talk a little bit about what the White House is hoping to get out of those remarks, what outcome you're looking for?

MS. DALTON: So, I think I'm going to leave it to President Zelenskyy to speak to his schedule.

But certainly, as you know, today, we have arranged for senior administration officials from DOD, State, USAID, and other agencies to brief all senators and all representatives about the need for Congress to continue to support Ukraine and discuss why that matters.

As you know, the stakes couldn't be higher for Ukraine right now as Congress really weighs a fundamental choice: whether to fight for freedom and democracy around the globe in places like Ukraine or to let dictor- -- dic- -- dictators like Putin prevail.

You know, and, certainly, again, without speaking to President Zelenskyy's schedule, we know on multiple occasions in the past, he has been quite an effective communicator on behalf of the needs of his con- -- country to our U.S. Congress.

Q: And given the position that the White House finds itself in now with regard to Ukraine funding, does the President at all reconsider or wish he had not promised that the United States would support Ukraine for "as long as it takes"?

MS. DALTON: I'm sorry, can you repeat that?

Q: With the position the White House is in now with Ukraine funding stalled and it looking unlikely that Congress might approve more funding, does the President reconsider or wish that he hadn't promised the U.S. would support Ukraine for "as long as it takes"?

MS. DALTON: Absolutely not, with respect to reconsidering that. The President has been resolute since -- about the stakes here for Ukraine, and not just for Ukraine but democracies across the globe.

If we're to let a brutal dictator like Vladimir Putin roll over into the sovereign territory of a smaller democratic neighbor, the stakes for the global order, the stakes for other democracies around the globe could not be more significant.

And that's exactly why you continue to see, actually, a bipartisan majority of members of Congress support -- support aid for Ukraine.

Jake Sullivan made this point quite directly yesterday that if Ukraine funding was allowed to make it to the floor, bipartisan members of Congress would vote to -- to secure it. And so, we believe that there can be and must be a path forward that delivers on not just our promises to Ukraine but our vital national security interests in -- in helping Ukraine defend itself against this brutal war of aggression.

Q: A quick follow-up on that. With the vote expected tomorrow, and it's likely to fail, what is the White House willing to compromise on when it comes to the border?

MS. DALTON: Well, certainly, I'm not going to stand here and negotiate in public, but I think that the President has been very, very clear and senior administration officials will be very clear to every single member of the -- of the House and Senate today about what the stakes are in Ukraine at this moment.

Jake, again, laid this out very clearly. OMB Director Shalanda Young laid this out very clearly in her letter: There is not some magical pot of funding that exists to support Ukraine if Congress doesn't come through on this critical request that we've put forward.

We are about 97 percent of the way through that funding, and it's, you know -- time is running out, the funds are running out. By the end of the year, we're going to be in a place where it's going to be difficult to continue providing support to Ukraine without, you know, dipping into our own stockpiles and downgrading, degrading our own military readiness. And so --

Q: But are you willing to compromise on the border? I mean, border negotiations are on, and that is why the -- the vote is expected to fail tomorrow.

MS. DALTON: Well, look, I will just make a couple points on this. I mean, President Biden introduced comprehensive immigration reform on day one. So, we've spent about three years being ready to sit down and have a serious conversation on immigration reform, but House Republicans have declined to take us up on that.

And so, right now, you know, look, we're in the same place. If Republicans want to have a serious conversation about immigration reform, we're ready to do that.

But, you know, we also need them to move expeditiously and take action now to fund our critical national security needs with -- which, by the way, include funding for border security and to stop the flow of fentanyl into the country.

Q: And so it's fair to say that the President is absolutely not willing to lose funding for Ukraine by not moving closer to Republican demands on immigration?

MS. DALTON: I'm not going to go farther than what the President has said and the OMB director has laid out. I'm not going to negotiate in public. But I think we've been pretty clear that we find fault in a lot of the proposals that the House Republicans have put forward.

And at the same time, we've been willing to have a serious conversation at the table for three years on comprehensive immigration reform. What we cannot do is delay on funding our critical national security needs, which, by the way, includes the request from the President to fund border security and stem the flow of fentanyl into the country.

Q: Senator Cornyn said that the mistake Democrats are making is thinking of this as a negotiation, that, basically, Ukrainian aid is dependent on you guys adopting Republican border measures.

House Speaker Johnson in a letter today said -- again reemphasized his desire to see H.R. 2 passed. You noted that that there was -- there are differences that the White House holds with them, but it's your understanding that the Republican position at this point is that you have to pass H.R. 2 to unlock Ukraine money?

MS. DALTON: Look, I can't speak for what House Republicans are doing. I think we've made our position clear. We believe that it's time to take expeditious action, that Congress needs to act without delay, pass, you know, supplemental funding on our critical national security needs.

You know, we're happy to have a serious conversation about immigration policy. Happy to do that. But it cannot -- you know, we've got to move now on this supplemental request (inaudible).

Q: And Vladimir Putin is headed to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for talks. Do you guys have any response to that? Are you concerned that -- are you concerned by those conversations and what they could mean for both Ukraine and -- and what's going on in Israel?

MS. DALTON: Fortunately, I'm not a spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, so I would refer you to other foreign leaders to speak to their travel. I just don't have anything to say about others' travel.

Q: With Cornyn's remarks last night, Schumer called it a textbook case of --

MS. DALTON: (Inaudible.)

Q: I'm sorry. With Cornyn's remarks last night tying Ukraine funding with -- with border security, Schumer said this morning that it was a textbook case of "hostage taking." There's words like "extortion" being used. Does the President agree with this viewpoint?

MS. DALTON: I don't think -- you know, we're not going to ascribe motive here. You know, Jake talked about this a little bit yesterday. What we're focused on doing is speaking to the real-world outcome of what not funding Ukraine would mean.

And, you know, Jake really laid that out in stark terms yesterday what it would mean in terms of handicapping Ukraine's ability to defend itself -- shortchanging of equipment, of munitions, and other resources it needs to defend itself in the face of Russia's brutal aggression.

Q: You mentioned all the people who are going and advocating for Ukrainian funding. Is the President getting involved? Is he making personal phone calls at any point?

MS. DALTON: Well, you know, the President has been making the case for this publicly and privately. I believe the last time I talked to all of you I had just read out a conversation with returning CODEL members from a CODEL to the -- to the Middle East, where he had also, as part of that meeting with senators that occurred late at night, spoke to them about the urgency of Ukraine funding. And that was over a month ago, I think.

So, the President has been making this case publicly and privately for some time. Senior administration officials will continue to do that today and work urgently to get this done.

Q: But is he calling Republicans himself?

MS. DALTON: I don't have any calls to read out for you specifically.

Q: Is the White House still insisting that the supplemental go in the form that you presented -- like that it has to be all four items together?

MS. DALTON: Not going to get into sort of negotiating in public about this. But I think we've been clear about -- in, you know, OMB Director Young's letter about what we need to see in terms of funding for our critical national security prior- -- priorities.

Q: And on immigration, why are Democrats not demanding that there be a solution for DREAMers or for guest workers or some of these items that have been longstanding and relatively popular policies?

MS. DALTON: I'm not sure I understand your question, because I think we've been trying to have that conversation since the very first day the President came into office.

Q: But in these specific negotiations, it doesn't seem like any of that stuff is on the table.

MS. DALTON: Well, I'm not going to get into the private discussions that we've been having about border policy. But I think the President's positions on this have been quite clear.

Q: If the -- it looks like you're not able to get the full $60 billion supplemental for Ukraine, would the White House be open to a shorter-term funding bill that maybe could pass through Congress a little bit easier?

MS. DALTON: Again, I don't think it's productive for me to negotiate out here and to get into hypotheticals about what we would or not -- would not do.

You know, this is something that our team continues to talk to lawmakers about and make sure that we are in a position to -- again, this is not just about Ukraine, this is not just about Israel, it's not just about -- this is about our national security.

And I think, you know, on that basis, we went forward to Congress with a national security supplemental request that we thought would have bipartisan buy-in because it is fundamental to America's national interests.

Q: And then, sorry, I just have one question on Israel. It's been a very deadly couple of days in Gaza. The U.N. has warned about a catastrophe unfolding in the south. The WHO director yesterday said they were told to move some medical supplies from their facilities. I'm just wondering if the administration has any concerns about the way Israel is conducting its operation in the south and if it would like to see it behave differently, given the number of Palestinians who are concentrated there.

MS. DALTON: I think, you know, Jake addressed this pretty clearly yesterday, and my colleagues at the State Department did as well. I think it's too early to offer sort of a comprehensive asses- -- assessment of this latest phase in the fighting so far, since the humanitarian pause ended as a consequence of Hamas reneging on their end of the deal late last week.

But what I will say is: Israel has heard from us loud and clear our expectation that they uphold international humanitarian law, abide by the rule of -- rules of war, and take steps to minimize, to every extent possible, civilian casualties as they persecute this war against Hamas.

Now, as they've moved into the south, where, you know, Israelis believe -- the Israeli leadership believes senior Hamas officials are hiding -- you know, I think we've detailed, previously, steps that we've taken to advise Israel on, you know, steps that they can take in urban warfare settings to minimize civilian casualties. We've also seen steps that they've taken in recent days to apprise and notify people on the ground, civilians on the ground -- by both digitally and via leaflet campaigns -- about the imminent ground maneuvers they're about to undertake.

And so, we are seeing some signs of that nature. We have been obviously encouraging Israel to do all that they can as a modern military to try and mitigate civilian casualties.

And I would just add one more thing, which is that the continued flow of humanitarian aid -- including the humanitarian aid I just announced that the United States was responsible for facilitating today -- continues to be critical in also meeting the needs of those civilians who are fleeing to the safe zones in the south.

Q: I just had a quick follow-up on that, Olivia. Just in terms of sort of the steps that, you know, you laid out Israel is taking, would you say that they're taking greater care to avoid civilian deaths in line with request from the U.S.?

MS. DALTON: I -- I'm not going to offer an assessment of that at this stage. I think, you know, as Jake and others have said yesterday, it's -- you know, it's early days. We're not going to do a play by play.

You know, what we can say is that, you know, we have -- we have had direct and consistent conversations with Israeli counterparts about what our expectations are as they prosecute this war against Hamas, which, by the way -- and, you know, just in case it needs to get reiterated -- continues to launch rockets at Israeli civilian neighborhoods, continues to say that they are intent on, you know, launching October 7th after October 7th after October 7th until Israel is wiped from the map.

So, you know, Israel is in the -- in the -- is fighting an existential threat, and we recognize that. At the same time, we also continue to communicate the -- the substantial need to take great care with civilian life.

Q: Olivia, there was a CNN report that the President is looking at announcing new actions to lower healthcare costs. I was curious if you could -- if there's anything you have to preview or if you could speak to what the administration is planning to do as far as additional healthcare policy.

MS. DALTON: Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you that I don't have a grand announcement for you -- to make for you on the plane today, Brett.

But I think, you know, as you've seen, this President has made it a top priority to lower costs for Americans, including by lowering healthcare premiums; by lowering the cost of prescription drugs by finally winning the decades-long battle against the Big Pharma to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, to cap the cost of insulin.

So, you know, the President is somebody who understands what a significant burden it is on American people who are -- you know, in some cases, seniors were paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for lifesaving cancer drugs. The President is fighting to end that.

And he knows, because he hears it all across the country, how much it means to people to rein that in. And you've seen

significant action from him already, and it shouldn't come as any surprise that that's a -- remains a huge priority.

Q: Any comment on why today's -- the public events on the schedule today are all political? There's nothing official. And does that mean the campaign is picking up the costs for today's flight --

MS. DALTON: Well --

Q: -- to Boston?

MS. DALTON: -- of course, any time there is political travel, you know, we -- there are a set of federal regulations that govern the cost sharing. And so, today's travel is certainly being paid for in full compliance with federal reg- -- regulations, and that -- that assessment is made by the White House Counsel's Office.

With respect to, sort of, whether this is something new, I just think you can expect to see there are going to be some days where the President has all official travel. There will be some days it's all political travel. There will be some days where it's a mix of both things. So, you know, sort of, that's just going to be the natural course of things here.

Q: There is a lot of -- there is -- there's a lot of -- there's a lot of fundraising travel happening. With so much going back -- going on back in D.C., can we -- I lost my thought. (Laughs.) I had so much going --

MS. DALTON: I think I know what you're getting at, which is, you know, the President is president wherever he is. You know, some of you might have been at -- with him over Thanksgiving when you ended up having three press conferences over the holiday weekend on the news breaking on the hostage deal, the calls to heads of state.

So, you know, the President is president wherever he is. During our short trip to Boston today, whether he's traveling locally, he's kind of always working and always working the phones and getting briefings from staff. So, you know, he'll continue to do that here today.

Q: Will he have a call with President Zelenskyy today, either before or after the thing that you're not talking about happening?

MS. DALTON: I don't have a call to preview, but obviously you'll be the first to know.

Q: Is the White House aware of or involved at all in the explosion in Arlington last night?

MS. DALTON: We are tracking the developments in Arlington last night. And I would also just like to say, you know, our thoughts are with the police officers that were injured in that explosion, and we're grateful to law enforcement that handled that situation very swiftly.

I can tell you, ATF is assisting with the local law enforcement investigation into that matter. But beyond that, I would just refer you to Arlington Police Department for more.

All right. Thanks, guys.

Q: Thanks, Olivia.

11:13 A.M. EST

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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