Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, February 8, 2024 | The White House

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, February 8, 2024 | The White House


1:36 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It smells like a chimney — a fireplace.  Good afternoon, everybody. 

Q    Hello.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just have really one quick thing at the top and then we’ll get going with all of your questions.

So, as you all know, this afternoon, the President looks forward to seeing Leader Jeffries, Chair Aguilar, and other top leaders and members of the House Democratic Caucus.

You can expect to hear the President talk about our shared focus on delivering important progress for the American people, from rebuilding America with record jobs, small businesses, economic growth, and rising wages; to protecting and expanding access to healthcare and taking on Big Pharma; to taking historic action to combat climate change, gun violence, and efforts to roll back our fundamental freedoms.

And that’s — and that’s in stark contrast to what House Republicans are focused on.  Right now, they’re sowing chaos, undercutting our national security, and playing political games.

As the President said earlier this week, Republicans have to decide: Who do they serve?

The President and House Republicans [Democrats] know who they — who they work for — that’s — we are aware, the President is very aware, House Repub- — House Democrats are very aware — and that is the American people.

With that, we have the Admiral back in the briefing room, who is going to give us an update on the Middle East and take your questions.

Here you go, Admiral.  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Actually, I don’t have an opening statement.  I’ll save you that.  So, we’ll just go right to questions.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Here we go.

MR. KIRBY:  Sorry — sorry to bring you back up.  (Laughter.)

Q    That was very —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I actually knew that, and I forgot.

MR. KIRBY:  But you bounded very quickly.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I know.  Limber.

Q    Thanks, Admiral.  Can you talk about whether the administration has a reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to deploy the Israeli military into Rafah?  And is the administration sending any warnings to the Israeli government against doing so, considering the humanitarian catastrophe that the U.N. said that this might cause?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, with the caveat that I always use that we’ll let the Israelis speak to their military operations and certainly any potential future military operations, I can tell you, we’ve seen no plans that might convince us that they are about to or imminently going to conduct any kind of major operations in Rafah.

I think you all know more than a million Palestinians are — are sheltering in and around Rafah.  That’s where they were told to go.  There’s a lot of displaced people there.  And the Israeli military has a special obligation as they conduct operations there or anywhere else to make sure that they’re factoring in protection for — for innocent civilian life, particularly, you know, the civilians that were — were pushed into southern Gaza by operations further north — Khan Yunis and North Gaza. 

I can tell you that — absent any full consideration of protecting civilians at that scale in Gaza — military operations right now might be a disaster for those people, and it’s not something that we might support.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Steve.

Q    Oh —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh.  Go ahead.  

Q    Sorry, I have a follow-up.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Sorry.

Q    The Israeli military has also detained three United States. citizens during Secretary Blinken’s current trip: one woman in the West Bank on Monday and two brothers in Gaza this morning.  And that’s according to the Israeli military and family members of those people.  Does the White House have a reaction to that?

MR. KIRBY:  Just processing this information, and I — I — so we don’t — we need to — we want to know more about the reasons here.  And I’m — I’m confident that our Ambassador, Jack Lew, is looking into this.

Obviously, this is the kind of thing we take very seriously, so we’ll be talking to our Israeli counterparts and trying to get information, more context here about what happened.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Steve. 

Q    So — so, John, has Israel factored in the protection of civilians in Rafah —

MR. KIRBY:  Well, again, when we —

Q    — as far as you know?

MR. KIRBY:  Steve, we haven’t seen — we have — we’ve seen no indications that there’s such — that there’s operational planning or at least planning at the level of specificity that tells us an operation — a major ground operation around Rafah is imminent.  So, we just haven’t seen the plan for it.

Any such plan — when you have more than a million folks that have been displaced down there, any such plan might have to factor in — a responsible military plan might factor in making sure that you can protect those civilians.  And as I said, given the circumstances and conditions there that we see right now, we think a military operation at this time might be a disaster for those people.

Q    And then, to follow up, Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected the Hamas proposal on hostages.  What — what happens now?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, nothing is — nothing is done until everything is done, and negotiations are ongoing. 

And as you heard Secretary Blinken say just yesterday in the region that — we’re optimistic that we will still be able to get a deal in place that will allow for an extended pause, allow for more aid to get in, and allow for a maximum number of hostages to get out.  But we’re still working at this literally around the clock.  And the Sec- — we’re — we’re optimistic we can get there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Karen.

Q    On that, just to follow up, the President had said the other day that the response from Hamas seems to be a little “over the top.”  Can you explain a little more about what part of that he was talking about? 

MR. KIRBY:  I’d really rather not get into the details and the parameters of the deal that’s being discussed.  As — as you know, there was a — an Israeli counterproposal put forward, and then Hamas responded.  As I understand it, the Israelis are looking at the Hamas response right now and working their way through that.  So, the last thing I’m going to do is get ahead of them and their decision-making. 

But as — again, as the President said, as Secretary Blinken said, there were parts of the Hamas response which were very positive and there were parts, which, obviously, we believe and our Israeli counterparts believe need a little bit more work. 

Q    And there was the United States. strike in Baghdad that killed a senior leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the United States. has said is responsible behind the str- — the drone attack in Jordan.  Has the United States. concluded the retaliatory strikes for the attack in Jordan, or should we expect more still to come?

MR. KIRBY:  You’ll have to wait and see. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Weijia.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  John, I know you said that you haven’t seen any formal plan for the IDF to — to go into Rafah, but —

MR. KIRBY:  I said we’re not aware of any formal planning to do that. 

Q    Okay.  Has the United States. communicated everything that you just said about protecting civilians to Israel?

MR. KIRBY:  Secretary Blinken, in his meetings with the Israeli leaders and the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet, made clear our concerns.

Q    And did that come with any conditions with supporting Israel and offering support, resources in the future if that protection did not happen?

MR. KIRBY:  He made clear our concerns, and I’m cer- — I’m certainly reiterating them here from the podium.  But we’re going to continue to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas. 

A big part of the supplemental request that — that we submitted back in October and which I know is still being debated on Capitol Hill has money in there specifically for Israel’s security.

Q    Thanks. 

Q    Admiral, talking about the retaliatory strikes in Iraq, what’s the United States. response to the outrage from some Iraqi officials that called it a “clear-cut assassination operation” that disregarded lives of civilians?  And what’s the United States. response to any political pressure in Iraq to expel the United States. forces there?

MR. KIRBY:  I’ll let Mr. al-Sudani talk about whatever political pressure he’s under.  I might tell you that we fully respect Iraq’s sovereignty, and our troops are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government to continue to advise and assist their military, their security forces as they continue to battle against a still-viable ISIS threat. 

We’re having discussions with the Iraqis, I think as you know, about what that posture looks like going forward and — and the validity of that mission going forward.  And those discussions are ongoing. 

But, look, if there were no attacks on our troops — who are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government — there might be no need for retaliatory strikes. 

Q    Given those discussions — how difficult are those discussions given Iraq’s relationship with Iran?

MR. KIRBY:  We have a — we believe we have a good relationship with the Iraqi government. 

I’ll let the Iraqis speak for their other bilateral relationships or their relationships in the region. 

We have a good relationship with the Iraqi government.  We still believe that the advise-and-assist mission is — is something worth talking about and — and exploring the future of it.  And I’ll leave it at that.

Q    Really quick — a quick question on Ukraine.  Ukraine replaced a top military general.  What’s the United States. response to that?  And is that an indication that the war isn’t going as Ukraine and the United States. might hope?

MR. KIRBY:  President Zelenskyy is the commander-in-chief of his armed forces; he gets to decide who his leadership is going to be in the military.  That’s what civilian control is all about.  We know that, and we’ll work with whoever he has in charge of his military.  We’ll continue to work with our Ukrainian counterparts. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead. 

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Thanks, Admiral.  Staying on that subject.  I mean, do you have any concerns about instability in Ukraine as a result of this change at the top of the military?

And also, can I ask: Was it — was that decision discussed with — with yourselves and the White House before —

MR. KIRBY:  Discussed?

Q    Well, was there any discussion between President Zelenskyy and yourselves or with President Biden about the need for a change at the top of the Ukrainian military (inaudible) —

MR. KIRBY:  We’re not concerned about Ukrainian stability as a result of this.  He’s the commander-in-chief, and civilian control of the military means you get to decide who your military leadership is.  And he’s — he’s doing that in a time of war.  He should speak to that decision. 

I’m not aware of any discussions at high levels between United States. and Ukrainian officials about the — that decision in a pre-decisional way.  We talk to our Ukrainian counterparts all the time. 

But if the question is proposing that we were somehow abil- — we had some sort of right to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down, that’s not true.  This is President Zelenskyy’s decision.  So, there was — there was no requirement for the Ukrainian government to — to run it by us.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Nadia.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  So, John, if the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu, said clearly yesterday that he ordered his troops to be ready to enter Rafah, why are you not taking his word at face value?  Number one.

And, second, there was an internal report — military report says that a fifth of the hostages in Gaza are dead already.  I know you blame Hamas for taking them in the first place, but do you share — do you think that Netanyahu shares the blame too in obstructing every deal that can have been possible, jeopardizing the life of hostages, including American hostages?

MR. KIRBY:  On your first question, as I said, we — we’re just not aware of any specific planning for an imminent operation in Rafah, and I’ve already expressed our concerns about what that can look like for the Palestinian people that are there should it happen right now and should it happen with no due consideration for their safety.

On your second question, you’re right; Hamas took the hostages.  Hamas is responsible for — for their abduction.  Hamas is responsible for any harm that comes to them, period.  That’s the end of it. 

And there was a deal in place that did manage to get a good number — dozens of hostages out over the course of a week.  And since that ended, Nadia, we have been working almost nonstop to try to get another one in place.  And those discussions are ongoing as we speak for an extended pause that will be longer than the week that we saw.  And we’re hopeful that — we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to get there.

Q    I just want to clear something about — you said about the two brothers who — two American Palestinians who have been taken by the Israeli army.  What exactly do you seek?  And you said you wanted to —

MR. KIRBY:  We’re just processing —

Q    — know information?

MR. KIRBY:  We’re just processing these reports right now.  We’re obviously talking to our Israeli counterparts about this to get more information about what happened here.  I mean, we take this seriously, as you might expect we might.

Q    And the American from Louisiana who also —

MR. KIRBY:  Same.  Same.

Q    — in the West Bank who has been arrested?

MR. KIRBY:  Same — same thing.

Q    So, will you update us on information about that?

MR. KIRBY:  If I have something I can share, I will.  But there’s also privacy considerations we have to factor in too.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Michael.

Q    John, if — can I just parse a little bit more the Rafah statements?  On the one hand, you said a — any military operation in a place like Rafah might have to take into consideration protection of civilians.  And then you also said that any military operation in Rafah might be a disaster.  So, is — does — is it the United States.’s position that there can be a military operation in Rafah that can be designed in a way that might be protective enough of — of civilians?  Or is the message any military operation might be impossible — any military — any military operation might be indefensible given the — given the situation in Rafah now?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, we haven’t seen — I haven’t seen a —

Q    Right, I understand you haven’t seen it — 

MR. KIRBY:  — plan here.  So —

Q    — but in terms of what you’re —

MR. KIRBY:  So, any — any — our view is: Any military — any major military operation in Rafah at this time, under these circumstances, with more than a million — probably more like a million and a half Palestinians who are seeking refuge and have been seeking refuge in Rafah — without due consideration for their safety might be a disaster.

Q    But I guess —

MR. KIRBY:  And we might not support it.

Q    But I guess my question is: Can you see — can you see a path towards due consideration for their safety that can make a military operation in Rafah now, like, actually work?

MR. KIRBY:  That’s a speculative one.  I’m not going to go down a hypothetical here, Michael, in terms of what it can look like.  Again, we haven’t — we have no indications that there is such planning for a major operation in Rafah.  I’ve just said that right now, without proper planning and consideration of the — the innocent lives that are there — more than a million of — folks that are in Rafah — a military operation right now, without any kind of due consideration for that, might be a disaster for those people, and we might not support it.

Q    Do you have any concern that Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin can further erode support for Ukraine aid in the United States?

MR. KIRBY:  I — we’re convinced that there is strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for supporting Ukraine.  And we know there’s efforts now to bring something up onto the Senate floor for a vote that might have Ukraine, Israel, Indo-Pacific, and humanitarian assistance supplemental funding in it and — without the border.  We’ll let the folk — we’ll let senators work that out. 

The President believes that support for Ukraine is critical — particularly right now, as Russia continues to try to hit their defense industrial base, continue to hit their units on that battlefront from — from east to south.  It — it’s vital. 

And he’s confident that — and he — and based on the meetings he’s had with — with leaders on Capitol Hill and the discussions he’s had, certainly over recent weeks, that, again, the leadership — even on the House side, the leadership is solidly in support of supporting Ukraine. 

Now, whether they’re going to — how they’re going to be affected or impacted by a television interview, I cann’t begin to — to guess.

Q    I guess I’m asking beyond just Congress.  Among the American people, several of whom, you know, watch Tucker Carlson’s show and are inclined already to be skeptical of American support for Ukraine, might hearing directly from Putin potentially erode that further — not just in the halls of Congress but among the people?

MR. KIRBY:  I think the American people know well who is at fault here.  And I think they know that there was no ground whatsoever for the invasion on February 22nd, two years ago.  The — he — he invaded a neighboring country with- — without provocation.  Ukraine wasn’t a threat to anybody, and the American people understand that.  And the American people understand what Ukraine is fighting for. 

And all they’re asking for is our help.  They’re not asking for American boots on the ground. 

Again, I don’t think the American people are going to be swayed by one single interview.  And I think anybody that watches that interview — I — again, I haven’t seen — whatever — whatever is said — need to — need to make sure you’re — you’re — remember, you’re listening to Vladimir Putin.  And you shouldn’t take at face value anything he has to say.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Just a couple more.  Go ahead.

Q    Admiral, can you give us a little more sense of what the President plans to speak about with Chancellor Scholz tomorrow?  The Chancellor has said, you know, he hopes the West sends a clear signal to Vladimir Putin.  And it seems like this week gives anything but that.

MR. KIRBY:  They’re going to talk about cert- — certainly the situation in Ukraine.  No question about it.

I think both leaders will reaffirm their strong support for Ukraine and finding a way to continue to help Ukraine.  The Chancellor said something like that before he left Berlin, actually — about finding ways for Europe to also do more to support Ukraine.

I think they’re going to talk about the Middle East as well and what the situation in Gaza looks like; what — what together we can do as — as strong allies to continue to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself; that humanitarian assistance gets in to the people that need it.  And I might be surprised if they didn’t also talk about the threats in the Red Sea to international shipping.  And a lot of that international shipping affects Europe directly.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Great.  Thank you.  Admiral, as you just mentioned, the foreign aid package — it advanced in the Senate just a few moments ago, but it still has a long way before final passage.  Some Democrats on the Hill say that they’ve been asking the White House to consider options to help Ukraine without their help in case that this doesn’t pass at all.  Is the White House considering any such options to aid Ukraine without the help of Congress?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I’ll leave our conversations with members of Congress to — to the — to those conversations and not discuss them publicly. 

The President believes that support for Ukraine is critical, particularly right now.  And we’ll continue to — to work with both sides of the aisle in the Senate to see what we can do to make that happen.

Q    Is he sending any kind of — well, is he going to send any more direct message now as they are taking this up and now that it has advanced?

MR. KIRBY:  I — I’m not — I’m not going to — again, I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s private conversations with members of Congress and leadership on Capitol Hill.  He has been in touch with them; he will stay in touch with them.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  John, with everything that you said about Rafah, whether an attack is imminent or not, I noticed that what you said was that “we will not support it” and not “we will not accept it.”  So, I guess my question is: The President has military, financial, and diplomatic leverage on Netanyahu.  Why won’t he use it?

MR. KIRBY:  I think it’s not true that we haven’t tried to help influence the — the way the Israelis have been prosecuting operations.  That’s just not true.  We have.  We have — and they’ve been receptive to several of our lessons learned and the perspectives we’ve shared.

And, again, what I said was: An operation right now — first of all, we don’t think it’s imminent.  We have no indication that one is imminent.  Any operation right now, given the, you know, more than a million Palestinians seeking refuge at Ra- — Rafah might be a disaster for them.  And any operation that mightn’t factor in their safety and their protection — an obligation that the Israelis have — we might not support.

Q    And on the Jordan King’s visit next week.  John, I think you did mention that the funding for UNRWA that has been suspended, that was specifically for Jordan.  So, can you give a little bit of a preview of whether that part on UNRWA funding and then also on refugee support for Jordan — will that be discussed between the President and the King?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t know if the specific suspension of funding for UNRWA is going to be a matter of discussion.  I mean, it’s a — it’s a closed matter.  That — that money has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, and the Jordanians know that.  It was really for — it was a limited amount of money for a specific purpose in Jordan: to assist the Palestinians there.

But I think, in broad brushstrokes, the King and the President will certainly talk about what Gaza looks like post conflict and how our counterparts and our Arab friends in the region can help build a post-conflict Gaza or help us — help us work towards a post-conflict Gaza that, again, meets the aspirations of the Palestinian people and give them a vote and a voice in what that looks like.  And it’s going to have to start with a revitalized Palestinian Authority.

Q    And just one last question.  You did mention that this is not the end of the negotiation on — on the temporary ceasefire and you’re optimistic.  Does that mean that — I mean, can we infer from that that the President believes that Netanyahu’s response — whether that is his actual position or simply a public stance? 

MR. KIRBY:  I’ll let the Prime Minister speak for his comments.  We —

Q    What is the President’s view?

MR. KIRBY:  The President believes that — that this is — this potential deal has real po- — has real possibility.  And he shares Secretary Blinken’s optimism that we’re — that we can get there. 

Discussions are active; they’re ongoing.  It’s not like either side just cut everything off.  It’s still — those co- — those conversations are still happening.  And so, the President is optimistic that we can get there.  He believes it’s possible.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  We have to take one last one. 

Go ahead, in the back.  (Inaudible.)

Q    Karine, thank you.  Admiral, you said that any responsible military operation might factor in civilians.  But 27,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza during the war, several of them children, so might you characterize the current military operation as “responsible?” 

And the second question is: Benjamin Netanyahu said the idea of sanctioning those in the West Bank who target Palestinians is irresponsible.  What might be — your reaction be to that?

MR. KIRBY:  I think our actions speak louder than our words.  We’ve — we have im- — imposed visa restrictions and we have done — and we have executed sanctions on some for the settler violence.  And I think our actions speak pretty loudly about what we believe about that.

And as for the civilian casualties, as I’ve said several, several times, I’ll say again: The number should be zero.  Too several have been killed.  Too several have been wounded.  And we know that too several have been displaced from their homes.  And that’s why we’re working so hard on this humanitarian pause, getting another extended pause in place, so that the level of violence can come down, so that hostages can get out safely, so that more security — I’m sorry, more humanitarian assistance can get in.

Again, actions speak louder than words, and I think our actions and our policies that we’re — that we’re pursuing speak pretty — pretty loudly about where the President’s priorities are.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you so much, Admiral. 

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Appreciate it.

MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, everybody.

Q    Thanks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thanks, Admiral.

Okay.  Seung Min.

Q    All right, thanks, Karine.  Two topics.  Attorney General Merrick Garland said the special counsel investigation into the President’s handling of classified documents is complete.  So, can you tell us whether the President was personally briefed on the contents of the report and, if so, when and by whom?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I — I don’t have anything for you at this time.  I might refer you to the Department of Justice or the White House — obviously, the White House Counsel, my colleagues there, for specifics on the question you just asked.  I just don’t have anything to share at this time.

Q    Can you — I mean, the — the White House Counsel hasn’t said — the office hasn’t said those specifics.  Is that something you can get back to us with, whether the President was —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I might —

Q    — personally briefed?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Honestly, I might — you can just reach out directly to them.  They have been pretty — as you know, my colleagues there have been pretty responsive.  So, I might really direct you to them direct- — specifically.

Q    And multiple times this week, the President in his public remarks talked about having conversations in 2021 with European leaders who were deceased at that time.  So, can you give us an explanation into why the President was referring to those — to those people in those conversations and what exactly happened there?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I know there has been a lot of focus on this.  I want to just step back for a second and just kind of think, really, kind of top level of what the President was talking about when he was having — as he tells a story about having these conversations with world leaders, which are obviously important conversations.  He was underlying the January 6 events in 2021: what happened; the message that it sent around the globe, around the world to our leaders — to world leaders; how dangerous it is; our democracy — how important democracy was and — or is — continues to be, obviously.

And he was asked — he was asked when he was — after he was elected, when he went to the G7, he said — and you saw this — he — it was something that we were saying throughout that trip, “America is back.”  “America is back.”  And what — what was asked of him was, “For how long?” 

And that whole story is just to reiterate, to really land, obviously, how important what we saw — that event — how important it is to continue to fight to our — for our democracy, but also, how important — how important it is — the United States — you know, their leadership — our leadership here in this — in the globe.

And so, he never thought — this is someone who was a senator.  He was a vice president.  He has a relationship with some of these world leaders for decades.  And he never thought that he might hear that.  And so, you hear him say that.  You hear him talk about it. 

He — you know, another part of it, too, is how unprecedented — how unprecedented that moment was on January 6th when 2,000 mob — a 2,000-person mob went to the Capitol because they were lied to about the results of the election, because they wanted to overturn the election.

So, just really want to make sure that we get that — that we understand why he — the reason he was telling that story.

And, look — you know, look, as it relates to the names and — and what he was trying to — you know, what he was trying to — to say, look, several people — elected officials, several people — you know, they tend — they can — they can mis- — misspeak sometimes.  Right?

Q    So, he misspoke?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And, look, I — let me give you a couple of examples.  You know, on Sunday, Speaker Johnson said “Iran” instead of “Israel.”  This happens. 

And Joe — Joe is not here.  There are several times I call Joe, from USA Recently, “Michael.”  I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate that.  (Laughter.) 

Q    He doesn’t.  (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  He doesn’t.  (Laughter.)  I’ve apologized to him several times.  Now I call him “Joe Joe,” because the President calls him “Joe Joe.”

But — and also, Sean Hannity himself has said Jason Chaffetz when he meant Matt Gaetz.  I mean, it happens.  It really happens. 

Rick Scott even confuses saving — say — saving Medicare money with cutting Medicaid — Medicare, pardon me.

And so, this happens.  You know, it — it is — it happens to all of us, and it is common.  But I do want to not — I do want to make sure we don’t forget what the overall arching kind of theme — what he is trying to say about — about our leadership on the global stage.

Go ahead.

Q    All those people you mentioned, yourself included, are a lot younger than the President.  And obviously, as he is heading into the election season, one of the things that people are talking about in polls is a concern about his age.  What do you say, then, to Americans who have that concern and they see three times in just a couple days the President getting the name of a leader wrong —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah.

Q    — and referencing somebody who is deceased?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, again, as you just stated in your question to me, I’ve — I just laid out other — other leaders in their community or elected officials who have done the same.  So, it is not — not uncommon.

Look, as it relates to — as it relates to what the American people feel or what the American people think — I want to be really careful, because you did ask me that question in — in a context of the election, so I can’t really speak to the election — any upcoming election. 

But I can say this: This is a president that has had a — a very successful three years when you look at the economy, when you look at climate change, when you look at COVID, all the crises that he had to deal with when he walked into this administration.  That was done by someone who has experience, understands relationship on the other side of the — of Pennsylvania, understands what it means to bring two sides together to get things done, understands where the people are and Americans — Americans are and what they’re feeling, and how to deliver.

And that’s why you see an economy — all the data shows and even experts and some of you have written how the ec- — the economy has come back, and a lot of that is because of what this president has done.

So, look, his leadership, his experience, I believe, we believe speaks for its- — for itself.  And I think that’s what is important.  And I — and I hope that the American people see that. 

Q    If I can, just on the documents questions, just to try it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah.

Q    The President did say last January that, when it comes to his handling of classified documents, “There is no there there.”  Is that still the case?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I’m going to — I’m not going to get ahead, certainly, of what — what is going to come out.  I’m just going to be really mindful here.  I’m just not going to get into hypo- — at this point right now, it might be me making a hypothetical comment because we just don’t have anything at this time, obviously. 

But I’m going to — any specifics, any — any details, or anything related to that, obviously as it relates to our — our comments from here might have to come from the White House Counsel.

Q    Will he speak on this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just don’t have anything to share at this time. 

Go ahead, Kevin.

Q    When you’re in the — in meetings with the President, how often does he confuse names like we’ve seen him do this week?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I have not seen him do that in meetings that I’ve been in.

Q    It was a pretty landmark Supreme Court day today.  How closely was the President tracking that?  Did he watch it on TV?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’m going to be really careful.  Obviously, it’s an ongoing legal case, so I can’t comment on ongoing legal case. 

As it relates to your question about the President, he has been busy all day, obviously, delivering and working on the business for the American people.  I just don’t have anything on his — on his cable-watching schedule today.

Go ahead, Steve.

Q    Not to belabor the point, but how might you describe the President’s overall health?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  His overall health?

Q    Yes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, that is — I mean, you see him for yourself just like I see him for myself.  Is — I am not a medical doctor.  I cannot comment on his over- — overall health.  Obviously, you’ve heard directly from his physician.  He has put out — he has put out a detailed, detailed memo and document on the — on the President’s health.  You saw him do that last year. 

He’s going to have another — another annual physical, which we will be transparent, just like we have been the last two years, and share that with all of you.

I — it’s just not for me to — to comment on the President’s medical health.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.   A couple times in the past few days, the President has said that he does not support “abortion on demand.”  How does he define “abortion on demand”?  And does that mean there are restrictions that he does want to see?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I mean, the President has always been consistent when it comes to that particular question — which is, look, he has been really clear and unequivocal when it comes to supporting, restoring the protections of Roe — Roe in federal — in federal law. 

And, look, you know, as you all know, for nearly 50 years, Roe was the constitutional law.  It was the law of the land.  And it gave the right for — for women and their doctors to make decisions about their own healthcare.  And that is what we are going to continue to fight for: to make sure that Roe becomes — you know, asking Congress to act, make sure it becomes the law of the land. 

But, look, he believes — and he’s been unequivocal about it — that he supports restoring the protections — the protections of Roe into federal law.

Q    But what — what does “abortion on demand” mean to him?  Because while Roe was the law of the land, there were restrictions enacted in several states: waiting periods, other things like that.  Are — are those things he is comfortable with?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  There —

Q    There is a concern, I think, from abortion advocates that using language like “abortion on demand” is repeating a conservative talking point that they view as stigmatizing. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  What I can say is — and he has said this multiple times — he be- — he believes in restoring the protections of Roe, what is in Roe, what has been written in Roe, what has been laid out, the provisions in Roe for almost 50 years before, obviously, it was overturned back in 2022 by the Supreme Court.  That’s what he believes.  And that’s what I might point you to.  I don’t have anything else to add beyond that.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  What is it that the White House hopes that the officials who are meeting with Arab Americans today take away from those meetings in Michigan?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just say a couple things at the top — as that this is part of the of the Biden-Harris ongoing outreach to Muslim and Arab Americans communities. 

So, as you all know — and I made this comment last week — senior officials traveled to — to Michigan, and they are obviously traveling today to hear directly from the community, to hear directly from community leaders on a range of issues that are important to them, obviously, as well — and not just them but their families — including the conflict that — that we’re currently sering — seeing in Israel and Gaza. 

This is a private meeting.   Want to — we want to give them the space to have a meeting that certainly has candor, certainly where both — where we can hear directly from them.  So, don’t want to get too far into what’s going to be discussed.

But we want to hear directly from them.  We want to hear their concerns.  We believe it’s important for — for these leaders to be — to be able to speak directly to officials in the White House. 

As you know, we have been consistent with having outreach to the Arab and Muslim — Arab American and Muslim American leaders and communities, obviously.  Also the Jewish community as well — Jewish American community.  That has — that has — that has been going on for — for some time.  And so, we are the — my colleagues, White House officials are looking forward to this conversation.

I just don’t — I want to be really careful.  It’s a private conversation.  We want to give them the space to have that privacy.

Q    But you’re stressing repeatedly that they want to hear from them.  But is anything that might come up in that meeting or any of the other ones going to affect or change United States. policy?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  You know, I want to be really careful.  These meetings — folks are going to speak in a — in a — in — you know, in a way that they have the space for it to be open and honest.   Th- — we want to make sure that there’s privacy in these meetings.  It is critical.  It is crucial for these par- — partic- — participants to be able to do that, to speak freely. 

You know, I do want to underscore what you’ve heard from the President numerous times.  Obv- — obviously, we mourn the innocent lives that have been taken in this conflict.  And we’ve said that in — in — Palestinian lives and also in Israel as well.  We mourn those lives. 

But I want to be mindful and careful.  I don’t want to lay out a specific agenda or what is going to be next steps.  Obviously, they’re going to have those conversations. 

Q    Well, perhaps more broadly, then, what is the White House’s message to Arab Americans who are frustrated with President Biden’s Middle East policy and they want to see him break with Netanyahu and declare a ceasefire?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, our message has been always very clear.  You know, he is working very hard around the clock.  You’ve heard from the Admiral, you’ve heard from the President, you’ve heard from the National Security Advisor very recently — Jake Sullivan.  He’s working very, very hard — and his team is, and you saw Secretary Blinken in the region — to stop the suffering of innocent Palestinians and — who have been caught in the middle of this — in the middle of this conflict between Israel and — and Hamas. 

And so, we mourn.  We mourn the — the innocent lives that have been taken here. 

And so, what we are trying to do — and, again, you heard this recently from — from the Secretary and also our National Security Council team — is that we are doing everything that we can to — to get another humanitarian pause so that we can get these hostages home to their families and their friends; to make sure that — some of them are Americans as well; want to get them home — and get that much needed — needed critical, critical humanitarian aid into Gaza.  And that’s what we want to see.  And that is our message.

Go ahead.

AIDE:  We’re going to have to wrap soon.

Q    Thanks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.

Q    Why did the President himself not meet with Arab and Muslim American leaders in Michigan when he was there last week?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, as you know, that is a — that was a campaign trip, so I can’t speak to what the needs of the campaign were.  I’m going to have to obviously refer you back to the campaign in why it was set up in that way.  Obviously, it was a very productive — productive trip.  So, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the last time he was in Michigan.

But we have been consistent and have had constant communication with leaders in the community.  This is something that we have done throughout — since — obviously, since this conflict began on October 7th.  The President has met with Arab — Arab Americans and also Muslim American leaders.  And we are going to continue to have that engagement as we’re doing today.

Q    Can you give us some examples of those meetings and that kind of engagement?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, you know of one of them that he has — that the President has had, specifically.  You know of also the Jewish American meeting that he has had not too long ago.  I just don’t have anything else to read out to you.  But you — you are aware that the President has been consistently meeting with them.

Q    Has the President spoken to families of the Marines that were killed this week in California.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Obviously, our hearts go out to — to the — to the just devastating loss of those five Marines and their — you know, goes out to — our hearts go out to their families and to their friends and the people who love them.  I don’t have a call to read out from the President.  But obviously, they are in our — in our — in our hearts.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  To follow up on Mary Alice, has the President had more than one meeting with Arab American leaders?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, we don’t read out every meeting, obviously.

Q    You keep referencing the one. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I know —

Q    So, has it been more than one?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Because that one we did read out, and you all were aware of that.  But the President has had — and — and his White House officials have had regular communication and contact.  We just don’t read out every conversation, every meeting that the President has.  But we — we have had regular engagement with Muslim — Muslim Americans and also Arab American leaders and, obviously, as well, Jewish le- — Jewish American leaders as well.

Q    Thank you.  And on the southern border.  Can you talk about what executive actions the administration is considering?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just say this at the top because I think it’s really important.  And the President, I think, laid this out brilliantly the other day about what — what — you know, what this — what this — what this time has all been about, right?  We were — we made sure — the President directed his team — and you’ve heard us say that several times, but it is true — for two months, directed his team to have a conversation with Republicans and Democrats on — in the Senate — to try and come — come forward with a — with a bipartisan agreement.

This agreement, if it had gone into law, might have been the fairest and also — and also the toughest agreement to deal with what is happening at the border and also some — some immigration issues that we’re seeing.

And let’s not forget, the — you know, the immigration system has been broken for some decades now.  And congressional Republicans are choosing to put partisan politics.  You heard me say at — the end of my topper basically was they have to decide: Who do they work for?  Who do they work for?

As it relates to executive actions, look, no executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide that — that Republicans have rejected.  In order to actually deal with this, we need them to legislate.  We need them to actually take action.

So, we are always evaluating our options.  But no executive action can actually have done what this bipartisan agreement can have done and might have been able to put into place to deal with the challenges at the border and to actually deal with immigration.

Q    I’m just asking what those options are, even if they don’t have the same impact that legislation obviously might.  What else can the President do, given that Congress isn’t going to do it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, I understand the question.  What I want to say: More broadly, there’s not a executive action that actually can have done or implemented in an effective way what that bipartisan agreement can have.  Right?  That’s just — that is — that is just a fact.  There is no executive action that the President can take.

Now, we’re going to always constantly modify our approach to meet the ever-changing moment.  I don’t have anything to confirm or preview here at this time.  But if you look at the holistic — right? — agreement, not one action might have done anything to — to really make the change that is — meaningful change — meaningful change that we had needed to see at the border.  And if we have anything specific on modifying anything or taking an approach to meet the changes that we’re seeing, we certainly will share that o- — to you all, but I just don’t have any preview.

Q    Thank you, Karine.

AIDE:  (Inaudible.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh, we have to wrap? 

Go ahead, Gabe.

Q    To follow up on Weijia — what Weijia was saying, is there a plan B now that this has failed?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We are always going to look at our possible actions — always.  But I want to be really clear, right?  What that — what that negotiation — legislation might have done, there’s no executive action that can have touched what that — what that piece of agreement might have been able to do — that bipartisan agreement.

Q    Karine, I take your point.  And we’re asking you what are the details of that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m just — I’m — what I’m answering for you is that we are always looking at other ways mod- — other ways to modify actions that we’ve already taken.  We’re always looking at other approaches to meet the ever-changing — ever-changing moment.  I just don’t have anything to preview for you at this time.

Q    And we’ve asked several times before.  But given the events of this past week, does the President — does the White House now support breaking off Ukraine and Israel funding now that this bill appears to have gone up in flames?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I think they’re still doing –doing their work over at — in Congress.  So, want to be mindful there.  But the President has been very clear how important it is to get this funding — to get that national security supplemental done.  He has been clear about that since October — since October, since he put that forth to Congress.  And it is important.

You heard the Admiral lay out what’s going on in Ukraine and why they need that funding and what they’ve been fighting for and how important this President continue to show his leadership, how he strengthened NATO, how he’s been able to bring more than 50 countries together to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to fight for their democracy.  That is incredibly important.

And so, we’ve talked about Israel and Israel being able to have the defenses that they need to — to fight against a terrorist organization.  We’ve been clear about that. 

So, I’m not going to get ahead of things here.  But the President cann’t have — not have been clearer on how important this national security supplemental — this emergency request that he put forth months ago. 

And — and, you know, it’s been said here already at the podium: You know, we believe there’s bipartisan support for Ukraine.  We do.  We believe that still exists.  We believe that there are congressional members on both sides of the aisle that wants to get this done.

Q    And with regards to the Hur — excuse me, to the Hur report, I know you said you can’t comment because it’s not out yet.  But today, we learned that the White House chose not to redact anything and not exert executive privilege.  Why did the White House not exert —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I might —

Q    — executive privilege?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I might refer you to the White House Counsel — my colleagues there at the White House Counsel. 

We’ll see you guys tomorrow.  Thank you, everybody.

2:18 P.M. EST





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