February 24, 2024

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the Cast of “Ted Lasso,” and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the Cast of “Ted Lasso,” and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:14 P.M. EDT
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh my gosh.  Hello. 
 
Q    Hello.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Hello.
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  Hello. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I wonder why so many people are here today.  (Laughter.)
 
Q    I’m here for you.  
 
Q    Karine —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, right.  Right, you’re here for me.
 
Q    Karine, before — before you begin —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, no, no, no.  Nope.  That’s not — we’re not doing this.  We’re not doing this. 
 
Q    I would like to request —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We’re not doing this.  We’re not doing this. 
 
Q    I would like to request that you call on everyone from across the room. 
 
You’ve been discriminating against me and discriminating against some people in the briefing room. 
 
Q    Sir!
 
Q    And I’m saying that this is the U.S. —
 
Q    Come on!
 
Q    — this is not China —
 
Q    Let her start.
 
Q    — this is not Russia. 
 
Q    You’re being rude. 
 
Q    Let her start. 
 
Q    This is not Russia!
 
Q    Be respectful.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.
 
Q    What you are doing, you are making a mockery of the First Amendment.
 
Q    Simon!
 
Q    Decorum, please.  Decorum, please. 
 
Q    Let her start.  Respect her.
 
Q    It’s been seven months.  You’ve not called on me.
 
Q    Decorum, please.
 
Q    You blow off my messages.  I’m saying that that’s not right.  That’s not right. 
 
Q    Let her start the briefing!
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Fun times.  Welcome, guys.  (Laughter.)
 
Q    That’s not right.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Welcome.  Welcome to the press briefing room.
 
Q    (Inaudible) you are trying to silence some people —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.
 
Q    — but this is not right.
 
Q    Sir!
 
Q    Sir, let it go. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Are you ready?  Are we going to behave? 
 
Q    Thank you. 
 
Q    It’s not about behaving —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  While many folks —
 
Q    — I’m saying that it is to respect the First Amendment.
 
Q    Decorum, please.
 
Q    Simon!  
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.
 
Q    Sorry to our guests.  We apologize. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes, I apologize. 
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  It’s all good.  It’s all good. 
 
MR. GOLDSTEIN:  No, that’s all right.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I apologize.
 
Okay, while many — while many folks here in the U.S. are focused on March Madness or the World Baseball Classic — go Team USA tomorrow night, by the way — we at the White House today are going to focus on another sport, which is soccer — or football, as some of my guests might say — (laughter) —
 
MS. WADDINGHAM:  Thank you.  Football.  Thank you. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — specifically AFC Richmond. 
 
And I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the “Believe” ba- — banners that we’re seeing around — that you all may be seeing around the White House complex today.
 
It is an honor — it is truly an honor to have Coach Lasso here with us today.  (Laughter.)
 
On a serious note though, because this is actually very serious for the reasons that they are all here — Jason and his castmates — and there’s a real message around mental health.  And they are meeting with the President and the First Lady, as you all know, this afternoon on this important topic.
 
And as you know, the President has made mental health the centerpiece of his Unity Agenda.
 
And I know that Jason wants to share a few words.  And so, Coach Lasso, the podium is yours.
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  I appreciate it.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And here you go.
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  Thank you.  Thank you. 
 
Yeah, I didn’t — I truly did not know it was going to be this when — on the way here — (laughter) — until we were out here.  And so, thank you for taking an interest. 
 
And I know you’re here for bigger reasons than us, but I just want to say that on behalf of myself, everyone here with me today and the numerous other folks that — that it takes to make our show, “Ted Lasso,” it is sincerely an honor to visit the White House and to have the opportunity to speak to the President and to the First Lady about the importance of mental health.
 
So, like, no matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter who you voted for, we all — probably, I assume — we all know someone who has — or have been that someone ourselves, actually — that’s struggled, that’s felt isolated, that’s felt anxious, that has felt alone.  Right?
 
And it’s actually one of the many things that, believe it or not, that we all have in common as human beings, right?
 
And so, that means that we — it’s something that we can all, you know, and should talk about with one another when we’re feeling that way or when we recognize that in someone feeling that way. 
 
So, please, you know, we encourage everyone — and it’s a big theme of the show — is, like, to check in with your — you know, your neighbor, your coworker, your friends, your family, and ask how they’re doing and listen sincerely.  You know?  I mean, you all ask questions for a living, but you also listen for a living.  So, you know, who am I preaching to?  The choir, that is.  Okay?  (Laughter.) 
 
And look — and while — look, while it’s easier said than done, I — we also have to know that we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help ourselves.  And that does take a lot, especially when it’s something that has such a negative stigma to it, such as mental health.  And it doesn’t need to be that way.
 
And if you can ask for that help from a professional, fantastic.  If it needs to be a loved one, equally as good in a lot of ways, because it’s — sometimes you just need to let that pressure — that pressure valve release.
 
The President is working on, and his — and his own team — although his team is real; our team is make-believe.  (Laughter.)  Don’t think I don’t know that.  Despite what the people that FIFA and EA will tell you, we are actually a make-believe team.  (Laughter.) 
 
But, you know, they’re working very hard to make sure that the — that — you know, that option is available to as many Americans as possible.
 
Now, look, I know in this town a lot of folks don’t always agree — right? — and don’t always feel heard, seen, listened to.  Yes?  But I truly believe that we should all do our best to help take care of each other.  That’s my own personal belief.  I think that’s something that everybody up here on stage believes in.  That’s things we talk about in the writers’ room and we talk about in the editing room and everything in between.
 
And just like — you know, you just want to emulate, you know, these make-believe folks that we all play at AFC Richmond and the way they take care of one another.  That is the wish fulfillment of the show, aside from me playing coach and these guys being professional footballers.  You know, that’s like — you know, that’s — that’s — that’s a big part of the show.  (Laughter.)
 
Now, I — I can’t help but take this opportunity to take at least one question.  So, please, yeah.
 
Q    So, you’re going to do better than 20th?
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  Ahhh — wait.  Hold on.  The — decorum, right?  That was the word we were using?  Decorum. 
 
Yes, sir.  A familiar face.  Hi. 
 
MR. LANCE:  Trent Crimm.  (Laughter.)  Fake journalist.  (Laughter.)
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  Yes, sir.  Yes, Trent.  Nice to see you.
 
MR. LANCE:  How do you feel about Kansas City being one of the named hosting cities for the 2026 World Cup?
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  Ooh, here I was hoping for a softball.  (Laughter.)  Okay, you know what?  I’m very excited, truth — truth be told.
 
Yeah, Kansas City is going to be one of these teams — I mean, I love this town.  What I am genuinely worried about is once we get all these folks from all over the world to come to Kansas City and see our city, eat our food, meet our people, you’re going to have, you know, a lot of folks that won’t want to move away.  That’s what I’m worried about.  (Laughter.)
 
That’s it for us.  All right.  Thank you very much.  All right, see you guys. 
 
Thank you sincerely so much for having us and putting up with us.
 
Now on to greener pastures.  (Laughter.)
 
All right, thank you.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  All right, see you guys.  Absolutely.
 
MS. WADDINGHAM:  Thank you so much. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you.  Thank you so much. 
 
Q    Would you do a Biden impression? 
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  Excuse me? 
 
Q    You don’t have a little —
 
Q    Your Joe Biden. 
 
Q    — Joe Biden impression for us? 
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  No, I think — they got the real one here now.  You know?  (Laughter.)  Yeah.  No, I — I need fake teeth and, you know, and injected with a lot more chutzpah to pull that off.  So, you now.  Okay. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh, boy.  Oh, boy. 
 
Q    We just want to know if you’re going to do better than 20th.
 
MR. SUDEIKIS:  Oh, I don’t know.
 
I — yes.  Yes. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thanks, guys.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you. 
 
Okay, I just got to say something before we start.  I know some folks are probably going to leave the room.
 
Q    Karine, one (inaudible).  You can’t keep — you can’t keep discriminating against some people in the briefing room because you don’t like them and you don’t like their questions.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Sir, you have a choice. 
 
Q    No, you’ve been —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  You have a choice. 
 
Q    — discriminating against me —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  You have a choice.
 
Q    — and against a number of people —
 
Q    Shhh —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.
 
Q    — in the briefing room.  And I’m saying that that’s not right.  This is not China.  This is not Russia.  This is the United States.
 
Q    Decorum!
 
Q    This is the White House.
 
Q    Come on.
 
Q    Simon — Simon, the point is —  
 
Q    I think you should —
 
Q    The point is you’re not letting her talk.
 
Q    The rest of us are here too, pal.
 
Q    It is based on (inaudible) —
 
Q    You’re not letting her talk.   
 
Q    (Inaudible.)
 
Q    If you have grievances, you should bring them to her later.
 
Q    I have done that. 
 
Q    Right now, this is —
 
Q    I have done that!
 
Q    — for the entire press corps.
 
Q    All my emails have been ignored.
 
Q    And the press corps is tired of dealing with this. 
 
Q    I’ve done that.
 
Q    It isn’t about you, Simon. 
 
Q    Understand that you get questions all the time and you don’t (inaudible) —
 
Q    The point is —
 
Q    — to sit here for eight months and being discriminated against.  Understand that — 
 
Q    Take your legitimate questions —
 
Q    — you’re in the front row.  And you feel comfortable, and you get —
 
Q    — to the Press Secretary at another time. 
 
Q    — to ask questions all the time. 
 
Q    But you have people in the back who don’t get any questions. 
 
Q    Don’t make assumptions about what the rest of us do.  Mind your manners when you’re in here.  If you have a problem, you bring it up afterwards
 
But you are impinging on everybody in here who is only trying to do their job.
 
Sorry.
 
Q    Okay, thank you.  I’m saying that you shouldn’t discriminate against some people because you don’t agree with their question, you’re offended —
 
Q    You made your point. 
 
Q    — by their question.
 
Q    You made your point.
 
Q    You made your point.
 
Q    We all heard it. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Guys, as you all know — many of you know, this is the White House Press Briefing Room.  A historic room.  A room that should have the decorum.  A room where folks should respect their colleagues and respect the guests that are here.
 
And I understand that there’s going to be give-and-take.  That’s the way the press briefing has gone for — for decades before me.  And I will always, always respect that. 
 
But what I will not — what I will not appreciate is disrespecting your colleagues and disrespecting guests who are here to talk — who were here to talk about an incredibly important issue, which is mental health. 
 
And what has just occurred this last 10, 15 minutes is unacceptable.  It is reg- —
 
Q    You’ve been discriminating against me.  You’ve been dis- —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It is unacceptable. 
 
Q    — against me for months. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So we’re going to — so we’re either going to continue the briefing or we can just end the briefing right here.
 
Q    No.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Well, then let’s go.
 
Q    Let’s go.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Now, for my next guest, my colleague, John Kirby, is joining me here today to talk about President Xi’s visit to Moscow and take any questions that you may have.
 
Again, another guest that should be respected in this room and allowed to take questions from the front and from the back.  And that’s what we do every day.  And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
 
Go ahead, Admiral.
 
MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, Karine.  Afternoon, everybody.
 
Q    Hello, John.
 
MR. KIRBY:  I do — thank you.  I do have a few things to get through.  And I promised Karine I’d try to be as brief as I could, but there’s a — there’s a lot going on.  So just please bear with me, and then I’ll be happy to take as many questions as — as time will allow.
 
Today, I think you — as you all know, President Xi is visiting Russia to meet with President Putin.  Now, you also probably know that China has already issued a 12-point plan for the conflict in Ukraine, which includes an essent- — an essential point, and that’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. 
 
We encouraged President Xi to advocate for this exact essential key point, which must include the withdrawal of Russian forces from sovereign Ukrainian territory consistent with the U.N. Charter. 
 
The entire world would like to see this war end — especially the Ukrainians themselves, who have put forward their own plan for a just peace, which draws, again, on these same U.N. principles.
 
And let’s remember, this war could actually end right now if Russia would withdraw its troops from the country. 
 
We hope that President Xi will press President Putin to cease bombing Ukrainian cities, hospitals, and schools; to halt the war crimes and atrocities; and to withdraw all his troops.
 
But we are concerned that, instead, China will reiterate calls for a ceasefire that leaves Russian forces inside Ukraine sovereign territory.  And any ceasefire that does not address the removal of Russian forces from Ukraine would effectively ratify Russia’s illegal conquests, enabling Russia to entrench its positions and then to restart the war at a more advantageous time for them.
 
This would — the world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, aided by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its terms without any viable pathway to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Any such attempt — any such attempt would violate the U.N. Charter and defy the will of the 141 countries that demanded, just weeks ago at the U.N. General Assembly, that Russia immediately, completely, and unconditionally withdraw from Ukraine.
 
Efforts to end this conflict must take Ukraine’s position into account.  And so we encourage President Xi to play a constructive role by speaking with President Zelenskyy, which he has not done since Russia launched this invasion.  Because China, quite frankly, we believe, should hear directly from the Ukrainians and not just from the Russians.
 
And we encourage President Xi to press President Putin directly on the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The world and China’s neighbors will certainly be watching closely.
 
I also have a few updates for you on Israel.  First, we welcome the understandings reach- — reached in Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday between senior political and security officials of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  This was the second meeting in this particular format following the gathering that was in Aqaba three weeks ago, and it included participation by senior officials from the United States, from Egypt, and from Jordan.
 
The parties held candid and constructive conversations on steps to improve security and stability for Palestinians and Israelis and on efforts to strengthen the economic stability of the Palestinian people. 
 
Meetings at this level have not taken place in nearly 10 years.  And they helped to build a critical foundation to deescalate tensions and reduce violence.  And that’s what we want to see happen.
 
We look forward to continuing these discussions as we enter the holy month of Ramadan, of Passover, and Easter.
 
Now, President Biden has also spoken, I think as you know, yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  In that call, he welcomed the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh and reinforced the need for all sides to take urgent collaborative steps to enhance security coordination, condemn all acts of terrorism, and maintain the viability of a two-state solution. 
 
He also reiterated his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and our ongoing cooperation to counter all the threats posed by Iran — and there are many.
 
The President also stressed that democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of U.S.-Israeli bilateral relations.  Democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.  He offered his support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles.  And we call on all Israeli leaders to reach such a compromise without delay.
 
On a separate topic: Earlier today, I think you saw the President issued a statement welcoming the recovery and soon return of Jeff Woodke, a U.S. citi- — a U.S. citizen who had been held hostage in Africa for more than six years.  He is safe, and he is in the hands of the U.S. government officials.
 
As the President said in that statement not too long ago, we extend our deepest appreciation to the Nigerien government for their help in securing his release.  For more than six years, there has been a multi-pronged effort dedicated to locating and recovering Jeff, which was spearheaded by our military, our law enforcement, and our intelligence community, working together with French support.
 
Jeff, like other hostages and wrongful detainees, will be offered the best medical care possible, of course, to include post-isolation support.  After a full medical screening, he will be reunited with his loved ones in the near future. 
 
I think you can understand why we’d ask you to please allow Jeff and his family a little bit of privacy here as he adjusts to new surroundings and to life moving forward and to coming back into American society. 
 
The Biden-Harris administration remains unwavering in our commitment to bringing Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad home to their loved ones.  And this is yet another example of the President’s commitment in that regard. 
 
Lastly, I know it’s not lost on any of you that today is the 20th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Whatever one thinks about the war and what started it, I can tell you two things. 
 
One, we’re looking ahead, and we’ve got a — a good collaboration, a good partnership with Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces, who we continue to partner with in an “enable, advise, and assist” role, because there’s still a viable threat of ISIS there in Iraq and in Syria. 
 
And number two, the President and the First Lady remain absolutely committed, as they always have been, to the men and women of America — of our military, as well as across the interagency, who served, fought, died, and suffered in Iraq. 
 
Some 4,399 troops did not make it home from the war.  More than 30,000 came home forever changed by wounds and injuries. 
 
And it’s not just them; it’s their families that continue to suffer, that continue to sacrifice.  There’s 4,399 chairs at 4,399 dinner tables that are empty.  And it’s important for us always to remember that and never forget the bravery, the courage, the sacrifice that went into fighting that war, again, regardless of how you feel about it.
 
President Biden and the First Lady are going to commit — stay committed to those — to those families going forward.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m going to — go ahead — start in the back.  Go ahead.  Please start.
 
Q    Yes, Karine. 
 
Q    Oh, okay.  Thank you.  Just on Russia.  First of all, Moscow has indicated that they’ll put a pause on the grain deal by May 18th if the U.S. doesn’t comply with some of their demands, which include putting some banks back in the SWIFT system, resuming exports of agricultural equipment.  What’s your reaction to that?  And what’s the plan B if they do halt?
 
MR. KIRBY:  So, first, I — we obviously welcome the extension.  It’s for, I think, 60 days — not the 120 that I think we were — that everybody was hoping for.  But a 60-day extension.  That’s a good thing. 
 
In fact, over the weekend, I think two ships left with hundreds of thousands of metric tons of corn.  And a lot of that corn, a lot of that grain is heading for low- and middle-income countries that have been suffering — no question — have been suffering since the beginning of this war with food insecurity. 
 
So, it’s a good thing.  And we’re grateful for the work of Turkey, for the U.N. to move forward with that. 
 
I don’t have any — and I won’t get into speculating about repercussions one way or another.  We’re focused on now getting — now that this is extended, making sure we get those ships loaded and get them out and get them to places where they need to be.  That’s — that’s what — that’s what the focus is. 
 
Q    And can you just remind us of your position on — you know, doubtless there are going be conversations between President Xi and Putin about assistance to Russia in Ukraine.  What is the U.S.’s position on that?  And what if China does decide to aid Russia?
 
MR. KIRBY:  All right, so on the — on the communications — hang on, I just want to write this down so I don’t forget it.
 
The — you’ve heard the President say this himself.  He wants to have another conversation with President Xi, and he’ll do that.  And we’ll do that at the most appropriate time. 
 
I don’t have a call in the schedule to speak to, but it’s important that we keep those lines of communication open, particularly now when tensions are so high.  That’s why we’re — you know, we still want to get Secretary Blinken back to Beijing.  That visit was postponed; it wasn’t canceled.  And we’re still hopeful that we can get that back on the cal- — calendar. 
 
As a matter of fact, we’re having discussions with the PRC right now about a potential visit by Secretary Yellen and Secretary Raimondo to go over there and talk about economic issues.  So there’s that — that we’re still working. 
 
So all — all of that — keeping those lines of communication open — are still valuable. 
 
Now, you asked about lethal weapons and a provision of lethal weapons by China.  We’ll see what they come out of this meeting talking about.  I mean, we don’t know if there’s going to be some sort of arrangement. 
 
I would just tell you that we still don’t believe that China has taken it off the table.  We still don’t believe and haven’t seen any indication that they’re moving in that direction or they’ve made a decision to provide or that they’re actually going to do that.
 
We continue to believe it’s not in China’s best interest to do that, to help Mr. Putin slaughter innocent Ukrainians.  It’s hard to believe that they would think that that’s in their best interest. 
 
It would also run counter to what we’ve heard President Xi talk about in terms of what his ultimate goal here is.  I think he put an op-ed out today talking about sovereignty, territorial integrity, finding a peaceful way to end this war that — providing lethal weapons would seem to be inconsistent with that goal.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Alex.  Alex. 
 
Q    When is the right time for a ceasefire?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Alex.  Alex.  Go ahead.  Alex, go ahead. 
 
Q    Thank you.  Thank you, Karine.  Admiral, do you all — are you encouraged by progress — or seeming progress in Israel on the judicial reforms?  It seems that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his critics agree on some key things but not others.  How do you assess the situation?
 
MR. KIRBY:  Well, we’re glad that they’re talking.  The President was — was encouraged by the — the efforts by President Herzog to come up with some alternatives.  We’re certainly going to let Israeli leaders speak to the details of that.  This is for them to work out. 
 
But one of the messages that President Biden had when he spoke to the Prime Minister yesterday was: It’s important for those efforts to be fully explored and for compromises to be made, because the beauty of democracy is, in fact, compromise.  And the strength of our — of both our democracies is that we believe in checks and balances and also in a consensus among the — the populace that — to make these changes, whatever changes they are, to make them sustainable.  All that has to be factored in.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Mary.
 
Q    Thanks.  Just a couple follow-ups here.  You said that you haven’t seen any confirmation that China has made a decision yet when it comes to providing aid.  Why do you think China hasn’t made this decision yet?  Do you think they’re waiting for this meeting today or —
 
MR. KIRBY:  Difficult to know.  It’s hard.  You know, we — I couldn’t possibly get inside President Xi’s decision-making to see, you know, what — what he’s thinking. 
 
China has, as you know, not condemned the war, but they haven’t provided lethal weapons.  They haven’t participated in — in sanctions the way we obviously would have preferred them to do.  They have — they have made their own sovereign decisions.  And largely, at least tacitly, many of those decisions have come down on the side of Russia here, including buying into the Russian propaganda that this war is some sort of existential threat to Russia and it’s the West or the U.S. and NATO pushing Russia, which is — of course is nonsense. 
 
I can’t speak for President Xi and why he hasn’t moved in this direction.  I would just reiterate here from the podium, what we’ve reiterated to pr- — to Chinese officials privately: that we don’t think it’s in their best interest, it’s not going to bring an end to this war any faster, and, as I said earlier, it certainly appears inconsistent with what President Xi has said publicly about what he wants to see happen. 
 
Q    And on the phone call between President Biden and President Xi, what is the holdup here?
 
MR. KIRBY:  It —
 
Q    You all seem interested in talking.  Are the Chinese not interested?
 
MR. KIRBY:  There’s no holdup — no holdup at all.  We want to make sure when we have this conversation it’s at the — at the appropriate time and in the right context. 
 
President Xi has been kind of busy of late.  I mean, he had the People’s Congress, which just ended; now he’s in Moscow.  So, look, when it’s the right time and — for both leaders, we’ll get them on the phone. 
 
But just as importantly, to my first answer on this, we’re still trying — you know, still interested in working towards getting Secretary Blinken back to Beijing.  I mean, he was practically on the plane when we had to pull that visit back and postpone it. 
 
And as I said, we’re having active discussions with the PRC right now about the potential visit by Secretary Yellen and a — and one by Secretary Raimondo.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thanks, John.  On the — on the call yesterday with the Pres- — Prime Minister Netanyahu, was — has there been any discussion within the U.S. government of withholding potentially some military assistance to Israel because of the — if these judicial reforms do proceed, there are a number of instances around the world —
 
MR. KIRBY:  One of the —
 
Q    — where the U.S. holds — withholds military assistance for democratic reasons or concerns (inaudible)?
 
MR. KIRBY:  One of the — one of the main things that President Biden stressed to Prime Minister Netanyahu was our ironclad support for Israel’s security and that — that that’s going to continue.  We face some common challenges in the region, not — not the least of which is Iran.  That will continue.
 
Q    And then, just on a different topic, the other NSC side — the homeland security side, in light of some of the discussions regarding protests surrounding the potential future indictment of the former President.  You addressed this a little bit yesterday, but can you get — has the White House been briefed on any security concerns or is involved in any operational planning to ensure — investigating threats or otherwise ensure homeland security?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I’m not aware of any specific briefings or — or specific threats.
 
As I said yesterday, we — we always monitor this.  Even absent the context of — of those comments, we’re constantly monitoring this — as you would think we should, particularly in the wake of what happened on January 6th.  But I’m not — I’m not tracking any individual or specific threats or any specific or operational moves by — by the federal government. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Jeff.  And then we’ll go back.
 
Q    Thanks.  John, does the President plan to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington for a visit?
 
MR. KIRBY:  There’s nothing on the schedule right now for that.
 
Q    And more broadly, on the Russia question, is there another way to look at President Xi’s visit other than a show of support for President Putin?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I think, clearly — look, take a couple steps back here.  I mean, this is a relationship that has been burgeoning of late.  There two countries have — have grown closer.
 
It — but they are both countries that chafe and bristle at U.S. leadership around the world, that chafe and bristle at this idea — I know it’s — it sounds like a wonky term, but this rules-based order inter- — this international rules-based order, which so many countries helped to establish in the wake of World War Two.
 
These two countries, they don’t like that much.  And they like to challenge it.  And they — and in China’s case in particular, they certainly would like to challenge U.S. leadership around the world.  And in — in President Putin, President Xi sees a potential ally in that effort. 
 
For President Putin, he sees in President Xi a lifeline of sorts for a war that he’s conducting that has clearly not gone in the — anywhere near the direction he wanted it to go and a military that is clearly failing on the battlefield.
 
So, it’s a bit of a marriage of convenience, I’d say, less than it is of affection.
 
And, again, we’ll — we’ll see where — we’ll see where this goes after this — after this meeting.  But these are not two countries that have, you know, decades-long experience working together and full trust and confidence.  It’s a burgeoning of late based on America’s increasing leadership around the world and trying to che- — and trying to check that.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Lalit.
 
Q    Thank you.  I wanted to ask you about the comment of India protests against — there was an attack on the Indian consulate in San Francisco yesterday.  The doors were broken.  The windows were broken. 
 
MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.
 
Q    And graffiti was (inaudible) the wall.  Is the President aware about it?  And I haven’t seen any action being taken by the San Francisco police yet.
 
MR. KIRBY:  We — we certainly condemn that — that vandalism.  It’s just absolutely unacceptable.  The State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service is working with local authorities.
 
I can’t speak for the San Francisco police, but I can say that the Diplomatic Security Service is working with local authorities to properly investigate.  And obviously, State Department is going to be working, from an infrastructure perspective, to repair the damage.  But it’s unacceptable.
 
Q    Now that you have a U.S. ambassador to India confirmed by the Senate, it has been around two years now that you didn’t have an ambassador to India.  Can you look back and say how did it impacted your ties with India not having an ambassador on the ground in Delhi?
 
MR. KIRBY:  It always helps if you have a Senate-confirmed ambassador in a country, particularly one that’s so important, like India, to us in the region and around the world.
 
But we didn’t let that stop us.  President Biden has prioritized that bilateral relationship.  And even though — without an ambassador, we — we certainly had a very competent chargé there and a very competent career staff in the embassy that were able to continue to advance our foreign policy interests in this bilateral relationship and did so quite effectively.
 
But, obviously, having an ambassador is always important, and we look forward to that — to having (inaudible).
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Way in the back, behind Alex.
 
Q    Karine, thank you.  What is the administration doing specifically to counter the growing Russia and China relationship?
 
MR. KIRBY:  What we’re focused on is revitalizing our alliances and partnerships around the world and advancing our foreign policy goals around the world and in working to strengthen the foreign policy objectives and the mutual security objectives that we share with so many other countries. 
 
I mean, last week, on Monday, the President was in San Diego to unveil, with Prime Minister Sunak and Prime Minister Albanese of Australia, this AUKUS deal.  This is a — an opportunity now to help Australia get their own nuclear-powered submarines.  That’s just one example. 
 
That’s what we’re focused on.  It’s not about — it’s not about countering them; it’s about advancing our goals. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Peter.
 
Q    Thanks.  John, Russia and China — it seems like this — these two superpowers are teaming up now against the U.S.  Why did President Biden let this happen?
 
MR. KIRBY:  Peter, these are two countries that have long chafed, as I said to Jeff — long chafed at U.S. leadership around the world and — and the network of alliances and partnerships that we have.
 
This is not — this is not something that these two countries just cooked up since President Biden got elected.
 
Q    But — but he was —
 
MR. KIRBY:  It is something that they have been —
 
Q– since he’s been President, he has talked tough.  He tried to pressure Putin and Xi to act right or risk their standing on the world stage.  Does he see now that they don’t care?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I think if you ask a lot of Russians, they certainly care.  I mean, this — their economy is — is barely being propped up by some pretty radical measures by — by Mr. Putin.  Their military has been roundly embarrassed inside Ukraine, and they continue to lose ground there. 
 
And as for China, again, take a look at the way the President has really revitalized and restored alliances and partnerships that were let go, if not ridiculed, in the previous administration.  We have prioritized them. 
 
And there’s no other nation around the world that has this alliance and partnership network that we do.  Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Indo-Pacific.  And President Biden has priotor- — prioritized each and every one of them. 
 
Q    Specific to these two leaders, though, do you think that Putin and Xi fear President Biden?
MR. KIRBY:  You’d have to ask them whether they fear or they not.
 
Q    Should they?
 
MR. KIRBY:  It is not about fear.  It’s about President Biden advancing our foreign policy goals around the world.  It’s about President Biden revitalizing these alliances and partnerships.  It’s about President Biden and what he’s doing to preserve our national security interests around the world.  That’s what we’re focused on. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.  Welcome back. 
 
Q    Thank you.  It’s been a minute.  Has the President spoken to Jeff Woodke or his family yet today?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I don’t think there’s been any direct communication by the President with respect to the family yet.  I mean, we’re just delighted — this news just broke, as you know — we’re just delighted to be able to get him back in our hands.  We’re going to make sure he gets the care he needs. 
 
And I’m sure there’ll be appropriate communications at the right time.  But as I said in my opening statement, we also — this is — I mean, six years, and they just got word today.  We need to give the family a little breathing space.
 
Q    And — sorry, really quick — your reaction to President Putin visiting Mariupol over the weekend? 
 
MR. KIRBY:  So, look, a couple of things there.  I mean, I certainly won’t speak to his travel habits, but Mariupol is far from the fighting.  It’s far from the frontlines. 
 
I hope he did get to see — I hope he did get to see the damage and the destruction that his troops did to that city.  And I heard in the press release that he was going to look at all the ways they rebuilding — they’re rebuilding Mariupol.  Ha!  How about the fact that they shouldn’t have to rebuild it because he shouldn’t have bombed —
 
Sorry.  He shouldn’t have — yeah, I was going to use a word I shouldn’t use here.  (Laughter.)
 
So, I hope he got to see what his troops, his military, and his war did to that city.  But we’ll — but we’ll let him speak to — to his — what he came away from. 
 
I would also tell you that it’s clear that he knows — he has to know how badly he’s doing inside Ukraine.  I mean, more than 50 percent of the territory they took from Ukraine in the first weeks and months of the war, the Ukrainians have already taken back. 
 
And the only real active fighting right now is around Bakhmut.  And here we are on — what is it today, the 20th? — and Bakhmut is still not in Russian hands.  Now, they’re fighting over it; the Ukrainians aren’t giving up on it. 
 
And all the while, we are working to make sure — today, we’re announcing another package of assistance — $350 million worth of assistance, largely ammunition — to Ukraine.
 
While all that’s going on, we’re working to make sure that Ukraine is well suited and well postured to defend themselves in the weeks and months ahead. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Phil.
 
Q    Thanks, Karine.  Thanks, John.  Two quick follow-ups on China.  In your description of the relationship between the two — “convenience, not affection,” Russia viewing China as a “lifeline” — do you guys view Russia, at this point, as a client state of China?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I would say there’s — in that particular bilateral relationship, they certainly are the junior partner. 
 
Q    And then, in terms of the lines of communication — the President has talked about this; you’ve talked about it repeatedly — being critical to the relationship — the bilateral relationship with China — which lines are not currently open?
 
There was reporting last month about the military — mil-to-mil lines were not open; obviously, economic lines are open.  Seems like the Secretary of State —
 
MR. KIRBY:  Well, we’re hoping to get the economic lines open.  The military-to-military lines are not open.  And that’s — and that’s a problem. 
 
That was, as you know, one of the things we were hoping Secretary Blinken would get thawed for us, because they are frozen.  And, of course, that trip didn’t happen yet, so those lines are still not open.
 
But, look, through diplomatic channels, we still have the ability to speak with the Chinese.  And we are.  As I said, we’re working with them on a potential trip by Secretaries Yellen and Raimondo. 
 
And as I said earlier, the President will absolutely speak with President Xi at the appropriate time.  That’s still open. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Hey, John, can you — thanks, Karine.  Can you talk more about the effort to release Jeff Woodke?  Was the White House directly involved in negotiations?  Were there any concessions?  What — what exactly changed in the last little bit?
 
MR. KIRBY:  We were — our team here at the NSC was — was involved in this.  Of course, Mr. Carstens, the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs over at the State Department, was keenly involved.  You saw that the President personally thanked the FBI Hostage Fusion Cell for their work, as well as just the work across the interagency; as I said in my opening statement, the intelligence community, other diplomats as well.  There was a lot — that was a team effort to get him out. 
 
There were no concessions made.  There were no swaps here.  This was just hard, grueling, deliberate work by diplomats and other experts directly with the — with the government of Niger to get him home.  And hopefully he’ll — I mean, he’ll be home soon.  But we’re looking forward to that.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, a couple more —
 
Q    Staying — staying on the continent, Kamala Harris goes to Africa —
 
MR. KIRBY:  She does.
 
Q    — later this week.
 
MR. KIRBY:  She does.
 
Q    The First Lady has.  The Secretary of State has.
 
I wonder what — you know, at the end of — Biden plans later this — this year.  I wonder, at the end of the day, sort of, what message you hope to send to those nations, to the continent.
 
And is it a direct foil, a direct, you know — you know, to China — to China’s role in the region?
 
MR. KIRBY:  So, I — the message is the same that — that the President delivered when we had the African Leaders Summit here in December.  And that’s that Africa matters, the continent matters, and our relationships across the continent all matter. 
 
And — and we work on those relationships one at a time, because every country on the continent is different, has different needs and — and different expectations of American leadership. 
 
And that’s why the President, at the end of that summit, assigned Mr. Carson to be the Special Envoy for Implementation. 
 
And you’re seeing us now move out on that.  You mentioned the Vice President’s trip.  The First Lady was just there.  I mean, we are actively following through on the things we promised we would do at the end of that Africa Leaders Summit. 
 
So this is very much about Africa — African leaders, African nations — and not about anybody else. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Aurelia?
 
Q    Thank you so much.
 
Q    Can I ask you a follow-up question on Africa?
 
Q    I have a question on India and China.  There is a report from U.S. News saying that the U.S. provided intelligence to Indian military, and that helped them repel a Chinese incursion that happened last year.  Can you confirm that?  And does it mean that, you know, generally speaking, there is more intelligence sharing with India?
 
MR. KIRBY:  No, I can’t confirm that. 
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, James.
 
Q    Karine, thank you.  Admiral, thank you.  Two questions focused on China.  First, on the Xi-Putin visit, you and other senior officials have been vocal in recent weeks about your insights into consideration by the Chinese of providing some kind of direct or lethal assistance to the Russians.  And that’s why you’ve issued your public warnings against them doing that. 
 
One of the little-noted aspects of this relationship that I think is important came back in September when Putin and Xi last met in Uzbekistan.  And in his public comments, President Putin stated that they were eager to address the concerns about the Ukraine war that the Chinese had raised. 
 
So, I wonder if you have any insights into the nature of those Chinese concerns and what they may have communicated to the Russians about that.
 
MR. KIRBY:  I do not.  I don’t.
 
Q    The second question is on the Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Since that deal was announced, has the United States been able to observe any changes in that relationship, in its security implications for the region, et cetera?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I think it’s too soon right now, James.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right, two more.  Joey.
 
Q    Yeah, thank you.  You said there were no concessions made for the release of Mr. Woodke.  Does that mean there was no ransom payment at all?
 
MR. KIRBY:  That’s right.  That’s what that means.
 
Q    And Secretary of State Blinken was in Niger last week.  Did he negotiate at all for his release during that trip?
 
MR. KIRBY:  He certainly had discussions with leaders that he met there about Mr. Woodke, as you would expect him to.
 
Q    And where is Mr. Woodke right now?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to get into the specifics of his location.  He’s still on the continent, but he’s in U.S. — he’s with U.S. government officials.
 
Q    Okay, thanks.
 
MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.
 
Q    Thank you, Karine.  Do you know if the Chinese government has contacted Kyiv regarding its 12-point plan?  And what’s the Ukrainian government reaction to the plan itself?
 
MR. KIRBY:  I certainly would refer you to comments that President Zelenskyy has already made.  I’m not going to speak for him or his administration.
 
To the best of my knowledge, I know of no conversations between the Chinese and Kyiv with respect to this so-called 12-point proposal.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Ed.
 
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
 
Go ahead, Ed.  Go ahead, Ed.
 
Q    Yeah, thank you.  Thank you, Karine.  Thank you.  So, we saw the Chinse, as alluded to here, broker a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  And now the Chinese said they want to broker peace in Ukraine.  What role would President Biden play in any negotiations with them?
 
MR. KIRBY:  He’s already talked to that.  He’s already said very clearly that when it comes to a negotiated settlement, if it comes to a negotiated settlement — and I’ll say it again, no reason for it to; Mr. Putin could just pull his troops out, be done — but if and when it comes to that, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. 
 
And we will do — and the Ukrainians will find in us a strong and willing partner to help President Zelenskyy if and when he’s ready to negotiate.
 
But the starting point for us has got to be him.  The Ukrainians have to be heard.  Their perspectives have to be understood.  They have to have a voice in this process.
 
And so, it’s fine for the Chinese to go out there and say they want a ceasefire.  We’d all like a — we’d all like to see the fighting stop.  Who wouldn’t? 
 
But if it stops now, without any consideration of the Ukrainian side, without any discussion between the Chinese and the Ukrainians, without any accession by them to an idea of a ceasefire, it basically freezes in place what Mr. Putin has been able to achieve on the ground inside Ukraine.  It’s dwindling, but he still has occupied territory in Ukraine.  And that’s just unacceptable.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Last question.
 
Q    What’s the level of concern —
 
Q    Thank you.
 
Q    Real quick.  What’s the level —
 
Q    Thank you.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Ed.
 
Q    Just real quick.  What’s the level of concern about the growing influence of China around the world then?
 
MR. KIRBY:  Well, we’re certainly mindful that China has tried to expand their influence all around the world — in the Middle East, in Africa, in Latin America. 
 
They can speak to their foreign policy goals should they wish to; I can only speak to ours.  And our goals are not about countering or — or being a block or an obstacle.  There’s no effort to contain here.  It’s about advancing what President Biden believes are the appropriate foreign policy goals for this country, for the American people, and for the best interests of our allies and partners.
 
And again, I go back to what I said before: No other nation in the world — none — has the — a network of alliances and partnerships that the United States does, has as many friends around the world as the United States does who are interested in pursuing the same goals.
 
Secretary Austin, just a week or so ago, held the 10th Ukraine Defense Contact Group, more than 50 nations — again, more than 50 nations at each and every one. 
 
And those are voluntary participation events.  It’s not like we’re browbeating people to show up to agree to contribute to Ukraine. 
 
That’s — that’s the power of American convening leadership.  And you don’t see that power out of either Russia or China.  These are two countries who do not have that same network of friends and partners. 
 
And one of the reasons why that relation- — (Ms. Jean-Pierre begins to call on next reporter) — sorry —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That’s okay.  (Laughs.)
 
MR. KIRBY:  He got me all — he got — he got me —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  He’s in the zone.  (Laughter.)
 
MR. KIRBY:  No, no, he got me all lathered up.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  (Laughs.)  He’s in the zone.  He’s in the zone.
 
Q    You’re on a roll, man.
 
MR. KIRBY:  You got me all lathered up now.
 
But one of the reasons why you’re seeing that tightening relationship is because they recognize that they don’t have that strong foundation of international support for what they’re trying to do, which is basically challenge American leadership around the world.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right, last question.  You got the last question.
 
Q    Thank you very much.  The President travels to Ottawa this week, and the past President had a difficult relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau.  Does the United States feel that is — that episode is in the past and — or does that relationship need tending with Canada and Canada’s leadership?
 
MR. KIRBY:  We’ll have more to say later in the week about the trip to Canada.  The President is very excited about doing this — going up there and really going to Ottawa for no other purpose than the bilateral relationship. 
 
He has a terrific relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau — warm and friendly and productive. 
 
There’s an awful lot on the — on the plate there, from — everywhere from strengthening NORAD to climate change to, obviously, migration challenges, economic, and trade.  I mean, there’s a bunch of things.  We’ll have more to say later in the week.  But the President is very excited about this.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you, Admiral.
 
MR. KIRBY:  Thank you.  Appreciate it, everybody.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you.  Thank you.
 
Okay, just a couple things, and then we’ll get going. 
 
As you all know, earlier this month, President Biden released his budget, which will the following: invest in America; lower costs and cut taxes for working families; protect and strengthen Social Security, Medicare; and reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over a decade — all while ensuring that no one making less than $400,000 per year pays a penny more in new taxes.
 
The day after the President released his budget, the House Freedom Caucus released their MAGA budget proposal, which is a five-alarm fire for hardworking families.
 
Each day this week, we will zero in on how the MAGA budget proposal would be a disaster by endangering public safety, raising costs for families, shipping manufacturing jobs overseas and undermining American workers, hurting seniors, and weakening national security and our ability to outcompete China.
 
Today, we’re showcasing how the MAGA budget proposal would endanger public safety.  And here is how it will do that: make our border less secure by eliminating funding for more than the 2,000 CBC agents and officers; defund the police — not fund the police, but defund the police by eliminating funding for 11,000 FBI personnel and 400 local law enforcement positions; allow an additional 150,000 pounds of cocaine, nearly 900 pounds of fentanyl, nearly 2,000 pounds of heroin into our country; slash rail safety inspections leading to 11,000 fewer rail safety inspections days next year alone; jeopardize our air safety by shutting down air traffic control tower services at one third of all U.S. airports.
 
And that’s just the start of it.  That’s just the beginning.  So we look forward to sharing more every day this week.
 
One — one last thing, and then we’ll get started.  We send our best wishes to everyone celebrating Nowruz across the United States and around the world, from the Middle East, to Central and South Asia, and to Europe.
 
The Nowruz holiday brings loved ones together around the Haft-Sin table to reflect on the year that has passed and renew hope for the year ahead.
 
This year comes at a difficult time for many families when people is — when people — when the hope is needed more than ever — including for the women of Iran, who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
 
The United States will continue to stand with the women of Iran and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction and their courage.
 
And together with our partners, we will continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their own people.
 
With that, you want to kick us off, Zeke?
 
Q    Yeah.  Thanks, Karine.  First, a moment of personal privilege here.
 
I just want to express our apologies in the press corps to the folks watching at home for the display we saw earlier.  Our responsibility is to them.  We’re here to ask questions on their behalf, to hold their government accountable because they can’t all be here.  You know, this isn’t about us.
 
So, with that, for you: There were some calls over the weekend, last couple of days, from small- and mid-size banks calling on the federal government to insure deposits above $250,000.  Is that something the President would be supportive of?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, don’t have any new announcement at this time for you. 
 
And appreciate that, I should say.  I appreciate that.  I think the American people appreciate that because that is an important message to send to all of them who are watching.
 
But as you know, right now, Zeke, our goal is to ensure the financial system is stable. 

Q    The American people wants you to be fair, Karine.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That is their focus of Treas- — that is the focus of Treasury and the bank regulators.
 
And as you saw, due to our actions this week at the direction of the President, Americans should be confident of their deposits.  We’ll be there when they — when they need them.
 
And — and so, again, that’s what our focus is going to be.  We don’t have any new announcements at this time.  But clearly, we want to make sure that our financial system is stable.
 
Q    And just briefly on a different topic.  Congress has sent the President the COVID origins bill.  Does he intend to sign that?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I spoke to this last week.  We’re reviewing — we’re certainly reviewing it.  I just don’t have anything to share on the President signing the bill at this time or next actions.
 
Q    Thanks, Karine.  And I’ll join Zeke in what he said earlier.
 
What does the White House make of former President Trump calling on supporters to protest his potential indictment?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as you know, it’s an ongoing investigation.  We do not comment on any ongoing investigations from here.  We’ve been very consistent on that.  So, certainly I’m not going to break that — kind of break our protocol here, so I won’t — I won’t comment from here.
 
Q    I’m not asking about the potential indictment itself.  I’m asking about the former President calling on supporters to protest —
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, that —
 
Q    — the possibility that he might be indicted.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Understood.  Understood.  I wanted to say that at the top.
 
So, look, the President has been very clear when it comes to Americans who want to — to protest: They should do it peacefully.  And that is something that is incredibly important that the President has always continued to say, but I don’t want to get into, you know, hypotheticals from here.  And so, I’ll just leave it there.
 
Q    There’s one other thing related to this that isn’t hypothetical, because now House Republicans are requesting to speak with the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, about his ongoing investigation into former President Trump.  Is that, in the view of the White House, a proper use of federal taxpayer dollars to investigate or try to find out what a local prosecutor is doing?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, I’m just not going to speak because that — they’re un- — that is an underlying connection to — to the — to the investigation.  Just not going to comment from here.
 
Look, our — the President is going to continue to focus on what the American people need, their priorities.  We’re going to continue to focusing — to focus on lowering costs.  We’re going to continue to focus on the President fighting for Medicare, Social Security, ACA.  That is what the President is going to do.
 
Look, if Republicans — and the President has said this over and over again — if they — Republicans want to work with us in a bipartisan way to deliver for the American people, to continue to build on the successes that we have seen in the last two years when it comes to the economic policy, building an economy from the bottom up, middle out, he’s willing to have that conversation.
 
Q    And we saw what the President proposed on Friday regarding changes to how the FDIC oversees banks and executives at banks, specifically.  Has he been in touch directly with any business leaders?  Or who was it here at the White House that may have had conversations with Warren Buffett, for example, about the banking crisis?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So — so I’ve seen the reports of — on Warren Buffett that you all have been reporting on.  Don’t — don’t have anything to read out or to lay out on any conversation.  And so, I’ll just leave it there.
 
Q    And the President himself otherwise?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Just — just don’t have anything to read out on conversations that the President may have had with anybody from the business sector or outside of — outside of the — of the White House.
 
What I can say is — and we’ve said this many times before — he has been kept regularly updated by his economic team, by the Chief of Staff.  And that continues.
 
Thank you.
 
Go ahead, Mary.
 
Q    To put a — a follow-up on Ed’s question about the former President’s message to his supporters.  You know, given what we’ve seen in the past when the former President has urged his supporters to “take our nation back,” are you concerned and worried as an administration about the threat of violence?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, we — we are always prepared; I can say that from here.  I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals or any potential scenarios.  But we are always preparing.
 
Q    And on the issue of banking, there’s some reporting that Warren Buffett has been in touch with the administration, you know, playing a role in sort of helping to advise as you address the banking crisis.  Can you confirm that?  Can you comment on any conversations with Warren Buffett?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, I — I think Ed just asked that question —
 
Q    Oh, I’m so sorry.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — Mary.  (Laughs.)
 
Q    Can you (inaudible) a little bit more?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, I just don’t have anything for you at this time.  I can confirm that — that I have not had a conversation with Warren Buffett.  (Laughs.0  But, no, I just don’t have anything to read — to read out at this time.  No problem.
 
Q    Just following up on the broad question about banking, can you give us a sense of next steps in this?  You’ve expressed confidence that the banking system is strong, but there’s still some jitters out there.
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Understood.  Look, the President has already called for Congress to make it easier for regulators to do the following: clawback compensation, impose civil — civil penalties, and ban executives from working in the banking industry.
 
He will also — going to call on Congress and bank ral- — regulators to strengthen the rules for larger banks so this doesn’t happen again.

As you know — and I’ve said this many times before — in 2018, we saw that the previous administration rolled back some of the tough requirements put — put under — put in place under the Obama-Biden administration.  And so — which was — which was put in place to strengthen the financial system. 

So — so, the administration is — again, is going to actively look into what regulations or laws should be strengthened to prevent this from happening again. 

But, look, the actions that we saw this weekend, the actions that we have seen over the past 10 days or so should give the American people confidence that the — that, you know, depositors will have — their money will be there when they need it. 

And so, again, we have done everything that we can to make sure that we hold the — we hold the managers of these ba- — of these banks accountable and — and that this does not affect and we don’t put on the hook the taxpayers or the American people.

Q    Is the President worried or is the White House worried about the politics of this, in terms of banks getting bailouts and average Americans, so to say, not?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, the President made a commitment to make sure — and you heard — you heard, also, Secretary Yellen speak to this last week — and ba- — making sure that they’re not put on the hook for this, right?  Making sure that we make — that the investors, as I just mentioned, the managers, are — you know, are held accountable. 

And so, the President has made decisive force- — and forceful actions to strengthen, again, the public confidence in our banking system.  No taxpayers’ money is being used or put at risk in — with these actions that have been taken over the last 10 days or so.  And our banking system remains sound. 

That is something that you heard from Secretary Yellen directly herself just last week.  And this is all done because of the President’s direction that he asked the regularly — the regulators to take a look at it.  He asked the Treasury Department to take a look at it and make sure that we make these decisive actions.

And, again, we just saw this — some decisive action this weekend.  And so, we want to make sure — and we’re doing this to make sure that the Americans are confident — American people are confident in the work that this administration is trying to do to make sure that — that we meet the demands, that resources for depositors are met.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Does the President believe that the actions of the last 10 days, which have been fairly extraordinarily — extraordinary in scale and scope, are enough?  That we’re past this, we’re through this, the system is going to be good to go from here on out?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, when you think about the accountability that the President put forth just on Friday, which focused on ensuring that senior bank executives are held fully accountable, it builds on our work to ensure key executives that — that ran Silicon Valley, for example — Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank are removed and investors in these two banks are — take their losses. 

But, again, Congress should act, should make it easier for regulators to claw back those compensations that I mentioned, impose civil penalties, and ban executives from working in the banking industry again. 

So, look, we — the President took the necessary actions to meet the moment that we’re in now.  He believes that Congress co- — needs to continue to act.  We’re going to continue to have those conversations. 

Of course, there are things that we can do without Congress, which is what we’re seeing the regulators do.  But this is a — this is a partnership.  This is — also, we have to do this in hand with Congress.  So, of course, more should be done and can be done. 

Q    And then just one quick follow-up.  Should — do you guys view this — you’ve said the issue of confidence several times, in terms of how people are perceiving this right now.  Do you view this primarily as a confidence issue, not a system issue or some bigger problem in terms of the banking sector?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, we want to make sure — I think it’s important — the President believes, as President of the United States, as we’re seeing what occurred these last, again, 10 days or so — I’ve lost count — but — that Americans should have confidence.  Right?  They should have confidence in the banking system.  They should have confidence in the actions that the regulators have taken, that — again, at the direct- — the direction of the President. 

And, as you asked me, “Should there be more work to be done?”  Absolutely.  We should not let Congress off the hook.  They should take actions in making sure that — moving forward, that our banking system continues, that we’re doing what — taking the actions to make our banks and banking system secure. 

So, again, more actions need to be taken, for sure.  The President has — has taken actions to deal with the moment that we’re in. 

I’ve said this before: What we’re seeing with these — these banks are distinct to those banks.  But — but we’re in a different place than we were in 2008 because of — because of the — because of the regulations that we saw fr- — in the Obama-Biden White House.  And so, that matters as well.

Q    Thanks, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    To follow up on that, Karine, you said that there are things that the White House or the administration can do without Congress.  Do you have a timeline on this, on when the- — we’ll see that —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, no, it’s a —

Q    — will it be days or weeks or —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It’s a good question, JJ.  Look, we’re already seeing some of that underway as regulators have taken action over the last few — few years to reverse the last administration’s deregulation.  And that is because of, again, the actions under this President.  And so, we’ve seen that.  But again, we cannot take Congress off the hook.  And the regulators are going to take — continue to do what the President asked of them, again, these past two years. 

But again, Congress has to act.  We need to make sure that they do their part in this as — as the President is ma- — taking actions to give the American people confidence. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Does the President view Jerome Powell’s stewardship of these events as at all a risk to his position as Chairman of the Federal Reserve?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, not at all.  The President has confidence in Jerome Powell.

Go ahead.

Q    Shares of First Republic Bank have declined in recent days.  Is the administration considering further steps to support that bank?  And do those options include, potentially, the FDIC taking over the bank?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, that’s something for the FDIC to speak to.  I’m not just — I’m not going to comment on any hypotheticals from here.

Q    And Senator Warren was on a number of Sunday shows yesterday.  She has said the Federal Reserve should stop hiking interest rates in an effort to control the high inflation, given the circumstances that we’re in. 
 
What’s the President’s level of concern that another rate increase this week could further weaken the banking industry and potentially threaten some of these smaller and mid-size banks?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I understand the question.  As it relates to the Federal Reserve, we’ve been very clear: They are independent.  They will make — the President believes that.  The President has been very clear on that.  And they are going to make their decision — their monetary policy decision, as it relates to the interest rate, as it relates to dealing with inflation, which are clearly both connected.  But I’m just not going to — we’re not going to comment on that from here.

Go ahead.  I haven’t called on you.

Q    How’s the — switching gears to climate a little bit.  How is the White House dealing with the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that came out today?  Are there plans to change anything that the administration is doing, or just carry on the programs and plans you have right now?
 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, have not spoken to our team about the reports.  We would need to — to go back and — and get their assessment on — on the report that you just mentioned that came out.  So, just don’t have anything to share at this time.  But happy — happy to come back to you on that.

Q    And in terms of preparations for any protests or rallies, what do those preparations look like?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m just not going to get into any — any details from here.  I think I answered this question just a little bit to your colleague.  And I just said we’re al- — we’re always prepared.  But certainly not going to get into hypotheticals.
Go ahead.

Q    What’s happening with the Cuban baseball defector?  And are there any concerns about how that might impact any relations with Cuba?

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

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  While we’ve been in here, there’s been a couple of stories that have started to come out about the Economic Report of the President.  I think there’s an AP story and a New York Times story.  Do you have anything more to share on when that report is coming out and any of the toplines from it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have anything to share at this time.  When we’re ready, we certainly will share that with all of you. 

Okay, go ahead, Courtney.  Go ahead, Courtney.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  I wanted to ask you — state leaders are campaigning for abortion access amendments to be put on the ballot in 2023 and 2024.  One example that’s gaining some steam is in Ohio.  Is the administration doing anything to support this effort or tracking those ballot initiatives, given that you —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Can you go back to what you said before you said Ohio?  What — what did —

Q    Yeah.  Ballot initiatives.  There’s leaders that are trying to put ballot initiatives for 2023 and ’24 for abortion access.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Abortion ac- —

Q    To expand abortion access.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  To abortion — expand —

Q    Kind of like what we saw in Kansas.  Gaining traction to do that in other states.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look — look, we — the President has been very clear about what — especially the day that Roe was no longer the — the law of the land — that we needed to do everything that was possible to make sure that we protect women’s rights — women’s rights to healthcare.  And he’s been very clear about that. 

I don’t have any specifics to say on those particular potential pieces of legislation.  But, clearly, we welcome legislation that’s going to support that, that’s going to support women having — being able to make their own decisions on their healthcare. 

And it is shameful — it is shameful that we’re seeing extreme elected officials out there talking — talking about national ban on abortion.  And we’re going to continue to call that out. 

We should not be talking about taking away the freedoms of Americans across the country, of women across the country.  And so, we’re going to continue to be very clear about that. 

But, certainly, we would support legislation that helps expand the access for women.

Q    And if you could provide an update on the case in Texas on mifepristone.  I know that you’ve gotten that question a couple of times about how you’re preparing.  We still don’t, obviously, have a court order.  But can you provide an update for people who are listening who are worried about this decision and how it might affect their care?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, I want to be very careful.  It’s a — it’s a — as you know, the decision has not happened.  It’s a — it’s an ongoing litigat- — litigation.  But I’ve spoken at this podium before how unprecedented if — if the decision, you know, were to ban a pill — this has been around for more than two decades, that’s in more than 60 countries. 

But again, this is about the FDA’s authority to make it — its independent, evidence-based decision on drugs. 

And so, those decisions on what medication can be used in our country should not be determined in court, and they should be determined based on their safety, science, and the data. 

And so, I want to be very clear.  But — so, we’ll wait.  We’ll await steps here and speak on this once a decision has been made. 

But again, you know, the President is going to continue to be very vocal when it comes to protecting women and their rights to choose for themselves, for their own body, on — on how they want to proceed and move forward with healthcare.

Q    Thanks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Aurelia.

Q    Thank you so much.  Tomorrow, the President will take part in this White House Conservation in Action Summit at the Department of Interior, where he will — and I quote the guidance — “highlight the…administration’s actions and historic investments” for the environment and nature.
 
But just a few days ago, he greenlighted the Willow project in Alaska, so this — it looks like he’s sending conflicting signals here. 
 
So can you maybe elaborate on what his approach is on the environment and what he’s telling especially young activists who protested the Willow project?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, I — you know, I would disagree with that.  As — as we have said before, the step that the Department of Interior had ta- — had taken was because of certain legal constraints.  So we have to remember that.  These were le- — this was part of a legal kind of decision, as I explained last week.  And tomorrow’s event is about building on the President’s historic climate and conservation record, which the President is very proud of. 

If you think about what the President has done — protected more lands and waters in his first year than any President since JFK.  He — just last week, he declared the entire U.S. Arctic Ocean off limits to new oil and gas leasing.  And so — and the Interior Department also announced it’s preparing new regulations to protect 13 million acres in Alaska. 

And so, you know, the President is going to continue to fight for climate — to protect our climate and take those actions.  He’s made the largest-ever investments in conservation and restoration of our lands and waters. 

And so, the President is very proud of his record, and he certainly will never back down from it. 

Go ahead, Karen.

Q    Do you have any details of the Arts and Humanit- — Humanities Award Ceremony tomorrow?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I do.  I do have some information to share with all of you.  That’s the awards that are happening tomorrow. 

So — give me one second here. 

So, he’s going to — the President is going to host, in the East Room, a ceremony at the White House to present the 2021 National Humanit- — Humanities Medals and the 2021 National Medals of Arts.  First Lady Jill Biden will attend the ceremony as well. 

We will have more on the recipients of the awards later today.  But don’t have anything to preview.  But, certainly, we’ll have more to share.  And this will be, I believe, the first one in this administration in the past two years. 

Okay.  I’m trying — who have I not called on.

AIDE:  One more.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  One more?  (Laughs.)  Go ahead, Brian.

Q    Thanks a lot, Karine.  I wanted to ask about — President Trump is going to give a rally in Waco, Texas.  This is the 30th anniversary of the standoff between Branch Davidians and the FBI and the ATF in Waco.  Is the Biden administration concerned about anti-government activity in Waco around the rally?  Are there security concerns that President Trump may use this anniversary to foment anti-government sentiment at that — at that event?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, you know, I can’t speak to what the former President is going to do or say.  What I — I’m not tracking any — any security concerns.  So, don’t have anything more to share beyond that. 

All right, everybody.  I’ll see you tomorrow.  Thank you. 

Q    Thank you, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you.

3:22 P.M. EDT

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/03/20/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-the-cast-of-ted-lasso-and-nsc-coordinator-for-strategic-communications-john-kirby/