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HomeGovernment NewsPress Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, January 18, 2023

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, January 18, 2023

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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:07 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good afternoon, everybody.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Tomorrow, President Biden will travel to areas impacted by the recent extreme weather in California.  Stops include the Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, where storms have caused severe floods and landslides.

During these stops, the President will meet with first responders, state and local officials, and communities impacted by the devastation; survey recovery efforts; and assess what additional federal support is needed.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will travel with the President.  And while in California, the President will be joined by Governor Newsom and other elected officials.

The President has been closely monitoring the situation in California over the past several weeks and is being regularly briefed by his Homeland Security team.

Throughout this time, he has remained in close touch with the governor and also local officials on the ground.

As you all saw, President Biden approved Governor’s Newsom [Governor Newsom’s] request for an expedited major disaster declaration Saturday evening, providing federal support for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and individual assistance to survey whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by the storm.  And we have — over 500 FEMA and other federal personnel have already deployed to California to support response and recovery operations and are working side by side with the state to ensure all needs are indeed met on the ground. 

This Sunday, the White House will commemorate what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  Vice President Harris will travel to Florida to deliver a major address on the fight for women across America to have access to reproductive care and make their own healthcare decisions.

Fifty years after the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, ultra-MAGA Republican officials continue to push at all levels of government for extreme legislation, rolling back women’s fundamental rights, including a national abortion ban. 

At the state level, more than 60 anti-choice bills have been produced for the 2023 legislative session, including extreme proposals going as far as threatening women with felony charges for accessing care.

In stark contrast, the President and the Vice President remain committed to fighting these extreme attacks on women and expanding access to reproductive care however they possibly can. 

This Sunday, the President will speak about the fight to secure women’s fundamental right to reproductive healthcare in the face of these attacks.

She will talk about what’s at stake for millions of women across the country and, most importantly, the need for Congress to codify the protections of Roe into law.

The President and the Vice President and a strong majority of the American people believe that women must be empowered to make decisions about their own lives and healthcare, and that those decisions should not — should never be — should not be politicized or second-guessed by politicians.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what Republican officials are doing in Congress.

Despite the outcome of the midterm elections in which millions of Americans went to the polls just across the country to protect women’s constitutional rights and reject extreme proposal to sell out the middle class, we have seen House Republicans abuse their narrow majority to take aim at the very issues the American people care about the most.

In addition to attacking women’s healthcare, we’ve already seen House Republicans try and undercut the progress President Biden has made rebuilding the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.

Today, we get — we got our news of even more progress tackling inflation, bringing costs down for Americans.  Both producer and consumer inflation has fallen — has now fallen for about six months straight.  And consumer spending remains strong, with retail sales in December about flat when adjusted for inflation.  That adds up to historic progress.

President Biden inherited an economic crisis and turned it into the strongest two years of job growth on record.

The United States just hit the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years because of his economic plan.  Again, his economic plan for the American people is indeed working.

But as President is fighting — as he is fighting to bring costs down more and ensure that middle-class families get a fair shake, House Republicans are advancing an economic plan that will take tax cuts for the rich, higher prices, and cutting social media — pardon me — cutting Social — Social Security and cutting Medicare as well.

Their very first vote of the new Congress was a bill to worsen inflation and tax welfare for the rich.  They want to impose an unprecedented tax increase on middle-class families in the form of a 23 percent sales tax in order to provide even more tax giveaways to the super rich and big corporations.  They’re going to vote to raise gas prices and deprive Americans of relief at the pump.  And they’re threatening to kill millions of jobs and 401(k) plans by trying to hold the debt limit hostage unless they can, again, cut Social Security, cut Medicare, cut Medicaid.

So, on this last point, the President has been clear: He will not allow Republicans to take the economy hostage or make — make — make working Americans pay the price for their schemes to benefit the wealthiest Americans and also special interests. 

With that — I say this all the time — Josh —

Q    Good to see you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — I haven’t seen you in a long time.  (Laughter.)

Q    Good to see you, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And you always tell me you’ve been here.  Okay.  Hi.  Good to see you, Josh.  Go ahead.  Kick us off, please.

Q    Given everything you just laid out with regard to House Republicans, what has the White House seen or heard from House Republicans that gives you confidence that we can avoid a default?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, we’ve been very — very clear, and I’ll say this again — let me first say — let me first say this part: that after — after the midterm elections, the President was very clear, after we saw a historic — kind of a historic — historic, when it comes to a Democratic President in — in 60 years being able to — you know, to have a successful midterm, when you look at what we saw in the Senate and we look at the red wave that never happened.  The President said, you know, the — the American people spoke very loudly and very clearly: They want to see us work in a bipartisan way.

So, the President is — is — wants to do that.  He’s looking to do that.  But also, when you think about the debt limit, it is — you know, we’ve been very clear: The debt limit has been something that has happened three times, if you look at just the last administration, in a bipartisan way.  It is something that should be hap- — that should be done without conditions.  There should be — we should not be negotiating around it.  It is the — it is the duty — the basic duty of Congress to get that done. 

And so, we’re not going to — we’re just not going to negotiate about that.  Because, again, it was done — under the last President, it was done three times, again, in a bipartis- — bipartisan way.

This is — there is no alternative to Congress responsibility here to address the debt ceiling.  Treasury makes millions of payments each day.  Their system is built to pay our country’s bills on time.  It’s not set to make the United States delinquent by paying our bills.

There is a reason that Treasury Secretaries of both parties — if you think about it, and if you all remember — rejected this incredibly risky and dangerous idea that has never been tried before.  So it is essential for Congress to recognize that dealing with the debt ceiling is their constitutional responsibility.  This is an easy one.  This is something that should be happening without conditions.
Q    Just to make sure I understand: Do you think House Republicans in this Congress see their responsibilities the way that you just outlined?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  They should.  I just laid out why they should — they should have the re- — they should feel the responsibility. 

And I talked about this yesterday.  I quoted — the Chamber of Commerce said it would have “catastrophic economic consequences.”  A former economist to Republican senators Rob Portman, Mar- — Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney called it a “really bad idea” and “disaster.”  And in 2011, then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner called it “unworkable” and “harmful.”

It is — it is — the precedent has been for both parties to come together and to get this done.  We are talking about the — the full — the full faith and credit of our country.
Q    And then secondly, real fast, help us understand, given the frequency with which President Biden works in Delaware, what is the case against having visitor logs for his house?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So I’m — I am going to refer you to my White — the White House Counsel.  They actually addressed this.  They answered this question that you are asking me, I believe, on Sunday.  And I also believe the Secret Service put out a statement.  So I would refer you to those two statements that — that came out from — from the White House.

I’m actually going to go around.  I got a — a lovely letter from Tam — Tam — Tamara Keith, your — your president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and she asked that I go around, so I’m going to do that.

Go ahead, Courtney.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  I wanted to ask about the FAA issue last week, with the ground stop that was called at airports across the country.  When is the President expecting to receive the after-action report?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as DOT said, the issue was a damaged database file with no evidence of a cyberattack.  So, I want to be very clear about this.  And you heard — you heard Secretary Buttigieg say that there is going to be an after-action report.  I don’t have a timeline for you to share from here.  I would refer you to the Department of Transportation.

But this is something that we obviously take very seriously when it comes to the safety of Americans.  That is something — who are flying.  It is something that we make a priority.

When the timeline of the action report, I would go — I would refer you to the Department of Transportation.

Q    Also, this year Congress will have to reauthorize funding for the FAA.  Is there anything that the President wants to see specifically in that bill that pertains to what happened last week?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, that’s something, as I mentioned last week, that happens every five years.  We’re up — this is the time that — that we’re going to see Congress act on this.  Don’t have anything to share on specifics.

Again, as you know, this is something, as I just mentioned, when it comes to the safety of American people, this is something that is a priority for us.  We want to get to the bottom of what occurred just days ago — not too long ago.  I don’t have any specifics on the action that Congress is going to take.

I’m going to go way to the back.  Go ahead, We- — Wes? 

Q    Owen?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Sorry, Owen.  I’m so sorry.  That’s my bad.  Sorry, Owen.

Q    Hi, Karine.  Good afternoon.  Thank you.  I’d like to turn your attention to Nigeria.  Just a few days ago — an absolutely horrific story — a Catholic priest in his rectory early Sunday morning was literally burned to death.  Bandits burned the rectory.  And today, as a matter of fact, Pope Francis asked the world to pray for Father Isaac Achi.  Question one — two questions here.  One, will the Biden administration forcefully condemn acts of violence against Christians in Nigeria?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just say we are saddened by the senseless killing.  The report — we have seen the reports, and we certainly are saddened by that.  We are monitoring the situation as information develops.  And so, we hope that Nigerian authorities will quickly bring the perpetrators to justice. 

And, of course, we condemn violence of any kind.  And so, that is something that you’ve heard me say many times from this podium, and that is something that we will continue to condemn.

Q    Just to follow up on that.  How many more Nigerian priests have to be so brutally murdered before Nigeria is placed back on the Countries of Particular Concern list — you know, the State Department’s list?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Mm-hmm.  That is something I would refer you to the State Department about — that particular list.

Go ahead, Nials — Niels.

Q    Thank you.  On this question that was — the debt limit, which was a lot of the talk in here the last couple of days: Is there any way that the President would be willing — if the President meets with congressional leadership on other matters between now and when Secretary Yellen says we’ll reach the — we’ll reach the default point, will he entertain discussions at all during meetings that may be on some unrelated topic with members of Congress about debt limit negotiations?  Or will he just sort of say, “No, we’re not going to do this; we’re going to — we’ll discuss the topic at hand, but we won’t talk about negotiating over the debt limit”? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me be clear.  I don’t have a meeting with leaders to — to read out at this time or to announce, but we’ve been really clear.  We will not — there will not be any negotiations over the debt ceiling.  We will not do that. 

It is their constitutional duty when you think about how Congress has — has dealt with the debt ceiling for the past several decades.  It is their responsibility — their constitutional responsibility to act. 

And so — but more broadly speaking, at the start of this new Congress — I’ve mentioned this before, and I’ll mention it again — we’re reaching out to all members from — from both sides of the aisle so they made sure that we are — they know who to reach out to when it comes to the Office of Leg Affairs so that we continue to build those relationships.

Again, in the past there has been bipartisan cooperation to address the debt ceiling, and that’s how it should be.  It should not be used as a political football.  That is not how we should be moving forward here.  Our outreach is deliberate to ensure Congress knows that the debt ceiling must be addressed, again, without conditions. 

But always, I’m not going to read out any specific meetings or any — I don’t have anything else to read out about the President meeting with leadership.

Q    And can I just follow up on something that Courtney just asked actually?  Senator Schumer says that the FAA Administrator nomination is going to be a priority in the coming weeks.  Are there — and I understand that’s a priority for the President as well.  Do you have any other priority nominations that you would like Senator Schumer and the Senate Democrats to take up first?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just say we certainly welcome and appreciate Senator Schumer’s supportive comments this weekend, as you just mentioned, and look forward to working together to confirm Phil Washington, specifically, as FAA Administrator. 

Let me just add that FAA, as I just said to Courtney, is a key agency with a crucial safety mandate.  And the President has nominated an experienced, qualified candidate who currently runs one of the busiest ports — airports in the world to lead the agency. 

And so, we will continue to work with Senator Schumer, Senator Cantwell, and others to seek this swift — the swift confirmation.  So, clearly, that is important to us.

Look, we’re going to continue to, as we talk — as I talk about the swift confirmation not just of the FAA Administrator but many other crucial, high-qualified nominees to serve across the administration — and we will be re-nominating a number of officials in the upcoming weeks.  And when we have updates to share, we certainly will — will share that. 

Okay.  Go ahead, Tia.  Go ahead, Tia.

Q    You mentioned Vice President Harris is going to speak on the anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  Is the administration going to announce any initiatives or policies for protecting abortion access, particularly to women who get their pills by mail?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just say, the administration has taken actions with our limited authorities to expand access to care.  The President has issued two executive orders, and you’ve heard — you’ve heard myself talk about it.  Jen Klein from the Gender Policy Council has been here to talk about the executive orders that the President has put forward. 

It is to safeguard access to abortion and contraception; ensure that everyone has access to healthcare free from discrimination; defend the right to travel across state lines for medical care; protect the physical safety and security of clinics, providers, and patients.  And also, earlier this month, the FDA announced an independent, evidence-based decision to expand access to medication abortion through telepath [telehealth] and at pharmacies.

But we’ve been clear.  The President has been clear.  The Vice President has been very clear.  The only way to restore the protections of Roe is for Congress to pass a national law codifying the right to choose.

No executive action will actually deal with that issue — the issue that I just laid out.  We need to codify Roe.  And that’s what you’re going to hear — continue to hear from the President and from the Vice President.

Don’t have any — any other specific actions than what I just laid out.

Okay.  Who else?  Todd.

Q    Thank you.  On the President’s visit to the border last week, is there any follow-up, any new policies?  Has he spoken with Governor Abbott to follow up on the governor’s requests?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Don’t have a — I don’t have a — a conversation or a call to read out. 

I do want to say I’ve been asked about if we’ve seen an impact from what the President laid out a couple of weeks ago and what he’s — the actions that he was taking at the border.  I want to say that we are seeing some impact.  The numbers of migrants arriving from those countries are low.  And we look forward to sharing more once we have more data to go off of.

Additionally, the first individuals authorized to live and work legally in the United States under the expanded program started arriving just last Tuesday, within five days after the launch of the program.  Hundreds more have been vetted and approved for travel and can book a flight to the United States to arrive on time. 

But I want to be very clear: Again, we need Congress to take action.  The President has done what he can has — from his using his — from the executive, from the White House. 

But, you know, what we’re seeing is Congress still refuses to act.  The President is going to use every to- — tools available, as you have seen him do these past two years to deal — to manage a mass migration event impacting the entire Western Hemisphere.

But just only — but not only just one city, right?  We’ve seen it just across the board.  So he’s taking the steps.  He’s going to continue to take this very seriously, when you think about the border security.

But again, Congress needs to act.  Republicans need to act. And if they really care about this issue, this is an opportunity to reach across the aisle and work with us on this.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine. I want to reference an interview that President Biden did in mid-September with “60 Minutes.”  And in that interview, he chided former President Trump for having in his possession classified documents.  He called it “irresponsible.” 

First of all, do you think it was proper for President Biden to comment on an ongoing DOJ investigation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’m going to say this, and going to keep it really short today: As it relates to this particular issue, as it relates to an ongoing legal matter, I’m going to refer you to the Department of Jus- — Department of Justice with the — that specific.  As it relates to anything that you want to ask of us about this — this legal matter, I would refer you to the White House Counsel Office.

I’m going to leave it there.  Not going to go into it further.

Q    I’m simply asking you to comment —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — and I just —

Q    — on the person that you work for —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just commented. 

Q    His comments. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just commented.

Q    His comments.  Well, it’s not really a comment.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We’re moving on. 

Q    It’s on the (inaudible).

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Q But I also wanted to ask you —

Go ahead.  Go ahead.  No, go ahead.

I already answered your question.

Q    I have two —

Q    You really didn’t.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I — I did.

Q    No, you didn’t.  You gave a non-answer answer.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, it’s your — it’s your opinion. 

Q    You gave a non-answer answer.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It’s your opinion.  It’s your opinion.  That is your opinion.

Q    It’s a fact.

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

Q    I have two domestic questions today.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Sure.

Q    First of all, can you just walk us through the administration’s rationale for wanting South Carolina to be the first primary state and your reaction to the unhappiness we’ve seen from Democrats in New Hampshire?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, we have addressed this — the depar- — the Democratic National Committee has addressed this.  I’m just not going to go any further to what we’ve already shared about this.

So I’m just going to leave it to the statements that we put out just a couple of weeks ago on the process.  I’m just not going to dive into the process from here.

Q    Okay.  Then let me ask about the document issue again.  Sorry to take another stab at it.  But with — we don’t know what’s in these documents, but can the U.S. and is the U.S. working to reassure allies and partners that you can still participate in intelligence gathering and still be trusted with secrets?  Is that — are those conversations that the President is having right now or that top administration officials are having — for example, Jake Sullivan in Israel?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m — I’m going to say this: The President takes classified information seriously.  You heard that directly from him.  Takes classified documents seriously.  You heard that directly from him last week.

And I’m just going to leave it there.  I’m not going to open this up for discussion.  We have answered many questions when it — as it is related to — to the documents. 

Any specifics that’s related to this — this review, this legal process, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.  And any questions that you may have of us, I would refer you to my colleagues at the White House Counsel’s Office.  So I’ll leave it there.

Okay.  Go ahead, Joey. 

Q    Karine?

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

Q    The President is scheduled to meet on Friday with a group of mayors.  Can you just give us a preview of that meeting?  How many mayors?  What’s on the agenda?  What’s the President’s message?  What does he hope to accomplish with this meeting?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as you know, he’s going to — as you just mentioned, he’s going to meet with mayors — bipartisan mayors who are attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  This is something that the President certainly is looking forward to — to attending and to — to interact with the mayors who will be — who will be here.  I don’t have any more specifics as the list — certainly as we get closer, we will be sharing a list with all of you and more information about — about the remarks that he will be giving.

But, again, it’s a bi- — it’s going to be bipartisan mayors, an opportunity.  As the President has said — and he has said during his Senate years, as a Vice President, and as — during the campaign, and now as President — he looks forward to working in a bipartisan way and continuing to deliver for the American people.  And that’s what — and that’s what your — you’ll — you’ll probably hear from him on Friday.

But don’t have — don’t want to get beyond that.

Hariana, way in the back.  I’m going to go way in the back.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  It’s been over a month since the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit take place.  And I would like you to give us an update what have been done so far in order to accomplish all the agreements and projects that are being agreed upon during the summit.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, it’s a very good question.  Look, President Biden was very pleased with the summit and its outcome, including his personal engagement with many of his counterparts that week.

The summit was an effective demonstration of our renewed partnership with the region’s governments, business community, and civil society, as well as the broader African diaspora.

The President and the African leaders worked together to define a shared global agenda and to set the stage for deeper cooperation and engagement in 2023 and beyond.

So it is — it was just the beginning.  And we’re looking to — we’re truly looking to continue those conversations, clearly on a staff level, as we continue throughout the year.

Q    And one — one quick question on the classified documents.  How the President is feeling?  Is he worried about those documents that were found?  Or is he — did he somehow regret to what he had done with those documents being found at his property?  Is he worried about that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  First, I’m going to repeat what I’ve just said moments ago: He takes this very seriously, when it comes to classified documents, when it comes to classified information.  He was unaware that the documents were there.  You heard that directly from him, from the President; twice he spoke to this just last week.  And his team is fully cooperating with this process, with the legal — this ongoing legal process.

Anything specific dealing with this — dealing with this — with this issue, I would refer you to the Department of Justice or the Special Counsel.  And I’ll leave it there.

Okay.  I’ll come —

Q    And when did he find out about the documents?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’ll come down.  I’ll come down.  Go ahead, Mary.

Q    Thank you, I appreciate it. 

The White House today put out this really sharply worded statement about the committee assignments — the Oversight Committee assignments — you know, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Representative Gosar, Representative Boebert getting these assignments on the Oversight Committee.

The statement said, “…handing the keys of oversight to the most extreme MAGA members in the Republican caucus who promote violent rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories.” 

Given the statement, does the White House view the Oversight Committee as even legitimate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I’ve been very clear, and I just said this moments ago: The President intends to work with both parties in good faith, if they choose to, and make more progress on behalf of the American people.  He has said this, and we will continue to say this.

But unfortunately, to your point, Mary, on some of these key committees, it appears that House Republicans have handed over the keys to the most extreme MAGA members of the Republican caucus.  This is what we’re seeing from the other side of Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania Avenue.

These are members who have promoted violent rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories, including suggesting violence against political opponents, trafficking in antisemitic lies, and defending and downplaying a violent insurrection against our democracy.

You all — many of you covered what we saw on January 6th, 2021.  And so, Republican leaders should explain.  They should have to explain, not us. 

They should have to explain why allowing these individuals to serve on these committees and come clean with the American people about the secret agreements, the secret deals that were made with these extreme MAGA — MAGA extremists in — that are currently in — in the House.

And so that is something for them to respond to.  That is some- — that question goes to them.

Q    It sounds like you don’t view the committee as very —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — I did not say that.  I laid out — I laid out what the President intends to do.  I laid out what — what unfortunately — what — the actions that they have taken, how unfortunate it is to basically hand over the keys to some of the most extreme people in the — in the Republican Party, the MAGA — ultra-MAGA Republicans, and what they’ve done.

But it is not for me to answer that question.  It is for them to answer why is it that they chose to move in that direction.

Q    And can I ask just a follow-up to what you said earlier about the President being surprised the documents were even there — that he said multiple times, you’ve said again he was unaware that these classified documents were even in his garage, in his residence?

Given that — given that you could actually just be surprised that documents were there, does that suggest to you, to this White House that reform is needed, there needs to be changes for how classified documents are tracked through the U.S. government?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m not — I’m not in a position to talk about reform or how this process should go forward.  What I will say is: This is something that’s being reviewed by the Department of Justice.  I would refer you to them.  I would refer you to the Special Counsel.  I’m just not going to go any further than that.

Okay.  Go ahead, Aurelia.

Q    Thank you so much.  I would have two questions.  One on Ukraine and one on the economy.

On Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal and German newspapers (inaudible) are reporting that the Germans won’t provide tanks for Ukraine unless the U.S. does exactly the same.  So there seems to be a kind of deadlock situation here.  What’s the administration doing about it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I was asked this question yesterday.  When it comes to the U.S., we’re in constant communication with Ukraine and will continue to provide them with what they need as they defend themselves against Russian aggression and against this brutal war that we have seen from Russia for almost a year now.

But I don’t have any new announcements to share of any types of security assistance to preview.

Look, when it comes to — when it comes to other countries, the President believes that each country can — should make their own sovereign decisions on what steps of security assistance and what kinds of equipment they are able to provide Ukraine as, again, Ukraine defends itself against Russian aggression.

So, for instance, we welcome Germany’s recent announcement that they will send infantry fighting vehicles and a Patriot missiles battery system to Ukraine.  We also support the decision by the UK over the weekend to send Challenger tanks to Ukraine.  And we have seen incredible solidarity by nations around the world to support Ukraine.

So — but it’s not for us to speak to.  That is their — each country’s decision to make that — to make their own sovereign decisions on this.

As it relates to the U.S., we have been, as you know, the largest provider of security assistance, of humanitarian aid.  We will — we will be standing by with the Ukrainian people and helping them in any way that they — that we can to defend themselves until — you know, until — throughout — throughout this process. 

But I don’t have any announcements to make at this time.

Q    And on the economy, the President has been, like, quite optimistic in his latest statements about, you know, the possibility of a soft landing for the economy.  But at the same time, we also have, like, massive layoff announcements, like Microsoft just today.  Is this a matter of concern for the White House?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So that is something, as you know, that we watch closely — anytime there are reports of Americans losing their jobs.  President Biden knows firsthand the impact of losing a job and what that can have to your entire family.  This is something that he knows and understands very well.

I don’t have a comment on specific moves announced by particular companies.  As you know, we’re — we’re very careful from here talking about private companies. 
But more broadly speaking, layoffs remain near record lows according to job openings data.  We found that — we found out this week that 10 million new small businesses have been created since President Biden took office.  I talked about this from this podium just yesterday.

And similarly, third quarter GDP revision shows that the U.S. economy continues to grow and add jobs.  We’ve also seen companies like TSMC, IBM, and Hyundai announce — or Hyundai –announce new investments doubling down on building technologies of the future, like chips and AI and electric vehicles in the U.S.

Companies across the economy are continuing to grow and invest in the United States.  But again, of course, this is something that we watch very closely.

Okay.  Go ahead, Sabrina.  

Q    Thank you so much.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Welcome back.

Q    Thank you.  China reported that its economic growth fell to 3 percent last year, and its population dropped for the first time since 1961.  Is the administration concerned about China’s relative economic weakness?  And do you think that this raises the likelihood of an economic downturn in the U.S. and the global economy this year?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I’m not going to comment on how China handles its own economy.  But what we are focused on is our approach, which has — to ensure that the United States economy remains resilient.  And that’s the President’s focus. 

And when we’re talking about resilience, we’re talking about resilience in the face of global challenges, and has helped spur a historic recovery.  That is what we have seen in this President’s first two years, as — of this administration.

We’ll continue our work to make progress on reducing prices and investing in our infrastructure, manufacturing, and clean energy economy.  And so, we, of course, monitor all global developments and we’ll continue to stay in touch with our partners, allies, and key market sectors, including China.

As you have — you have seen, Secretary — Secretary Yellen is in China, and she’s going to be meeting with China’s Vice President on Wednesday — on Wednesday, which is today.  And so, again, she’s there currently, right now, in China.

Q    And there have been more allegations about Congressman George Santos’s misuses of finances.  Of course, this is in addition to him fabricating key details of his background while running for office, prompting more calls from both parties for his resignation.  I just wanted to check back in: Does the White House think he should resign?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, we have — we’ve said this before, and I think I said it the — probably the first few days of this admini- — of this new Congress in this new year, which is: It is up to — it is up to the Republican Conference, who have to decide what they owe the American people.  It is their decision to make on what it means — what they see, as it relates to the terms of standards and service.  They have to decide that.  It is their conference.  He is part of their conference, clearly.

But sadly, we have seen that they feel they owe the American people, when it comes to standards, by the actions that they have taken on this particular individual — look, you know, just looking at the committee that he has been assigned to.

When it comes to Biden’s economic plan and when it comes to the announcement that I made yesterday, when it comes to small business, we have seen a business application with over 10 million new small businesses created under this leadership.   And so, the President takes that very seriously.  He takes — he takes build- — making sure that we’re building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out very seriously.  And you see that in every part of his policies and every economic policy that he pushes forward. 

But, again, this is up to the Republican conference to show what they think they owe to the American people.  So, it’s their decision to make.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Just a quick follow-up on the economy and job cuts.  Amazon announced 18,000 job cuts today.  Microsoft announced 10,000 job cuts today.  All these thousands of job cuts are coming on top of tens of thousands of jobs being cut across the tech sector and across sectors in corporate America.

Obviously, the White House and the administration, like you just pointed out a couple of minutes ago, still believes the economy’s resilient, does not expect it to slip into a recession.  But as we talk about mass layoffs and as the White House continues to point to the strong economy and overall recovery in the labor market, how do you expect some of these numbers and some of these statistics to impact that recovery in the coming months?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just be clear, when you talk about recession and you talk about what we’re seeing currently with the economy, these are the data points — right? — this — the data points are showing that this is not what we see where the economy is currently to pre-recession or recession.  I mean, that is what the experts are saying as well, and that’s what the data points are proving.

With CPI today, the consumer — not CPI — the PPI today, we’re seeing that inflation is actually indeed moderating.  And a lot of that is connected to the President’s economic policies.

And so, that is something that we’re going to continue to highlight, we’re going to continue to — to point to the data.  Not just our words, but that’s what the data is showing. 

Look, again, as I mentioned to your colleague, I’m not going to comment specifically on what’s currently happening with particular companies, with private companies.  Clearly, we’re closely monitoring.  But like I said, layoffs remain near record lows, according to the job openings data. 

Again, looking at the data, looking at the numbers, we found out — again, I talked about the small businesses — 10 million new small businesses have been created since the President took office.  That matters.  Those data points also matter.  The third quarter GDP revision shows that the U.S. economy continues to grow and add jobs. 

So, that’s what I will point you to in answering your question, as I just laid out.  But, again, we are seeing an economy — we’re seeing the President’s economic policy actually working.  And I think that’s important as well.

Is there more work to do?  Always more work to do, and you hear that from us as well.

Q    So no immediate concern from these tens of thousands of layoffs across corporate America?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  What I’m saying is we’re going to closely monitor this, or, you know, we are always keeping an eye on these things.  But — but these are private — these are private companies that are making decisions, and we’re just not going to comment.

Q    And I have a quick one on China, if I may.  You were talking about Secretary Yellen.  You know, Treasury announced today that she’s planning to go to China.  The Secretary of State is planning to go to China.  The President met with Xi in Bali in November.  Clearly, there is sort of momentum and, you know, some sort of rebuilding of ties between the two nations. 

Going forward this year, should we expect the administration and the White House to perhaps tone down its rhetoric against China and really focus on rebuilding the relationship between the two economies?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I think we’ve been very clear on our approach with China.  That hasn’t changed.  We’re looking for competition, right?  That’s what we’re — that’s what — that’s how we see our relationship with China. 

And, you know, that hasn’t changed.  It’s not going to change when we walked in — when the President walked into the administration in 20- — in 2021.  And it’s certainly not going to change in 2023.

Go ahead, Karen.  I actually have an answer for you on the question you asked me yesterday.  (Laughs.)

Q    I was going to ask you again.  So I would just say —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Because I said — I said I would follow up.

Q    — yes, okay — if you have a response to the — 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  This is the New Mexico, I believe.  Right?

Q    — the New Mexico — yes, yes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, the allegations here are horrifying and shocking, and it’s a miracle that no one was hurt.  The President has spoken out repeatedly and emphatically about how our nation rejects violence as a political tool.  That is a bedrock principle of our democracy. 

It is important for leaders in both parties to reaffirm that, particular — that, particularly as we’ve seen an increase in violent rhetoric and political violence, like we’ve seen most recently, again, in New Mexico.

This administration has also emphasized the dangerous ways in which conspiracy theories and disinformation can lead some individuals to violence.  Again, we urge leaders in both parties to reject lies and conspiracies. 

And finally, let me add, it’s worth emphasizing that those intending to use violence as a political tool often choose firearms to intimidate and inflict carnage.  And so, that is why this administration has made strides to address firearms, but also has urged more to be done against our — it’s horrifying and shocking.  And we’re just — we’re just glad that no one was hurt in this — in this event.

Q    And if I can also ask you — I asked you last Friday, and I know that there was a formal request from the WHCA to have Richard Sauber come to the briefing and take questions.  To follow up on that, would you commit to having the White House Counsel come here and take questions from reporters?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That is something that I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office.  This is — they have been engaged with all of you. 

I know, again, they did a 45-minute call with many of — if not you, many of your colleagues.  Somebody here had said 30 minutes, but it was not.  It was actually 45 minutes.  They miscounted.  And so, that was important. 

They will continue to engage with all of you.  And so, again, I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office on this.  And any specifics to the ongoing legal matter, I would refer to Department of Justice.

Q    Could you pass along the request?  Could you pass it along for us?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m happy — I’m happy to pass it along. 

Yeah.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  I have two questions: one on NATO and one on Belarus.  There is an impasse between Sweden, Finland, and Turkey over Ankara’s demands related to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO accession.  So, I’m wondering if you consider those demands reasonable.  And if not, does the President consider Turkey a reliable NATO Ally?

And a second question on Belarus: A trial of a prominent Polish-Belarusian activist, Andrzej Poczobut, has started in Belarus yesterday.  And he’s facing 12 years in prison for just criticizing Lukashenka’s regime.  Can you comment on that?  And is there anything that the U.S. can do to help to press Belarus on this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just say that we do see Turkey as a reliable ally.  So, I’ll answer that question that you just asked me. 

On anything specific about — about the agreement and what’s currently happening, we would refer you to the Turkish government to speak on their own position.  That’s not something that I will do for them.  I would not speak for them here. 

What I can say is that we have been a strong supporter of Finland and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership and worked with the Senate to move quickly to ratify their applications.  You saw — you all were here and saw Finland and Sweden’s leadership here with the President not too long ago.  We have welcomed the rapid ratifications by our Allies, and we urge all remaining Allies to com- — complete their own ratification process as quickly as possible.

To your question about Belarus: So, we condemn the regime’s blatant attempts to intimidate and harass peaceful protesters, members of the democratic oppositions, journalists, unionists, activists, human rights defenders, and ordinary Belarusians.  These politically motivated trials are just the latest examples of the regime’s effort to intimidate and repress those who seek justice, respect for human rights, and democratic Belarus — and a democratic Belarus, I should say.

The respond — to respond to these human rights abuses, the State Department recently took action to impose visa restrictions on 25 individuals for their involvement in undermining Belarus’s democracy.  The U.S. — the United States stands firmly with Belarusian people and their democratic aspirations. 

I’m going to keep going.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Just to be clear, my question is about procedures here at the White House and not about anything specific related to the DOJ investigation. 

So I’m just wondering how this episode has prompted a review of the process in which staffers handle classified information and how they are turned over to National Archives during a transition.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And to be clear, I’m going to refer you to the my colleagues at the White House Counsel’s Office.  They will be able to address that particular questions.  I’m just not going to address something that is even related to an ongoing legal process.

Q    But why not?  I mean, I’m having a hard time understanding why —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just said —

Q    — questions about —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Weijia —

Q    — procedure would impact the investigation.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And I just said — and I just said to you: The White House Counsel’s Office will be able to address that question.

Q    Okay.  Is President Biden satisfied with the current SOP of handling classified materials here and turning them over to National Archives?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, I will refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office.  They are the — they’re the people who would be able to answer that question about classified information.

Q    So, just to be clear: From this point on, are you not going to be taking questions about the classified documents?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I have been very clear over and over again we are going to be prudent here.  We’re going to be consistent.  This particular matter is being — is being looked at.  There’s a legal process currently happening at the Department of Justice, and I’m going to refer you to the Department of Justice on any specifics to this particular case.  And anything that has to deal with our — what we’re doing here, I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office. 

And let me remind you this is — this is — this is not a new process here.  We’ve been doing this for the past two years.  Anything that is related to a legal process, a legal matter, we refer it to the Department of Justice.  There’s nothing new in our process here. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Since so many of our questions have been referred to the DOJ and to the White House Counsel’s Office, I’m sure you can understand that we’re in sort of an information blackout where DOJ refers us to the Special Counsel.  They’re not holding any briefings.  White House Counsel refers us to DOJ. 

So if you are not able to talk about this from the podium, would you invite a DOJ official to take our questions here — to the briefing room?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, you would have to go to the Department of Justice.  That is not — this is a legal matter that is currently happening at the Department of Justice. 

And the President has been very, very clear: When it comes to these types of legal matters, when it comes to investigations, he is not going to interfere.  He wants to make sure that we give back the independence that the Department of Justice should have when it comes to these types of investigations.  So, certainly, we would not be bringing them here.  So I —

Q    Could you invite anybody else? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — would refer you to the Department of Justice.

Q    The White House Counsel or the President’s personal lawyers?  Anyone?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — I just — I was just very clear.  If you have any questions, I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office.  They did a call for 45 minutes yesterday, speaking to many of you.  I believe there were more than 200 people on that call.  And so I would refer you to my colleagues at the White House Counsel’s Office.

Q    We’re just not getting a lot of questions —

(Cross-talk.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead. 

Q    Karine — Karine —

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

Q    I’m just — one more, Karine.  I’m sorry. 

But on questions that you should be able to answer here that shouldn’t have to go to any other agency or entity: Can you tell us if there’s any sort of assessment that has been planned or launched to determine if national security has been jeopardized at all?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, that’s for the Department of Justice.

Q    Why is it a DOJ question?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And it’s — and let’s be clear, it’s not your decision to make on what I can and can’t answer from here. 

What I am telling you is that we are respecting the process.  We are being prudent from here.  There is an investigation currently happening.  And when there is — when there are investigations that are happening, that the DOJ is currently reviewing or looking at, we have been very consistent to say that you need to go to the Department of Justice.

Q    Are they working with NSC or with any other intelligence agencies?  I —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, I would refer you —

Q    I don’t understand why we’re —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It’s very —

Q    — being referred.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It’s very clear.  I just laid out, there is no — there should be no confusion here.  There — there is a legal process happening, and I would refer to the Department of Justice. 

Okay, good ahead, Peter.

Q    Can I just follow up on that?  We’ve all reached out to the Department of Justice.  A law enforcement official tells NBC News the Justice Department has not told the White House that it cannot talk about the facts underlying the Special Counsel investigation into declassified documents.  So, trusting you’ve received that same information, understanding the desire to be prudent, then why — why can’t you speak about the underlying facts?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We’ve been very clear when it comes to even underlying facts, when it comes to specifics, when it comes to something that is under the purview that is — that the Department of Justice is looking at, especially legal matters, investigations — we do not comment from here, Peter.

Q    Got it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And that has been consistent. 

Q    So, understanding that, Bob Bauer, who —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We have been very consistent. 

Q    — Bob Bauer, who represents the President, his personal attorney, over the weekend said that one of the reasons why — and Ian Sams, your colleague, who represent — who speaks on behalf of the Special Counsel at the White House spoke to this in some form yesterday.  But he said one of the reasons why they shouldn’t reveal further details right now was “regular ongoing public disclosures also pose the risk that, as further information develops, answers provided on this periodic basis may be incomplete.” 

When the White House did release a statement, the President spoke out on January 9th — the risk of incompletion was a function of the White House’s decision not to share all the information it knew, in fact.  Because we knew on November 2nd that the first discovery was made.  We knew the second discovery was made on December 20th.  So there’s a risk of incompletion.  But will you concede that it’s the White House that has been incomplete in its provision of information when it did choose to speak out publicly on January 9th?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, my colleague actually dealt with this question on the call yesterday — from the White House Counsel’s Office.

Q    And he made — he made the same point about —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  As you —

Q    — the risk of incompletion.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:   As you — and I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office.

Q    Then may I make — then is the White House having any conversations internally about finding someone, much the same way that John Kirby has spoken on behalf of national security issues at this podium, as your colleague, as their representative?  Is there someone — is the White House in talks right now to find someone either outside the White House or internally who can speak on behalf of the White House representing the Special Counsel Office within the White House from this podium?  Are any of —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I would —

Q    — those talks in —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office. 

Q    Well, but you’re the communications —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — I would —

Q    You run the communications —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — I —

Q    — so I’m asking, are you, as a communications matter, having —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We —

Q    — playing any part?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  There is — you — 

Q    Are those conversations existing?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Peter, you have spoken to my colleague who did —

Q    Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — again, a 45-minute call with all of you, answering questions about —

Q    But on ba- — as you would acknowledge, it’s on background though, Karine, not on the record until the call ends.  That means the American people can’t see it in public.  So we’re asking —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  But many —

Q    — will there be a representative who would speak on camera and see it in public? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  But — but his — the call was indeed — he was quoted.  It was in papers.  It was on networks.

Q    Correct.  But because they can’t witness it happening live, Americans don’t get the same transparency into this back-and-forth.  I’m asking —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I think —

Q    — would someone —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I think —

Q    Is the White House having a conversation —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Peter —

Q    — with regard —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Peter —

Q    This is just — with respect, you guys brought John Kirby in.  I’m asking if that conversation exists.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Peter, the fact that he spoke to all of you reporters who report on this, and then you all reported on it back to the American people, I believe that is transparency.  I believe that he shared information.  He answered your questions that you believe that the American people wanted to hear.  And he answered those questions. 

Q    I understand that.  So my question is, are you —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And he took — he took 45 minutes to do that.

Q    For which we’re grateful. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Anything — anything else that you have on this, Peter, I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office. 

Peter, I’m not —

Q    I just want to be clear —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We just went back —

Q    Are you having —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Peter —

Q    So just — the question is: Are you having a conversation about adding a member —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — Peter —

Q    — to the staff to speak publicly on this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Peter — Peter, I just — 

Q    That’s — it’s a yes or no.  You can just say “no.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I actually just answered that question.  I said we have someone currently — right?

Q    So that means “no.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We have someone currently who answered your questions for 45 minutes on a call —

Q    He did.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — and took your questions.

Q    Yes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — took your questions about this particular issue. 

Q    Correct.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  He will continue to do that.  He will continue to engage with all of you — right? — on this issue, on this legal process that’s currently happening from the White House Counsel’s Office.

After that, Peter, I don’t have anything else to share.

Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Go. 

Q    On the —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Last question.

Q    Yes, thank you.  On the debt limit: I know that the White House says that you’re not going to negotiate with Republicans on, sort of, you know, concessions or anything tied to it.  Does that mean that the White House, the President is dissuading other Democrats on the Hill from engaging in those conversations and those negotiations with Republicans?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  What we’ve been very clear about is that in the last administration, the debt ceiling was dealt with three times — three times in a bipartisan way.  And so that’s what the President wants to see.  That is a — that is a — it is their constitutional duty for Congress to deal with this issue. 

And, again, it’s been done in a bipartisan way, and we should not put the full faith and credit of — of our country in — take it hostage.  Right?  We should not do that.  And so that’s what we’ve been very clear about.  It’s been done in a bipartisan way the last three times under — three times under the last administration.  And that’s what we want to see.

Q    So just to be clear, if Democrats and Republicans — in a bipartisan way — reach an understanding, reach an agreement as it relates to the debt limit, the President would accept that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  What we — we’ve been — we’ve been very clear there should not be any negotiations around here.  We should not be stepping around dealing with the debt ceiling.  We’ve been incredibly clear here. 

This is an issue that is a concept — the basic — the basic duties of Congress to take care of, to handle.  And so we’re going to be — continue to say that.  We’re going to be very clear it should it be done without conditions. 

Thank you, everybody.  Thank you. 

4:00 P.M. EST

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/01/18/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-january-18-2023/

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