Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, February 23, 2023
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is orange season — (laughter) — if you missed the memo yesterday.
Okay. So, at the top, I want to say that our hearts go out to the family of Dylan Lyons, the Spectrum News reporter killed in Orange County, Florida, yesterday, and to the families of the other two community members who were killed by the same shooter, including a nine-year-old girl with her whole life in front of her.
The girl’s mother and a Spectrum photojournalist were also seriously injured, and we are keeping them in our thoughts and hoping they have a full recovery.
Too many lives are being ripped apart by gun violence. The President continues to call on Congress to act on gun safety and for state officials to take action at the state level.
But instead of following in the footsteps of so many other states taking commonsense action to enact state-level assault weapons ban and other gun safety measures, Republican state officials in Florida are current- — currently leading an effort to pass a permit- — permitless concealed carry law, which would eliminate the need to get a license to carry a concealed weapon.
This is the opposite of commonsense gun safety. And the people of Florida, who have paid a steep price for state and congressional inaction on guns, from Parkland to Pulse Nightclub to Pine Hills, deserve better.
Now I’m going to turn to Ohio. I know many of you have been covering what has been occurring in Ohio this past couple weeks. But I also wanted to give you a brief update on the federal response led by the Environmental Protection Agency to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
As you know, Secretary Buttigieg is there today meeting with emergency responders and the Department of Transportation investigators who were on the ground within hours of the train derailing. He met with the community leaders, including the mayor and the fire chief, and received an update from the National Transportation Safety Board on their investigation.
EPA Administrator Regan also visited East Palestine for a second time on Tuesday. While there, he ordered the railroad company, Norfolk Southern, to clean up its mess and pay or reimburse for all of the expenses. If the company doesn’t, the EPA said it’ll make the company pay three times the cost of whatever cleanup is needed.
Federal teams have been on the ground since 2:00 a.m. on February 4th, which is, again, hours after the derailment, which was on February 3rd. They’ve been working to hold the railroad company accountable, investigate the derailment, monitor the air and water, and have screened over 550 homes.
And we’ll stay on this as long as it takes. That is what the President has directed his multi-agency — agency heads to do and — as we have seen him speak to these past couple of days, actually.
I also have some news on the President’s schedule tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, President Biden will gather with G7 leaders and President Zelenskyy for a virtual meeting to continue coordinating our efforts to support Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for its war.
One year ago, this group came together just mere hours after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine to impose unprecedented costs on Putin and his cronies.
We’ve worked together to provide Ukraine with the security, economic — economic and budget, humanitarian, and energy assistance it needs.
We thank Japan, the new G7 president, for its recent pledge to provide Ukraine with an additional $5.5 billion in economic assistance. On this chal- — on this challenge and many more, Japan has proven a steadfast ally ready to step up and do its part to advance our shared interests and values.
Our alliance with Japan and Japan’s strong partnerships with countries in Europe only demonstrate the point we’ve been making all along: The Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic are not separate theaters here but firmly linked together.
The G7 has become an anchor of our strong and united response to Russia. Tomorrow, the leaders will discuss how we continue supporting Ukraine and continue to increase pressure on Putin and all those who enable his aggression.
Among other announcement, the United States will implement sweeping sanctions against key sectors that generate revenue for Putin, go after more Russian banks, Russia’s defense and technology industry, and actors in third-party countries that are attempting to backfill and evade our sanctions.
We will also announce new economic, energy, and security assistance to help the Ukrainians continue to succeed on the battlefield, protect its people from Russian aggression, and enable the Ukrainian government to provide basic services, such as electricity and heat.
As the President made clear in Europe this week, the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
Now, separately, I want to add that the Biden administration welcomes the Sultanate of Oman’s decision to open its air- — airspace to all civilian planes, including those flying to and from Israel.
This historic step completes a process that began last year during President’s visit to the Middle East, when Saudi Arabia similarily [sic] opened its airspace to all civilian planes.
Oman’s announcements promotes President Biden’s vision for a more integrated, stable, and prosperous Middle East region.
Now, I also want to give an update on a wave of anti-equality bills filled across America in recent weeks. As of yesterday, there have been 450 and counting anti-LGBTQI+ bills filled in state legislatures across the country, including nearly 300 of those bills are targeting kids.
These bills are not about expanding access to healthcare. They’re not about making schools safer. They’re not about lowering costs for Americans. And they’re not about helping address our country’s mental health crisis. That is not what these 450 bills are about. All issues that Americans across the board focus on right now are the ones that I just listed.
Instead of focusing on making Americans’ lives easier, these bills are making our fellow Americans’ lives harder. These cheap shots don’t come without repercussions. LGBTQI+ Americans, especially transgender Americans, are seeing alarming levels of depression and suicide, as well as being victims of hate crimes.
The President and his administration will continue fighting for all Americans and their dignity because equality under the law isn’t just a slogan, it’s a bedrock principle of our democracy. And LGBTQI people — -plus people deserve to live full, equal lives in every corner of our country, no matter where they live.
That’s why it’s so important for Congress to come together and protect Americans’ rights to be who they are in this country. Passing the Equality Act is a critical step in that direction.
Apologies for all the toppers; we haven’t had a briefing in some time. I have two more for you, and I promise we’ll get to your questions.
Okay. So, today, as you all saw just an hour or so ago, President Obama announced that — pardon me — President Biden. (Laughter.) Whoa!
Q That’s news.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is news. (Laughter.)
Q President Obama —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know, I know. We’re going back, not forwards. We got to go forwards. Okay.
President Biden announced that the United States is nominating Ajay Banga to be president of the World Bank. As the President said himself, Ajay is uniquely equipped to lead the World Bank at this critical moment in history.
He is a renowned business executive that has spent more than three decades building and managing successful global companies that have created jobs and brought investment to developing economies. As president and as CEO of MasterCard and as Vice Chairman of General Atlantic, Ajay has a proven track record creating public-private partnerships and mobilizing resources to address climate change.
And raised in — and raised in India, he is a unique — he has a unique perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing developing countries and how the World Bank can deliver on its ambitious agenda to reduce poverty and expand prosperity.
Okay. Finally, this is the hard part of the toppers of what I have for all of you. Again, I apologize for so many. We haven’t had a briefing in some time.
But we have another bittersweet day for us, for the White House press team, as this is the last press briefing for Megha and Robbie — right there, as you guys see — right there and next — to my right here — who are valued members of our team.
Megha has been with our team since February of last year, and I don’t think she stopped smiling since. I’ve never seen someone so happy and so — just really wonderful. And she always — she always has a smile on her face.
Megha has yelled “Thank you, press” in every room of the White House and on three different continents. (Laughter.) She’s done it all with grace, a great sense of humor, and grade A outfits. Hence that’s why, you know, we’re ma- — matching today. So, there we go. I feel good about that.
I’ll know she’ll be missed by our team and much of the press corps as well. We are glad she won’t be very far. She’s going to be headed to the State Department. Megha, we will miss you dearly, and thank you for your service.
And Robbie Dornbush needs no introduction. As chief of staff for the press office, Robbie quite literally keeps the trains running. He’s the bridge between myself and many of — all of — many of you in the room.
And — and also, no matter how early call time is, I can guarantee you Robbie is in the building before you. Robbie is here very early in the morning, trying to keep up with me. And he’s here working hard at his desk after a lid is called as well.
I knew Robbie before this — this administration began. I think Robbie started working for me when you were, like, 19, Robbie, on and off. So we have become friends, and he has been a — a great colleague over the last several months.
And, Robbie, you will be missed, but you have been in my world for so long. And hopefully, I get an invite to your wedding. I haven’t seen the “Save the Date” yet, so we’ll talk about that later.
But we will truly miss you, Robbie. Thank you for everything that you’ve done.
Okay. With that, the briefing is over. I’m just kidding. (Laughter.)
Okay. Go ahead, Zeke.
Q Thanks, Karine. Starting with East Palestine, is the President satisfied with the pace of the federal response there on — on the ground? And why has he, so far, decided not to visit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things there. And I said this at the top. The President — first of all, when the derailment happened on February 3rd, as I said at the top, the — the Environmental Protection Agency was on the ground in ho- — within hours — and that is, I think I’ve mentioned, 2:00 a.m. the next morning, on February 4th — getting — really taking — taking charge and dealing with what was occurring in — in East — East Palestine.
And, look, very early on as well, the President reached out to — to Governor — both governors of Pennsylvania and Ohio. That is Governor
DeWaine [DeWine]of Ohio and Governor Shapiro, as well. And they — he offered the federal assistance and also directed his team to stay on top of this as long as — as it took.
And just a couple of days ago, we read out a conversation that the President — he was — he’s been getting briefed pretty regularly. But just recently, we have — we read out a — conversations that he had with — with Governor DeWine, with Governor Shapiro, Senator Brown, EPA Administrator Regan, and Congressman Johnson while he was in Poland.
So he was still working and getting updates and focusing on what was happening in East Palestine while he was doing incredibly important work, as you all know, in Poland. And he reaffirmed his commitment to make sure they have everything that they need.
Again, this has been a multi-agency engagement here. When you think about CDC, you think about DOT, you think about FEMA, you think about EPA — they have all been on the ground, working in lockstep, working with the local officials on the ground, including the governor and the senators as well, making sure that we delivered and continue to deliver for the — for the — for the people of East Palestine.
That will not stop. And that will continue until — until we
are [aren’t] needed on the ground.
Q My question, though, was whether the President was satisfied with that response. Is he?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, he is. Look, we believe that, when you think about how this response occurred — right? — how it’s been going from — literally since 2:00 a.m., February 4th, you’ve seen the EPA on the ground, you saw Administrator Regan doing a great job on the ground, making sure that he was with the community, talking, taking questions, working with the governor.
You’ve heard from the governor directly — Governor DeWine actually speak to the federal response — that he truly appreciated the work that we have done for the community.
So, yes, the President is — is certainly — is, again, staying upda- — updated on what is occurring on the ground, but also appreciative of the work that his multi-agencies have been doing over the past several weeks.
Q Just on a different topic, some sad news from the Carter family over the weekend. Has the President reached out to either the former President or members of his family in the last two days?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have a — any call to read out at this time. As you saw, the Pr- — there was a tweet from the President and the First Lady, who sent their thoughts —
who have their thoughts with the President and his fa- — and the First Lady and their entire Carter family as well.
And just to quote, so folks — folks — in case folks missed it: “To our friends Jimmy and Rosalyn and to their family, Jill and I are with you in prayer and send you our love. We admire you for the strength and the humility you have shown in difficult times. May you continue your journey with grace and dignity, and God…” — “…and God grant you peace.”
The last time they saw each other, as I think many of you remember, was back in April 2021, when the President visited them at their — at their home in Plains, Georgia. And they had an opportunity to see the Carters — the First Lady and the President had an opportunity to see the Carters personally.
And — and one of the other times prior to that when they spoke when — was when President Carter was not able to attend, as you all know, the inauguration of President Biden. And they had a — a conversation that evening, as well.
And just to — just to give a little bit more history of the Pres- — of President Biden and President Carter and how long it goes back: It goes back to 1976 when then- — when then-Governor Carter was running for President and then-Senator Biden was the first senator to have endorsed Jimmy Carter at that time. So, their relationship goes back decades.
And President Carter is someone that President Biden truly respects. And, again, our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.
Q And there’s no recent communication —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any — I don’t have any recent conversations to speak to.
Q Thanks, Karine. The mayor of East Palestine said that it was a “slap in the face” that the President had gone to Ukraine before he went to East Palestine. Does the President have any reaction to those comments?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’ll say this, and I kind of said this at the top already, which is, you know, I laid out what we have done since the derailment of February 3rd and how we were on the ground very early on. And — and we believe that we have had a all-of-government, all- — all-hands approach to this not just with the agencies, but also with the different teams here in the White House.
When you think about the Intergovernmental Affairs, you think about Office of Leg Affairs, and also the National Security Council have been all-hands-on-deck. And that is because of this President’s leadership. And that is because of what he has asked his team to do and what he has asked the agencies to do.
So, look, you know, we’re going to hold Norfolk Southern accountable. As I’ve mentioned, there’s — there’s been investigating — they’ve been investigating what caused the derailment, monitoring for environmental and health impacts, and screening over 550 homes, as I mentioned.
EPA has ordered the railroad company to clean up its mess and pay for all expenses. And if it doesn’t, the EPA said that they will make the company pay three times more.
And Secretary Buttigieg has also written to Norfolk Southern to make clear that the industry’s pattern of resisting safety regulations must change. And he’s calling on the industry and Congress to join the administration in implementing that — implementing that approach.
So, look — and, as you all know, as I mentioned, Secretary Buttigieg is on the ground right now. He’s getting an update. And we’ve had, again, multiple agencies on the ground.
The President has stayed updated on this for the past several weeks. While he was in Poland, he spoke to the important folks on the ground, the leaders- — the leadership on the ground, including his leadership in those — in those respective agencies, on what was going on and getting updates. And he will continue to do that and do everything that we can.
Q Has the President spoken to the mayor of East Palestine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have —
Q — or does have any plans to?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a call to read out or a planned conversation. I can tell you, as I’ve mentioned before, the President has spoken to President — pardon me — to Governor DeWine of Ohio and Governor Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and has — has had regular contact. Our teams have had regular contact.
And you’ve heard directly from Governor DeWine about — about our — our federal response and how we’ve been working in lockstep with the local — local government on the ground.
Q Question on China. When should we expect to see some evidence supporting the administration’s assertion that China is considering providing lethal aid to the Russians? We have been led to believe it would come very soon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we haven’t seen — we haven’t seen China do — do that yet, and we certainly don’t have any information on — for you on this at this time. But as we have said, we have seen China provide this kind of support like — we haven’t seen China provide this kind of support yet. But they haven’t said it’s off the table.
But again, we haven’t seen it happen at this time. We haven’t seen them provide this support. But, again, you know, we’re going to continue monitoring this. And — and, you know — and speak out when needed.
Q And what would the consequences be for China if they were to provide that aid?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, so far, it hasn’t happened, as I just mentioned, so I’m not going to talk about something that hasn’t yet happened or occurred. But, again, you know, we will continue to keep an eye on this.
Q You mentioned a new military assistance package will be announced in Ukraine. How much is providing fighter jets part of that discussion, as President Zelenskyy has repeatedly requested?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, I’m not going to get — I’m not going to get ahead of any announcement for tomorrow. We have been truly working in lockstep with Ukraine, with the Ukrainian government to make sure that they have what they need to continue to fight for their freedom, to fight for their sovereignty.
And I think if you watched — and I know many of you did –if you watched the President in Ukraine earlier this week, you heard him deliver a really critical, important speech in Warsaw. You heard him before his meeting with the B9.
And he’s been really consistent and clear: We are going to be with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes. We are going to continue to show our — our unwavering support. And we’re going to continue to provide assistance so that they can have — so that they can continue their success on the battlefield. That is what we want to see.
The — we’re talking about fighting for democracy. We’re talking about fighting for freedom. And that is something that — we believe that’s what the United States is all about.
Q What kind of message does the White House expect Zelenskyy to send during that meeting tomorrow?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I’m going to — not — certainly not going to get ahead of President Zelenskyy. I think you heard him very clearly when he — President Zelenskyy — when he was meeting with the President in Kyiv.
I mean, the trip that President Biden took to Kyiv, as many of you reported on, was historic. It was brave. Many of you talked about how we heard the sirens wailing in the background as the President was on the ground.
Remember, there was — there is no military on the ground in Ukraine — U.S. military on the ground in Ukraine. And the President took this trip to send a very clear message — not just to the people of Ukraine, not just to Russia, but the world — how, again, we have an unwavering support for the people of Ukraine. They have shown such bravery.
Let’s not forget, a year ago, we were talking about how Kyiv was — people were reporting how Kyiv was going to fall within hours or within days of Russia’s invasion. And now what did the President say? He was in Kyiv and he said, “Kyiv stands strong.”
And so, I think you’re going to hear a lot of that tomorrow. I’m certainly not going to get ahead of any announcements.
Q And just to quickly follow up on China, the President said last week that he does expect to speak with President Xi. What’s it going to take at this point for that conversation to happen —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — that is up to the President. I don’t have a — any call to speak to at this time.
Q Is the President going to go to Ohio, Karine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a — at this time, I don’t have anything to read out or — or announce on a travel to Ohio.
But, once again, we’ve had EPA on the ground. We’ve had DOT. Secretary Buttigieg is there today. We’ve had FEMA. We’ve had HHS, CDC. I mean, we have had a multi-agency approach to this. That’s how important it is to this President to make sure that East Palestine residents get what they need to — to deal with the situation that’s currently happening.
Q Thank you. And secondly, China says it wants a role in ending the conflict in Ukraine. Is this something that would be welcomed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, as — as you’ve heard from the President many times, we certainly want to see an end to this war. That is something that we would — we would like to see. And it could happen if Mr. Putin decided to leave Ukraine and stop the war that he started, stop — stop the brutal war that he — he has started against the Ukrainian people.
But right now, we don’t see any reason or any — any evidence that Russia is willing to — to negotiate here. And — and when it comes to that, any negotiation — and we’ve said this numerous of times — nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.
So, what we’re going to continue to do is make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need to be able to continue their success on the battlefield. And if there is a time where President Zelenskyy is — is ready to have that conversation, he will have strength at the negotiation table.
Q So, you’re skeptical about this so-called “China Peace Initiative”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I just — I’m not going to speak to that. That is for China to speak to.
What we’re saying is: We would love to see an end to this war, of course. This almost one-year war that Russia has — has — has — has caused. An aggression — a brutal aggression that Russia has put on the Ukrainian people. Let’s not forget, this is — this is their sovereignty. This is about their democracy, their freedom.
Q Thanks, Karine. On the Russia sanctions, can you say how many entities are going to be sanctioned, names of banks, companies that will fall under U.S. sanctions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not — I’m just not going to get ahead of the President tomorrow.
Q On the search for a Fed Vice Chair, can you talk about the decision-making process there with regard to how the President is considering diversity? There’s been some pressure from senators to name a Latino candidate, for example. How much — how important for — is it to the President to name a woman or a person of color to that job?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll just first say that clearly filling that vacancy is something that’s important to the President, and we’ll certainly — certainly nominate someone in the near future.
When it comes to diversity — you’ve heard this from the President, you’ve heard this from me, you’ve heard this from many of us here: Diversity and representation is really important to this President. And — and, you know, we are going to look at — the President is going to look at a highly diverse group of world-class economists, just as we did for the previous Fed nominations. So, we’re going to continue that process.
But I want to take the opportunity to lay out what — how diverse the President’s Cabinet has been, how diverse the President’s administration has been.
The Cabinet is a majority of people of color for the first time in history. The Cabinet is a majority female for the first time in history. A majority of White House senior staff identify as female. Forty percent of White House senior staff identify as part of racially diverse communities. And a record seven assistants to the Presidents are openly LGBTQ+.
So, again, this is something that the President prides himself on, that he actually has taken action to show the diversity of this administration. And so, he will continue not just with this Fed — the Fed Vice Chair occupancy but with any occupancy or any position that’s within the White House.
Q And then, the last one, really quickly. There was a report that the U.S. is sending 100 to 200 military troops to Taiwan. Can you talk about that decision and why the U.S. felt that’s necessary?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, that specific — any specific numbers or that decision, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.
But, of course, I will, you know, lay out what our policy is when it — when it comes to — when it comes to Taiwan. Our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China and consistent with our One China policy. That has not changed. Our commitment to Taiwan contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.
But, again, for that specific question on numbers and what’s occurring there, I would refer — I refer you to the Department of Defense.
Q Thanks, Karine. I wanted to ask you about the White House thoughts on congressional Republicans stepping up oversight efforts of U.S. aid to Ukraine. House Oversight, yesterday, called for extra documentation of the aid. House Appropriations and House Armed Services — they plan oversight hearings next week. I mean, what does the White House think of all this Republican scrutiny?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look — I mean, I’ve — I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again. When it comes to these oversight hearings, we’ve been very clear, the President has been very clear: He’s going to focus on what the American people want us to focus on, which is continuing to work to lower — to lower inflation, continuing to make sure that we have an economy that works for all, and continue to make sure that we’re fighting for just individual freedoms. And that is something that we saw after the midterms.
That was very clear what the voters wanted to see. They wanted to see us move forward in a bipartisan way to deliver on those — on those — on those things that I just listed out.
Look, when it comes to Ukraine aid, I think what is probably the thing that I would say here is that we have seen bipartisan support when it comes to Ukraine aid, when you look at — you look at the support from — in Congress.
And like the President — like the President said, some House Republicans were in Ukraine themselves meeting with President Zelenky [sic] — Zelenskyy just this week to vow their support for what is — for their fight — for the Ukrainians’ fight for freedom and for their democracy.
And so, again, we’re — you know, we’re providing military security and economic support to the Ukraine — Ukrainians to fight for their freedom. We think it’s an important thing to do, as — as the United States, to make sure that democracy is being fought for and we’re standing up for that. And so, I’ll just leave it there.
Q But I — I mean, I — is there no concern about the extra calls for oversight? I mean, it seems to be a response to their constituents, at least, of a softening of support for U.S. aid.
You know, there have been recent polls — absolutely, you’re right that bipartisan support is still there, but there has been — after a year, there has been a softening of support. Polls show that.
Is that a concern of the President that some Americans, at least — their support for U.S. aid or that much U.S. aid going to Ukraine has — is not where it — what it used to be?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I think that — and we have seen that, you know, Americans know what is at stake here. They understand that freedom is at stake. They understand that democracy is at stake. And they understand the role that we play as a country grop- — globally. And that is something that we truly believe.
And so, we — the President believes we have a role to play, and we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it with the alliance — the strong alliance of NATO. Remember, NATO was supposed to be torn apart and fall just like Kyiv was supposed to fall, and it became stronger.
We’ve seen the West come together. We’ve seen Europe come together. And we saw the President really speak to that on the world stage just this week, not just — again, not just to Ukrainians, not just to Russia, but to the world stage about what it — this means for all of us.
So, we think Americans understand that. We think that the Americans see that. And we’re going to continue to do the work that is needed to protect democracy.
Q Thanks, Karine. These sanctions tomorrow, are they going to be announced by the whole of the G7 together or is it going to be U.S. sanctions? And then just, sort of, how it’s going to come out. Will it be coming out as part of that G7 meeting or as —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t — I’m — I don’t —
Q — several announcements?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t want to get ahead. It’s certainly something that the President will speak to, when it comes to the sanctions, as I just laid out at the top. I just — I’m not going to get ahead of what the President is going to announce tomorrow.
There’ll be a G7 meeting. At — as part of that, the President is going to be making an announcement on sanctions. I just — I’m not going to get ahead of what the President is going to say or how it’s — in what vehicle it’s going to come out.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Can I just ask you again — following up on East Palestine?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q Can you at lea- — I know you can’t say if the President has plans to go there now. But is it in discussion that the President may go there in the near future?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything to share. I know — I know there’s a lot of interest on that.
Q Wouldn’t it make — I mean, I guess the question the folks are — for folks there, though, at least to say it’s in discussion. Has it been something that’s even under consideration?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I think what folks should understand and folks should, I think, feel at ease is that the President has taken this very seriously.
Hours after the derailment occurred, you saw, again, the EPA on the ground, and you’re seeing a multi-agency reaction to this because the President has — had promised not just the people of East Palesti- — Palestine but also to their governors, to their leadership that we would be on the ground for as long as it takes to make sure that the community has what it needs.
And, you know, you have seen that. You’ve seen the Administrator on the ground, with the governor on the ground. You’ve seen them talking to the community.
Again, Secretary Pete was just there, again, meeting with the mayor — the mayor there and continuing to do —
Q Was he there at the President’s direction? Was Secretary Pete there at the ma- — at the President’s direction?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — look, Secretary Pete went because he believed that it was important for him to go there at this time. And — and, you know, it is — it is — it is —
Q Was this the right time to go? He said he wanted to go at the right time. Was this the right time? Even he, today, had some reservations about whether he met the right balance.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I think it was important — I think what’s important is that he was there. I think what’s important is that we saw — we saw the Secretary of the Department of Transportation there.
I do want to say one thing, though, which is there’s been a lot of bad-faith attacks on Secretary Buttigieg. And the reason why we believe it’s bad faith is — if you remember Elaine Chao, she was — you know, she was the head of Department of Transportation. And where — when there was these types of chemical spills, nobody was calling for her to be fired. And nobody was calling for what they’re calling on Mayor — Secretary Pete.
It is — it is pure politics. This is pure political stunts, what they’re doing. You have seen an administration that has — because of the leadership of this President that has taken action and multi-agency action to deal with the needs that we’re seeing on the ground with the community of East Palestine.
Q And I just want to follow up on two other topics that were asked earlier. You were asked about when we could expect to see the declassified intelligence as it relates to the accusation that China is considering providing lethal aid to Russia.
A year ago — almost exactly a year ago — before the invasion by Russia, the administration was very quick to turn over declassified intelligence to demonstrate that Russia was planning this.
What’s different now that the administration is reluctant or reticent to turn over the intelligence that says China is actively considering providing lethal aid to Russia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I just want to clear something up. So, on — on Ohio for a second. So, Elaine Chao, who was the Environmental — head of the Environmental Protection Agency when she had to deal with —
Q When she was head of DOT.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: DOT. Pardon me. No one called her out. Right? When — when you think about the chemical spills, it is something that the Environmental Protection Agency has to deal with, right? They are the ones who have to take leadership.
And that’s what you’ve seen. That’s what you’ve seen from February 4th until now, which is the Environmental Protection Agency taking charge.
So, Secretary Buttigieg being there now, he’s not — the Department of Transportation is not leading this effort. It’s the Environmental Protection Agency. Just wanted to be very, very clear on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And — and that is why the attacks that we are seeing on — on Secretary Buttigieg is — is really just in bad faith.
And can you say your question again?
Q Yeah, I’ll ask you again. So, a year ago, before Russia invaded Ukraine, the administration was very quick to present declassified intelligence that said Russia is about to do this. Turns out they were right. It was accurate.
This time around, the accusation has been made by the administration that China is actively considering providing lethal aid to Russia. But this time around, the administration is much more reluctant or reticent to provide that information. What’s different now? Why not turn that over right away since the accusation has been made?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, we’ve been very clear that we haven’t seen them do it yet, but they haven’t taken it off the table.
I’m not —
Q I guess, why not provide the intelligence that backs it up though?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I — I totally understand. I’m not — certainly not going to get ahead of the intelligence community. That is something that is, clearly, at this time classified. So certainly not going to get ahead —
Q The President can declassify.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I —
Q Does he think it’s the right decision?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I understand. But it’s also in conversation — right? — with — with the intelligence community as well, when we — when we speak to these — when the — when we speak to these classified matters. So, we just want to be very careful here and also very mindful.
I think you’re comparing two things that are very different, we believe, when you — when you think about what happened a year ago when — when we were talking about Russia potentially invading Ukraine.
We believed at the time it was important to share — to share that evidence. We believe that it was important for the American people to see what was about to occur.
And so, two different things. We have not seen them, but —
Q Is it not — is it not important to share that evidence this time?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, but I’m just saying: We haven’t seen it yet. I mean, I’m actually answering your question. We haven’t seen it yet.
And so — but what we know is: It has not been taken off the table. Right? So, we haven’t seen it yet. We’re actually sharing that information, but it’s not been taken off the table.
Q Quick follow-up on Peter’s question on Ohio. The President has said many times, in his own words, that he likes to provide comfort to Americans who are grieving, Americans who are in crisis. Has he expressed interest in, or the intention to, provide that kind of support to East Palestinians? Does he want to provide that support to them?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Of course. He’s the President of the United States. He’s the President for red and blue states. He, of course, wants to provide that support. That’s what he’s been doing.
That’s why you’ve seen the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator on the ground. That’s why you’re seeing Secretary Buttigieg on the ground, providing that support. And not just those two agencies, other agencies as well, making sure that the East Palestine community are getting what they need at this difficult time.
And so, this is a President that understands what people are going through when they’re going through hardships. He understands that personally. And that’s why he’s getting updates regularly. And that’s why he has made sure that we’ve had this type of reaction since practically almost day one, hours within the derailment.
And so, we’ll continue to do that. He has said multiple times we are going to — or I have said multiple times that the President is going to continue to be there for the people, the community of East Palestine, for as long as the — it’s needed, for as long as it takes.
Q But does he not want to do it directly, in person, himself?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think — but I think — but I think offering the assistance, offering the help is doing it directly. When you’re — when you’re seeing the federal government on the ground, providing the assistance that is needed, that is doing it directly. That’s doing it — they’re — they’re doing it on the direction of the President.
That multi-agency — what we have been able to do over the past couple of weeks — that is because of the direction of the President. And we have seen that just — not just for these types of situations, but others as well.
Of course — of course, we — our hearts go out for the people of Palestine and their — their community — the community and what they’re going through right now.
This is why the President continues to be updated every single day and has called again for his — for not just the agencies, but for the teams here at the White House to make sure that we are working closely with local government and state government to make sure that we are delivering for the community.
And not just in Ohio. Remember, there is Pennsylvania as well, who — we’ve been in touch with the governor there as well.
Q A quick question on Ukraine and China. You now have the major regions of the world involved directly in the war in Ukraine: Europe, Amer- — you know, North America, the Middle East, Asia. What are the President’s plans to bring us back from the brink of a World War Two kind of scenario here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I think what you’ve seen the President do this past week speaks to the unwavering — the unwavering support that you have seen for Ukraine not just from the United States, but NATO Allies, the West, and how Europe has been unified.
And we have to remember — we have to go back in time just a little bit to see where we were just almost a year ago, where the expectation was that NATO would crumble, the expectation was that Kyiv would fall. That was what was expected and being reported — that Russia was going to take over Ukraine.
And it has not happened. And that is because of the strength that we have seen of the Alliance and the partnership that we have seen. And that’s what the President was there for this week to continue to show that and — as we move forward — as we move towards the next several months.
And so, that’s what is important. NATO is strong. Unwavering support is strong. Our support for Ukraine is strong. And we’re sending a message not just to — to the Ukrainians and their bravery and what they’ve been able to do for this past year, but also to Russia and to the world.
And so, to answer your question, we — I think the President sent a very loud message to everyone just across the — across the world about how important it is to continue to make sure that we’re fighting for democracy and we’re fighting for freedom. And it means something to do so.
I have to — I have to move around because we don’t have that much time. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. The President acted quickly in naming a new head of the World Bank. There are two other big vacancies right now: the Fed Chair — Vice Chair of the Fed and also Labor Secretary. I’m wondering if you can give you — give us any sense of the timeline — and particularly on the Vice Chair for the Fed — on whether you want somebody in place — or the President wants somebody in place by the time the Open Market Committee meeting happens.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have a timeline for you. I can tell you that it is a priority for the President.
And we’ll see as far — I talked about the Vice Chair. It is something that we’re going to certainly address in the near future. I just don’t have a timeline. I’m going to let the President move forward with his process.
And the same with the Department of Labor Secretary. Clearly, that is another important — important position that the President wants to fill as soon as possible. I just don’t have a timeline at this point.
Q So would the Open Market Committee meeting be some sort of, like, absolu- — because that’s like at the end of March, I believe.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I will say is that it is a priority for this President. He thinks it’s important to get those two positions filled. And so, we will — we will do that.
Q And then, next week, on the student loan case that’s going to be before the Supreme Court, I’m wondering how confident is administration feeling about its position on that case and whether there’s any, sort of, backup plan should the Supreme Court (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We feel very confident in our — in our legal process here.
Q And what about the idea of any sort of backup plan should —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right now, we just feel very confident. Look, we have to remember what the student loan plan means and why the President put that forward. It’s to help tens of millions of Americans — give them a little breathing room, give them an opportunity, as we’re coming out of this pandemic — this once-in-a-generation pandemic — and folks are — remember, one of the reasons we put this forward was because we were going to lift — lift the — the payment — the loan payment — the student loan payment to give them a little extra breathing room to make sure that they’re able to get back on their feet as they were having to — some of them had to pay back their — their — their student loans.
And so, this is a — we see this as an important policy that is going to help millions — again, tens of millions of Americans across the country who need it, who need that opportunity to start a family, who need that opportunity to buy a home.
And so, it is unfortunate to us that Republicans are out there — Republicans officials across the country are out there trying to stop something — trying to stop a policy that would really help everyday Americans who need just a little bit of assistance.
Q And just one really quick last one. Over the weekend, U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said there would be a, quote, unquote, “red line” for China if lethal weapons or lethal material were provided to Russia.
Is that a phrase that the White House would repeat? Is that a phrase that the White House supports using in this (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll say that — so far, it hasn’t happened, as I was telling to Peter. I’m not going to talk about what we anticipate or any new indications. But we have been clear with China from the beginning on the consequences and implications of providing this kind of support to Russia.
We have been very, very clear about that. I’m just not going to add to — to — any more to that.
Q Thank you, Karine. Two questions. One on Ukraine, one from a colleague who covers immigration.
On Ukraine, when the President was in Poland, people were pleading with him to provide F-16s to Ukraine. He probably saw and heard some of those protesters. He has said that he is not going to provide F-16s to Ukraine, that that is not something the U.S. will do. Is he still standing by that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’re — and I — and I talked about this a little bit when I was asked, moments ago, about any extra aid that we’re providing to Ukraine.
Look, we’ve been in lockstep with the Ukrainians and with our partners to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that it needs. And we are in regular communication with — with the Ukrainians on their needs on the battlefield, and also making sure they have the humanitarian assistance and other assistance that we’ve been providing for this past year that they need. I’m just not going to get ahead of that.
But, look, we are committed, again, to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes. And I’ll just leave it there.
Q So, that isn’t a firm “No, never going to happen from the President”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, we are constantly in conversation with Ukraine, providing them with the need that — the assistance that they need to be successful on the battlefield. I’m just not — I’m just — don’t have any — anything else to say beyond what the President has commented on.
Q Thank you. And then really quickly on immigration. The administration proposed a rule this week that would make migrants ineligible for asylum if they cross the southern border without first asking for refuge in a third country. At least generally speaking, it’s kind of similar to a Trump-era rule.
Administration officials told reporters on a call this week it wasn’t their first or separate — second preference to do it this way. Is this rule a recognition that the administration’s early border strategy just isn’t working? And is it realistic that President Biden’s campaign promises to end all Trump-era immigration restrictions — was that unrealistic?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — you mentioned — there’s something — there is a huge difference here, which is: What we are providing is expanded legal pathways. And that is important to make note — is that that is something that the past administration didn’t do, and that is something that we are doing here.
Look, on day one, the President put forward a comprehensive immigration — immigration reform proposal. And he — that’s showing that the President was taking this very seriously. And the way that we see this is Congress needs to act. And what was happening currently, right now, is Congress is not acting.
So what you’re seeing from the Department of Homeland Security is they are using the tools that is being presented to them so that we can deal with the sit- — with this situation and do it in a safe and oder- — orderly and humane way. And that’s what we’re doing here.
And let’s not forget, if you look at the parolee program that we put forth — remember the President announced on January 5th some — some — some of the proposals that — on how he was going to move forward. He talked about expanding the parolee program.
You have four countries — Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Haiti. And if you look at that program, it’s been very successful. It has brought down legal — illegal migration by 97 percent. And so we see that is working.
But we are — this President is going to use the tools that he has — the Department of Homeland Security, as you’re seeing, is using the tools that they have in front of them to deal with this real issue.
And let’s not forget, you know, when it comes to Title 42, it’s going to lift on May 11th. So we believe that we had to take steps to deal with this. We can’t leave it on the NGOs. We can’t just leave it on the communities. We also have to take steps to deal with this issue.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, go ahead.
Q Just two questions. First of all, the President frequently visits the sites of many natural and manmade disasters. And this situation in East Palestine has clearly required a multi-agency response from the federal and the state level. So I guess I’m just struggling to understand why the President wouldn’t go to East Palestine. Does it simply not meet the bar for a presidential visit?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I don’t — it’s — I want to be very clear here: There’s no reason to struggle, I don’t think, on this question. I think when you look at how the federal agenc- — agencies have responded from day one and took this very seriously and reacted within hours of the derailment and was on the ground — this is the Environmental Protection Agency. As I was saying, they are the ones that deal with these types of chemical spills. They’re the one that are the leaders on this. And it didn’t stop with the environmental —
(Cellphone musical ringtone plays.)
You all right there, buddy?
Q It’s my family, but everyone is okay. Sorry.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. (Laughter.) What was that?
Q Just a little — it’s a little family tune.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, it’s pretty — a pretty good tune there. Oh. All right. Peter Alexander getting down with his phone. (Laughter.)
Okay. So — and it didn’t stop — what I want to say is that it didn’t stop with the Environmental Protection Agency. Again, FEMA, CDC —
Q Yeah, but that’s all different from a presidential visit, which is what I’m asking about.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it’s — I — I — look, I want to be very clear here. I don’t — again, I don’t have anything to share on a presidential visit. I — not at this time, or anything to announce.
But it does matter that the President put forth a multi-agency kind of reaction to this —
Q Of course. But so does showing up.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — taking it seriously.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, showing up is having the Environmental Protection Administrator on the ground. Showing up is having the DOT Secretary on the ground to talk about what — what — what is the next process, holding — holding to account the company that caused the spill. That’s what you’re seeing from Secretary Buttigieg today.
You know — you know, showing action is also seeing that HHS, CDC, FEMA — all of these guys are on the ground at the direction of this President. So that is taking this very seriously.
When the President was in Poland, he took calls and called and reached out and got updates from his — the leadership in those agency. And he continued to make sure that he was — he was talking to President — pardon me — to Governor De- — the governors of Pennsylvania and Ohio, Governor DeWine and Shapiro.
That matters. That’s what leadership looks like. And leadership matters as well. And that’s what you’re seeing, instead of political stunts that we’re seeing from the other side.
Look, you know, people have been talking about regulation and deregulation. One of the things — you know, we’ve been hearing from the other side, we’ve been hearing from the GOP about how now they’re interested — all of the sudden, they are interested in the safety of East Palestine, when they have, for years, have been in lockstep with the — you know, the
retail [rail] lobby — in lockstep, making sure that they think — that the safety — they were stopping or repealing the commonsense safety laws that would, you know, help in this situation.
I understand that it maybe — it may — we’re waiting to see the investigation. Maybe it would have — it would have helped or not helped, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is there is real, true ways to create safety as it relates to rail, and they’ve been — they’ve been against that for years — for years against that in the — in the lockstep with rail — rail lobbyists.
And so, you know, there is a false — there’s a false comparison here. And we’re just going to have to call that out.
Q And then, just on the new asylum rules. I know that you just laid out the differences that you see in the Trump administration rules and the new ones that you guys have announced, but a lot of migrant advocate groups don’t see it that way. They see this as mirroring the Trump-era rules. So what do you say to these migrant advocate groups and these communities who now feel very much betrayed by this President?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, here’s the thing: We don’t see anybody else providing any other solutions, when it comes to Congress. We don’t. We’ve provided solution after solution.
The President, again, on day one, provided a comprehensive reform — immigration reform proposal. Put it out there on the first day. Republicans have rejected it.
And so, we are trying to put forward a way to move forward with an immigration policy that secures our border, that is safe, and that is humane.
And what are they providing? Nothing.
And so, one of the things that we can say, and we see this in the data, it — that we have increased pathways to — pathways to — legal pathways — and we expanded that, and we see that it’s working. Again, no one else is providing any other options.
So what we’re doing — the Department of Homeland Security — the President is using the tools that we have in order to deal with this issue.
I’m going to take one in the back. Go ahead, Ed.
Q Yeah, thanks, Karine. So one quick clarification I wanted to ask you about. So, on the sanctions, do those third-party countries attempting to evade our sanctions that you talked about at the top, does that include China — Chinese companies?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get ahead of any announcement that’s going to happen tomorrow.
Q All right. So the President has been traveling the world pledging to help other countries solve their energy issues. The latest one was with Poland, pledging to build power plants or help them build power plants. How come there’s no pivot in energy — in energy policy here at home to help the inflation that we’re seeing here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Have — have you read the Inflation Reduction Act?
Q Still waiting — so the energy —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, the Inflation Reduction —
Q But electricity is up —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No —
Q — 12 percent year over year.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the Inflation Reduction Act does just that. Inflation Reduction Act actually helps lower cost — energy costs — and gives Americans a little breathing room, which is part of the President’s economic policy, if you think about what he has said for the past two years, which is making sure that we have an economy that works for everyone, build it from the bottom up, middle out.
And the Inflation Reduction Act is so important because it deals with energy policy, lowering the cost; because it deals with healthcare, things that — that is incredibly important to Americans across the country, especially our seniors; making sure that we’re capping at $2,000 for medical — medicals — medical drug costs. That is important.
So, yes, the President has been talking about this and dealing with it in a real way. And we’re seeing that his economic policy is working.
The Inflation Reduction Act not only that it — does it lower costs when it comes to healthcare and energy, but it’s also going to lower the deficit by $200 billion, something else that the President cares about when it comes to making sure that we are not adding to our deficit. And that shows how fiscally responsible this President is.
I got to keep going. Go ahead, April.
Q Welcome —
Q Yeah, thank —
Q She said “April.” I’m sorry.
Q No worries. Thanks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m sorry, Michael.
Q It’s fine.
Q Two questions, Karine. Both fast. I wanted to ask you on East Palestine. You say that the federal government is going to hold Norfolk Southern — Southern accountable. But what is the long-term commitment from the federal government as it relates to the residents there, when it comes to the water, when it comes to the soil, and when it comes to the air?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re going to be there to assist the East — East Palestin- — Palestine community for as long as it takes. That’s what the President said. We’re going to be there to assist for as long as it takes, and that’s what you will see from — from this President. And it’s not the first time.
Anytime there is some sort of devastating event, you’ve heard the President say that over and over, and he has actually kept to his word over the last two years. And so that’s what you’re going to see.
Q And when you look at what the chemical was, the toxin can be evidence itself — evidence itself years later. Will the federal government be there that long — as long as it takes, as you say — just watching?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, there’s an investigation going on at this moment, so we’re going to let that investigation continue.
But, you know, we’re going to assist for as long as it takes. We’re going to make sure that the company cleans up, pays for the cleanup, pays for the work that the EPA is doing currently, right now. That’s what you heard from Administrator Regan. And — and we’re going to — you know, we’re going to be consistent and stick to that.
And you heard from the NTSB today with their initial — initial finding, to tell us what happened, but we just still don’t know the why.
Q And last question. There seems to be more activity from a lot of groups who are very upset with what Ron DeSantis is doing when it comes to cutting off the AP courses on African American history. With that said, I’m sure this White House has talked about it, but is the President talking to Secretary of Education Secretary Cardona about what steps can be done to rally other states to make sure that education is that — teaching facts?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, when it comes to education and making sure our children are getting what they need in the classroom, the education that they so deserve, that is something that’s important to the President. He always talks about how the First Lady is an educator. And clearly, it’s something personal to him and to the First Lady.
I do not have any specific conversation to read out about what’s currently happening with — in — happening in Florida. And I know you’ve heard me talk about it. You’ve heard others from the administration speak to what we’re seeing currently on the ground.
But I don’t have any specific conversation that is — that is specific to policies or anything that’s being done.
But clearly, making sure that our children get the education that they so deserve is certainly important to this President.
I’m going to take another.
Q Way back.
AIDE: We’re (inaudible) time.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. I know. Okay. I’m going to take one — I’m going to take — go ahead, Alex, in the back.
Q Hey, hey. All right.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, no. Alex. I’m sorry. I was calling Alex. Go ahead.
Q Oh —
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Karine, we’re seeing violence escalate in the Middle East. And I know the — I think we all know the President’s stated position on Israeli security and Palestinian statehood. But what can this administration do right now, from — you know, to keep that from spiraling out of control?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So let me just speak to the most recent violence that we have seen in Israel. I know my colleagues at — at the State Department spoke to this yesterday. And I just wanted to reiterate, because I think it’s important for us to reiterate from here at the podium: We are — you know, we are tracking the Israeli raid in Nablus very closely and mourn the loss of civilian lives. We hope for the speedy recovery of those injured.
While we recognize the very real security concerns facing Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, we’re extremely concerned by the ongoing violence. We urge Israel and Palestinian Authority to protect against further loss of civilian life.
Yesterday’s events further underscored the urgent need for both sides to take steps that de-escalate tensions, prevent further loss of civilian life, and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank. And that’s what we think we need to be doing together.
One thing I do want to just read out a little bit here: The National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, is currently in — in the Middle — in the Middle Es- — Middle East/North Africa region with an interagency delegation for a series of diplomatic engagements. His trip will include stops in Egypt, Jordan, Oman, UAE.
And we don’t — we don’t have anything further to preview on this engagement at this time. But this is something clearly that we take very seriously.
You know Secretary Blinken was in the region recently, and so — again, we’re going to continue to call out the concerns that we’re seeing.
And — and I’ll just leave it there for now.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. Thank you so much.
2:32 P.M. EST
Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/02/23/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-february-23-2023/
originally published at Politics - Social Gov