Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:17 P.M. EST  

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Hello, good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Friday.  I’m going to get right to it.  Today, we have John Kirby in the room, who is going to — from the National Security Council — who is going to be talking about a couple of products and announcements from our national security space.

So, Kirby, the room is yours.  And then I’ll come back and take questions.  Thanks, everybody.  See you in a second. 

MR. KIRBY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Today I want to take a little bit of time to discuss some new actions that we are going to be taking to counter the Russian private military company known as Wagner, which is committing atrocities and human rights abuses in Ukraine and, of course, elsewhere around the world. 

But first, I want to be able to provide some additional information about Wagner’s operations in Ukraine.

Now, as his military continues to struggle in Ukraine, President Putin is increasingly turning to Wagner, which is owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, for military support.

We are seeing indications, including in intelligence, that tensions between Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense are increasing.

Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.  Publicly, Prigozhin and his fighters have criticized Russian generals and defense officials for their performance on the battlefield.

Prigozhin is trying to advance his own interests in Ukraine, and Wagner is making military decisions based largely — largely — on what they will generate for Prigozhin, in terms of positive publicity.

We continue to assess that Wagner currently has approximately 50,000 personnel deployed to Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.

Our information indicates the Russian Defense Ministry has reservations about Wagner’s recruitment methods.  Despite this, we assess that it is likely that Wagner will continue to recruit right out of Russian prisons.  Due to recent events, we assess that it is likely there are mounting tensions between Russian officials and Mr. Prigozhin.

I also want to discuss a little bit North Korea’s ongoing support for Russia’s military operations against Ukraine by providing arms and ammunition to Wagner.

In part because of our sanctions and export controls, Russia is searching for arms from foreign countries, including through Wagner. 

In recent weeks, we have seen North Korea — sorry — we have seen North Korean officials falsely deny that they have provided arms to Wagner.

As we have said publicly, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner toward the end of last year.

So, today we are releasing imagery of this initial delivery.  This imagery shows that on November 18th, five Russian railcars traveled from Russia to North Korea.  On the next day, November 19th, North Korea loaded those railcars with — railcars with shipping containers, and the train returned to Russia.  

Now, while we assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, we do expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapons systems. 

We obviously condemn North Korea’s actions, and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately.

And we are going further, by taking action against Wagner itself.

Last month, the Department of Commerce designated Wagner as a military end user, which means we expanded the Entity Listing of Wagner to ensure that it cannot access any equipment anywhere in the world, based on U.S. technology or production equipment.

Today, we are announcing additional actions that we are taking to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian and Wagner forces.

First, the Department of the Treasury will be designating Wagner as a significant Transnational Criminal Organization under Executive Order 13581, as amended.  In coordination with this designation, we will also impose additional sanctions next week against Wagner and its support network across multiple continents.  These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through its ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity.

With these actions — and there will be more to come — our message to any company that is considering providing support to Wagner is simply this: Wagner is a criminal organization that is continuing wide- — I’m sorry — committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses, and we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those who are assisting Wagner.

Second, as we have stated previously, the arms transfers from the DPRK are in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.  So, today we shared information on these violations with the Security Council’s DPRK sanctions committee panel of experts.  We will continue to raise these violations at the Security Council alongside our allies and partners.

And third, of course — and I think you saw Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley in Ramstein today at the eighth iteration of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — we are continuing to provide Ukraine with the weapons and equipment that it needs to defend itself.  So — and you saw today the significant new package of security assistance, which included fi- — more than 500 armored vehicles, including Bradleys; Stryker combat vehicles; mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, otherwise known as MRAPs; and of Humvees — all in addition to the armored vehicles that we have already announced.

Now, this package also contains critical additional air defense capabilities, including both more air defense systems and more surface-to-air missiles, as well as more ammunition for the artillery systems and the HIMARS, the advanced rocket systems that the U.S. has already previously provided to Ukraine.

Look, we’ve been clear and the President has been consistent: We’re going to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes to defend itself, to defend its sovereignty, and to defend its territorial integrity.  You saw those actions today.

And everything we’re doing as well with respect to North Korea and Wagner also reinforces those efforts.

Thank you. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, let’s take a couple of questions.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Can you explain what the practical effect is of this designation of a transnational criminal organization?

MR. KIRBY:  It will open up additional avenues for us to continue to not only sanction Wagner and put more squeeze on their ability to do business around the world, but will assist others in doing the same.  It will broaden the network of nations and institutions that we’ll be able to stop doing business with Wagner.

Q    And then, can I just ask one other question on Ukraine?  What is the level of frustration here at the White House over Germany’s position on giving tanks to Ukraine, especially since Germany doesn’t have to give their own tanks, they just have to allow another country to — to send tanks to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, we’re working not only in lockstep with the Ukrainians, but with allies and partners all over the world.  And these are all decisions that each nation makes for itself — sovereign decisions.  We aren’t arm twisting, and nobody is arm twisting us. 

We are working inside what — what you could consider a coalition of the willing here to provide Ukraine with the defense and security assistance that it needs.

Germany — obviously a strong NATO Ally — but they have — they have stepped up.  They have provided a lot of equipment, including some air defense and some armored vehicles of their own, to Ukraine.  And they have, as we have, evolved their support to Ukraine over time as the war has evolved and changed. 

And we are just in a different phase now in this war, and so we’re all talking about what kinds of collective capabilities can be provided.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Way in the back.

Q    Yes, John — thanks, Karine — John, you’ve been asked this question many times.  When you say you will continue to support Ukraine as long as they want, what do you mean by that?  “As long as they need” — what do you mean by that?  What win — winning looks like for you in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, “as long as it takes” means “as long as it takes.”  And it means that I’m unable to give you a date certain on the calendar for, you know, when — you know, when that support won’t be necessary anymore.  It’s necessary now.  It’s going to be necessary in coming weeks and months for certain.  And we want to make sure that we’re meeting the need as best we can for Ukraine.

And you had — what does winning look like?  President Zelenskyy gets determine — gets to determine what victory looks like.  We’re not dictating that to him either.  What we’ve said is we’re going to continue to help them defend themselves, defend their sovereignty, win back their territory — as they should, as they must — and to defend their citizens and their infrastructure.

Q    What territory?  What territory?  Crimea is — you want them to retake Crimea?

MR. KIRBY:  Crimea is Ukraine, and decisions about parts of Ukraine that Ukrai- — Ukrainian armed forces are going to fight over or fight in or strike, that’s up to President Zelenskyy and his military leaders.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Raquel.

Q    Thank you very much, Karine and John.  I have a question about Brazil.  President Lula said he’s coming to the White House February 10th.  So, my first question is: Can you confirm the date?

MR. KIRBY:  I can confirm that we look forward to seeing President Lula early next month.

Q    And this week, President Biden said that the institutional structures in Brazil are collapsing.  Is the White House concerned that the risks remain high in Brazil and democracy in Brazil is still in danger?  

MR. KIRBY:  Look, the President said at the time of those violent protests that we have confidence in Brazil’s democratic institutions.  And we certainly have confidence in the way the President has been handling himself throughout that time and afterward.

And, again, we look forward to welcoming him here at the White House and to having more and deeper discussions about improving and deepening the relationship between the United States and Brazil.

Q    And when it comes to investigations that are taking place in Brazil right now, did the administration offer any kind of assistant — assistance to Brazil in either cooperation from U.S. law enforcement or intel agencies?

MR. KIRBY:  I think we made it clear at the time that we’d be happy to — to support in any way that we can.

I’d leave it to Brazilian officials to talk about their investigation though.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Weijia.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Thanks, Kirby — thanks, Admiral. 

First, on Wagner —

MR. KIRBY:  “Kirby” is fine.  (Laughter.)

Q    Can you — can you talk about what sanctions are on the table against North Korea, given the fact that you’ve already identified them as supporting Wagner?  And then —

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have anything to report right now in terms of specific sanctions.  That’s why today we brought it up to the panel of experts on the — on the UNSC Resolutions Committee, and we’ll see where that conversation goes.  But we’re certainly not going to rule out the possibility for additional sanctions if that’s deemed fit inside the U.N.

Q    And then, secondly, on the — on the tanks.  Can you just help us understand how badly Ukraine needs these advanced battle tanks right now, or is it not time sensitive?

MR. KIRBY:  No, it’s absolutely — we recognize that it’s a need — a relevant and critical need for the Ukrainians.

So, pardon me for repeating myself, but I think it’s important to remember what kind of fighting we’re — we’re talking about here.  It’s — it’s rough terrain, and it’s open ground, a lot of it in the Donbas.  I’ve described it a bit like Kansas — a lot of farmland — and mostly towns and villages that are not that big, not major industrial cities. 

And so, when you’re fighting in an area like that — and we fully expect and the Ukrainians fully expect that the fighting in the Donbas will continue here for weeks and months ahead — combined arms maneuver, which is a fancy way of saying that you want to be able to maneuver on the ground quickly, effectively, with enough firepower against adversary ground forces.  And so these vehicles, all of them — I know, we’re fixated on tanks, and I get that, but it’s not just tanks. 

I mean, the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which are — they’re tracked vehicles; they kind of look like a tank, but they’re — but they’re not.  They don’t have the same firepower as a tank.

And these Strykers, which are eight-wheeled vehicles, but also, they’re very nimble, they’re very fast.  And they can deliver infantry troops on an open battlefield with much greater speed than if they didn’t have those kinds of vehicles.  And they are protected.  They’re armored.  That’s why, you know, we stress the armor capability here. 

Tanks also provide an ability to move efficiently around a battlefield, but, of course, they have much more firepower. 

And so, it’s perfectly understandable why President Zelenskyy, facing what he’s facing in the Donbas and expecting to face those same threats going forward in coming weeks, would want, you know, some tanks — additional tanks — it’s not like he doesn’t have any — but additional tanks to support his offensive and defensive operations in that particular part of the country.

Q    Given what you just said, you know, because the talks failed in Germany, does that change the U.S.’s position on sending the M1 Abrams at all?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t know that I would describe talks as “failing” in Germany.

Q    Or not progressing to the sense of, you know —

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, if you’re talking about the Ramstein meeting, I mean, my goodness, there was an awful lot of contributions coming out of today’s contact group.  And a lot — and a lot of it had to do with the kinds of capabilities — armored included — and artillery that the Ukrainians have been asking for for the fight that they’re in.

Look, when it comes to the Abrams tank, we’ve said we’re going to continue to talk to the Ukrainians about their needs, and we’re going to — we’re going to continue to meet them as best we can.  And we’ll do that.

I don’t have any decisions with respect to additional capabilities or systems, like the Abrams, to talk to you today.  But we’re in constant communication with the Ukrainians about that.

The Abrams is a powerful system.  There’s no doubt about it.  It’s also very expensive to operate, very expensive to fuel, very expensive to maintain, and it requires a lot of training.  So there’s a lot that goes into that when — when we are talking about what we’re going to do to support Ukraine. 

Q    Thank you. 

Q    Thank you, Karine.  John, I have two questions.  First one on Wagner.  What’s your assessment on Wagner efficiencies?  Success on the ground — is Wagner better than the traditional Russian forces? 

MR. KIRBY:  Well, Wagner would have you believe that.  If you listen to Mr. Prigozhin and read his press releases, he would have you believe that he alone is achieving all the military victory in — in Ukraine.

I will say this: They have — they have been largely in — responsible for and in command of efforts in Bakhmut and that town north of Bakhmut, called Soledar.  Both mining towns.  Go figure.  And that has caused, again, consternation with the Russian Defense Ministry.

I will also say, and I’ve said this before, they have made incremental progress in both those areas.  Now, we hold, today, that both towns are still contested.  The Ukrainians haven’t given them up.  But the — the — there’s no doubt that the Russians have made some incremental progress there. 

But they have done it at an extraordinary cost.  And I’m not talking about Russian soldiers; I’m talking about Wagner convicts.  I mean, greater than 90 percent of the thousands of casualties that Wagner — Wagner alone; forget the Russian army for a minute — have sustained have been convicts, have been ex-prisoners that they’ve just plucked out of jails and put them into the fight with little or no training, no organizational capability whatsoever.  So, it has come at a cost. 

The last thing I’ll say on this is — and I don’t want to predict where it’s going to go — but even if they are successful in Bakhmut or Soledar, it’s not going to strategically change the dynamics on the battlefield.  It’s not going to set the Ukrainians back to a degree where they’re all of a sudden on their back foot and they’re losing. 

Now, obviously, the Ukrainians don’t want to give up either town.  And who could blame them?  They’re Ukrainian towns; they should be fighting for them.  And we — and we’re trying to help them do that. 

But I think we need to keep in perspective what significance there — there may be or, in this case, may not be to either town falling. 

They are both mining towns: gypsum in Bakhmut and salt up in Soledar.  And we think that that also has a role to play in why Mr. Prigozhin is so adamant on pouring — just literally throwing bodies into a meat grinder to get these two towns.  It’s very much in keeping with his modus operandi in places like Africa, where he’s going after, you know, mining rights and mining capabilities. 

Q    One question on Haiti.  Any progress on the internationally respected forces on the ground?  Any discussion further with Canada after the NALS?

MR. KIRBY:  We are — we’re still discussing with our — well, certainly with our Canadian counterparts, and you saw the President and Prime Minister Trudeau talk about this in Mexico City.  Those conversations are continuing not just with Canada, but multilaterally with other allies and partners —

Q    Brazil too?

MR. KIRBY:  — about the concern — sorry?

Q    Brazil too?

MR. KIRBY:  I — I don’t have a list of all the countries we’re talking to.  But it’s — clearly, we’re talking to other allies and partners about the situation in Haiti.  We’re looking for additional ways to hold to account the criminal organizations, the thugs, the gangs that are — that continue to propagate violence and instability there in Haiti.  But I don’t have anything specific with a multinational force to speak to today.  Those conversations are ongoing. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We have to wrap it up.

Go ahead, James, in the back.  And then I’ll come to you.

Q    Karine, thank you.  Admiral, thank you.  I have two questions about the Middle East.  The first is focused on U.S.-Saudi relations.  The decision on production levels by OPEC+ that so incensed the administration was announced on October 5.  That prompted the administration to vow that there would be a recalibration of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and, as a feature of that, that some kind of adverse consequences would be imposed on the Saudis. 

We are now closing in on February.  It seems to me that whatever consultations the administration would have wanted to pursue internally and with members of Congress on the Hill have had ample time to unfold at this point, and no such consequences have been announced.  Do you want the Saudis to understand that there will be no consequences?

MR. KIRBY:  I beg to differ, James.  I mean, you saw shortly after that decision that the Congress even put — put more — more restrictions on arm sales to Saudi Arabia.  So there’s already been, just in terms of arm sales, an effect on Saudi Arabia. 

And the discussions continue.  We didn’t say we were going to do some sort of homework assignment and get back to you in two weeks.  We said we were going to continue to look at this relationship to make sure that it’s best serving the American people and our national security interests.  And the President is going to keep doing that. 

That said — and I’ve said this many times before — Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner.  It’s an important relationship for both our countries, and so we have to — we have to be mindful of the shared interest and common security challenges that we both face

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  (Inaudible).

Q    Thank you.

Q    On Iran.  Can you attest that —

MR. KIRBY:  It’s okay.

Q    Thank you. 

Q    On Iran, can you attest that since President Biden took office, Iran has not diminished its breakout time?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters that I am not allowed to talk about here at the podium with respect to specific breakout time for the Iranians. 

What I can tell you, James, is that we continue to believe that their breakout time is shortening, because there’s no deal in place.  And we’re — the President has been clear that we are not going to allow Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability.  He’s serious about that.

Q    So you’re telling us that absent a renewed JCPOA, you have no options for keeping their breakout time where it was?

MR. KIRBY:  That is not what I’m saying at all.  I said the President said we’re going to make sure that Iran cannot achieve a nuclear weapons capability.  We’re not focused on the Iran deal right now.  Iran decided that they weren’t going to take the negotiation seriously and, instead, decided to brutalize their own people and to support Russia’s war in Ukraine.  And so that’s where our focus is.

But we also have to make sure that we have all the capabilities and resources available to us in the region and beyond to defend our national security interests.  That’s what the President said.  That’s what we’re focused on.

Q    Thank you.  The FSB said that it detained an American citizen that they say were suspected of gathering biological intelligence.  It’s been a day now.  Has the administration been able to make contact, been in touch?  Anything you can say about that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have an update for you on that.  Let me take the question and see if we can get you something.  I don’t have an update for you.

Q    Can I ask you one more Russia-related question?  The Coast Guard, yesterday, off of Hawaii, said that they were keeping track of a Russian spy ship or intelligence-gathering ship.  At what point does that concern you?  At what point is that so unusual that we need to figure out exactly what they’re doing?

MR. KIRBY:  It’s not unusual.  I mean, obviously we’re mindful of it and we’re going to continue to monitor.  I think you saw our commanders out in the Pacific talk about that.  We’ll obviously monitor that.  But it is not completely atypical behavior for the Russians.  And, you know, the fact that we see it, we talked about it, we know they’re there, I think tells you that we obviously take it seriously.

Q    Seriously, but not concerned about it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  (Inaudible) wrap this up.

MR. KIRBY:  I didn’t say that at all.  I mean, of course we take it seriously.  I mean, we understand that the Russians are going to try to collect his intelligence through a variety of different means.  That’s not new.  What I’m saying is it’s not a completely new phenomenon.  It’s not something we haven’t seen before.  And we know how to — we know how to treat it; we know how to deal with it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Jeff, last question.

Q    Thanks very much.  Two questions, John.  First, on the North Korea aspect.  How do you judge where they’re getting money to help Russia, if it’s a country that reports show as having trouble feeding its own citizens?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Not every country that should observes the sanctions regime, so they are still able to trade with countries like Russia and with China.  And, obviously, that’s a whole different set of problems, but they are able to skirt sanctions to continue to — to funnel money into their economy.

But let’s keep it in perspective.  This is not a burgeoning economy.  This is not a country that is — that is wealthy by any stretch or is necessarily viable and flexible on — in the global economy.

Q    And one follow-up on Darlene and Weijia’s questioning.  What — what does Germany, from your perspective, need to hear now, either from the United States or from the rest of the NATO Allies, before giving a green light to those Leopard tanks?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t think they need to hear anything specific from the United States other than what we’ve been saying, Jeff, which is that these are sovereign decisions.  We respect them.  We welcome them.  We do believe that there is a need for armored capability, including tanks inside Ukraine.  And the Leopard tank is a terrific system — very, very modern; very effective.  And so, I think we’ve been nothing but clear, privately and publicly, with Germany and all our allies and partners that, if you can meet a need that the Ukrainians have, then, you know, we obviously want to see you do that.

And again, I point you back to today in Ramstein.  I mean, so many nations showed up to — to contribute and to offer additional capabilities, including, you know, in the armored space to Ukraine.  So, I mean, I — I think, again, we’ve been very consistent on this.

Q    One more on Ukraine?  One more on Ukraine?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thanks.  Guys, we don’t have a lot of time, so thank you so much, John.  Have a good weekend.

All right.  Happy two-year anniversary to us.  (Laughs.)  Anyway. 

All right, today marks two years since President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn into office, as you all know.  In the past two years, we have seen significant economic growth, and President Biden built the most historic legislative record since the Johnson administration.

In fact, over the last 24 months, nearly 11 million jobs have been created, including 750,000 manufacturing jobs.  The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low.  Nearly 10.5 million Americans have applied to start a new small business.  Inflation is now at its lowest since — since October of 2021.  We funded 7,900 projects through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, reaching over 4,000 communities all across the country.  And private companies have announced nearly $300 billion in investments across the United States.

The President will mark today’s anniversary with nearly 200 bipartisan mayors from across the country, which will be happening very, very soon.  And you will hear more from both the President and some of our nation’s mayors who are here today after the briefing.

Really quickly, I have one thing that I want to share with all of you, which is the week ahead.  It is Friday. 

Today, the President will be traveling to Rehoboth, Delaware.  He will return to Washington, D.C., on Monday.

On Tuesday, the President will host Democratic Congressional leaders at the White House.  In the evening, the President will also host a White House reception for new members of Congress.

On Thursday, the President will deliver remarks on our economic progress since taking office.  That evening, the White House will host a Lunar New Year reception in the East Room. 

And, of course, per usual, we will have more to share as the days go by.

Okay.  Darlene, welcome.  I haven’t seen — I feel like I haven’t seen you in a long time.

Q    That’s true.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, good.  I always say that to Josh, and he’s like, “No, that’s not true.”  (Laughs.)

Q    I had a question about the chart, but it disappeared.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, we can — maybe we can — maybe it’ll magically appear.

Q    Until it reappears, can you talk a little bit about what message the White House is trying to send on Sunday by having the Vice President deliver a speech on abortion rights in the state of Florida and specifically in the state capital of Tallahassee?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as you know, the — Florida is an important state, as we’re talking about fighting for women’s healthcare, for a few reasons.  And let me just run through them.

Florida has an abortion ban, which is — which is on the books.  So, that’s number one.  It is the third largest state in the country, as you all know, and is surrounded by several states — several states around its border with even more restrictive abortion laws.  And those bo- — excuse me — bans which are in place as well.

And because Florida’s ban is less stringent than in the neighboring states, the state has increasingly become a place where women can go to access care there.

Yet, right now, the state is considering an even more extreme ban on the books, which would be devastating not just for Florida women but if you think about, again, the southern region, if you think about the states that Florida borders.  And so it is important in this moment that we are currently in.  And also, it was the first state that the Vice President visited –visited after the devastating situation that we — that we received just, you know, a couple of months ago.

And so, again, you know, this is — this is something that, after the Dobbs decision, so it’s — we felt, she felt it would be a good state for the 50th anniversary, which would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Q    And on the chart, there are two headings there that say “record healthcare enrollment.”  One says “11 million” — “nearly 11 million.”  The other says “nearly 15.9.”  What’s the difference?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That’s a good question.  I would have to ask our team.  (Laughter.)  I’m going to be very, very honest with you on that.  Let me get back to the team, and they will be able to decipher the difference.

Q    And one last really quick question.  The President going to his home in Rehoboth Beach today — does that have anything to do with classified documents being found at Wilmington and none being found at Rehoboth?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as it relates to classified documents, information which the President takes very, very seriously — and you’ve heard him speak to it when he was asked by your colleagues yesterday when he was traveling in California — I would refer you to the White House Counsel Office for any statement coming from here or — or anything — new developments coming from here. 

But as — and as it relates specifically to the investigation, I would refer you to the Department of Justice, so I’m not going to — not going to comment on that piece at all from here.  I’m just going to continue to be prudent and consistent and respect the Department of Justice process.

As it relates to his travel, as you know, he often travels to Delaware on the weekends.  I just don’t have anything else to share.  But anything related to the legal process, I would refer you to the White House Counsel Office. 

I’m going to try and go around here.  Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, thank you.  What was the White House’s reaction to Governor Ron DeSantis’s Education Department blocking the teaching of AP African American Studies, saying it violates Florida’s new state law and, quote, “significantly lacks educational value”?  Does the White House have concerns about this action by the DeSantis administration?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, first, I want to be very clear: The administration does not dictate any curriculum for local schools.  That is not something that we do here.  But there is something that we do want to comment.  It is — it is incomprehensible that — to see that this is what this ban — or this block, to be more specific, that DeSantis has put forward.

If you think about the study of Black Americans, that is what he wants to block.  And — and, again, these types of actions aren’t new.  They’re not new from what we’re seeing, especially from Florida, sadly. 

Florida currently bans teachers from tak- — from talking about who they are and who they love, as we’ve talked about many times here in this briefing room.

They have banned more books in schools and libraries than almost every other state in the country.

And let’s not forget: They didn’t ban — they didn’t block — to be more clear — I want to make sure I’m using the right word here — they didn’t block AP European History.  They didn’t block our — our music history.  They didn’t block our art history.  But the state chooses to — to block a course that is meant for high-achieving high school students to learn about their history of arts and culture.  And it is — you know, it is incomprehensible, again.

And I will just leave it there — leave it there to make your own — to make your own determination of why this occurred and why this happened.

Again, it is not our place to — to direct or to — to be involved in any local school curriculum.  But this is concerning.
Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  You mentioned lawmakers will be back in town next week.  There’s a new-ish Speaker of the House.  Does the President have any desire to have him to the White House to meet face to face?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I know there’s been reporting on this.  I don’t have a date to confirm from here about a potential meeting with Speak- — Speaker — the new- — the newly minted, as you just try and say, Speaker McCarthy.

The President has — as I just mentioned at the top, as you just said, Phil — a series of meeting with — he’s going to have a series of meeting with leadership in Congress to talk about in a — in a — you know, a range of issues that matter to the American people.

Again, don’t have anything to confirm here.

And one of the things that the President is looking forward to do is talking about issues that matter to the American people, as I just stated, but also to — to continue to develop and grow their relationship, their working relati- — relationship to- — together.

I don’t have — again, I don’t have a specific date to announce from here.
Q    Can I just ask, for clarity’s sake: If/when a meeting happens with the Speaker, if the Speaker brings up the debt limit, would the President reiterate the position that you guys have been firm on?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I — I’ll say this: Look, it’s a range of issues, as I just said.  The President has been very clear about where we stand on the position of default.  Ve- –really, very clear.  I’ve said it.  The President has said it. 

It is — it is something that has been repeated — when you think about dealing with the debt limit, when you think about what the — what Congress has been able to do the last three times with the last administration.  And it’s — it’s a responsibility that they have.  It is a basic responsibility that Congress has to deal with the debt ceiling.

And so, we have been clear on this, the President has been clear on this: It should not be used as a political weapon, political — we should not be putting it in a hostage situation. We should be dealing with this in a way that is responsible. 

We thi- — we’re talking about the American people.  We’re talking about jobs.  And, more broadly, this is a President that has — I just went — talked through the first two years of this presidency and what he has been able to do with the — with the economy, building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.  And the President wants to continue to de- — to continue — to continue to build on our successes. 

And that’s what Republicans in the Congress should want to do: continue to build on that; work with us, not take us back.

And so that’s going to be the focus of this President, as he has been focused on these past two years.

Q    Sorry, Karine.  The pool needs to gather.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Well, if the pool needs to go, I’ll continue.  Go ahead.

Q    So, isn’t it customary to have a meeting with the Speaker in the first week of Congress returning?  Is this, in effect, a snub of Speaker McCarthy?  I mean, how should we take this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, look, the President is looking forward to meeting with Speaker McCarthy.  We are.  I’m just — don’t have a date to share with all of you at this time.  But he is looking forward to meeting with Speaker McCarthy and — and to —

Q    So you wouldn’t characterize it as a meeting of the debt limit, specifically?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, no — I mean, look, it’s going to be about a range of issues.  Right?  And when the President speaks to members, when he has meetings with members, he talks about a range of issues.  I don’t want to get ahead of a meeting that has not been locked in.  It’s a little bit of a hypothetical here.

But, again, when the President normally talks to congressional members, when he has meetings with them, there are a range of issues that are talked about.  But we have been very, very clear from here about where we stand when it comes to the debt ceiling.

I have been clear, the President has been clear: It should not be used as a political football.

But, again, he’s looking forward to meeting with the Speaker and continue to — to build on that relationship.

Q    Does the President have a view on whether it should be suspended or where it should be increased?  Under Trump, three times it was suspended, and it snapped back (inaudible).

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That is — look, we think that Congress should deal with this in a bipartisan fashion, as they have about 78 times in the past.  This is something that Congress has done.  It is their — it is their basic responsibility as a congressional member, and that’s what we want to see.

Anything else about the specifics, that’s up to Congress.  But this is something that needs to be dealt with.  We’re talking about jobs.  Right?  We’re talking about seniors.  You know, we’re talking about veterans. 

We’re talking about real-life potential issues that could affect Americans across the country.  So, it should not be used in a way to put — to hold the debt ceiling in — in hostage — right? — because they want to cut Social Security.  Right?  Because Republicans — MAGA Republicans in the House want to cut Social Security or they want to cut Medicare.

That’s — that should not be where we are right now.  We should not be moving forward in conversations about the debt ceiling in that way.  They should be dealing with it.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    What does the President mean when he said “no regrets”?  Because he’s also said he takes very seriously the handling of classified documents.  So, I’m unclear what he means about “no regrets.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’m not going to comment further from what the President has said yesterday.  I think he — he laid out his thoughts.  He was asked about it.  He laid out his thoughts of whatever question he was asked. 

I’m not going to get — I’m not going to get into specifics, or I’m not going to go beyond what the President has said.

But I will reiterate from here that — and basically what he said to — to — to all of you many times at this point — that he does, indeed, take classified information seriously.  He does, indeed, take classified documents seriously.

I’m just not going to go beyond that.  I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office for any specifics on — on — on — the President’s comments or what — how the process is moving forward.

Q    Can you just shed light on was he referring to, sort of, the rollout of the information or about the timeline?  Or — I’m just unclear about what he’s not regretting.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And — and, Kelly O, I totally understand the question.  I totally understand why you may want clarity here.  But I’m going to be prudent.  I’m going to be consistent here.  I’m not going to comment on — on — on the ongoing process — the legal process from here.  I will just let the President’s words stand for itself.

I’m going to go around here.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks.  Quickly, do you have any update on the President getting a physical?  He hasn’t had one in a year.  I don’t know if you guys — if he intends to get one?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, we’ve — I’ve spoken to this a couple of times.  He will have one before the — by the time the end of this month is out.  And so we will do the same that we did the last time in — back in 2021.  We were — where we provide, with full transparency, his — his medical physical. 

And so, again, we’re going to do the same thing.  We’re going to be transparent.  He — we will share the information.  We will have more to share about that before the — the month is over.

Q    And then I also wanted to ask, without speaking about the investigation or the Special Counsel specifically, if you could walk us through a little bit of what the process in general is supposed to be when classified documents are improperly found, and if the White House has any role in those circumstances, if the — if they refer anything to the Office of Director of National Intelligence or — or, sort of, what that process should be.  Again, sort of not necessarily referencing —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I hear you.

Q    — the current situation —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Matt —

Q    — but just in general.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — I hear the question.  It’s been asked to me many different ways, many different times.

Q    I’m trying yet another way.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  (Laughs.)  And I appreciate the effort.

Again, I am going to refer you — on the particulars of the process and how it goes down and how it works, I’m going to refer you to the White House Counsel Office.  My colleagues there, they will be happy to engage with you and listen to your question and answer it the best that they can. 

I am just not going to be speaking it from here — from here.  And my colleagues, who have already been gage- — engaging with many of your colleagues, and probably you, over the last two weeks, I’ll let them — I’ll let them take care of that.

Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks.  Thanks, Karine.  Could you just speak a little bit more about why — why is it Vice President Harris who’s going to be giving the speech, in particular, on Sunday?  And does the President have a message for the people at the right — the March for Life march?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as you know, the March for Life march happens every year.  And so, we support peaceful, free — even when we disagree with it — clearly, it is not — it is — it is not an issue — and their point of view, we do not agree with.

Look, because the President believes that it is — it is critical, the — it is a critical pillar of democracy to do that in a peaceful way, to march.  And so, of course, we support that.

But that said, you know, we — you know, we want to make sure that we continue to underscore the ongoing attacks on women’s rights to make their heal- — their own healthcare decision.

This is something that the Biden — Biden-Harris administration has taken very seriously.  This is something that you have heard us take action — executive action on.  And this is something that — an issue that we’re going to continue to ask Congress to make sure that they take actions on this as well as we go into the next couple of days, into the — what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

So, this is an important issue, a critical issue.  Let’s not forget, in the mi- — during the midterms, voters made themselves very clear: They want us to make sure — here, in Congress and at the White House and the federal government — that we protect our — people’s rights, you know?  And they want to see that.

And so, that is how we see the March — March for Life.  Again, we support peaceful — peaceful speech, free [freedom] of speech, peaceful march, even though we don’t agree with their — with their particular policy or issue.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE:  Karine, if anybody wants to go cover the President —

Q    The Vice President — why is — why is she doing the speech?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Give me one second.

Q    Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  If anybody wants to go and cover the President, you are free to do so.  Do not feel —

WHITE HOUSE AIDE:  If you’re confirmed already.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  If you are confirmed.  (Laughs.)  That’s right.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE:  We understand there’s not a (inaudible).

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, I know, if there’s, like — if folks are — have been registered and confirmed to go, please feel free. 

I’m sorry, go ahead.

Q    Yeah, just quickly.  The Vice President, she’s giving the speech (inaudible) —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, so, look, you’ve seen the Vice President be a leader on this issue over the last several months, since the Dobbs decision came down this past summer.

It is not unusual.  I had just mentioned that after the — it was — Florida was the first state that she visited after the Dobbs decision, and so she’s going back.  And the importance of Florida — right? — the importance of where it is — where it is located, and the border states around it, and why we think it’s important — and she thinks, clearly, it is important — to go make that speech in Tallahassee on Sunday.

But again, the Vice President has been a leader on this, so has the President.  You’ve heard from both of them multiple times.  You’ve seen her bring roundtables together to really try to figure out how to deal with this critical issue of protecting a woman’s right to make her own decision about her healthcare. 

And so, you’ll continue to see that from this White House for sure.

Okay, I’m going around.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Yesterday, the former President, President Trump, called for the jailing of a pair of reporters from Politico who published that — leaked the Supreme Court opinion last year, as well as the editor who supervised them and the publisher of Politico.  And I know there was a White House statement earlier today, but I was hoping you could weigh in a little further on how the President feels about that sort of talk and his commitment to press freedom.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I can tell you that the President believes the freedom of press is part of the bedrock of our American democracy.  That is something that he truly believes and that we should be — you know, continue to fight for.

And calling for egregious abuses of power in order to suppress the constitutional rights of reporters is an insult.  It is a complete insult to the rule of law and undermines fundamental American values and traditions.

So, instead, it’s the — instead, it’s the responsibility — it’s the responsibility of all leaders to protect First Amendment rights.  And that’s what the President believes, and that’s what he’s going to continue to do to make sure that we protect those rights.

Q    To follow up on that, he has sat for very — very few interviews since he took office, particularly with print publications.  Can you commit to making him more available for one-on-ones with both print and other outlets this year?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Here’s what I can tell you: The President is going to engage with reporters almost on a daily basis. He did it yesterday; he took questions from your colleagues yesterday when he was in California.  And he will continue to do that.

And he believes that’s important.  He believes it’s an opportunity to — when he communicates with all of you or answers your question, he believes it’s an important — kind of, you’re an important vessel to the American people — right? — pushing out what he is doing on behalf of the American people.

He does that almost every day.  Almost every day when he’s in front of all of you, he takes a question.  That’s the commitment that I can make from here, from the President. 

I’m going to move around.  Christina?

Q    Thank you for taking my question, Karine.  You were just mentioning a possibility of executive actions on behalf of the American people.  I was just wondering if the administration is considering any help or relief for thousands of immigrants that were paroled into this country before the agreement to the 30,000 a month.  They’re here.  They don’t have jobs.  They’re depending on different communities’ charity work, and some of them have told us that they don’t have court dates for another two years.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, a couple of things.  I’m not sure what executive action.  I think I was talking about — I may have been talking about something else.  I’m not quite sure.

Q    Yeah, you were.  But —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Okay.

Q    I’m talking about unilateral action.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Right, you’re talking about — so, look, the parole program that President Biden announced is — because I know that’s usually how this question is connected to — is limited to individuals who are seeking to enter the United States in a legal, orderly manner.

The folks who got here before the program was announced remain in immigration enforcement proceders [sic] — procedures under Title 8.  If an immigration judge determines they have a legal basis to stay in the country, they can.  If they don’t, they will be subjected to removal as required by law.

Of course, since day one, the President has taken this issue very seriously.  That’s why he put forth a comprehensive immigration reform and — and to fix the system that we currently have. 

And so, that’s why he continues to ask — he continues to ask Congress to take action.  He continues to talk to and ask Republicans — instead of doing political stunts, like we have seen them do over and over again — to actually come to the table and deal with this issue.

This is a President who has done more on this issue than any other President.  When you think about the record funding that he’s been able to put forth and also trying to figure out multiple ways to deal with immigration, to deal with people who want to come in and come through a legal process.  He’s offered many avenues to do that.

And so, look, he’s — he has used the tools that are in front of him to deal with immigration, to deal with border security. 

But again, he needs Congress, especially Republicans in Congress, to stop doing political stunts and to come to the table and actually deal with an issue that matters to the American people in a real, concrete way, not in a way that we’re doing political stunts and put — putting people’s lives at risk.

Go ahead, Mary.

Q    Thanks.  Appreciate it.  On talking about the executive authority, the President’s proclamation today marking what would have been the anniversary of Roe v. Wade said that he would continue to use executive authority to protect women’s rights.  What other actions are on the table?  And if there are other possible actions on the table, why hasn’t he taken them yet?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, we’re going to take a look, of — of the tools that the President has in front of him, to take — to see if there are — any other executive actions, clearly, that he can take.

But he took some.  Right after the Dobbs decision came down, he took a couple of executive actions and he took them right away in consultation with organizations who — who really are fighting every day for women’s — women’s rights. 

But, again, the way that we are going to really deal with what we’re seeing currently with the — with Roe v. Wade and making sure that it’s — it becomes law is for Congress to act.  And that’s what you’re going to continue to hear from this President.  That’s what you’re going to continue to hear from the Vice President. 

And he’s going to, certainly — and she will, too — use his — use their platform to make that very clear to the American people. 

Q    Do you guys feel like you’ve exhausted your options?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  You know, I’ll just say this: I mean, the proclamation pretty much laid it out very clearly.  We’re going to see what else we can do.  But, again, it’s going to take congressional action to truly deal with this issue.

Okay.  Go ahead. 

Q    Does the President have any concern about the number of job cuts that are happening in the tech sector?  Alphabet announced — that’s Google’s parent company, obviously — announced 12,000 job cuts today.  That follows Microsoft earlier this week, following several thousand from last year as well.  Is this something the President is concerned about (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, of course, we watch very closely when we hear these types of reports of Americans losing jobs.  That is something that the President is certainly aware of and — and watching and, clearly, his team.

But, you know, there are data that shows — and I mentioned this the other day — that companies are still continuing to grow — that is important — and they’re investing in the United States.  So, those data points exist.  We’re seeing that.  Layoffs remain record low. 

According to job opening data, the U.S. economy continues to grow, initial unemployment claims are historically low, and the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low.  So, leading analysts have publicly stated that they do not believe the recent layoffs in the tech industry are indicative of trends in the broader economy. 

But, of course — of course, when we hear that Americans are losing jobs, we — we certainly watch that very closely.

Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    One clarification, if I can, on the President’s answer yesterday to the documents.  He said in that answer that he’s doing everything that attorneys are asking him to do, so it’s protocol and everything.  Was his answer vetted through — through counsel or anything like that?  Can you tell us that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, it’s the same thing that he has said before, which is: He and his team are cooperating fully.  That’s — that’s the same —

Q    And so, there was no —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  There’s the same —

Q    So it’s —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That’s the same answer he has given many, many times and so has his White Co- — White House Counsel’s Office, is that his and his team —

Q    And so, I guess, talking about in the way that he did, that was —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  He — I — again, he is — he — that’s nothing new.  He has said that before. 

But, again, I am not going to get into, parse the words of the President.  It is — you heard him say what he — gave his remarks and make his statement.  I’m just not going to dive into that.

Q    And then, on the meeting on Tuesday with Democratic members, did — can you sort of characterize what that meeting is?  Is it sort of a temperature taking as agendas and priorities are set for the upcoming State of the Union speech?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, look, I mean, it is part of the new Congress — right? — new leadership with the new Congress.  It’s an opportunity, clearly, ahead of the State of the Union, to connect and continue to grow the relationships that he has with leadership. 

And they’re going to talk about a range of issues.  It is not uncommon.  I think somebody just pointed that to me.  I think it was Josh who said, you know, how common it is to — for the President to meet with leadership at this time. 

So, again, we’re — we’re — we are doing what the President believes is important as he tries to deliver for the American people, to try and do that bipartisanship that he talked about right after the midterms, because that — we understand that’s what the American people want to see.  And so, that’s what you’re going to see next week with — with the President. 

Go ahead, Steve. 

Q    Thanks.  Back on what you said in your answer to Josh about the debt ceiling and the question of entitlements.  The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said in the fall that what the President was arguing in the lead-up to the midterms was that Republicans would cut Social Security, cut Medicare, but the President was not offering his own specific plan for how to ensure the stability of those programs.  There were a few sentences on the campaign website three years ago. 

Does the President have a plan to ensure that Social Security and Medicare will remain solvent in the future?  This is now the halfway point of his administration. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  The President’s plan is that he’s going to protect Social Security, he is going to protect Medicare. 

And what he is saying very, very clearly here — and we have said this — you heard us — as you mentioned, you heard us say it during the fall — is that, you know, we’re going to continue to call out Republicans who are threatening — they are threatening to force cuts on Social Security, on Medicare, and critical programs that benefit everyday Americans because they want to play this political gamesmanship.  And that is something that we’re going to call out.

When it — what — as it relates to the debt ceiling, this is something that should be done in a bipartisan way.  That’s what the President believes.  That’s what he has been saying very, very clearly.  We should not put on the chopping blocks the very — the very programs that matter to the American people.

Let’s not forget, they’ve already paid into those programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  This is something that Americans have paid into, and Republicans want to cut that. 

Q    So, I guess, my question, though, is: What they say is that Medicare, in three to five years, will not be able to meet all its obligations; Social Security, 12 years, will not be able to meet all of its obligations.  The President has been president for two years.  He hopes to be president for six more years.  When is he going to lay out a specific plan?  Will we hear it at the State of the Union?  Will it come in 2023? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It’s — what we’re saying is, and I just said this: These are programs that the American people pay into.  These are programs that our veterans, that our seniors — right? — Americans across the country really value and need.

And when you have a — you know, these MAGA Republicans in the House who are saying they’re going to hold the debt ceiling unless those things are cut, that is — that is a problem.  That is not how this works.

I mentioned 78 times that this — that the debt ceiling has been dealt with 3 times — 3 times in the last administration. 

So we should not be doing this with conditions.  It should be done without conditions.  And we should not be negotiating around it.

And let me just give you a couple of validators because I think it’s important.  This came from Leader McConnell, who said, “America must never default on its debt.  It never has, and never will.”

Neil Brod- — Bradley, who I think I talked about a little bit — from Chamber of Commerce, a couple of days ago: “You’re talking about wiping out the very underpinnings of the U.S. economy.” 

I mean, that is what they’re trying to do.  They’re trying to hold programs that are critical and important, again, to our veterans, to our seniors because they’re trying to play political games.  And that is the thing that the President is going to continue to call out against.

Go ahead, Weijia.

Q    Thanks, Karine. 

WHITE HOUSE AIDE:  Karine, the President is about to speak.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh, he is?  I’m so sorry, guys.  The President is about to speak.  I can’t step on the President.

Thank you, everybody.  Have a great weekend.  Thank you.

Q    Are you — are you still fit for this job?  With your performance last week, are you still fit for the job of Press Secretary?

Q    Happy Friday!

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Happy Friday, guys.

2:12 P.M. EST

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/01/20/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-and-nsc-coordinator-for-strategic-communications-john-kirby-8/