Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Deputy Commandant for Operations for the U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Gautier

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Deputy Commandant for Operations for the U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Gautier

1:26 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everyone.

Q Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you for joining us. Thank you for joining us.

Okay. I have a couple things at the top. And as you can see, we have guests with us today.

Our hearts go out to the families of the six individuals still missing after yesterday’s bridge collapse in Maryland. As authorities on the ground have confirmed, operations have shifted from a search-and-rescue operation towards recovery efforts.

Secretary Buttigieg and Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Gu- — Gautier just came from the Oval Office, where they spoke with the President about the situation on the ground.

After he was briefed on the collapse, President Biden immediately instructed his team to move heaven and earth to aid in the emergency response and help build — rebuild the bridge as soon as human- — humanly possible.

Within hours of the bridge’s collapse, President Biden spoke to Governor Moore, Senator Cardin, Senator Van Hollen, Congressman Mfume, as well as Baltimore’s mayor and county executive. The President’s message to them was clear: We will be with the people of Baltimore every step of the way.

The President has remained in close contact with Secretary Buttigieg, who was in Baltimore yesterday to start the discussions about long-term rebuilding efforts and help the on-the-ground response.

The President has directed a whole-of-government response. The Coast Guard has set up a unified command, and the Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board, and Federal Highway Administration are all on the ground supporting state and local authorities in their recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Joining us today, as you all can see behind me, to provide additional details about this administration’s whole-of-government response are Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Vice Admiral Gautier, Deputy Comman- — Commandant for Operations of — at the Coast Guard.

With that, I will turn it over to Secretary Buttigieg, followed by the Vice Admiral.


SECRETARY BUTTITGIEG: Thank you very much, Karine. I want to start by thanking the Vice Admiral and the whole Coast Guard for their extraordinary partnership and recognizing the leadership of President Biden, who from the very beginning has been acting to make sure that we have a whole-of-government response to support the people of Baltimore.

Yesterday, America awoke to shocking images of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsing after it was struck by a neopanamax container vessel. And by the time most Americans saw those images, first responders and rescuers had already been at work for hours to save lives. That quick work unquestionably made an enormous difference, and they have our gratitude.

In fact, if not for several factors, including those responders’ efforts, the mayday call, the maintenance closure that was already underway, and the time of day of this impact, the loss of life might have been in the dozens.

But tragically, six people did lose their lives and the seventh was badly injured. These were workers who went out to work on a night shift repairing the road surface while most of us slept.

Work is undergoing to recover their remains. And our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones, whose lives are never going to be the same.

Even as those families come to terms with this grief and even as those recovery operations continue, work is underway to investigate what happened and to restore the key transportation resources that were impacted.

When it comes to the investigative work led by the NTSB and supported by the Coast Guard, I will respect their independence and not comment on that work. But I do appreciate being able to engage with NTSB, Coast Guard, and other personnel yesterday at the site.

I also spent time with Governor Moore, and I want to express my appreciation for his leadership. The governor has responded to this unthinkable event with focus and compassion. And we’re going to be working closely with him and with his state’s DOT to support Maryland in their work to rebuild the bridge and reopen the port.

I also want to thank Mayor Scott, County Executive Olszewski for their work and their team’s work ensuring all resources are brought to bear in that response.

While the investigation and the response continue, President Biden has made clear that this whole administration will be providing support in every respect for the recovery and the rebuilding process.

From a Department of Transportation perspective, that really comes down to four major focus areas: reopen the port, deal with the supply chain implications until the port does reopen, rebuild the bridge, and deal with the surface transportation implications until the bridge is rebuilt.

Each of those is a distinct line of effort, and we’re already taking steps toward each goal.

With regard to the port, again, the Coast Guard, in coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers, will lead on the channel cleanup and the reopening so that that port can get back to full operation.

We are concerned about the local economic impact, with some 8,000 jobs directly associated with port activities. And we’re concerned about implications that will ripple out beyond the immediate region because of the roles — excuse me — because of the port’s role in our supply chains.

This is an important port for both imports and exports, and it’s America’s largest vehicle-handling port, which is important not only for car imports and exports, but also for farm equipment.

No matter how quickly the channels can be reopened, we know that it can’t happen overnight. And so, we’re going to have to manage the impacts in the meantime. We’re working to mitigate some of those impacts, including using tools that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Following the disruptions to supply chains from the COVID pandemic, President Biden’s infrastructure package included the establishment of a new freight office within our department to help coordinate goods movement in ways that were not possible before.

To be clear, ocean shipping is not centrally controlled the way you might expect with, for example, air traffic control. So, having these tools allows us to create coordination that just didn’t exist before.

It’s helped us to smooth out supply chains after COVID. It’s helped us to manage the Red Sea crisis. And we’re using it now to help the hundreds of different private supply chain actors get better coordinated to keep goods moving.

Tomorrow, I will be convening shippers and other supply chain partners to understand their needs and to promote a coordinated approach as they adapt to the temporary disruptions while we plan mitigations.

That said, the Port of Baltimore is an important port. So, for our supply chains and for all the workers who depend on it for their income, we’re going to help to get it open as soon as safely possible.

Now, for the bridge, we are going to be working with NTSB as they lead their independent investigation. It’s too early to speculate, of course, what NTSB will find, but if they discover or determine anything that should be considered in the regulation, inspection, design, or funding of bridges in the future, we will be ready to apply those findings.

What we do know is a bridge like this one completed in the 1970s was simply not made to withstand a direct impact on a critical support pier from a vessel that weighs about 200 million pounds, orders of magnitude bigger than cargo ships that were in service in that region at the time that the bridge was first built.

We also know that this is yet another demonstration of the importance of our roads and bridges, which is one of many reasons why the Biden-Harris administration worked so hard to get the infrastructure package passed and why roads and bridges are the single biggest category in that package.

We are committed to delivering every federal resource that’s needed — every federal resource needed to help Maryland get back to normal, and we’re going to work with them every step of the way to rebuild this bridge.

It is not going to be simple. When we helped Pennsylvania and California swiftly reopen I-95 and I-10, respectively, there was terrific done work there, but that was addressing comparatively short spans of bridges over land, relative to this span over water. And, of course, in the Baltimore case, we still don’t fully know the condition of the portions of the bridge that are still standing or of infrastructure that is below the surface of the water. So, rebuilding will not be quick or easy or cheap, but we will get it done.

As I mentioned, we’re all — we’re working with city, county, and state. And I also want to add that we’ve been closely engaged with the Maryland congressional delegation, many of whom were on hand yesterday and who are doing a tremendous job advocating for their state. They made it clear that they will work with us to push for any help that we need from Congress.

Bottom line, as President Biden has made clear, the federal government will provide all of the support that Maryland and Baltimore need for as long as it takes, and we will work with Congress to deliver on that.

I’ll end with this. For the families of those presumed lost, for the people of Baltimore who are going to be feeling this closure in day-to-day life, and for everyone affected by the port closure and its supply chain impacts: The President and the whole of government will be here with you until everything is rebuilt stronger than ever.

Our country put its arms around Florida when the Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapsed in 1980. America rallied around Minnesota after the bridge there collapsed in 2007. This will be a long and difficult path. But we will come together around Baltimore, and we will rebuild together.


VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary and Karine. So, let me just add to what the Secretary has already briefed you on here.

So, yesterday evening, I think as you know, after an intense and thorough multi-agency search on the water and from the air, the Coast Guard Incident Commander, Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath, suspended the search for the individuals missing from the bridge collapse. He did this after consulting Governor Moore and many of the other agencies that were involved.

The Coast Guard and the response community is deeply saddened that the — that the missing individuals have not survived. And the Coast Guard appreciates the state of Maryland’s leadership and humanity in supporting the family members of the missing.

I’d like to personally thank the state and local responders for their heroic search-and-rescue efforts. While we didn’t achieve the outcome that we had hoped for, it was a tremendous team effort in the treacherous operational conditions.

As this aspect of the response shifts to recovery operations and consistent with the President’s direction to get the port up and running as soon as possible, the Coast Guard highest priority now is restoring the waterway for shipping, stabilizing the motor vessel Dali and removing it from the site, and coordinating a maritime casualty investigation under the leadership of the National Transportation and Safety Board.

So, just a couple of words on each one of those. Some — in terms of assessing, restoring the waterway, the Coast Guard is very tightly connected to the Army Corps of Engineers as they lead in that role as the lead federal agency for that effort.

As we were in the Oval Office, the President called General Spellmon, the Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, who’s on site. General Spellmon and I had a number of conversations yesterday in terms of the coordinated approach moving forward. And they are moving very aggressively in putting resources and mobilizing the necessary equipment, conducting the analysis and the underwater surveys to do that.

In terms of continuing to stabilize the vessel, mitigating any pollution threat, and removing the vessel from the area, the vessel is stable, but it still has over 1.5 million gallons of fuel oil and lube oil onboard. And it does have 4,700 cargo containers on board; 56 of those contain hazardous materials and 2 are missing overboard. The ones that are in the water do not contain hazardous — hazardous materials. And then, thir- — around 13 or so on the bow of the ship were damaged as the bridge collapsed and it impacted the front of that ship.

So, the Coast Guard has moved aggressively to board the vessel, and we have teams on board. The responsible party, the ship operator, has mobilized, activated their marine salvage plan, in addition to their marine pollution response plan — both things that are required by the United States Coast Guard. That salvor is Resolve Marine Incorporated, and they have begun mobilizing resources to take the next steps appropriate to refloat the vessel and remove it from that area.

The real critical thing here is that, as you know, a portion of the bridge remains on the bow of that ship, and we will be coordinating very closely with the Army Corps of Engineers and their contractors to first effect the removal of that debris before the vessel can then be removed. The vessel bow is sitting on the bottom because of the weight of the — of that bridge debris on there.

And there are underwater surveys that are happening by remotely operated vehicle; divers will be in the water today to complete that underwater survey. There is no indication that there’s any flooding or any damage underneath the waterline to that vessel. And that effort will continue. We’ll keep you informed of that.

And then, lastly, in terms of the — the casualty investigation, as the Secretary has said, this is led by the National Transportation Safety Board. I have had a couple of conversations with Chair Homendy on this account, and basically what we’ve done is we’ve activated a memorandum of understanding between the Coast Guard and NTSB.

And because the multimodal and complex nature of this investigation, we will be providing Coast Guard investigators for what we call a marine board of investigation, which is our highest level of investigation in the Coast Guard that will fold in and coordinate with the NTSB investigation as that moves forward.

I think the Secretary closed with some topline messages. And for us, I can tell you that our Unified Command — which is essentially a term that we use in the United States for how we mobilize against crises with all the appropriate federal, state, local agencies and other stakeholders — we have a tremendous amount of talent on there and a lot of resourcing. And given the magnitude and importance of this response, it’s going to be very, very aggressive moving forward, and we’ll keep you informed of that.

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


MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. A couple questions. Go ahead.

Q Thank you so much. Admiral, CNN has obtained a government memo that the Coast Guard is currently evaluating hazardous material that was contained in some of the containers on the ship. Can you update us on that investigation? And is there a threat to the public from any of the materials on board the ship?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: There — there is no threat to the public from the hazardous materials on board. So, we’ve obtained the vessel manifest that container ships carry and done the analysis of the types of hazmats that are on board.

We have a very specialized hazmat team on board called the Atlantic Strike Team. We have three of those around the country. And we have air monitoring them — there to detect if there are anything that are coming off of those containers.

The — the majority of those containers are closer to the pilothouse and are completely unaffected by the damage to the bow of the ship. And there — we have not determined that there is any kind of release at this time.

Q So, you — what do you assess as the risk that some of those materials could leak or spill into the surrounding area?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: So, most of these things are things like mineral oils, and even though they’re hazardous, we — we’ve determined that there really isn’t any kind of threat to the public.

Q And Secretary Buttigieg, for you: President Biden has said the federal government should front the full cost of reconstructing the bridge. What do the early estimates say that cost will be and how quickly can you get that money?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: We don’t have dollar estimates yet. But we actually have provisions that allow us to begin releasing funding, even while that is being determined. My understanding is, as we speak this afternoon, a — an emergency relief funding request has come in from the Maryland State DOT. We will be processing that immediately to start getting them what they need.

Also, later today, there will be a design and procurement-oriented meeting that we’ll participate in — our Federal Highway Administration — along with MDOT.

Again, obviously, it’s early days. But now is the time to begin scoping that out so that they can get to work.

Q Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Seung Min.

Q Related to that, Mr. Secretary, how much is — how much existing money is there now within DOT coffers to handle requests such as the one from MDOT? Is — do you have funding through the F- — the Federal Highway Administration, through the infrastructure law? Or — or when do you anticipate having to go to Congress for potentially a supplemental request on the bridge costs?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So, the infrastructure law did authorize funding into the emergency relief account, which is the mechanism that is most likely to come into play here. Last I checked, there was about $950 million available but also a long line of needs and projects behind that.

So, it is certainly possible — I would go so far as to say “likely” — that we may be turning to Congress in order to help top up those funds. But that shouldn’t be a barrier to the immediate next few days beginning to get the ball rolling.

Q What will be the timeframe in sending that sup request to Congress?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I think it’s too soon to — to know the mechanics of that.

Q And for the — I’m sorry — for the — for the Vice Admiral. Can you discuss broadly just the safety of maritime shipping in general and kind of the strength of the regulations that govern it? Particularly, the inherent international nature of the maritime business could potentially create issues, especially if you have ships based in different countries with potentially weaker regulations.


Q Can you speak to those broader issues?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: Yeah. Absolutely. So, despite what happened 36 hours ago in Baltimore, the maritime mode of transportation, merchant shipping, is an incredibly, incredibly safe mode of transportation not just here in the United States but worldwide.

While we do have a regime of regulations that are just comprehensive in terms of the vessel conditions, the cargo that they carry, and how they do that, the qualifications and certifications from the mariners who operate these ships, those are actually networked with a global set of regulations that we negotiate and uphold through the International Maritime Organization in London.

So, this ship was flagged by Singapore. That was the flag state admin- — administration. And I spoke with the administration in Singapore just a few hours ago. They’ll be participating in the investigation.

We do something called flag state examinations to ensure that — even though these are not U.S. flagged vessels coming in, we do an inspection to assure that they meet the high international and domestic standards that we demand.

Q Secretary Buttigieg, I know that you said the recov- — or the rebuilding efforts are just beginning. But when it comes to the actual port, can you give us a sense of what the timeline would be for reopening? Is it days? Is it weeks? Is it months?

And same for the bridge: Are we talking about weeks, months? Are we talking about years?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Too soon to be certain. What I’ll say in the case of the bridge is that the original bridge took five years to construct. That does not necessarily mean it will take five years to replace. But that — that tells you what went into that original structure going up.

Again, we need to get a sense of the conditions of the parts that look okay to the naked eye, but we just don’t know yet, especially in terms of their foundational infrastructure.

So, it is going to be some time where commuters are going to need to depend on that 95 and 895 tunnel, and it’s going to put pressure on them.

As far as the port, again, too soon to venture an estimate. The vast majority of the port is inside of that bridge, now, which means most of it cannot operate; although, there is a facility at what’s called Sparrows Point that can handle some amount of cargo shipping but nothing close to the totality of Baltimore.

Q And for the port workers, you mentioned there’s going to be an economic cost but also incurred to them, I’m sure. Any of the funding that you’re talking about, in terms of emergency funding — would that cover them as well?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. This — this is a major concern. The President has directed the administration to find any and all resources that could come into play here.

I don’t know this to be an automatic eligibility for the emergency relief funding that I mentioned earlier. But we’re going to turn over every stone we have. And of course, beyond DOT, there may be other resources that come into play.

Q And, sorry, just one more quickly. Have you been in any communication with the owners of this vessel in terms of them paying some kind of consequence here?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I have not, and I’d really defer to NTSB and law enforcement for that.


Q Mr. Secretary, do you envision that this would be constructing a very different bridge going forward? You referenced the 1970 state of affairs. Then do you believe it would be an entirely new span? And would you envision different safety mechanisms as you are assessing this at this point?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I can’t speculate on that.

What I will note is that some of the other bridge collapses that are — were of these proportions — notably, the Minnesota bridge collapse — happened because of a design flaw and the bridge spontaneously collapsed.

This is, of course, not that. This was the result of an impact. But we don’t yet know what NTSB will find or how that might inform plans going forward.

Q And based on what you’ve seen so far, do you recommend that any other spans take any steps based on what we’ve learned about — however remarkably unusual it was for that impact — do you think there need to be different steps to protect others spans going forward?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Some modern bridges around the world, especially after the 1980 Tampa incident, have been designed with different features to mitigate impacts and protect their piers. Right now, I think there’s a lot of debate taking place among the engineering community about whether any of those features could have had any role in — in a situation like this.

Again, it’s difficult to overstate the impact of this collision we’re talking about. It’s not just as big as a building. It’s really as big as a block — 100,000 tons all going into this pier all at once.

But one other thing I would add, more broadly speaking, is that the President’s infrastructure package has the first-ever dedicated federal fund for resilience. Largely, that’s been construed in terms of seismic resilience and resilience in the face of extreme weather events. But, certainly, it’s something we’ll be looking at going forward, knowing what we’ve experienced in Baltimore.

Q And lastly, the status of the crew of the cargo ship. Maybe the Vice Admiral is better suited for that. Are they still on board? And are they fully cooperating with what you need?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: The crew is cooperating with what we need. They’re the — they remain on board, and predominantly an Indian crew with one Sri Lankan crew member on board. But they’re still there and very much engaged in the dialogue and the investigation.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sabrina.

Q Thank you. To the Vice Admiral, are there any early indications of what caused the Dali to lose propulsion during its voyage? And what are some of the areas of focus so far when it comes to the investigation into the accident?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: Yeah, I think we all want to know as quickly as possible at least some initial findings. But I really need to refer you to the National Transportation Safety Board and their messaging in terms of moving forward very deliberately in a factual basis to uncover some of those answers.

Q And then, Secretary Buttigieg, you talked about, you know, how, you know, the bridge simply was not built to withstand an impact of this nature. But do — is it your view that the bridge was built strongly enough? Why didn’t it have some of the defensive structures around the support column, as many other bridges do?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of any investigation either. I will say that a part of what’s being debated is whether any design feature now known would have made a difference in this case. We’ll get more information on that as the investigation proceeds.

Q Thank you. Secretary Buttigieg, you’ve been talking about the President vowing to pay for the cost of the bridge in full to expedite that rebuilding process. But are you going to go after the shipping company?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Any private party that is found responsible and liable will be held accountable. I think our emphasis and the President’s goal is to make sure that that process is not something we have to wait for in order to support Maryland with the funds that they need. And that’s what these emergency relief tools can help us do.

Q What could that accountability look like?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of law enforcement, NTSB, or any of the other players here. But needless to say, there’s a lot — going to be a lot of focus on that. Anybody who is responsible will need to be accountable.

Q Rebuilding obviously won’t be cheap. And you talked about possibly needing to give that supplemental request to Congress. How much money are we talking about?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Just too soon to say.

Q And just one question for the Vice Admirable — Admiral. When it comes to, you know, getting the situation cleaned up and recovery efforts, what are the biggest challenges that you’re facing and the kind of equipment that you have to move in?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: I think the main challenge here is — as you can see by the imagery on scene, is removing that — those large trusses and steel members off the bow of the ship. Once that happens, we’ll have the underwater survey complete in terms of how that vessel is connected to the bridge pier there. But I think once that’s done, I think the salvors will be ready to do the necessary actions to refloat that vessel and remove it.

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

Q On the contents of the ships, sir — on those 4,700 containers. Besides the fuel and oil and hazardous materials, can you give us some general categories of what other goods are on board? Is it —

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: (Inaudible) on any given container ship, you can have a very, very wide range of packaged ha- — packaged materials, consumer goods, and many, many other things. So, it’s going to be a very, very broad cross-section of cargoes.

Q Okay. And then on the other ships that are stuck in the port. Can you talk a little bit about what coordination is being done with those ships? And what kind of cargo they have? And — and where they’re bound for?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think we can give you some more specifics on the ships in the port, but I think roughly we’ve got about a dozen ships that remain in the port that are unable to get out. The majority of those are foreign-flagged vessels and, I think, just sort of typical of what we see in the Port of Baltimore in terms of dry — dry bulk carriers, car carriers, and other things. There are a number of Maritime Administration ships that are there as well.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nandita.

Q Thanks —

Q And then, Secretary Buttigieg, on regulations and requirements. Are you discussing waiving any regulations or requirements to help speed along the reconstruction of this bridge?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Too soon to say what exact administrative issues may come up. But, certainly, we have a clear direction from the President to tear down any barriers, bureaucratic as well as financial, that could affect the timeline of this project.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nandita.

Q Thanks, Karine. This is for the Secretary. You mentioned you were meeting with shippers and supply chain operators tomorrow, but just sort of curious about your early assessment so far. Do you expect the closure of the poor to lead to a full-blown supply chain crisis? Or what is your early assessment so far?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, this is not of the proportions of, for example, L.A. and Long Beach when it comes to container traffic. That’s — that’s one port complex — or two ports that collectively represent 40 percent of the U.S. container traffic. It’s nothing like that.

But it is an important port and an important system of the East Coast ports. Now, a lot of the goods that come on or off there go as part of runs where ships also visit the ports of New York and New Jersey and Virginia. And so, right now, I think there are already diversions taking place to those and other East Coast ports helping to absorb some of that need. So, those are the kinds of things we’re getting more information on right now. And I’m looking forward to getting a better sense tomorrow after talking to the shippers.

Q Okay. And a quick question on sort of safety reviews. You know, obviously the ship was involved in an accident in Belgium, I believe, in 2016. Is this incident going to prompt a full-scale review of vessels like this?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: So — so, we’ve seen what’s in the news in terms of that particular incident. I don’t know whether that’s particularly informative to this — probably a different vessel crew, different pilots, different weather conditions, and so on and so forth.

But nevertheless, we have — the Coast Guard keeps the histories — the safety histories of all the vessels that call into U.S. ports. And so, we’re reviewing that and in terms of the investigation.


Q Thank you. For the Vice Admiral, can you discuss your decree — your degree of confidence in the victim numbers that we’ve heard so far? We have seen evidence that there is sonar that’s picked up cars at the bottom of the river. Do we know that all those cars belong to the construction workers? Or is there a chance that other cars may have fallen into the river?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: So, we’ve heard similar reports in the news. And so, basically, the Coast Guard is going off of the numbers of individuals that had been provided to us by the state of Maryland, as they were the ones who are administering the bridge and had the best idea of how many individuals might have been involved.

Q And for Secretary Buttigieg, you mentioned earlier that there is not an air traffic control-type body for shipping. Is that an indication that you think that there should be something like that for the future?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: No, it’s — it’s a very different system. But I do think it’s important for the public to understand that if a runway or an airport goes out of service, and then there’s immediate instructions from a central authority on what to do and where to go. It just doesn’t work that way in shipping.

What I will say is we have felt, especially since the summer of 2021, that there needs to be more coordination than there — there has been in the past. And I think sometimes even — not just as a matter of practice, but as a matter of culture, different shippers and other entities that have been rivals just don’t coordinate.

We built a program called FLOW, which invites different participants — cargo owners, shippers, ports, terminal operators, and others — to begin sharing data. That’s something that served us well going to the Red Sea issues. It’s certainly serving us well right now, because that data can help us get a sense of how these effects are rippling through other ports.

So, we welcome that coordination. We’re trying to promote it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s happening on a command-and-control basis.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Karine. Secretary Buttigieg, when was this bridge last inspected? Was it on a list for replacement? It’s more than 50 years old. And can you give us a ballpark figure of when you’ll reopen the port? You said five years on the outside to rebuild the bridge, but just ballpark it for me — days, weeks, months, years — to reopen the port?

And finally, what’s the estimated economic impact for the closure of this port and — and the downing of this bridge?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So, on the first one, I’ll refer you to the state. They’ll have the most up-to-date information on the bridge. On the —

Q Well, according to the state, they inspected it — it — but what — what I’m asking: Was it on a list of — and — and they noted it was 50 years old, and they also noted that it had some questionable parts to it. But was it on a list to be replaced with the infrastructure bill?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: It certainly was not the subject of an immediate discretionary grant to replace it or something — anything like that. We do have some work going on — on a — on I-895. But to my knowledge, nothing immediate in terms of any discretionary grants going to the — to the bridge.

Economic numbers. About 8,000 jobs, we think, are directly implicated, and over $100 million of cargo moves in and out of that port a day.

And what was the middle question?

Q The — ballpark it when you’re going to — when the port will be reopening.

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I’ll say this: Reopening the port is a different matter from rebuilding the bridge. The —

Q Yes.

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: — the port, that’s just a matter of clearing the channel. Still no simple thing, but I would expect that can happen on a much quicker timeline than the full reconstruction of the bridge.

Q So, can you ballpark it just a little?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: As you can imagine, I’m asking our teams the same question, but I don’t want to —

Q But days —

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: — put something out just yet.

Q — weeks, months, years?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We just got to keep going.

Q I understand, but —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got to keep going.

Q — just give us something there. The — just give —

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: As soon as we have something, I’ll tell you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, go ahead, Jon. We got to — we got to (inaudible.)

Q Thanks, Karine. Secretary Buttigieg, another supply chain issue for you has to do with a significant amount of automobiles, cars, trucks, coal, LNG that goes through the Port of Baltimore. What will be the impact on the supply chain on those specific industries?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, so, this is one of the key ports, again, for — for vehicles, and some vehicles are actually finished at facilities that are on port grounds, so it is significant.

That being said, of course, it’s not the only facility that can accommodate roll-on/roll-off vehicles. You see that in Savannah; certainly, in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. The tractor equipment will be more complicated than the ordinary light-duty vehicles. These are exactly the kinds of information that we’re going to be seeking over the coming days, including at tomorrow’s convening.

Q And you expect, because of those supply chain issues, that we could see impacts on the U.S. economy as a result of those supply chain issues?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: We want to get a little more fidelity on how disruptive it can be. Again, we’re not talking about a single point of failure that it’s the only possible place to get through or even something that is as impactful as some of the issues that affected the Panama Canal, for example.

This does not automatically mean that a trip to the East Coast has to be substituted with a trip to the West Coast, which would be much more of a cost impact. It could probably be accommodated up and down the East Coast. But the effect clearly will not be trivial.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We got to start wrapping up.

Go ahead.

Q Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you said that you had received a request for emergency funding from the Maryland authorities. Can you tell us what that number was or is?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Those don’t necessarily include a full estimate of the costs. But they —

Q Just initial.

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: — do make it possible through what’s called a quick-release authority for us to start getting dollars out.

I was just notified that this is coming in as I was stepping out here, so I — I don’t have more details than that right now.

Q Okay.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q Hi, Secretary Buttigieg. So, just purely speaking about economic impact, each day that the port is shut down, what is the economic impact per day?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, there’s between a — last I checked, between $100- and $200 million of value that comes through that port every day, and about $2 million in wages that are at stake every day. And that’s one of the areas we’re most concerned about.

It’s one thing for a container or a vehicle or a sugar shipment to be absorbed or accommodated somewhere else. But these longshore workers — if goods aren’t moving, they’re not working.

Now, right now there is work taking place, even inside of that bridge, because of the work that has to be done to offload some of the vehicles that are — that are stuck there and get that back onto the surface transportation to go out to other sites. So, they’re — they’re likely working right now. But that work won’t last long. And that’s one of our main areas of concern.

Q And for the Vice Admiral — thank you very much. So, then you look at CFR — you know, the Code of Federal Regulations — you earlier talked about how, you know, you inspect these vehicles — right? — the Coast Guard inspects these vehicles. Is it done on a regular basis to see if all of those items are, you know, being followed or do you do spot checks?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: Pretty thorough. So, every ship that comes to a United States port has to report to the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection 96 hours in advance.

What we do then is look at cargo, look at the vessel history, look at the individuals onboard. And we’ll put them through a risk matrix to determine based on their past history and ano- — another set of factors on whether we should board and inspect or not, but it’s a pretty thorough process.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, April.

Q Vice Admiral and Mr. Secretary, when does cleanup begin? Because we’re hearing after the first stage of rescue and recovery, cleanup begins. And the question is: Once cleanup starts, will there be at least one channel to come through because of the importance and the uniqueness of this port not just for Baltimore but for the country, to include the Midwest with the farming equipment that goes on the CSX line that’s right there?

And also, how are you going to push back to Republicans who don’t want anything to go through from this Biden administration budgetarily when the President says he wants to pay for everything?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: I’ll take the latter and leave it to you on the channel, if you want. (Laughter.)



VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: I’m fine with that. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Look, infrastructure is or at least ought to be a bipartisan priority. I know that partisanship has gotten in the way of some important functions and expenditures.

But I would also note that the infrastructure package that was passed is known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for a reason. Some — not all — Republicans crossed the aisle to work with President Biden and work with Democrats and get this done. It is our hope that that same spirit will prevail here.

And I would also remind any member who might find themselves on the fence when this — when any request that might come through materializes that, you know, today, this is happening in Baltimore; tomorrow, it could be your district. And we really need to stand together — red, blue, and purple — to get these things done.

Q And what about the channel? The cleanup and the channel. That’s right. Yes.

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: So, in terms of cleanup — in terms of the debris assessment removal now, again, the Army Corps of Engineers under General Spellmon are being very aggressive in mobilizing equipment, beginning the underwater surveys and the necessary actions and — in order to first understand what they’re facing in terms of challenges with the — not just the debris on the surface but underwater. So, they can give you an idea on sort of what their assessment looks like.

Q So, we can safely say the process for cleanup and possibly opening that channel is already underway, because you are assessing what’s going on down below?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: So — so, Admiral Gilreath, the Coast Guard Incident Commander, and General Spellmon from the Army Corps are very tightly linked and coordinated on the necessary actions to do this — not waiting in order to begin this process.

Now, we do need to be sensitive because the state of Maryland is conducting the body recovery operations in and around the same area where that debris assessment removal needs to take place.

But, again, in terms of those details, Army Corps is best to answer that.

Q Thank you so much.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ed.

Q Thanks, Karine. Mr. Secretary or Vice Admiral, what kind of changes could this lead to the operations at the ports, like could we see tug escorts going through for bridges like this? And would that make a difference in this?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: For us, again, I think it’s too soon to speculate whether any design feature or other practice would have made a difference. But that’s the kind of thing that NTSB does, and they do it well. At the end of their investigation, they issue recommendations which often become part of policy, design, or even technology for the future. And it’s part of why we’ll be very interested in their work.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q Thanks, Karine. Mr. Secretary, can you tell us if you are seeing an impact on inflation? And you said that the bridge was not made to withstand such an impact, but should it have been reinforced during the past decades?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: So, again, I don’t know how a bridge possibly could withstand the forces that were at play when this vessel, about the same size as the Nimitz-cra- — -class U.S. aircraft carrier, struck the key supporting beam for that bridge. But we will always — as always learn from — from the NTSB investigation.

What was the first bit?

Q About the impact on inflation?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: Too soon to — to say. I think, you know, this is a — definitely a different ballpark from what we saw of the West Coast issues in 2021. But that’s part of what we hope to gather more data on soon.

I will say, you know, a lot of the disinflation that we’ve seen has been a result of the work that the President led to improve and smooth out our supply chains. So, we see a clear relationship between supply chains and inflation. But this is more localized and more specialized than what we saw in 2021.

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

Q Secretary Buttigieg, have you or the President been able to reach the family members of the six victims or do you plan to try to contact them?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG: First of all, our hearts and our thoughts are with them. I know right now they are shifting from yesterday, where they were really in the mode of — of hoping for news to today facing the worst kind of news you possibly could.

I can’t speak to anybody else’s conversations with them other than that I know Governor Moore spent time speaking with them.

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

Q For the Vice Admiral, you had said earlier that there’s a process by which the Coast Guard will keep track of ships that may have been involved in previous incidents. And we already know that the Dali was involved in a — in a previous incident not similar to this one but an incident nonetheless. So, was the ship on the radar for the Coast Guard in terms of, you know, keeping an eye on it?

And if not, a second follow-up question is: If ships have already been flagged, if you will, for having been involved in incidents, what’s the process for that when they’re coming into a United States port?

VICE ADMIRAL GAUTIER: So, maybe I’ll answer the first part of that question first. It’s — it’s the same process for every ship. We get the notification 96 hours in advance of arriving at a U.S. port. We do an examination together with Customs and Border Protection — a review of the histories of these ships and other factors, cargoes that they carry, and so on and so forth — to do a risk ranking and then make a determination about whether a local Coast Guard team — and CBP participates as well — whether we should do a boarding and do a safety examination there.

In terms of the history of the ship, again, I think this one incident that has been discussed within the media — I think it — we need to take that within context in terms of what may or may not have happened with a different crew on board, different situation, different pilots, and so on and so forth — maybe not related to the vessel condition, so to speak.

But in terms of our examination, this particular ship had a fairly good safety record.

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

Q What are the tugboat rules for guiding cargo ships in that port, sir?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. Thank you. Have a g- — have a great week.

Q What are the tug boat rules for guiding cargo ships in that port, sir?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, guys.

All right, thanks, guys.

Q Thank you.

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

All right, I have a couple of things at the top before we continue with the briefing.

So, just a few more updates here to share that I — I — and then, as I said, I’ll take some questions.

So, last night, voters in Alabama made their voices heard and voted overwhelmingly for Marilyn Lands, who made clear that she would fight to protect access to reproductive healthcare, including IVF. It was a decisive victory in a la- — in a long-held Republican House district. And the President congratulates her on her win.

As we saw last year in Ohio and previously in Michigan, California, Kentucky, Vermont, Kansas, and Montana, in every state where abortion has been on the ballot, the American people overwhelmingly vote to protect reproductive freedom.

President Biden and Vice President Harris stand proudly and firmly behind the majority of Americans in this fight. And they will continue to take action to protect this fundamental freedom that is under relentless attack by extreme Republican elected officials.

But the fact remains that the only way to ensure the right to choose for a woman in every state is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law. Only — only Congress can pass that law, which President Biden — if it were to get to his desk, he would indeed sign it.

Now, today, we had another announcement. The Biden-Harris administration also launched the SAVE Day of Action to promote SAVE, the most affordable student loan repayment plan ever, which President Biden announced just last year. The SAVE Day of Action is a coordinated effort to bring together public, private, and NGOs that could reach 100 million Americans with information about SAVE.

Vice President Harris kicked off the campaign this morning, encouraging people to visit, where they can join the more than 7.7 million borrowers representing every congressional district who are currently enrolled.

Thanks to SAVE plan, more than 4.5 million borrowers have a monthly payment of zero dollars, and an additional 1 million borrowers have payments of less than $100.

Finally, I want to acknowledge a solemn anniversary that will happen later this week. Friday will mark one year since American journalist Evan Gershkovich was arrested and wrongfully detained in Russia.

Just yesterday, Russia extended his detention after yet another sham hearing. In yesterday’s hearing, the Russian authorities did not even provide any evidence of a crime. In fact, they have provided no real justification for holding him. That is because he has done nothing wrong.

Journalism is not a crime. Let me say that again. Journalism is not a crime.

This administration will continue working every day to secure his release. We will continue to push back against Russia’s attempts to use Americans as bargaining chips. And we will continue to stand strong against all those who seek to attack the press or target journalists.

To Evan, to Paul Whelan, and to all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad: Keep the faith, we are with you, and we won’t stop working to bring you home.

With that, Seung Min.

Q Thank you. A quick one. Any update on when the President would go to Baltimore?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have an update for you. Obviously, we want to — we want to do it when it is the appropriate time on the ground. We’re going to continue to have conversations with, obviously, local officials on the ground to get — to get a sense of what their needs are. But we want to make sure that we do not disrupt their efforts.

You just heard from the Secretary and Vice Admiral: This is a major, major undertaking. And so, we don’t want to get in the way. But you heard from the President. He wants to get there as quickly as he can.

Q And one on Israel. Our understanding is that talks are restarting between the U.S. and Israel about rescheduling that meeting that was supposed to be held this week on Rafah. So, what is the U.S.’s understanding of why Prime Minister Netanyahu is having this apparent change of heart? Did the meetings with Defense Minister Gallant go particularly well this week and came to the conclusion?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, obviously, I’m going to let the Prime Minister speak for himself on that first part of the question.

What I can say on — on Israel more broadly, as you asked me about meetings that we — that were held here — they were constructive discussions with Israel’s Defense Minister over the last two days. Rafah was one of the many topics discussed with Jake Sullivan, Tony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, and Bill Burns.

The Prime Minister’s office has agreed — has agreed to reschedule the meeting dedicated to Rafah. So, we’re — we’re now working with them to set — to find a convenient date that’s obviously going to work for both sides. But he — his office has agreed to — to reschedule that meeting that would be dedicated to Rafah, which is a good thing.

Go ahead, Selina.

Q Thanks, Karine. And actually, on that note, we have received a statement from the Prime Minister’s office saying that Netanyahu did not approve the departure of the delegation to Washington. So, disputing that they agreed to the rescheduling, could you just talk about what might be going on?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I would say that we are working to set a date. The Prime Minister’s office agreed to reschedule this meeting. You — you saw that the defense — the Israel Defense Minister was here for two days — extended a day and added another day — to meet with Jake Sullivan, Tony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, and Bill — and Bill Burns.

So, that is the conversation that we’re having. We are working to convene that — that meeting — an important meeting on Rafah. And when we have a date, certainly, we’ll share that with you. That is what we know from our side.

Q And what is the message that Defense Secretary Austin had to Gallant about the alternatives in Rafah?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m just not going to get into specifics of — of those conversations. Obviously, as I just stated, Rafah — the operations — the military operations, more broadly — Rafah was — was indeed discussed, but I’m just not — as topics, obviously, that were discussed. I’m just not going to go into further details.

Q And have talks for that hostage deal and ceasefire — have they reached another stalemate? And what are the sticking points on it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I can confirm that talks continue and we are — the United States is actively engaged in those conversations. We remain hopeful that we can bre- — we can broker a deal to secure the release of hostages and establish a temporary ceasefire. This is something that we’ve been asking for some time.

A ceasefire and this hostage deal, obv- — obviously, would allow us to bring home some hostages to their — to their family, to their loved ones, and they include American hostages as well. And as well, bring into Gaza that all-important humanitarian aid that is needed in Gaza on the ground. I don’t have anything beyond that.

But we can confirm that — that we continue to have this incred- — incredibly important conversation on getting that hostage deal, which would lead to a ceasefire.

Go ahead.

Q Just following up on what Selina was saying, Karine. Does the administration believe it was able to convince Israeli officials to take a relook at a potential Rafah operation after the series of meetings that he had with the administration?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I — I mean, Rafah, obviously was part of the — part of the agenda — their military operations. And so, I’m not going to go into detail. It is important that we have heard from the Prime Minister’s office that we’re going to reschedule and try to lock in this meeting with — with their — obviously, their folks on — on the Israeli government side and — and folks here. And so, I think that’s important.

I’m not going to get into — into that. They — I — you know, they — I would say they discussed how best to ensure Hamas’s lasting defeat in Gaza, and the need to — to protect civilians. So, of course, that was part of the conversation. But I’m not going to provide any more details beyond that.

Q And is the President thinking about reconsidering sending arms to Israel given, you know, the unfolding situation and the — the unfolding humanitarian situation in Gaza?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is — that is —

Q Any fresh thoughts?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — that is — there is nothing new there. There is — that is not under consideration.

As you know, we have — we have — we have done more to get humanitarian aid into Gaza with the airdrops. You know about the pier.

And we’re working with — obviously, with Israel to get — to make sure that we get more of the trucks inside of Gaza. It is incredibly important. We know the dire situation in — in Gaza as it relates to humanitarian aid.

And — but the most important thing — the most important thing here is to get that hostage deal so we can get the humanitarian aid, to get those hostages back home to their family. And it is — and it would — we believe, would lead to a ceasefire, obviously. And so, that is what we’re working towards. We got to get that hostage deal done, and we are actively, actively continuing those talks.

Q Because restricting weapons to Israel should also be a top consideration, right?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I’m not going to get into — into, you know — into hypotheticals, into conditions from here. We’ve been very clear where we stand, and we’ll continue to do so.

We want to get that hostage deal done. The talks can — is active. They continue. That is important: to get the hostage deal, to get the ceasefire, to get that humanitarian aid into Gaza. It is incredibly, obviously, important, as we — as you all have reported the dire situation in — in Gaza. And so, that is our focus.

We’re going to get that pier going. We’re going to continue the airdrops, continue to get those trucks in. Working with Israel on that.

I just don’t have anything else beyond that.

Go ahead.

Q On the Rafah talks, you said that both sides are working to find a new date that works with schedules. But what level of urgency does the administration assign to holding those talks?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, it’s — it’s urgent. It’s important. We have said that. The President has said that. The National Security Advisor was here at this podium saying those — those very words — the importance of making sure that there is a plan and that — that we protect civilians. You’ve heard — you’ve heard us say there’s more than 1 million Palestinian civilians in Rafah — about 1.5. We have to make sure that they are protected.

But at the same time, we want to make sure that — that Israel also makes sure that Hamas is no longer operating. Right? And so, that is important as well.

But these talks will get us into a place where there is a plan — that we hear their side; they hear our side. I think the Defense Minister being here from Israel was really important for two days having those all-important, all-critical conversations about Rafah, about military operations. I’m just not going to get beyond that.

When we have a date locked in, certainly we would share that with all of you.

Q There’s been reporting that the talks could happen as soon as next week. Do you see that as feasible?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m — I’m just not going to get into a — a set date or time here, but we want it to happen. Obviously, it’s urgent. We think it’s urgent. It’s important to — to lock this in, and so we’re going to work really diligent to make sure that that happens.

Go ahead, Kelly.

Q Tomorrow, the President will be in New York, and he is going to be with two former presidents. I’m not asking about the campaign piece of that. Could you speak to the historical significance or the stature of the moment to have three presidents together?

And while he is in New York, you, I’m sure, have seen reports there was a New York City police officer who died in the line of duty. Any plan to acknowledge that officer?

So, a two-part question, but first about the historical significance of the presidents being together.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me — and I’m going to get be really mindful, and I have to say this. This is a Hatch Act. I am a federal employee, and I’m going to follow the law and not comment on 2024 campaign, but I’ll say a couple of things at the top.

That President Obama and President Clinton strongly support President Biden’s leadership and obviously his agenda. All three have — agree overwhelmingly on the issues that this President has been fighting for for the past three years, including an economy that works for all, leaves no one behind; that is an economy that’s built from the bottom up, middle out; making sure that we protect our critical freedoms — that is something that they all three agree on — like a freedom to choose or protecting our democracy.

And so, they are, of course — there are, of course, many conservative leaders in the country who oppose the dark vision put forward by extreme Republican officials that would drag us into the past with trickle-down take — tax giveaways to the rich, cuts to Medicare and Social Security, radical abortion bans, and attacks on the rule of law. That is not these three presidents.

So, we understand the importance of the three of them being together. Obviously, this is going to be an up- — and important — an important event.

I want to be really careful and not speak to a campaign event. Obviously, the campaign could speak more — more specifically to — to the broader significance of them being there.

But look, these are — these are presidents — two former presidents, the current president — that believe in what we’re trying to do in the Biden-Harris administration, trying to move this country forward, try and make sure we’re protecting our democracy, protecting our freedom, building an economy that leaves no one behind. And I think that’s what — the most important here.

As it relates to the death of the officer, look, our hearts go out to this officer who tragically lost his life in the line of duty. We’re also praying for his family during this difficult time, who now has an empty seat at their dinner table.

President Biden is deeply grateful for the sacrifices police officers make to keep our community safe.

This shooting is yet another painful reminder of the toll of gun violence that — what it’s — what it’s doing to inflict on families and our communities and our nation.

And that’s why the President signed more than two dozen executive actions. That’s why we’re able to pass a bipartisan agreement to deal with the gun violence that we’re seeing in this country. Obviously, more work needs to be done. We need Congress to continue to act on making sure that our communities are safe.

And, again, our hearts go out to the — to this officer and — and his family. It’s a difficult time for them.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Sabrina.

Q Thank you. Do you have any comment on the decision by a federal appeals court today to continue blocking Texas’s migrant deportation law, SB 4?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things on that. Obviously, I want to first take a step back and just remind us how we got here.

We have said from the beginning that SB 4 is an extreme unconstitutional law that will burden law enforcement and make communities less safe. We disagreed with the Supreme Court order yesterday letting the law go into effect, and we welcome the Fi- — the Fifth Circuit and their decision overnight oppose — pausing the implementation of it.

Ultimately, we need real solutions, right? We need that decision, that negotiation proposal that came out of the Senate in a bipartisan fashion. We need that to move. We need it to move out of the Senate. We need it to move out of the House and to get to the desk of this President.

And we believe — we believe that that bipartisan border security agreement would not only be the toughest but it’d be the fairest. And it took us a couple of months to work on it. It got support from the Border Patrol union. It got support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, something that you don’t see nowadays.

And so, we are going to continue to encourage Congress to move forward. As we know, the former president, President Trump, told Republicans on the Hill to not move forward with it, to reject it because it would help — it would help us. It would help Joe Biden, and it would hurt him.

And that’s not how — who we should be as a country. We should be where — where majority of Americans are. They want us to deal with what’s happening at the border, and they want us to fix this immigration system.

Q In the back.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. We’ll go — go ahead, Aurelia. I haven’t called on you.

Q Thank you. On airdrops and humanitarian aid. Eighteen people have died in Gaza on Monday during an airdrop. Twelve of them drowned trying to fish out food from the water. So, does the administration intend to continue with these operations? And if so, is there a way to make them safer or should we just expect to see more people dying like that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we — we express our condolences to the families of those who died — who were — while trying to retrieve desperately needed humanitarian aid. We know — we understand what’s going on on the ground. We know that the humanitarian situation on the ground, as I’ve stated many times already just in the past couple of minutes, is dire.

And so — which is why we’re working around the clock to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance going on — into — going into Gaza. So, we’re going to continue to do that.

Look, you know, this is, again, why that hostage deal is so important — why we’re going to do everything we can, working around the clock to get that hostage deal done because, yes, it’s about getting the hostages home to their families and their loved one, which is critical, important — let’s not forget there are American hostages, as well, included — and to get that humanitarian aid, to lead to a ceasefire, but also get to that all-needed humanitarian aid.

Our hearts go out and our condolences go out to the families. It is a devastating situation. We have to make sure that we continue to get that humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q Thank you, Karine. On the delegation issue. You know, I heard messaging from the administration earlier this week explaining, you know, that the U.S. abstaining from that U.N. vote and allowing it to go through didn’t really matter because it was a nonbinding resolution. But if it doesn’t really matter, you know, why not vote no again and avoid this whole fallout with Israel, because it obviously mattered to them?

And so, I guess where I’m coming from is how did we get here? You know, what — what caused this? And is it politics?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the principles of the deal were there. Right? It talked about a ce- — it talked about a ceasefire. It talked about hostages, which we believe the principles were there.

But we believe the only path forward to a ceasefire is to negotiate a release — the hostage deal — a hostage release as well. Right? We believe those two things are both important and to do that together.

And so —

Q You guys —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — this —

Q — didn’t do that though. It didn’t condition that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, that’s not how we saw it. Right? And so, we have long said — we have long said a ceasefire will not be achieved in the Security Council but through diplomatic — diplomacy on the ground. That’s what we have said. We have to see that diplomacy on the ground.

And so, the resolution, as I’ve stated, as you just stated in your question is nonbinding and does not create new obligations under the international law, such as what the council does when it imposes obligatory sanctions.

But nevertheless, that shouldn’t matter. Even though the resolution lacks the binding provision, all Security Council resolutions carry great weight and should be implemented.

In this case, however, it is irrelevant whether the resolution imposes any new legal objections, as the text demands exactly what the United States has long been pushing: both. We want both a hostage deal and a ceasefire, making sure that humanitarian aid gets in. And that’s what we want to see.

That’s why we believe the principles were right. But we didn’t feel like it did exactly where we stand on our — on our policy.

Q This wasn’t — it wasn’t nothing. You know, the U.S. has blocked previous votes from going through that looked exactly like this. So, what caused the shift? And what is the President’s reason for allowing this to go through? It is a change.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, it is not. It is not a policy change. We’ve been very clear.

Q It’s a messaging change.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, no. We disagree — disagree. We’ve been very clear that in or- — in order to get a hostage deal that would lead to a ceasefire, we also got to get that humanitarian aid. We believe it is all connected in that way.

And so, that is where we stood. That’s where we’ve been.
It is not a policy change. The principles were there, but we needed to — we — we have a way that we want to do this — right? — a hostage deal.

Those are the critical conversations that are happening — the active conversations that are happening, making sure that we get those hostages home — American hostages are also included — to their loved ones. We also got to get that humanitarian aid. And we believe that diplomatic effort — the diplomacy — the diplomatic work that is being done would lead us to that.

And so, we’ve been very clear and s- — and steadfast about this. And that’s what we’re going to continue to be.

Q So, no part of this is —

Q One in the back?

Q — linked to the President worried about losing —


Q — support from Gen Z or —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, this is — let me be very clear. Let me be very clear. This is not about politics. It’s not. The President does not lead his national security or things that are the right thing to do, in this sense — right? — getting that hostage deal, making sure hos- — hostages come home — including, as I said over and over again, American hostages; getting that humanitarian aid into Gaza and making sure that it — it — we believe that would lead to a ceasefire — that is not about politics. That is about the right thing to do.

This is why we continue those active conversations and making sure that we can get there. It is important to get this done.

Q One in the back?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.

Q Why do you think that the United States, which is Israel’s most important ally, seems to have so little clout right now with Israel?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I disagree. I don’t think that is — that is the case. You know, our position is going to continue to — to remain the same. We have been really clear. We are committed to supporting Israel in — in its fight against Hamas. We’ve shown that. We are committed to that. And we’ve — we’ve said Hamas has said that they’re going to repeat — they’ve said this — they’re going to repeat October 7th again and again until Israel is annihilated. And because we — we cannot expect Israel to accept a situation in which their citizens continue to live under that threat.

At the same time — at the same time, it’s critical that Israel do everything possible to protect civilian casualties —

Q Do you feel they are?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — and conduct operations.

Look, we are having those diplomatic conversations. We are. We — you — you just heard me lay out how the Israel Defense Minister was here. He stayed for two days. He met with Jake Sullivan. He met with Lloyd Austin. Those are high-level —

Q Netanyahu has been very clear —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — those high-level — those high-level conversations. And that is important.

And the Prime Minister’s office said that they — they want to reschedule this — this meeting so that we can talk about the Rafah operations. We welcome that. And we’re going to work with their teams to make sure that happens.

Q But you — but your op- — you have made it clear that you think a land invasion of Rafah is a mistake. Netanyahu has made it clear that he’s going to go ahead and do it anyway. So, I’m just wondering —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Wait. Hold on. But wait. Their — they have agreed to come and have a discussion about that. That’s important too. We can’t miss that. We can’t miss the fact that there’s an agreement to have a meeting here to talk about the Rafah operations. That is what we’re going to do.

The Israel Defense Minister was here for two days — for two days. That was on the table — was part of — Rafah operations was certainly — Rafah was certainly — one of the agenda items. That’s important.

So, conversations are happening. We’re going to set — set this date in the upcoming days to have this meeting about the Rafah for operations. We’re going to share our side; they’re going to share their side. And that’s what you do. That’s what diplomacy is about. And I think that’s also really important.

I know I have to wrap.

Q To the back. One more?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This has been a very long briefing.

Q Is the President concerned about the college —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead. I haven’t called you. I haven’t —

Q — financial aid delays?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — called you. Go ahead, go ahead.

Q Thanks, Karine. Has the President spoken with or plan to speak with those that were rescued from the bridge collapse or to the families of those who were lost?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know Secretary Buttigieg was just asked that question. I think it might have been the la- — one of the last questions he got before leaving here.

Obviously — obviously, as I started off this briefing, our hearts go out to the families of the — of those six — six people and — who are now missing. And I can’t imagine how hard it is for them right now.

And so, I don’t have anything to read out to you about a president conversation or a call. But we’re thinking of them. And this is a President that has always said he will be there for that family. I just don’t have anything else to share.

Q And — and the Republican National Committee has been asking those seeking employment within the organization if they believe the 2020 election was stolen, serving as an apparent litmus test for hiring. Do you have any comment about this kind of prerequisite from (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I mean, I want to — do say a couple of things. I want to be mindful not to comment on 2024.

But I’ll say, more broadly, this is a president that believes in the rule of law, believes that — the need to respect the officers who put their lives at risk on that day on — and to keep everyone safe. We saw what happened on January 6th. Some of you covered that. Our democracy was on atta- — under attacked. We lost lives.

And it is — it is — what we saw was because of the dangerous conspiracy theories. There were people — 2,000 folks — right? — 2,000 people who were mobsters — who were mobs, who — and — and they were there because they didn’t believe in a free and fair election. And that’s why they were there.

The Trump administration itself certified that the 2020 election was the most secure in our history. But yet, this is what we saw.

And so, we’re going to continue to stand with law enforcement. We’re going to continue to fight for our democracy.

And I’m going to be very careful not to speak beyond that on what the RNC decides to do.

All right, everybody. Thank you so much.

2:34 P.M. EDT

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USA - USA DAILY NEWS 24 originally published at USA - USA DAILY NEWS 24