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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, February 16, 2023

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, February 16, 2023
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, February 16, 2023James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 1:15 P.M. EST MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone. Q    Good afternoon. MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, I just have one thing at the top.  Sorry, I just ran here, so I’m a little out of breath.  Okay. So, today, the President and First Lady will host a screening of...

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, I just have one thing at the top.  Sorry, I just ran here, so I’m a little out of breath.  Okay.

So, today, the President and First Lady will host a screening of “Till,” the story of Mamie Till-Mobley, who pursued justice after the lynching of her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, in 1955. 

Invit- — invitees include cast of the film, the family of Emmett Till, students, civil rights leaders, historians, and families of victims of hate-fueled violence. 

The Biden administration is working to counter the corrosive effects of hate-fueled violence.  In March, President Biden signed H.R.55, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.  In September, the President hosted the United — the United We Stand Summit to rally a whole-of-society response to prevent and recover from hate-fueled violence and to foster national unity.

With that, Zeke, you want to kick us off?

Q    Thank you, Karine.  I know the President is back from his physical.  Are we going to get a readout from his physician at some point? 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as you just mentioned, the President had his — his physical this morning.  It was very — very much — the exam was straightforward.  And as you all saw, he returned to the White House to get back to work.

In — hopefully, in a couple of hours, later today, we will have a comprehensive written report from his doctor.  The same — this is going to be the same transparent way that we did it back in 2021.  So, you can expect to hear directly from his doctor via this comprehensive written report. 

Q    Any flags in the physical?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t want to get ahead of — of the doctor.  As you saw, he just got back moments ago.  They’re working to finalize the memo.  As soon as we have that for you all, we certainly will share that.

Q    And the President is going to give remarks in — in about an hour or so on the unidentified objects that have been shot down, on the Chinese spy surveillance program, on the balloon.  There’s been that interagency review process underway last week.  Is it safe to assume, now that the President is speaking, that that review is now done?  And should we expect to hear about these new procedures that you have been previewing the last couple of days?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just first say, I’m not going to get ahead of the President in his remarks, which will happen momentarily. 

He will speak about the United States’ response to the recent aerial objects.  That includes our devi- — decisive response to China’s high-altitude surveillance balloon and the President putting the safety and security of the American people always first.  So that’s what you’ll hear from him, but I’m not going to get ahead of the details.

As far — as it relates to the interagency team, they are continuing to work intensively on putting forth parameters to — to what — you know, this is something that the President asked them to do.  So, they — that is continuing.  That work is continuing. 

But you will hear from the President, and he’ll give an update on — on what has occurred over the last several days. 

Q    And briefly: Last night, there were some reports that the — the FBI searched the University of Delaware — the President’s papers there from his time in the Senate.  Did the President consent to that search?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I understand the questions.  I know there are going to be a few more questions about that.  I’m going to say from here, as I have been for the past couple of weeks, we’re going to continue to be prudent.  I will not give any comments about this ongoing investigation.  I would refer you to the Department of Justice. 

Go ahead.  Hey, welcome. 

Q    Hi.

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

Q    It’s been a minute.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah.

Q    Good to see you.  Good to be here.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good to see you as well.

Q    On the searches — regarding the search at the University of Delaware, is there any other office space President Biden kept his records from the time he was Vice President to now?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, I’m going to respond the same way I just did with Zeke — is we’re just going to continue to be consistent here.  And I’m just not going to respond to — or give comment to — to what’s occurring right now with that investigation.  I’d refer to Department of Justice. 

Q    Okay.  Can you say what prompted the search?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Again, I would refer you to Department of Justice. 

Q    One on Nikki Haley, who is now running for President.  She is calling for mental competency tests for politicians 75 and up, clearly a dig at the current President. 

In her first speech, she — since announcing her run, she said, “America is not past our prime, it’s just that our politicians are past theirs.  We won’t win the 21st century if we keep trusting politicians from the 20th century.”  Does the President have any response to that statement?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’ll say this — again, I’m going to be very careful, as I am speaking about a candidate.  She is currently a can- — as you all know, a candidate for 2024, so I am covered by the Hatch Act.  So, I’m not going to speak to her directly and her comments specifically.

But I will say this, more broadly: You know, we’ve heard these types of attacks or remarks before.  And, you know, if you go back to 2020, they said that the President couldn’t do it in 2020 and attacked him there, and he beat them.

In 20- — in 2021, when he entered the White House and worked to do his best to turn everything around with the economy tanking, with no COVID — real COVID comprehensive response, the President got to work and was able to pass the American Rescue Plan with the help of Democrats in Congress.  And guess what?  They turned around the economy.  And he beat them there, too. 

In 2022, when everyone was talking about a red wave and saying that we were going to get another shellacking, if you will, the President beat them as — at their own game there as well. 

And so, I don’t know.  Maybe they’re for- — they’ve forgotten.  Maybe they’re forgetting the wins that this President has had over the last couple of years.  But I’m happy to remind them anytime. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  The Israeli Cabinet has voted to expand the settlements — Israeli settlements into the West Bank.  What’s the Biden administration’s position on that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, a couple of things on that — on those reporting or what we have seen.  We’re deeply dismayed by Israelis’ announcement that they will advance thousands of new settlements and retroactively legalize nine outposts in the West Bank that were — that were, until now, illegal under Israeli law. 

The United States strongly opposes these unilateral measures, which — which exacerbates tensions, harm, trust between the parties, and undermines the geographic viability of the two-state solution. 

During this — his recent trip to Israel, Secretary Blinken was clear that all parties should refrain from actions that heighten tensions and take us further away from peace.

Settlement, construction, and expansion in the heart of the West Bank to include the legalization of outposts creates facts on the ground that undermine a two-state solution. 

It has been longstanding U.S. policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations that settlements are counterproductive to the cause of peace. 

The Biden administration maintains this — this firm opposition to the settlement expansion, and that is where we are with that at this time. 

Q    Thank you.  And one other topic.  Has the White House been in touch with Senator Manchin about his comments or his push that there should be talks about the debt ceiling and a reduction in spending?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’ll say, more broadly, we are — our team here is in regular communication with Senator Manchin.  We have — we’ve had, clearly, a close relationship with him in working on key historic pieces of legislation over the past two years. 

Look, the President’s stance on negotiation stands — stands — right? — which is he does not believe, as it relates to the debt ceiling, that we should be negotiating.  That is not — that is not his belief.  His belief: It is a constitutional duty of Congress to deal with the debt ceiling, just like they have done multiple times — three times with the last President.

We should not be — there should not be conditions around this.  We should not be negotiating. 

And, again, if they want to talk about ways to lower the deficit, like the President has done the last two years — $1.7 trillion.  The President has said he — he said yesterday in his — the State of the Union address that his — his fiscal plan, his budget will lower the deficit by another $2 trillion.  Clearly, we’ll have more to share on March 9th.

He’s willing to have that conversation.  He’s willing to see what Republicans are going to put forward and how they see dealing with — dealing with the budget in a fiscally responsible way.  

But as it comes to the debt ceiling, he is going to — we’re going to continue to be where we are.  He mentioned this yesterday in his speech, which is he doesn’t believe that this should be — we should be negotiating.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  I know the EPA Administrator was visiting East Palestine today.  I was wondering — the Ohio governor was talking about efforts to get federal support.  He said that they still have not gotten an indication from FEMA that they can get support at this point.  What — what are the hurdles there that you guys see on the administration side?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, the governor, as you mentioned today, asked for additional public health testing and assessments.  We’re deploying teams from HHS and the CDC now.

As you all know, these needs are much more expansive than what FEMA can meet.  And so, FEMA is on the frontlines when there is a hurricane or a tornado, as you know.  You’ve seen the President visit devastated areas across the country. 

This situation is very different.  And so, that doesn’t mean FEMA isn’t supporting a response.  They indeed are.  This is a multiple-agency response that are — folks that are involved, as you — the agencies that are involved, as I just mentioned — HHS, CDC, EPA as well.  And they are coordinating with the emergency operations center and working closely with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. 

Each federal agency has its own unique role here, and we’ve mobilized an interagency team to get the people of Palestine — Palestine — (corrects pronunciation) — pardon me — of East Palestine, to be more exact, the support that they need.

And, look, our priority, as I said two days ago, is the health and safety of the community.  That is indeed our top priority for the moment as we look at what they’re dealing with in Ohio.

Q    And then just one more on a foreign policy topic.  China yesterday warned — or threatened, I guess — of countermeasures against U.S. entities in response to the shootdown of their spy balloon.  Today, they sanctioned two U.S. defense contractors.  Is there any response there?  And what does this mean for the bilateral relationship?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, the way that we see that there — there’s the sanctions that you just mentioned — is that these are symbol — symbolic and — measures and unnecessary.  That’s how we view them. 

And, look, China can speak to their own actions, but, again, we see them as symbolic and unnecessary.

Go ahead, Michael. 

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Back —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  The other Michael. 

Q    I’m sorry?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  There’s two Michaels. 

Q    (Laughs.)  Okay. 

Q    It’s okay.  Go ahead. 

Q    On the train derailment in Ohio, Secretary Buttigieg has gotten some criticism — some of it — much of it in Ohio, some of it from Democrats and Republicans, who argue that he waited too long to respond and that he’s — has seemed to be fixated on trying to deflect blame to the previous administration.

So, does the President — is he satisfied with the — with the government’s response to this derailment?  And is he — does he have confidence in —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes, absolutely.

Q    — continue to have confidence in Secretary Buttigieg?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I can answer that very quickly and very — with quick — with confidence from here that we do have absolute confidence in — in Mayor Pete — in Sec- — I always say that — Secretary Buttigieg.

All right.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  There’s been some reporting about this, but it would be great to hear about it from you.  When did the U.S. first begin tracking the balloon?  Was when it first took off from Hainan Island?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, that’s a good question.  I know that the Pentagon has answered — kind of answered that before, actually laid out a timeline of when that all occurred.  I don’t have that in front of me to share with all of you, so I would point you to the Pentagon. 

And so, again, they’ve had detailed information on the tracking of the balloon and when it was first — when it was first, I guess, seen or visible to them, and also laid out when the President was — was informed.  I just don’t have that to — it’s in great detail.  I just don’t have that in front of me at this time. 

Q    And has the intelligence community now concluded that it likely began heading east but veered off course and that’s why it ended up traversing the United States?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, you know, I want to be really mindful here because I have heard — I’ve heard this before.  I don’t — I don’t have any specifics to share on that.  You’re talking about the Hawaii and the Guam piece to this?  So, I just want to be super careful there.  And I would probably refer you to the Pentagon. 

And what we think that they are doing is they are deflecting, they’re coming up with excuses, and trying to spin this. 

And — and at the end of the day, their — their surveillance balloon was indeed in our airspace.  And they said it was — as you all know, they said it was a potential weather balloon, which it was not. 

And so, it’s been very clear.  The whole — all of the American people, the entire world saw what — what China did, and it was irresponsible. 

Q    Chinese officials were initially not very responsive — for example, when the Secretary of Defense tried to get a hold of them.  Are they being more responsive now?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’ll say this: Our — our approach with China is going to continue to be calm, resolute, and practical.  And we have said this before: We’re going to continue to keep our airwaves, our communication lines open, and continue to have those conversations, as we have been before the China surveillance balloon and after. 

But, look, again, you know, what they did was irresponsible.  We — it is up to China to decide how they want to move forward with this relationship. 

As you all know, the President and President Xi met at the G20.  They said that they would be good actors; they were — they were a country that we could work with. 

And let’s see.  Are they going to build on that and show that they — it’s something that they are willing to do?  And that is — that’s on them.

Q    But are they picking up the phone?  Are they communicating?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m — I’m not going to go into de- — details on diplomatic conversations or a discussion that’s currently happening.  But I can say that the lines of communication has been open.  There has been discussions.  The — like I said, days before the balloon arrive- — balloon went on its path and certainly after.

Go ahead.

Q    To follow on that — Karine, thank you so much.  The Vice President said on China — kind of following up on what Nancy was asking you — “I don’t think” this issue with the Chinese spy balloon has changed relations with China.  Does the President agree with that assessment?  And how is the administration viewing the broader relationship?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, it’s very much to what I was just saying what our approach to China is going to continue to be, which is calm, resolute, and practical.  And we’re going to — the President has been very clear: We will continue to keep open lines of communication with China.  That has not changed.  And we saw China’s behavior; it was irresponsible and visible.

Q    Has nothing changed in the wake of this, Karine?  Because we’ve heard a lot of top officials say, clearly, this was a violation of the U.S. sovereign airspace. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, and you’ve heard us say this from here, too.  It was a — a violation of U.S. airspace.  And we have been very clear with — with our communications with China.  That has not — that has not changed. 

You saw how Secretary Blinken postponed his trip to China because of their irresponsible behavior.  And, you know, I don’t have a trip to announce from here or when that trip is going to continue.  That is something that the Secretary of — the Secretary is going to decide with the President. 

But, again, we have been very clear: China’s — China — what China did was irresponsible.  It was irresponsible actions.

Q    What’s the level of expectation that Secretary Blinken will meet with his Chinese counterpart in Munich?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m not going to get ahead of that.  Like I said, the lines of communication has continued to be open, and we’re — we will continue to have those discussions. 

And, again — and as I mentioned moments ago, we are going to hear from the President.  He’s — he’s going to speak very decisively about our response to China’s high-altitude surveillance balloon.  So, you’ll hear from the President, and he’ll lay that out. 

Q    If I could try one more time on Nikki Haley’s comments.  I heard you respond to what she said.  But more broadly speaking, if the American public decides or it becomes clear that there’s a broad desire to have a competent — a competency test for all of the candidates above the age of 75, would the President submit to that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals from here.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Can you talk about what qualities the President would look for in the next World Bank President?  And are there any candidates at this time?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have anything to share on that.  And I’m just going to let the proc- — the President do — do his process in how he’s going to move forward.  But I’m not going to go into details. 

Q    And one more.  Tesla workers in Buffalo, New York, say that a number of employees were terminated after they announced plans to form a union.  Does the White House have any response to that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’m not going to speak to — to specific efforts from here. 

But what I’ll say is the President supports fundamental rights for workers under the National Labor Relations Act, including the right to organize free from intimidation or coercion.  That’s why he’s adopted a strong leadership team and increased funding for the NLRB and has urged Congress to pass the PRO Act, to strengthen opportunities for private-sector workers to make a free and fair choice. 

But I’m not going to speak to this — those specific actions that have been reported today. 

Q    Can I follow up on the Tesla question?  Biden has obviously said he’s the most pro-union President.  I mean, does he think that Tesla acted inappropriately or illegally?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m just — I — I hear the question.  I’m just going to say that we’re just not going to speak specifically to those actions.  

But clearly, the President supports the rights for workers under — under the NLR Act.  So I’ll just leave it there.

Q    And just another one on the “Till” screening later.  Can you say who from the administration or from the family will be actually in attendance or maybe some of the cast?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mentioned that there will be some members of the cast there, some civil rights leaders there, some members of the family will be there.  Just don’t have a list to share with you at this time. 

But this is something that the President and the First Lady is very much looking forward to it.  Remember, we are in Black History Month, and we think it’s important for — to screen this movie, a very incredibly powerful movie.

As you know, Emmett Till was part of the reason the civil rights movement started.  And so, we are very much looking to — welcoming the family, Civil Rights leaders, and also the cast here.

Go ahead.

Q    Can you give us an update on efforts to recover debris from the three unidentified floating objects?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as — as we have mentioned before, because of the weather — because of the weather condition, it has been very difficult to get the debris.  And so — so, we are — you know, we are allowing the Pentagon and — and — and the Department of Defense to do their work in trying to bring the debris that is clearly in — in the — in the water to the ground.  And so, we just don’t have much to share there. 

But what I can say is — when people — when I’ve been asked what are they exactly, while we can’t definitively say without analyzing the debris what these objects were, so far we haven’t seen any indication of anything that points specifically to the idea that these three objects were part of the PRC surveillance program or that they were definitively involved in in external intelligence collection efforts against the United States.

We can also rule out that they were operated by the U.S. government.  Right now, the intelligence community is considering — and I’ve said this before, you’ve heard my colleagues from NSC say this before as well — is that they could be tied to commercial or research entities and benign. 

Efforts are actively underway at all sites to find what is left of these objects so that we can better understand them. 

The President has directed his team to make — to make sure that we’re briefing Congress on a regular basis, as you have seen us do the last two days. 

But, again, because of the weather, because it is February and it has been very difficult to — to get the debris from the objects, it has taken us some time.

Q    As the President plans this trip to Poland, polls indicate that public support is shifting away from the war in Ukraine or at least that there’s growing public concern that too much is being spent on — on this war, helping Ukraine.  Is part of the goal of the President’s speech to speak to a domestic audience?  Or is this primarily about the global — you know, meeting the leaders?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I would say, more broadly, anytime the President speaks, he’s clearly speaking as well to the American people, even if he’s abroad.  And so, I think that’s always important to note.

Look, this is going to be the one-year — he’s going there ahead of the one-year anniversary and sending a strong message of solidarity.  And — and the President understands — and to reaffirm — right? — our support for the Ukrainian people as they’re fighting back against a brutal war that Russia started almost a year ago. 

And the President believes it’s important to show that solidarity.  It’s important to show our partnership and how — and that we are indeed supporting our NATO Allies.  And so, that’s what you’re going to see.  And also, the eastern flank, right?  We’re going to Eastern Europe, as you — as you just mentioned. 

And so, look, we’re going to show that unity.  We’re going to show that support.  We’re going to show that it is important to be there when a country is fighting for their democracy, fighting for their sovereignty.  And that’s what you’re going to see from the President. 

And, of course, anytime the President speaks, he is — he’s, of course, speaking as well to the American people. 

Go ahead.

Q    The mayor of East Palestine said yesterday it was the first time he had heard anything from the White House about the train derailment.  Could you talk a little bit about your — the White House’s outreach and what you plan to do in the days ahead and why you hadn’t reached out earlier?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:   So, again, the health and safety of the community is our top priority. 

I mentioned, I believe on Tuesday, that EPA had been on the ground since February 4th.  And so, they have been on the ground for some time.  But I can give you a little bit of where we are today. 

President Biden spoke directly to Governor DeWine to offer federal assistance.  And the EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, is East Palestine now.  I believe he’s going to be holding a press conference in about 20 minutes or so.  And so — and to talk about the ongoing efforts and what we’re doing on the ground.

Multiple federal agencies have been on the ground — as I just mentioned, some of them since February 4th — working hand in glove with the state and local officials who are leading the emergency response — response efforts. 

They’re working to get to the bottom of what caused the derailment, monitoring air quality, collecting soil samples, testing surface and groundwater for any cont- — contaminants. 

And I know we understand the residents are concerned, as they should be, and they have — and they have questions.  That’s all understandable.  And, you know, we’re going to get to the bottom of this.  We’re going to try and figure out an answer to what occurred. 

So, we’re going to get through this together.  We’re going to hold Norfolk Southern accountable.  And right now, listen to — we’re going to — our message to the — to folks in Ohio, in that area, is to listen to your state and local officials.

It is important to listen to them, to allow them to do their work.  And we are going to do everything that we can to keep that community healthy and safe and get to the bottom of this as well. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  About the President’s health.  More broadly than the doctor’s report and so on that we’re waiting for, can you speak to how confident he is that he’s going to feel up to it — he’s going to feel good getting up in the morning to do this job — a very grueling job — not just today or even in two years to finish out this term, but in six years from today, when he would obviously be, you know, 86?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes. 

Q    Yeah.  Yes what?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes.  You asked me if he’s going to be up to it.  Yes.  (Laughs.)

Q    No, no, no.  I asked — I asked, “Are you…” — does he —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, look —

Q    — express how confident he is?  That’s not a “yes.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, look — look, you know, we get this question a lot, as you all know.  And here’s what I have to say about it.  The President always says this, which is: Watch him.  And if you watch him, you’ll see that he has a grueling schedule that he keeps up with, that sometimes some of us are not able to keep up with. 

He was — State of the Union, I believe he spent 90 minutes speaking to Congre- — congressional members in front of him, to the American people.  After that, he spent an hour shaking hands and saying hello and greeting the congressional members and their guests. 

And this is a President that works day in and day out, you know, in a — in a grueling fashion, in a gruel- — with a grueling schedule, and delivers. 

And let’s not forget: It is interesting that we get this question about this President, who has had one of the most historical presidency in his first two years than any other President — almost any other President. 

And you think about the historic pieces of legislation that he’s gotten through that many have made jokes about.  You think about the bipartisan legislation — Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that — you know, the last guy joked every week that it was Infra- — Infrastructure Week and could not get it done.  Many presidents tried to get that done and could not get it done.  And this President did it in a bipartisan way. 

And there’s a long list that I can go through.  I know you guys don’t want to hear me go through them at this time, but we’ve talked about them over and over and over again.

And it is surprising that we get this question when you look at this record of this President and what he has been able to do and deliver for the American people.  And he is able to do that because he’s clearly capable on so many ways, on so many levels.  And he’s going to continue to do that in the years up — in the years coming.

Q    Thanks.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  There is an interagency delegation that’s visiting Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, currently.  And they’re meeting with high-level officials from GCC countries.  Is the meeting meant to counter Iran activities in the region?  Is it strengthening the relationship with the GCC countries, especially in counterterrorism?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, yes, I saw that the delegation — we have — I have a response for you here: The senior officials of the United States and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, convened a meeting of the working group on Iran at the GCC’s headquarters.  Yesterday, as you — as you noted, the working group affirmed the longstanding partnership between the United States and the members of the GCC and our shared determination to contribute to regional security and stability. 

The United States and GCC members states condemned Iran’s continued destabilati- – – destabilization policies, including its support for terrorism and the use of advanced missiles, cyber weapons, and unmanned aircraft systems and their proliferation in the region and around the world. 

The United States and GCC members states raised their grave concern about the Iranian military’s deepening two-way cooperation with state and non-state actors, including Iran’s ongoing provision of conventional weapons, advanced missiles, and the UAS systems to the — to the Hou- — to the Houthis that have prolonged the conflict in Yemen, worsening the humanitarian disaster there.

The further this — they further underline that Iran’s nuclear advances, as documented by the IAEA, have no credible civilian purpose and are gravely exacerbating regional and global tensions. 

They called on Iran to immediately reverse course, cease its nuclear provocations, engage in meaningful diplomacy, and fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency investigations.

The United States and GCC member states expressed their commitment to expanding defense cooperation. 

And I will leave it there.

Q    And just to follow up on the settlements question, will be any consequences for Israel over this expansion of the outpost?  And (inaudible) —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m not going to go beyond the statement that we’ve put out.  The State Department actually spoke to this as well, as I just laid out what — what our fe- — what — how we see what just occurred with the settlement.  I’m just not going to go beyond that.

Go ahead, Steven. 

Q    A question for the record about the physical and then on to something else.  The last time the President had a physical, in November of 2021, he was sedated during the colonoscopy.  Power was temporarily transferred to the Vice President.  Did that happen today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, last year, as you know, he got a — he had a colonoscopy last year, and — which was entirely normal, and therefore he did not need a screening this year.  So that’s why you won’t see that occurring once again this year.

Q    This morning, CBS News reported that an unknown number of veteran service members who were kicked out of the military for being gay or lesbian have tried to get their discharges upgraded from “less than honorable.”  Apparently, there’s a bureaucratic morass.  It can take months.  Is the President aware of this problem?  Is there anything he can do about it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, the President — and you’ve heard him say this before.  You’ve seen it in statements.  You heard him say it.  He believes our country and our military are stronger when everyone qualified to — to wear the uniform can do it without discrimination.  That is the President’s belief.  That’s something the President also believes very strongly, given his leadership helping repeal — if — I know you — you follow this — the terrible policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which inflicted great harm on service members and their families. 

Under his leadership, the military doesn’t just welcome LGBTQ+ service members, it’s led at the highest levels by brave LGBTQ+ veterans.  It’s concerning — it is very concerning that veterans who were unfairly discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been facing these challenges to upgrade their discharge, denying them benefits they have earned.  And it’s something we are definitely going to look into. 

The Department of Defense has worked to simplify the process of applying to the military department discharge review boards to correct past records, and they have also conducted outreach campaigns to make sure that veterans know how to access this process, which is critical because no veteran should feel overlooked or that the process is inaccessible.  So something that we are looking towards, and we find this — we think it’s an important issue that we need to make sure that we reevaluate and assess.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks.

Q    Hi, Karine.  I just wanted to ask about the East Palestine matter again.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Sure.

Q    So, there — in the immediate aftermath of that, Norfolk Southern offered a rather modest donation to — (inaudible) $25,000.  And last night, there was a public meeting at which Norfolk Southern didn’t appear.  What does the White House make of that response?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Say that one more time.  Norfolk self — you —

Q    There was a public meeting at which its representative did not appear, having previously said they would.  What does the White House make of that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I can’t speak to, you know, the appearance or non-appearance of them. 

What I can say is what we’re focused on.  As I mentioned, there is a — you know, a multi-agency response to what is occurring in East Palestine, and we take this very seriously.

Our — we are going to be committed to making sure that the safety and the health of the community is addressed.  And as you just heard me say, the EPA Administrator is on the ground currently, and the President has been in regular touch with the governor.

Q    And just to follow up with one thing.  There was a bipartisan letter — one Republican and three Democrats — calling for the EPA to use its existing authority to ensure that northern — Norfolk Southern pays for the cleanup.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, the —

Q    Is that something the White House is (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — look, as you know, there’s an active inve- — investigation underway.  So, the National Transportation Security Board is on site and looking into the cause of the derailment.  I just don’t want to get ahead of it at this time.  But, again, an active — active situation happening.

Q    Thanks, Karine.

MS. DALTON:  Karine, we have to go.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh, we got to go.  Okay, you have the last question. 

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Yeah.  I wanted to ask you — the Congressional Budget report.  So, the President said that he has cut the deficit over the past two years.  But isn’t that misleading for Americans because it was the COVID spending that ended that really brought that money down, as well as the President signing an increase in ongoing federal spending?  And now the CBO is saying the federal deficit this year is $1.4 trillion and averaging $2 trillion until 2033.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, the President has long made reducing the deficit and — and being fisi- — fiscally responsible as a priority.  He did — he did that as a President.  He’s — he believed that as Vice President and something he believed as a senator. 

And — and, I think, look no further than his speech yesterday.  Look no further, also, I guess, his speech — the State of the Union — where he said that he’s going to continue to cut the deficit by $2 trillion in his — in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2024 budget.  And that’s something that you all are going to see on — on March 9th, when he push — puts forth his budget.  And this is something that the President is completely committed to.  And he has proven that he can do it just the last two years. 

But here’s the thing: You have congressional Republicans who want to increase the deficit by $3 trillion.  When you think about repealing the Inflation Reduction Act, when you think about extending the Trump tax cuts, that is $3 trillion that they are looking to balloon the deficit.  And so, their plan actually doesn’t help what they’re — what they’re listing out that they want to do.  And they also want to give tax cuts to the wealthy.  That is what they want to do.  That is how they’re moving forward. 

The President has been very clear — you see it in his record, $1.7 trillion — and you’re going to see it again when he puts his budget out on March 9th.

Q    How does spending cuts in that budget as well as tax increases —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m not going to get ahead of the President.  I’m just saying what he laid out to all of you yesterday: $2 trillion, he’s going to de- — he’s going to lower the deficit.  And that shows fiscal responsibility, and that’s something that the President has talked about as Vice President, as senator.  And he’s shown — he’s shown it.   He has the receipts. 

Thank you, everybody.  See you tomorrow. 

1:48 P.M. EST

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/02/16/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-2-16-2023/