Aboard Air Force One
En Route to Morrisville, NC
12:36 P.M. EST
MS. DALTON: Well, good afternoon, everyone.
We are on our way to Raleigh, where the President will announce $82 million in investments from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Project Fund to connect thousands more North Carolina homes and businesses to high-speed Internet as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Investing in America agenda.
A couple of reasons why this is really significant.
Stepping back, you may recall, when the President entered office, 24 million Americans lacked access to the Internet. Period. Millions more lacked access to affordable, reliable
Internet access — had limited or spotty connectivity.
The President crisscrossed the country during the 2020 campaign and heard from families about how they were driving their kids in the throes of a pandemic to the back of fas- — fast-food restaurants to get Wi-Fi to complete their online homework; heard from seniors about their limited access to tel- — telehealth visits; and how badly small businesses needed access to reliable, affordable Internet.
That’s why, when the President entered office, he made a commitment to endin- — ending that digital divide and ensuring that every single American and small business would have affordable access to reliable Internet, high-speed Internet by the year 2030.
Today’s announcement in North Carolina is a step forward in doing that. North Carolina is a state where one in three people lives in a rural area, so expanding high-speed, reliable Internet to thousands more homes and businesses is a very big deal.
And beyond that, the President will talk about how the American Rescue Plan has made it possible for more than 880,000 North Carolinians already to save money on their — their monthly Internet bills.
But beyond that, we’re going to North Carolina for another reason. Many of you may not know that North Carolina currently produces 40 percent of the fiber-optic cable we use here in America. And so, for a place like, you know, Hickory, North Carolina, which is responsible for producing all of that fiber-optic cable, the investments that we’re making here in North Carolina are very significant, as well as the investments we’re making all across the country, because private sector companies like
CommScore [CommScope] and Corning are making more than $550 billion of investments and expanding production locally so that — so that that fiber-optic cable can be manufactured locally with the attendant 650-plus jobs that are coming to the state.
So, this is really a win the President will be talking about for the workers of North Carolina. It’s a win for families and small businesses. And certainly, it’s a win for the econ- — economy of the state.
And the — the President is also delighted, as always, to be joined by Governor Cooper for this day.
So, with that news at the top, I’m going to turn it over to Admiral Kirby, who has some updates to share with you about the goings-on in the world. John.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Olivia.
Man, it’s cold back here.
Q It is.
MR. KIRBY: You should turn the heat up. (Laughter.)
So, just a couple of things off the top. I know you saw reports out of Central Command last night about some additional strikes that we took to knock out a range of Houthi missiles that were prepared to fire into the Southern Red Sea.
We did it again this morning, striking at some anti-ship missiles — a couple of anti-ship missiles that we had reason to believe were being prepared for imminent fire into the Southern Red Sea. Central Command —
(A reporter gestures for Mr. Kirby to speak louder.)
MR. KIRBY: Louder? Nobody ever asks me to talk louder. (Laughter.)
Central Command will have a statement out soon. So, you’ll — you’ll see all that. But that — that happened this morning.
Obviously, you’ve all seen the reports out of Pakistan that they — they fired some missiles in — into Iran. We’re monitoring this very, very closely. We don’t want to see an escalation, clearly, in South Asia — South and Central Asia. And we’re in touch with our Pakistani counterparts, as you might expect.
We’ll let the Pakistanis speak to — to their military operations. I’m not going to parse that or do any — or try to, you know, operationalize it here from — from Air Force One.
And then lastly, Jake Sullivan, our national security advisor, will be meeting this afternoon with families of the American hostages that are still being held by Hamas.
And we suspect that most, if not all, of the families will be represented in that meeting. The manifest is still being worked out. But we’ll have more to say after — after that meeting occurs.
Q John, just to start things off. What are the U.S. concerns about the situation between Pakistan and Iran? And why would you see possible risks of escalation?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, these are two well-armed nations. And again, we don’t — we don’t want to see an escalation of — of any armed conflict in the region, certainly between those two countries.
I want to let Pakistan speak to their military operations. I want to be careful about that. As you know, they were struck first by — by Iran, which was obviously a- — another reckless attack, another example of Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region. So, again, I think I’ll leave it at that.
Q Did the United States — was the United States aware of those attacks before they happened? Did the Pakistanis give —
MR. KIRBY: I am not aware of any prenotification that we received at all.
Q Does the United States intend to support Pakistan, seeing that it’s a major non-NATO ally of the country?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have an update for you on that.
Q What’s — what about just arms control? I mean, this is — the President said that this shows that Iran is not well-liked. I mean, isn’t that why they want a nuclear weapon?
MR. KIRBY: Who? Iran?
MR. KIRBY: I’ll let the Iranians and the regime speak to their — to their ambitions. We still maintain and our policy is that we — we do not want to see an Iran with nuclear weapons, because an Iran with nuclear weapons is bad for the whole region, if not globally.
Now, as the President said when he first came into office, certainly would have preferred to achieve that outcome through diplomacy. Obviously, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
So, we will make sure that we have the capabilities and the options available to the Commander-in-Chief to prevent that outcome if it comes to that. He has said clearly, we will not allow them to achieve a nuclear weapon capability.
Q John, as a long-term strategy, should Americans just expect the regular airstrikes to be the — the — at least the near term, if not the long term?
MR. KIRBY: Well, we certainly don’t want that to be case, J.J. We’re not — we’re not looking for a conflict with the Houthis. We’re not looking for a conflict in the region. But we have to be able to act in our own self-defense, not just for our ships and our sailors but for merchant ships and merchant sailors and international shipping in the Red Sea.
And, as you heard the President say this morning right before he came out here, these — these strikes will continue for as long as they need to continue to — to try to disrupt and degrade the Houthis’ ability to continue to cot- — conduct these attacks.
Q But he also said, “No,” they’re not working. So, why continue with the same strategy if the Houthis are still continuing to attack?
MR. KIRBY: With each and every one of these strikes, we are taking away capability from the Houthis. With each and every one of these strikes, we are making it harder for them to continue to propagate these attacks.
Again, as we’ve said many times, they have a choice to make. The choice ought to be to stop these reckless attacks. If they don’t, then we — we have additional options available to us, and we won’t be — we won’t be shy about using them.
Q And then can you talk about what other things are on the table? Could — I mean, could there be a change in tactics, a strike on Iran? Can you talk about what could be on the table in the future?
MR. KIRBY: No. No, I’m not going to telegraph punches one way or another, except to say is — what the President said this morning, that if the Houthis continue to — to go down this path, we will continue to — to do what we can to disrupt and degrade their ability to — to make those — to make those choices.
Q And one more on Pakistan. Has the United States assessed that these were legitimate targets?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have any military assessment independent here to talk about. As I said, we’ll let the Pakistanis speak to their operations.
Q On the Iran, do you have any reaction to the Taliban calling for peace between the countries?
MR. KIRBY: Between Iran and Pakistan? Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah, look, I’ll let — I’ll let — I’ll let the Taliban speak for themselves. I’ll let other nations that have weighed in here speak for themselves. You’ve heard from us: We’re watching this closely. We don’t want to see an escalation. We’re in touch with our — our Pakistani counterparts, as you might expect that we would be.
If the Taliban want to be taken seriously on the world stage, they need to meet the commitments that they said they would meet when — when they took over the governing structure: to treat women and girls appropriately, to abide by international law. And we haven’t seen them meet those commitments.
Q Do you have any reaction to Netanyahu rejecting a Palestinian state in a post-war scenario for Gaza?
MR. KIRBY: I would just tell you that nothing has changed about President Biden’s desire that a two-state solution is really in the best interest of not only the Israeli people but — but, of course, the Palestinian people. In fact, it’s in the best interest of the region. And we’re not going to stop working towards that goal.
This is — this is not a new comment by Prime Minister Netanyahu. We obviously see it differently. We believe that the Palestinians have every right to live in an independent state with peace and security. And the President and his team is going to continue to work on that.
Obviously, the focus right now is making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas and — and that humanitarian aid and assistance continue to get to the desperate people of — of Gaza.
But there’s going to be a post-conflict Gaza. And we have been exceedingly clear about what we want to see that look like. And we want governance in Gaza that’s representative of the aspirations of the Palestinian people, that they have a vote and a voice in what that looks like and that there’s no reoccupation of Gaza.
Q But what reason do you have to believe that he’s not actively working against that outcome, if that’s his view?
MR. KIRBY: Again, he’s been very clear about his view. We’ve been very clear about our view. That’s not going to change, and we’re going to continue to have those discussions not just with our Israeli counterparts but with our other counterparts in the region.
We still think — Trevor, this is a — we still think it’s viable. We still think it’s possible. We still think it’s the — it’s the best outcome for the Israeli people as well as the Palestinian people.
Q The Wall Street —
Q You said he’s been “very clear” on that before. When — when has he specifically said he does not want —
MR. KIRBY: He has said in — in recent comments that he’s not — not in support of that.
Q Publicly or privately, do you mean?
MR. KIRBY: Publicly.
Q The Wall Street Journal reported that the Iraqi Prime Minister had asked the U.S.-led military leadership to leave the United — to leave Iraq. Is that something that you guys have heard formally? Is there any comment that you can —
MR. KIRBY: I’d say — I’d say a couple of things on this.
I mean, first of all, I’m not going to disclose diplomatic conversations that we’re having with the Iraqis. We are there at their invitation. We continue to be there at their invitation to go after — to help them, the Iraqi security forces, go after ISIS, which is still a viable threat in Ir- — in Iraq and — and in Syria, quite frankly, as well.
And we’re — we’re grateful for the cooperation that we get, the support that we get. We’re grateful for the relationship that we have with the Iraqi security forces. And we’ll be in constant consultations with the Iraqi government as this moves forward.
Q But it — were — were those comments a surprise to the administration? I mean, they were on-the-record comments.
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to — I’m not going to characterize diplomatic conversations one way or the other. We — we know we’re at the — we’re there at the invitation of the Iraqis, and — and we’ll consult with them appropriately about what that — what that mission looks like going forward and, therefore, what posture and resources have to be applied to that mission going forward.
Q Kirby, on the Hill, there is a growing number of Democratic lawmakers who have said it’s maybe time to rethink the strategy with Israel, given that Netanyahu has repeatedly ignored U.S. guidance and advice. There’s more people who have favored conditioning aid. I just wonder what the administration’s responses to that are.
MR. KIRBY: I — I think the — the record does not bear out that the — that the Israelis have ignored American advice or — or U.S. leadership’s views and perspectives and — and counsel. That just — the record just doesn’t bear that out.
Whether it’s tailoring their military operations in the north, adding additional humanitarian corridors, opening up the Kerem Shalom gate, providing information to — to folks on the ground about where they’re operating, relying a little less on airstrikes than they were on the outset — I could go on and on.
All of these things were really driven by President Biden and by the national security team in terms of urging the Israelis to take a different tack than maybe what they would — would have otherwise done.
Now, again, they’re a sovereign nation. They get to choose what military operations they conduct. We understand that. But as Secretary Blinken has said many, many times: How they do that matters, and we are talking to them about the “how.” And they have been receptive to those messages.
I also want to say, while I’m on this topic: One civilian casualty is one too many. And there have been too many. And we have talked to them about that as well, in terms of tailoring their operations to be more — more discriminant, more cautious, more careful.
And, as a matter of fact, one of the things that we’ve ur- — we had been urging them to do and you’re now starting to see them do is transition to lower-intensity operations, particularly up in the — up in the north. They’ve announced, just over the last couple of days, the removal of a whole division of troops. That’s the beginning of what we hope will be this transition to lower-intensity operations. And that is something that we have been urging them to do.
Q And — and if I could just ask on that. Does the administration plan to go to Congress to authorize any of the strikes that it needs to take against the Houthis, or do you feel that these don’t need congressional authorization?
MR. KIRBY: These — these strikes are being done in keeping with the President’s Article 2 authorities under the Constitution of — as Commander-in-Chief and also being conducted in accordance with U.N. Charter Article 51, self-defense.
Q On the hostage meeting today that Jake Sullivan is doing, is there a particular reason for it? Does he have something to announce to them? Is he just reassuring them that you’re still on it? Or is — what’s the reason for it?
MR. KIRBY: We don’t — we don’t have an announcement. I wouldn’t lead you to think there’s going to be some announcement coming. I think it’s an opportunity to keep the conversation going and to make sure that they know, from our perspective — and I don’t want to get ahead of Jake here — but that they know, from our perspective, how — how hard we’re working to try to get their loved ones back home with them where they belong, and — and, as I said the other day in the briefing, that we are working this very, very hard. There are serious discussions go- — ongoing about trying to get another hostage deal in place.
Q Can we go to yesterday’s meeting after — with congressional leaders? Afterwards, Speaker Johnson talked about how he was in touch with former President Trump. Does the White House have any concerns about the influence of the former President on its ability to make a deal with Congress and how that dynamic works?
MS. DALTON: Right. Well, look, I think, as you know, as federal officials, we can’t speak to Trump as a candidate under the Hatch Act.
But what I can say is that, as the President has repeatedly said, there is strong bipartisan agreement on the need for action on the border. The President has continued to be clear about that since he introduced comprehensive immigration reform on day one, since he has continued to stress his openness to working with congr- — congressional — Senate Democrats and Republicans together to find compromise and common ground on the border in good faith, and as he’s consistently asked Congress for more resources to deal with the border.
Q Is —
MS. DALTON: And so —
Q Is it possible, though, to act in good faith? Does —
MS. DALTON: Well —
Q Does Trump’s presence complicate that in any way?
MS. DALTON: Look, I think you’ve heard from the President, even this morning on the South Lawn just a few moments ago. He believes that our work with Senate Democrats and Republicans on the border, while we haven’t reached a final agreement on funding and policy, is moving in the right direction. He is optimistic that the conversations are productive and positive, and we’re going to keep at it.
But, look, here’s the bottom — bottom line: We’ve, right now, put forward a national security supplemental request that not — let’s not forget, if — if Congress is really serious — congressional Republicans are serious about the border, they could act tomorrow and pass the President’s request to put a thousand more border agents on the border, to get a thousand more — over a thousand more law enforcement agents down on the border to stop the flow of fentanyl.
But what we’re seeing is, instead, this conversation. Now, the President is willing to have this give-and-take, have this conversation, and work in good faith across the aisle. But what he would really like to do is see Republicans reach back across the aisle and seize the opportunity at hand to work in good faith to come to an agreement here.
Q Given the urgency that — that you spelled out with especially Ukraine aid, has there been any discussion with Congress on decoupling these issues, maybe breaking up that — that security supplemental to deal with these issues separately?
MS. DALTON: Well, look, I’m not going to get into the private discussions with Congress.
But, as you saw yesterday, the President met with key leaders in Congress to discuss the stakes for Ukraine. He went around the table, gave everybody the opportunity to speak. It was a robust discussion where everybody had the opportunity to make input. And you better believe the President was very clear about the stakes for Ukraine in this moment, the urgency of that funding.
As you know, I think, the NSA Jake Sullivan, DNI Director Haines both laid out very clearly and in detailed fashion some specific examples of what the stakes would be in Ukraine if we weren’t able to get Congr- — get — get past this point of Congress obstructing the flow of aid to Ukraine very — very soon.
And one of the critical things the President underlined was not just about our concerns with respect to Ukraine and the national security stakes there but also with respect to what we’ve seen in the past from, you know, unchecked brutal aggression by dictators. Learning the lessons of history, we know that they don’t stop when they are left to their own devices and left unchecked.
And so, certainly, the President conveyed a sense of urgency about the stakes for our — our NATO partners in the region, what — what it would mean for our NATO partners in the region if — if we don’t get Ukraine the aid that they need. And certainly, we don’t want to see, you know, our own troops put in a position where we might need to put boots on the ground.
Q Olivia, the President said that there’s no sticking points in the border talks. So, why don’t we have a deal? I mean, what’s the next step there?
MS. DALTON: Look, I think you heard from the — I’m not going to, you know, go farther than what the President said this morning. But as I just said a moment ago, the President remains very — you know, these conversations have been productive and they are moving in the right direction. The President thinks that those conversations with — that the — that our team has been having with Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans has been fruitful so far. And we’re — we remain, you know, cautiously optimistic that we’ll get there.
Q Are we on to you now? Are we done with Kirby?
MR. KIRBY: It can be, if you want. (Laughter.)
Q I just didn’t want to start asking —
MS. DALTON: (Inaudible) —
Q — domestic questions if (inaudible).
MS. DALTON: — J.J.
Q Okay. On electric vehicles. There has been — with the extreme weather, there’s been some difficulty in getting those battery charged. Do you have any thoughts on that? As you know, the — the administration has been really pushing for EVs to be the future of car transportation. Do you have any thoughts on the — the troubles with charging those batteries?
MS. DALTON: Well, as a car owner, I can promise you that whether you have a gas-powered vehicle, a hybrid-powered vehicle, and a fully electric vehicle, extreme weather temperatures impact the — the functioning of your car. Right? So, that is not unique to electric vehicles.
And certainly, we are contin- — we’re always concerned about making sure that electric vehicles — we continue the progress we’re making to make them affordable and reliable for every American.
We saw EV sales quadruple
last year [since President Biden took office]. We think that’s good progress. And we want to see that continue.
Certainly, again, with respect to some of the — the reporting that we’ve seen this week in Chicago and elsewhere, we think these are isolated incidents, but we are looking into them and seeing where we can make an impact.
Q Could you say something about the Uvalde report? In particular, you know — you know, what can communities do around the country to prevent this from happening in the future? And then on the criminal penalty issue, in particular.
MS. DALTON: Well, look, so, as I came out here, the Attorney General’s press conference was still ongoing. I know the — the President spoke to this very briefly on the South Lawn just a moment ago to underscore that we are committed to taking action to address some of the recommendations that are in — contained in that DOJ report. And I expect that very shortly, as soon as that press conference is completed, you will all receive a more detailed statement from the President.
But without getting ahead of that, I think the report today lays out very clearly and in heartbreaking detail some of what these families have been going through for the last two years. These families — we can only imagine how today’s report adds to the heartbreak that they’ve felt.
And I would just say that, you know, one thing that has been particularly remarkable about Uvalde and the community here — which, of course, the President and the First Lady were able to visit in person in May of 2022 — is how in the immediate aftermath of that they all traveled to Washington and were a very critical catalyst in the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which is, today, saving lives.
They turned their pain into purpose in a very real way and are — are saving others’ lives today as a consequence of their courageous advocacy.
That’s cold comfort to a parent that’s lost a child. But part of what you’ll hear from the President in his statement today is a commitment to moving forward and implementing the lessons learned here and also making sure that our White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention is equipped to better support communities in the aftermath of these attacks going forward.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t add that his perennial call for Congress to act is really the only, you know, way to stop future Uvaldes from happening. We need to see congressional action on a national red flag law, on universal background checks, on ending assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and so much more.
Anybody else? I think we’re landing, so —
Q Yeah, you need to get back to your seat.
MS. DALTON: I think we all do.
Q On congressional talks. After yesterday, do you think that the talks are now close enough for the Senate to vote next week?
MS. DALTON: I’m not going to make any forecasts. But I think — as I’ve said, I think, you know, you’ve heard optimism from the President this morning that there has been productive conversations with Senate Democrats and Republicans both. And we — without, you know, forecasting or making any predic- — predictions here, you know, we think things are moving in a positive direction.
So, I’ll leave it there. See you all.
Q Thanks, Olivia.
12:59 P.M. EST
Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2024/01/18/press-gaggle-by-principal-deputy-press-secretary-olivia-dalton-and-nsc-coordinator-for-strategic-communications-john-kirby-en-route-morrisville-nc/