Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre En Route Kansas City,

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Kansas City, Missouri

12:00 P.M. CST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Good afternoon, everybody.  I hope you’re all ready for some good, great, amazing barbecue.  That’s a joke.  Ha ha.

Okay, a quick overview of what we’ll be doing today in Missouri.  As you all know, the President will visit the Kansas City Area Transport- — Transportation Authority, where he will be briefed on the Authority’s operations and how it is benefiting from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

He will be joined there by the Authority’s president and CEO Robbie Makinen, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, and Representatives Sharice Davids and Emanuel Cleaver.

President Biden will also hear from the president of the local Ama- — Amalgama- — Amalgamated — sorry — Transit Union, Will Howard, on how members of his union benefit from the funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.  

The historic investment in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide more than $670 million for public transportation, making commutes easier so people can get to work and home faster.  It will also help Kansas City’s ambitious “zero fare, zero emissions” plan to reduce pollution and increase opportunity by providing free public transit and transitioning its bus fleet to electric buses. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will also support projects like replacing the Buck O’Neil Bridge in Kansas City and a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport. 

Today, we’re also — we — we’re also launching the Build Back — I’m sorry, we’re also launching and an accompanying bill — an accompanying brand “Build a Better America.”  So again, that — we’re launching Build- — and an accompanying brand, “Building a Better America.” 

“Building a Better America” represents the heart of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — how these historic investments will bring Americans together to rebuild our country’s infrastructure better than before and change people’s lives for the better. 

You’ll start to see this at today’s event, listening sessions with Cabinet members, and across the administration’s digital channels. 

In the coming months, will grow to serve as a hub for governors, mayors, Tribal Leaders, businessowners, union members, and Americans to learn more about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, how to help rebuild our country, access resources for their communities, see progress the administration is delivering, and much more.

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

Q    Thanks.  Two questions to start.  The first one is on Russia.  Is the President concerned that his credibility may suffer if, despite the threat of severe consequences to Putin — if Putin goes ahead and invades Ukraine despite the meeting yesterday and the threat of severe consequences for foreign invasion?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, let me just first say, the President actually took a couple of questions right before boarding Marine One.  So, I just want to give you, from him — directly what he said was, you know, his conversation was a “straightforward” conversation.  “There were no minced words.  It was polite.”  But he made clear if, in fact, that Putin invades Ukraine — Russia invades Ukraine — “there will be severe consequences” and severe “economic consequences.” 

He also made it clear we would provide the defensive capabilities to the Ukraine — Ukrainians as well. 

The “good news” and the “positive news,” the President said, “is that, thus far, our teams have been in constant contact… We’re having meetings at a higher level, not just with us but… at least four of our major NATO Allies and Russia to discuss.”

He was also asked, “Are you confident that [Putin] got the message and knows this is different?”  And he said, “I [have] absolute confidence he got the message.” 

So, again, we — the goal here — and as Jake Sullivan said yesterday during the briefing with Jen Psaki — was that our goal is to make sure that we head to diplomacy and de-escalate.  That is going to be the focus.  That’s what the teams are going to be working on.  And that was what the President said directly and in a straightforward way to Putin.

Q    And on the Democracy Summit tomorrow and Friday, in addition to talking about upholding democracy abroad, can you give us a sense of whether the President will talk about what he’s doing to uphold democracy here at home?  For example, will he talk about the struggle to get voting rights legislation passed?  Will he talk about the January 6th insurrection — those kinds of things?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I don’t want to get ahead of what the President is going to say tomorrow.  But as — all the things that you just mentioned, Darlene, are clearly things that the President feels are key and important things that we need to address here in our country. 

But I do want to say this: On day zero of the Summit for Democracy, we are excited to be convening over 100 governments and even more members of civil society and the private sector to focus on what the President has called “the challenge of our time,” reversing the ongoing global democ- — democratic recession and ensuring that democracies deliver for their people. 

So that is kind of the goal, as we all know, of the summit.  And that’s going to be focus of the summit.

I don’t — again, I don’t want to get ahead of the specifics of what the President is going to say.  But, clearly, what you just listed out are things that are critical and key and important for our own democracy. 

Q    Karine, so to follow up on Russia briefly: So when the President was talking about Russia and the U.S. and NATO Allies meeting, when he said that just before — as he was leaving the White House, what was he talking about?  Is that — is that something that’s happening at the leader level?  When is that happening?  Can you tell us more about that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah.  So, basically, what the President was talking about — you know, he said that there are conversations happening at different levels, as you just said. 

Look, the two Presidents tasked their teams to follow up on the issues discussed yesterday.  And as the President said, you know, his engagement with Russia will be closely coordinated with our allies and our partners that we’re constantly having conversations with. 

As you know, we put out readouts over the last couple of days.  But we don’t have anything more to share on specifics at this point, beyond the President’s comments and what Jake said yesterday during the briefing yesterday.

Q    Should we expect to see a follow-up face-to-face meeting between Vladimir Putin and President Biden?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have anything else to share on that.  As you know, yesterday’s conversation, as the President said and as Jake said, was useful.  And they’re just going to continue moving forward with making sure that — it’s all about de-escalation — right? — and making sure that we go on a path of diplomacy.

Q    Karine, the President said that that meeting with NATO and Russia would be about Putin’s security concerns.  Can you can kind of explain what concerns that the Russian President raised in their conversation that the President believes is worthy of a potential summit between those kind of bodies?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Are you talking about —

Q    When the President was departing today, he said that they’re “having meetings at a higher level” with “at least four… major NATO Allies and Russia to discuss the future of Russia’s concerns.”  And so, I’m wondering — and I know you said you couldn’t say what forum that would be, but what Russia’s concerns were that were worthy of discussion.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t know if you’re talking about the NATO component and Ukraine.  Is —

Q    I don’t know what the President was talking about when he said “Russia” — like what Russia’s concerns were that he believes NATO should be brought in on.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  So, let me — let me touch first on the NATO component because that came up.  I think Jake actually talked about this yesterday. 

So, you know, the President told Putin in their call: One nation can’t force another nation to change its border, one nation cannot tell another to change its politics, and nations can’t tell others who they can work — who they can work with.

So, the United States has consistently expressed support for the principle that every country has a sovereign right to make its own decisions with respect to its security.  That is written into the founding documents of the Alliance, and that remains U.S. policy today and will remain U.S. policy in the future.

You know, whether there will be negotiations — I think that’s the other part of…

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