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NSC Spokesman John Kirby Gives White House Briefing Amid Questions About Biden's Candidacy; Russia Kills At Least 36 Across Ukraine In Daytime Missile Attacks; White House Press Secretary Continues White House Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 08, 2024 - 14:30   ET



SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: So that is, again, one of the many things that security officials are considering going into the Milwaukee convention.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: There's that Milwaukee convention. Then, of course, we have the Democrats in August as well.

Sean Lyngaas, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

So ahead, Beryl losing strength, but not before doing extensive damage in Texas. Major flooding in homes just torn to pieces. Where the storm is now headed. That's next.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: We are closely watching the press briefing at the White House right now. NSC Spokesperson John Kirby is speaking to reporters. We'll obviously keep an eye on this.

Actually, let's go ahead and listen right now.

JOHN KIRBY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN: This president has invested in allies and partnerships. And when we took office, as I said, nine, only nine allies had reached the 2 percent level. Now, 23.

That's not by accident. That's because of leadership. That's because a constant stewardship of the alliance and other partnerships around the world.

Now the president's record speaks for itself. And the allies and the non-NATO friends and partners that are coming as well, they know that. They wouldn't become -- New Zealand, Japan, South Korea -- to a NATO summit if they didn't believe in American leadership and how important it is.

And if they didn't believe that President Biden takes that responsibility extremely serious.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Admiral, good to see you.

On the point about European countries and NATO members boosting their defense spending, that was something that was a big concern of the last president, for the reason many of them are boosting their funding.

KIRBY: And it was a concern for the president before the last president. As you recall, President Obama said the same thing. This -- this pledge goes back a decade or so.

But the numbers speak for themselves. And rather than brow beating and yelling and screaming and complaining and whining about it, President Biden invested in this alliance.

And in just the last three-and-a-half years now, more than double the number of allies have reached that 2 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two questions on the fallout from the debate. Have you, in your meetings with him, ever seen him appear similarly to the way he did on the debate night?

KIRBY: Look, I'm a spokesman. And you're asking me --


KIRBY: I am. The last thing I'm going to do is sit here and talk about every meeting I've had with the president.

What I can tell you is, what I saw in that debate is not reflective of the man and the leader and the commander-in-chief that I have spent many, many hours with over the last two-and-a-half years in terms of the specificity of the way he probes, the questions he asks.

Just this morning, he was asking me questions about the situation on the European continent that I couldn't answer. And I told him I had to get back to him.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When he spent time with governors last week, he suggested he'd like to curtail events that begin after 8:00 p.m. at night just because he'd rather focus on resting and doesn't want to have a long day.

In your understanding of things, has the National Security Council ever withheld information from him that he should have known late at night out of concern he might not be able processes it?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Russia has bombed Ukraine's largest children's hospital, as you noted. Do you believe the timing of these strikes is meant to send a message to NATO ahead of this week's summit?


KIRBY: It's hard to draw a line, Mary, to that. I mean, sadly, this is par for the course for Mr. Putin to hit civilian infrastructure. And he doesn't care whether you're sitting hospitals are residential buildings. I can't draw the line that this is some sort of message. As I said, and what you're going to see over the course of the week,

is a very set of strong signals and messages to Mr. Putin that he can't wait NATO out, can't wait the United States out, that we're going to continue to support Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I just wanted to ask about the air defenses and some of the deliverables that are coming out of (INAUDIBLE). Can you walk us through what you think will be happening in terms of any additional commitments, and it should the funding capture would come?

And can you say a few words about this project to consolidate the way that weapons are going to Ukraine through that distribution center that -- I think there's a center that'll be set up in these (INAUDIBLE)

KIRBY: Yes, I mean, I don't -- the purpose for me to come today was just kind of give you the lay down of the of the summit ahead and not to get too far ahead of the leaders and the specific deliverables.

But without doing that and without getting fired, I'll just tell you that you're going to see some announcements on air defense. You're going to see some announcements on deterrence capabilities, not just with respect to helping Ukraine, but boosting the alliance.

You're going to see some announcements with respect to the defense industrial base and how to shore up that and make it more resilient and investing more, including in our own industrial base here in the United States.

And you're going to see, as I alluded to, some discussion about Ukraine's path to NATO and what that -- and what that can look like. And a reaffirmation of what the president has long said that NATO is in Ukraine's future.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just about weapons, can you say whether the word "irreversible" will be in the communique?

KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of this specific language.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you say anything about the Israeli response to the Hamas response to the ceasefire proposal? What response does Israel have?

KIRBY: So no surprise. I'm not going to negotiate here from the podium or in public. I would just tell you that there has been some back-and- forth. As you know, we have a team in Cairo right now that includes Brett McGurk and the director of the CIA.

They're meeting with their Egyptian, Israeli and Jordanian counterparts. And there'll be follow-on discussions after that over the next few days.

Look, we've been working this very, very hard. And there are still some gaps that remain in the two sides and their positions. But we wouldn't have sent a team over there if we didn't think that we had a shot here. And we're going to take every shot we can to see if we can't get this ceasefire deal in place.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have a date for that?

KIRBY: I couldn't give you a date, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. John, thanks for doing this.

First, just a follow-up on that communique, even if you can't give on "irreversible."

The president's objection last year and Chancellor Scholtz's objection, if I remember Vilnius correctly, was that neither one of them wanted a date set for fear, I assume, that the United States and its allies would be drawn into the ground war if Ukraine was still at war while a NATO-member.

Does that remain today to be his primary objective -- objection? Is he willing to do wording that just short of the day. Because he even if you do the word "irreversible" or not, he doesn't really change the meaning very much of what you published in Vilnius. Is that right/

KIRBY: Well, I'll -- I'll make this simple but unsatisfying. Again, I'm not going to get into the text and the discussions about what the draft's going to look like, David. I think you can understand that.

But I do think your question is important to provide some context to. The president still believes that NATO is in Ukraine's future. What that future looks like depends on an awful lot of factors.

Right now, you've got a war going on inside Ukraine. And the focus, rightly, has got to be on helping them win that war. And we are. As I keep telling in my opening statement.

Number two, for any country that wants to join NATO, any country, and it's an -- and it's an alliance of democracies. Democracies have to meet certain -- certain guidelines, particularly when it comes to governance.

And we are and will continue to work with Ukraine on reforms that are necessary for any democracy that wants to be a member of NATO.


And the third thing I'd say is, you know, it's a unanimous vote. Everybody has to be on board with that. And that can take some time as well.

So the focus is on making sure that they can win now and that we can continue to work with Ukraine so that there is a path to NATO.

The last thing I'd say is, back to the bilateral security agreement that the president signed with President Zelenskyy at the G-7 and Italy. I mean, we're one of many other nations that have done that, too. Because we know that, whenever this war ends and however it ends and

whatever the border looks like, Ukraine still going to have a long border with Russia that's going to need to be defended.

And they're going to need the reassurance of being able to put forth a capable and competent defensive capability against Russian forces going forward.

And that's why we're making sure that there are things in line to make sure that Ukraine can defend itself.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And a follow up. You mentioned that it was 10 years ago that the 2 percent GDP goal was set. Obviously, there was no war underway at that time. And so the entire security situation looked radically different than it does -- that it did when that was said.


KIRBY: Well, I beg to differ. There was -- there was fighting in Afghanistan --


KIRBY: -- and -- and Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Yes. But I think the 2 percent may have been set, it was in --


KIRBY: Well, it may have been set before the invasion, but nevertheless, it was still a tense security environment.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Where it's something much different today. I think we're all in agreement, just given the amount of armaments --

KIRBY: Right.


So is part of the president's message at this summit, the 2 percent is in the rear-view mirror, that the NATO allies are going to have to be spending significantly more than that, maybe double that for some countries, some larger economies?

Or is he going to stay away from numbers? I know it's politically sensitive with all of them.

You also mentioned the word "win" and I was wondering how you're defining that.

KIRBY: There's a lot there. The president is not going to set a new bar or new level of GDP spending on defense here at this summit. The goal is 2 percent. It was a commitment everybody made 10 years ago.

Not everybody's there. Most of the remaining nations that haven't reached 2 percent, and most of them, not all, are working on it and are getting there.

And so I think the president wants to focus on that. Wants the laud and commemorate those who have, but also make it clear that those who haven't still have some work to do.

On "win," I think we've been consistent about this. I mean, at least I think I have. I mean, we want all of Ukraine's sovereign territory respected, which means we want no Russian forces in any part of Ukraine by the internationally recognized boundaries.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: John, you just said answering of questions to you're not picking up on signs of allies needing reassurances when it comes to President Biden. But allies also look for a secure United States.

Have you heard any conversations from the allies about issues of elections, the process here, what they've been saying, and the stability of the United States and the next few months, couple of years, et cetera?

KIRBY: I'm not aware of any specific conversations with respect to our domestic political situation. But look, April, we watch the domestic political situation of our allies and partners, of course, like we did with the U.K., with France over the weekend.

And we have no doubt that they are watching ours as well and that there'll be watching our election with -- with a lot of keen interest. We certainly would expect that.

But I'm not aware of any conversations that we've had at senior levels here, at the NSC or elsewhere here at the White House, from allies specifically about this -- this particular election.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) who gathered reporters, a couple of years ago, with concerns about democracy here?

KIRBY: They -- they might be talking to you all, but I'm not aware of any specific conversations here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I just want to circle back, Admiral, on Ed's question. So you said broadly that the president, in your view, is not represented by what was on the debate stage.

Then you gave us an anecdote about a meeting today where he was engaged and so forth.

Are you saying you have never encountered a situation where you thought that he was displaying any of those symptoms or affectations or something that would give pause or are you just declining to answer one way or not?

KIRBY: Well, I'm a little uncomfortable answering these kinds of questions because, as a spokesman, my job is to be an advisor and counselor. And I don't think it's appropriate for a spokesman to --

(CROSSTALK) KIRBY: Yes, I did because I wanted to make it clear. So, yes, I'm uncomfortable with these kinds of questions.


But to answer your -- pertaining to your specific question, in my experience, the last two-and-a-half years, I have not seen any reason whatsoever to question or doubt his lucidity, his grasp of context, his probing nature, and the degree to which he is completely in charge of facts and figures.

And if he isn't, what I've seen is -- because it happened to me this morning -- when he isn't and when I can't be in command of those facts and figures, I have to dress up and go get the information that he's asking for. And he asked me some questions this morning I didn't have answers for.


Two questions for you. Israeli has been going through its largest seizure of land in the West Bank, which undermines the president's vision for a two-state solution. So why do I have to be mum that?

And when the president --


KIRBY: It's not that we'd been mum there. There was a -- we have -- there was a statement put out by the State Department about this call for settlements.

We continue -- nothing's changed about our view that settlements continued to be counterproductive to peace and stability and the possibility of a two-state solution. We don't support that.


SANCHEZ: We've been listening to National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, from the podium in the press room at the White House answering a number of questions about Ukraine, the upcoming NATO summit here in Washington, D.C., about negotiations with the ongoing ceasefire and hostage release deal in Gaza.

But the most pressing questions, especially in this climate, as we're hearing lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill openly questioning the viability of President Joe Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket for the race for the White House.

Kirby saying that those questions make him uncomfortable, questions regarding whether he's ever been around President Biden the way he was in the debate.

He specifically said that, in his experience over the last two-and-a- half years, he had not seen any reason to question or doubt President Biden's lucidity, his probing nature, or his command of facts and figures. He says that what he saw in the debate is not reflective of his

personal experience with President Biden.

One of many questions he and other White House officials are going to get about that very topic.

BROWN: And again, worth underscoring, he's there to talk about national security and still getting these questions as well. To your point, it is the climate we're in and the environment we find ourselves in this week.

But interesting to see him give nothing but a defense of the president, saying that, even this morning -- he was giving this anecdote. He went to him and didn't have answers for the president and he had to go get answers for him. And that's how lucid and with it the president is.

Ao again, there, John Kirby briefing reporters at the White House. We'll continue to keep an eye on that and bring you any other information as needed.

In the meantime, let's take a quick break and we'll be right back.



BROWN: New developments after a rare Russian daylight bombardment against Ukraine. We have just learned that more than 600 patients have now been evacuated after a deadly strike on Ukraine's largest children's hospital.

The assault partially destroying that building in Kyiv, leaving a number of people trapped in the rubble. The U.N. Security Council will hold a special meeting to discuss that strike tomorrow.

It is one of several attacks across the country today that's killed at least 36 people left more than 100 wounded.

CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is monitoring these developments from London.

Nic, we're watching these images, this video. What more are you learning about these strikes?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, one of our staff was driving near the hospital when that impact happened and saw something she said she hadn't seen before, which was literally everyone stopped their cars and rush in to try to help because everyone knew that this was a hospital where children we're being treated.

We know that the ICU was hit. We know that the oncology unit was hit, that the surgery theater was hit. It is the biggest children's hospital in Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy called on the U.N. to hold an emergency meeting of U.N. Security Council. That's going to happen tomorrow.

We've heard this be decried by various leaders around the world. The new British prime minister calling it horrific. Barbaric is what the French foreign ministry used to describe this attack.

But the key about it seems to be -- and this is what makes it different. And this is why people reacted so quickly and hopefully on the scene. Was because all these strikes today came during daylight hours around about 10:00 a.m.

The mayor of Kyiv said people would have been going to work. There we're 38 missiles. Some of the hypersonic high-speed missiles. There were cruise missiles. There were ballistic missiles.

All of these, all of these are highly precise precision missile systems. In fact, one of them was filmed as it was -- as it was heading towards the hospital.

And President Zelenskyy has said there is no way that the Russians didn't know what they we're targeting and they knew when they we're targeting. So this does seem to be a real uptick in attacking civilians as opposed to energy infrastructure that we've seen more of being hit over recent weeks.

And again, not just Kyiv. Across the country.

BROWN: Right. And not just civilians, children who were receiving treatment for cancer.

Nic, President Zelenskyy also said today that the strike on the children's hospital will not go unanswered. Knowing that, how could Ukraine retaliate?

ROBERTSON: One thing I think we can all be pretty sure that we're not going to see. We're not going to see Ukraine follow what Russia did, which is break international humanitarian law. We're not going to see Ukraine target a children's hospital or, I would expect, any hospital inside of -- inside of Russia.

What -- what Ukraine has been doing is trying to hit behind Russia's military frontlines to hit their fuel depots. And this perhaps seems to have angered Russia here, that they we're able to hit an ammunition and fuel store quite recently.


So this is, I think, where we'll see the Ukrainians focus their attention.

And let's not forget, they don't have all the ammunition that they want. Some of it's on the way. It's slow coming. So they're going to be pretty precise and pretty careful when they do target. They're not going to lash out.

But they will want to land a blow that will be understood by -- by President Putin that what he was done has caused outrage, not just in Ukraine, but around the world.

BROWN: Right. Nic Robertson for us. Thanks so much for that reporting.

And still ahead this afternoon, we continue to monitor the White House press briefing that is ongoing as President Biden tells fellow Democrats on the Hill he's not going anywhere. And he's taking that message now to the campaign trail.

We'll be right back.


BROWN: And let's take you back inside the White House where press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, is taking questions.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- on Friday, 20 minutes with -- I think it was with the pool. And I said he did not - I cleared it up, right? You're correct. I said he didn't -- I still stand but he didn't have a medical exam. I said that in the gaggle and I said that in the briefing.

He had a check-in with -- he said this on Friday. He had a check-in with his -- with his medical doctor, which is something that he does a couple of times a week, as you know. And I stated this as well.

He has -- for those who don't know, obviously, outside of the briefing room, outside of the White House, I bet met many Americans don't actually understand this. Let's take a step back.

They -- they deal with their medical issues or physicals very, very differently. They are very lucky if they get to see their -- their doctor once or twice a year, right?

You have to get in a car. You have to either take public transportation in order to make that happen.

The president's medical unit is literally down on the other side of the colonnade. It's just down the steps from the residents. And so a couple of times a week, he does a check-in, a verbal check-in with his doctor while he's exercising. That is something that happens often.

Matter of fact, he did a check-in today because I know folks were going to ask about if he was tested for Covid. He was not. We are following CDC guidance. He was not tested for Covid. Just to let you guys know about that one.

And if he had any symptoms, obviously, we would test him. But --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- the second gentleman?

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, which is why. No, no, no. This isn't in context of the second gentleman.

But, to answer your point, he did not have a medical exam. He did not have a physical.

He did do a verbal check-in with his doctor a couple of days after the debate. And it was very quick. It was a couple of words that were spoken to each other. And that's how we we're able to -- we were able to give you that answer.

But he did not have a medical exam. He did not have a physical.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know about that verbal check-in or do --


JEAN-PIERRE: No. So -- so the line of questions that I was getting that day was, and the way that I was hearing the question was about the medical exam. I answered M.J.'s question when she asked me the medical exam and I answered and so I said no physical.


And then somebody else asked me was there a check-in. I did not mean to steer anybody wrong. I was still thinking about the medical exam. I was still thinking about the physical. That's how I answered the question.