Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 7, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. Hi, everyone. I know we have a time limit because of the press avail with the Germans, so we will get to as many people as possible. I just have a couple of items for you at the top.
Today, the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, led by Vice President Harris as Chair and Labor Secr- — and as well as Chair — as Chair and Labor Secretary — as well as Chair, and Labor Secretary Walsh as Vice-Chair – released publicly the report it delivered to President Biden that includes nearly 70 recommendations to promote worker organizing and collective bargaining.
The recommendations include ways to increase private-sector workers’ access to information about their existing right to join or organize a union — a hugely important issue for the President.
The President accepted the recommendations, and as a follow-up, the task force will submit a second report to the President in six months, which will describe progress in implementation and contain additional proposals for further action.
I also wanted to note that, today, the Secretary — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will be announcing that the Partnerships for Climate-Smart connection — Commodities program, in which the Department of Agriculture will invest $1 billion in partnerships to support America’s climate-smart farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners.
So these funds will go to projects that promote farming, ranching, and forestry practices that either remove carbon from the atmosphere or cut greenhouse gas emissions. And the investment is the latest Biden administration initiative aimed at combatting climate change with a goal to cut the farm sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and put the United States on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Finally, I wanted to note: I have a Team USA water bottle out here today and a Team USA pin out here today. As you all know, we made a decision — the United States — not to send a diplomatic or official delegation to Beijing given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses. And that was a clear statement and a clear policy made by our government.
But at the same time, we wanted to note Team USA has our full support. We’re behind them; we’re watching from home. And we want to thank them and their families for everything they have sacrificed over the course of time.
Lots of athletes to watch. I’ll just give a plug, because I’m an Olympics-obsessed person: Nathan Chen, we’re going to watch him; Chloe Kim; Mikaela Shiffrin, you’ve got lots of more chances.
Anyway, we’ll be rooting for our U.S. athletes even as we made a very important statement about our concerns about Beijing’s and the Chinese human rights abuses.
With that, let’s go ahead. Colleen, kick us off.
Q Okay. So, regarding Dr. Lander, I wondered if he should have been reprimanded more strongly, given the President’s pledge on his first day in office to, you know, fire anybody who mistreated their employees.
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just give you an overview of what we have done to date. And I know there may be more questions on this, of course, which we welcome.
The President has been crystal clear with all of us about his high expectations of how he and his staff should be creating a respectful work environment.
And one of the steps we took early on in the administration was to institute a Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy across the Executive Office of the President — something that was done early on.
It was because of this policy and this process that when these — when the complaint was filed, a full and thorough investigation was conducted pursuant to that policy.
In addition, following the conclusion of the thorough investigation into these actions, senior White House officials conveyed directly to Dr. Lander that his behavior was inappropriate and the corrective actions that were needed, which were — which the White House will monitor for compliance moving forward.
I’d also note that Dr. Lander also sent a message to his staff outlining some of the steps he’s intending to take to build a respectful work environment. And certainly, we would encourage those. And again, the team — the senior team will be watching for compliance to these steps.
Q It looks like he’s had a history of, you know, possible mistreatment of his employees over a long period of time. How can you be sure that this reprimand will stick?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just reiterate, again, that — well, let me start with the first part of your question.
Each nominee undergoes a thorough vetting process as a part of their nomination and confirmation process. And, of course, we look carefully to ensure each candidate’s suitability for the role they’re chosen for.
Dr. Lander’s record was thoroughly examined as a part of his confirmation, and he received bipartisan support, including final confirmation with a voice vote.
But again, once we were made aware of the complaint, we launched a thorough investigation, and compliance with the recommendations is — will be — will be required in this regard.
Q Thanks, Jen. On Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s office said yesterday that a diplomatic solution seems much more likely than war, and then we saw Jake Sullivan say yesterday that an invasion could come at any day. Can you help us square the difference here and why there still seems to be such a dark assessment — a stark difference in assessing the threat?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what our National Security Advisor also conveyed during some interviews with a range of your networks yesterday was that we’re pursuing a two-track approach, which includes deterrence and diplomacy, but that we are ready either way for whatever decision President Putin might make. And we don’t have a new assessment of his decision and where he stands on it.
We also need to be prepared. Being prepared is exactly what we can do from the U.S. government, in coordination and in partnership with our NATO Allies, our partners in Eastern Europe, and of course, the Ukrainians. And that is what we’re focused on. So, we don’t actually see it as a conflict.
Q Is Kyiv wrong, then, on this?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of the preparations? Or —
Q A diplomatic solution being more likely than war. It seems hard to square that with Sullivan saying that an invasion could come at any day.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we would certainly prefer a diplomatic solution. I think that’s everybody’s preference and everybody’s hope.
But again, this is up to — remains up to President Putin to make a decision about which path he is going to take. We don’t have an assessment of that, so what our focus is on is preparing for a range of contingencies, including in coordination with the Ukrainians, making sure they have the supplies they need, the humanitarian assistance they need, the security assistance they need. And we’re doing that — we’re doing that consistently, even while we are closely watching the buildup of troops on the border.
Q To switch topics if I may, Delta’s CEO is asking for the administration’s help in creating this no-fly list for unruly passengers. Is that something the administration supports?
MS. PSAKI: I have not had a chance to talk to our team about that. I can see if there’s any opinion on that from here.
Q Okay. And, quickly, a housekeeping thing: Do you have a sense of when the President will start meeting with SCOTUS candidates? And if any of these meetings happen in Delaware, where the President — where there are not visitor logs, does the White House pledge to disclose that those meetings took place?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, at this point, I don’t have any more details about the process to outline for you. As you know, what the President has been focused on over the course of the last several days is reviewing and consulting with internal team members on a group of qualified nominees. He also has been engaging, as you all know, with Democrats and Republicans and consulting closely to — as a part of the “advice and consent,” “consent” part of his — the role of picking a nominee to move forward.
After last week’s meeting with Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley, the President and Vice President and their senior teams, including White House Counsel Dana Remus, have also spoken to the range of additional members of Congress and outside legal experts, and that engagement will continue.
There, is of course, a vetting process that takes place. We have not outlined that in detail from here. And, of course, we will venture to be as transparent as possible, even as we are working to protect the process as the President is making his decision.
Q Thanks, Jen. With the meeting today between the President and the German Chancellor, does the President view Germany as a reliable partner on this issue? When it comes to troop movements or sending weapons to Ukraine or talking publicly about sanctions, they’ve been much less aggressive than other NATO Allies.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’d also note that Germany is the second-largest donor to Ukraine and Europe. The President has also noted, as we have noted, that different countries make different contributions. I think that the Chancellor also did an interview with the Washington Post this morning where he spoke to that in more detail.
We have a close, abiding, important relationship with the Germans. That includes having forces stationed in Germany, which has a huge strategic value to the United States.
So today is an opportunity for the President to build on the relationship with the Chancellor, to continue to build on the long and abiding relationship with the Germans. And we are united in our view of the actions — the potential actions of Russian leaders and united in our efforts to hold them accountable.
Q What’s your understanding about where the Chancellor stands right now when it comes to including Nord Stream 2 in potential sanctions if Russia invades. They’ve really danced around that issue and haven’t given a clear answer about whether they would, in fact, be willing to put that pipeline on hold.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know you all will have the opportunity to, I’m sure, ask him this question himself. And I, of course, don’t speak for him. But what I can reiterate here is that we said we’d work with Germany to ensure that Nord Stream 2 does not move forward should Russia invade, and that remains the position — agreed position.
Q And Emmanuel Macron is meeting with President Putin today, and Chancellor Scholz will be meeting with him in the coming weeks. So, has President Biden asked either of them to deliver a message to Putin when they meet with him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s important to remember that there are a range of different diplomatic talks happening at the same time through different formats. Some are leader to leader; some are through NATO; some are through the OSCE. And this is reflective of that — these conversations that are happening.
As you know, the President spoke with President Macron yesterday. And, of course, that close discussion and coordination with a range of leaders is part of how we’re approaching this.
But this is multilayered diplomacy at work here. So — and we are also directly in touch with the Russians ourselves. So, I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t look at it through that prism.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. You guys are — said in a background call that part of the discussion with Germany today was about continuing to prepare this robust sanctions package, but we’ve been talking about sanctions for months.
So if Germany is as aligned with its Allies as they — you all are conveying, why isn’t this sanctions package already complete? Why isn’t that done already, in terms of figuring out what it looks like?
MS. PSAKI: Our internal sanctions package? Or what sanctions package?
Q Because you’ve said consistently that the sanctions that you’re preparing are in close consultation with Allies, including Germany. And that conversation is, you know, obviously happening again today, as we’re getting warnings that Russia could at any moment take significant action.
So the discussion about sanctions has been over the course of several months.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Why isn’t it done yet if Germany is as on board with the rest of the NATO Alliance as they’re projecting to be?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, Jacqui, I mean, as we’ve said before: One, I think there is alignment that we will work with Germany to ensure that Nord Stream 2 does not move forward, which is obviously a key — a key point of discussion.
I’d also note, just — and reiterate that it’s not operational at this time, and there’s no oil flowing through the pipeline. That has been a key point of discussion, and that is agreed to.
I would also reiterate what we’ve said in here in the past is that: While we have our own sanctions package prepared, which we’ve been consulting with and briefing members of Congress on, and others do — and we’re united in the effort to put forward an economic sanctions package that has significant consequences, as are our European partners — it doesn’t mean it’s identical. So —
Q One point to clarify: You said that that is agreed to on Nord Stream 2. I just want to clarify: The Germans have — are you saying that the Germans have committed not to bring Nord Stream 2 online if Russia invades?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the private diplomatic conversations, but it — we have said a number of times that if they invade, it will not move forward.
Q And then, I wanted to ask about Dr. Lander again. I know you got a question on this earlier, but does the fact that Dr. Lander has a job, still, cheapen the President’s promise to fire anyone who treats colleagues with disrespect on the spot?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I would just reiterate that the President takes his commitment to having a respectful work environment incredibly seriously. And it’s something that he conveys clearly to all of us on a regular basis. That is why we put in place — in part put in place a safe and respectful workplace policy, which is how — which is the process through which this thorough investigation proceeded through and the process through which, again, that there was an internal investigation.
Dr. Lander — obviously, his behavior was inappropriate, and corrective actions needed to be taken, and that was clearly conveyed through this process. And he will be held to account for delivering on that.
Q And then, real quick — one third topic. We got announcements that in Delaware and New Jersey, the governors are going to be ending mask mandates coming up pretty soon. What is the White House view on these kinds of announcements, given that in Virginia, Governor Youngkin faced a lot of pushback from Democrats for making similar changes to the mask policy?
MS. PSAKI: Well, but they weren’t actually that similar because what happened here in New Jersey and a couple of other states you mentioned is that they pulled back the requirement. They didn’t make it more difficult for schools, school administrators, and local officials to keep requirements that they made a determination would keep their schools safe.
Q Do you expect that President Macron and President Biden will have a follow-up conversation so that he can relay any, sort of, impressions that he got from his face-to-face meeting? And would you commit to letting us know if that conversation happens?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly would. On the latter, I would say that, as you know, the President spoke with President Macron just yesterday. Again, there’s multilayers of diplomacy happening at many times. Sometimes those readouts happen at the Secretary of State level or National Security Advisor.
But I can assure you we are in close contact with the French; of course, the Germans; and all of our NATO partners and Allies.
Q At the Pentagon, John Kirby has talked about the possibility of additional U.S. forces being moved to Europe. Has the President requested any additional recommendations from Secretary Austin? And is he reviewing any other plans along those lines?
MS. PSAKI: I would just say that we are in constant contact, of course, with the Defense Department but also with our NATO partners about what their needs are. So, I don’t have anything to predict for you other than to reiterate what was said last week, which is that we leave the door open to that possibility.
Q So that’s an active possibility at this point?
MS. PSAKI: It always has been. And I would remind everyone that there are thousands of troops that are on the — in Eastern European countries as a part of our NATO Alliance, so this is to bolster up the troops that are already there.
Q Back on the mask mandate question in New Jersey and other states: The CDC is still recommending universal masking in schools, so —
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. And that still remains our recommendation.
Q So are you pleased with and fine with the New Jersey governor’s decision?
MS. PSAKI: Again, our advice to every school district is to abide by public health guidelines. It continues to be, at this point, that the CDC is advising that masks can delay, reduce transmission. There are also a number of other mitigation measures that we’ve put in place, but that continues to be CDC guidance.
It’s always been up to local school districts to determine how they implement.
Q What does it say, then, that a governor like Phil Murphy, who’s been so closely aligned with the policies of this administration, would get ahead of the medical experts and say, “Never mind what they say; school districts, you decide”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s always been up to school districts. That’s always been our point of view and always been our policy from here.
And our policy from the federal government is to continue to advise everybody to abide by public health guidelines.
Q Do you think it signals that perhaps the public believes it’s time for a change in the federal guidelines — the CDC’s guidance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly understand and have seen in polling that the public is tired of COVID. We understand that. So are we.
And there has been some good signs recently where there has been a decrease in hospitalizations around the country. And again, we’re in constant touch about — about what it looks like moving forward.
But our responsibility, as the federal government, is to rely on the data and the science that is being analyzed by our public health experts. And we’ll continue to rely on that for what recommendations we’re making.
Q Yeah. A couple things. So, we’ve reported that U.S. officials are losing patience with the Chinese in these negotiations about them fulfilling their purchase commitments under the phase one trade deal signed by Donald Trump. What is the perspective from the White House in terms of what can you do? And does the President intend to weigh in on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s a good question, Andrea. I mean, we — as you know, they did not abide by their purchase agreements. We know that factually; we’ve seen that. This is really under the purview of the USTR and our Trade Representative, Katherine Tai. We remain in close touch with her about that, but I’d really point you to them for any updates on the process.
Q Okay. And then, this situation on the Canadian bor- — or in Ottawa, the truckers protest: There does seem to be evidence that these truckers are getting support from conservative forces or right-wing forces in the U.S. Are you investigating that at all? Is there any, kind of, you know, involvement of U.S. authorities in looking at those money flows going to these truckers? And are you concerned about it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say a couple of things. This doesn’t answer your question, but I just want to get this out there too on this particular topic, and then I’ll come around — I promise.
We have been engaged since the outset — well, some of it hopefully answers your question, I should say — of the protests. There have been zero impacts to CBP operations, which is a question people have understandably been asking us. Some — some shipments were rerouted by our law enforcement partners to other points of entry due to road closures. Some shippers have had to reroute. But CBP has been in communication throughout to ensure shipments can be cleared and onto the normal routes.
In terms of an assessment of any other engagement from here, we have — we don’t really have any update on that or any investigation to read out at this point in time.
Q And then, you know, the Federal — the Federal Reserve nominees have run into a little bit of criticism from Republicans, in particular Sarah Raskin. Are you concerned that you’re — I mean, especially given the absence of Senator Luján, are you concerned that you might not get all those nominees through and that you may have to withdraw Sarah Raskin? There’s just been another dust — dustup overnight?
MS. PSAKI: She is one of the most, if not the most, qualified person to ever be nominated to this position. She just gave extensive answers at a hearing last week, and she would be someone the President would be proud to have in that role, as independent as it may be.
So, no, that is not an assessment or a prediction we’re making.
Q Jen, two questions for you. One, the Secretary-General of NATO has recently talked about the possibility of a more permanent military presence in Europe in response to Russia. Where does the Biden administration stand on that issue?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve had a permanent military presence in Europe.
You mean in addition?
Q Oh, a longer — a longer-term, more permanent presence in Europe.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve always had one. But you mean a plussed-up one?
MS. PSAKI: I would really point —
Q And the language that was used was “longer term.”
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, but we’ve always had one, so it’s been very long term to date. But I would say: If — if he is asking — and I have not seen his comments about increased, plussed-up presence in some of the places from U.S. troops that we’ve had — I would really point to the Department of Defense.
Obviously, we would — we would be in touch with our NATO Allies and partners about that. But that is really related to the aggression at the border that we’re seeing in Ukraine, but there’s been tens of thousands of troops in Europe for some time now.
Q And just on the topic of masking in schools, if you could just clarify — I know you’ve talked about this a little bit already: Do you think that at some point in the future, even if that point isn’t now, it would be appropriate for there to be updated federal guidelines just to avoid confusion? I think the administration has been clear that on other issues, there are sort of messaging issues that could have been a little bit more clear coming from the administration. So on this issue, do you think that that might be appropriate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the guidance is very clear, which is that we recommend masking in schools. That is the recommendation from the CDC. It is also true that at some point, when the science and the data warrants, of course our hope is that that’s no longer the recommendation. And they are continually assessing that. But the guidance is very clear.
It is also true that it has always been up to local school districts to make determinations about how to implement these policies.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just to follow on that, you had said that you guys are in “constant contact” with the CDC about what it looks like to move forward. Can we expect the President to provide some sort of roadmap for how states can transition out of a state of emergency — kind of akin to what he did with the winter strategy?
MS. PSAKI: We’re in constant discussion internally about the moment we’re in, as it relates to COVID. And, of course, as the President said, I think during his press conference just two weeks ago — a week and a half ago — you know, we certainly don’t see this moment now as the new normal, right? And we — but we want to get to a point where we are not — where COVID is not disrupting our daily lives.
And I’m sure you will hear more from the President about that, but that’s — we’re constantly discussing that internally.
Q And can I ask one more just for our colleague? The Education Department announced Friday it was going to withdraw its appeal for a $100,000 student loan forgiveness court decision. I’m wondering if you could shed any light on why the Biden administration reversed its decision to appeal the case and if there’s any plans to fight other bankruptcy cases.
MS. PSAKI: I would really point you to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, potentially. But I will check and see if there’s anything more we can offer on that from here.
Q I got one more on masks. I just — I was wondering if I could just ask it this way —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — the President’s wife is an educator. He just heard from governors across the country last week, many of whom were saying, “This is enough. It’s time for a new normal.” Where is he on this after taking all of these inputs?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President is not a private citizen; he is President of the United States, right? So his —
Q But you’re his spokesperson, so I’m asking you —
MS. PSAKI: Well, but I guess I’m saying it’s different than asking kind of a person on the street. Right? I mean, I’m just — you know, it is different because he is the President; he needs to project the — what the data and the science is telling us. And the data and science — where we get that guidance from is the CDC and our health and medical experts. Their guidance remains — continues to be that, in schools, people should mask up. So that is what we are continuing to convey and recommend.
Q And then, can you tell us any more about where he will be going on Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: Not quite yet, but hopefully — maybe by the end of the day. We hope to have some more details very soon.
Q Okay. Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Going back to Dr. Lander, “the investigation found credible evidence of multiple women having complained to other staff about negative interactions with him,” with a pattern of abusive and disrespectful behavior.
Again, the President, at the outset of this administration said, “I will fire you on the spot. On the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts.” So why is he not being fired?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, let me first say that no one is suggesting that this behavior is acceptable — quite the opposite.
And that since he’s — he made the comment he did — which I think was one of the first few days in office, if I remember correctly — we put in place this “Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy” to ensure there was a mechanism — right? — to conduct investigations, as was conducted in this case, that can be thorough, that result in some actions and some steps.
That’s exactly what happened here.
But again, this is not acceptable behavior. Dr. Lander is expected to comply. And he will be monitored for compliance, because having a safe workplace environment is imperative to the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, the Second Gentleman — all of us who work here.
Q But are there ways in which he’s being held to account if he’s not being fired?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, as I outlined a little bit earlier, but let me reiterate a little bit: In addition to a full and thorough investigation, he was — it was conveyed through meetings with senior White House officials directly that his behavior was inappropriate, corrective action was needed, and we will monitor for compliance to that — to those actions that were required.
Again, I think you may have also seen, or it was reported, that he also sent a note to his staff conveying his commitment to abiding by that. And we certainly hope that that is the case.
Q But it doesn’t sound like a zero-tolerance policy if that’s the case.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our objective and the President’s objective is to prevent this behavior from ever happening again.
Q So —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the Supreme Court.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I just — I wanted to ask about the President’s efforts to engage with Republicans —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — and whether that’s the best use of his time, considering what he has said about the public not wanting him to be the “President Senator.”
MS. PSAKI: That is true. And I think he has — he has not been the “President Senator” over the course of the last period of time.
It’s also true that he takes his role as President and going through the process of selecting and nominating an eminently qualified nominee very seriously. And in his experience as the former Chairman of the Judiciary Community [sic] — Committee, that includes consultation with key members of the Senate, and that is an important part of the process in this case.
I think what he was referring to in those comments was hours and hours and hours of endless closed-door meetings as it related to negotiating through the course of the fall. But this is a opening to a lifetime appointment — an opening on the Supreme Court, which is a lifetime appointment — something the President takes very seriously. And consulting with Republicans and Democrats is an important part of that process, in his view.
Q Thank you.
Q On Nord Stream 2, you have — you’ve made clear the administration’s position. I did want to understand, though: Is the administration ready to take some type of action without Germany to stop Nord Stream 2?
MS. PSAKI: I understand your question. I just am not in a position to detail further, other than to convey that it will not move forward if Russia invades.
Q On Dr. Lander, if I may.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Can you talk about what some of the specific corrective changes that were ordered — what some of those were? And also, has the President spoken with Dr. Lander since the investigation was completed? And does he worry about this overshadowing Moonshot?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President’s hope — all of our hope — is certainly that Dr. Lander will abide by — making changes, that he will be held to account to — to comply fully with the steps that needed to be taken.
I can see if there’s more specific details. I certainly understand why you’re asking. But overall, it’s ensuring that he is creating a work environment that people feel safe, they feel supported, and that is respectful. And that is the overarching policy that needs to be implemented moving forward.
You saw him send a note to staff last week, and now it is whether he is implementing those policies moving forward.
Q Have they spoken?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any conversations between them to read out.
Q Thanks. Just following up on a question asked earlier about the — what you said isn’t a split between Ukraine’s messaging and your guys’ messaging —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on the risk of an invasion.
Can you walk us through the communication strategy — like what you’re trying to highlight, given the risk of invasion, and why you’re trying to highlight it more strongly than Ukraine?
Do you see it as — you know, sounding the alarm more vocally, is there an advantage that you see in sort of preventing Putin from taking any further steps here? Have we —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it’s a good question. And I can’t — I can’t speak for the communication strategy of the Ukrainians; only they can speak to that. But I can tell you that what we have been trying to do — we obviously have a range of information — a broad range of information that we have been able to gather here and also through partnership with our allies across the country.
Our objective, as we talked about a little bit on Friday, is to deny Russia the opportunity to use some of the tactics, sometimes some of the lies that they have done in the past to justify an invasion of Ukraine. That’s straight out of their playbook.
We have seen tactics they have used in the past, where a few years ago, Russia’s Defense Ministry falsely accused the United States of running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, enabling them — their efforts to destabilize the Georgian government.
They used to fabricate stories in Syria about how attacks on international aid convoys were undertaken by rebels or terrorists.
We’ve — so we have undertaken an effort to, in some cases, declassify information; in other cases, describe in as great of detail as we can without putting at risk sources and methods what we’re seeing, what information we’re evaluating so that they are — it is — it makes it more difficult for them to lay a predicate for invading Ukraine.
So that is why we’re doing it. I’d also note that a number of your news organizations of course have reporters near there who are seeing the troop buildup. Right? So there is justification and validation from even that, but also from our partners around the world as well.
Q Thank you, Jen. Senator Manchin expressed confidence over the weekend that reforms of the Electoral Count Act will pass. Would the President be supportive of signing reforms to the Electoral Count Act if it were to pass? Or would he require that there be elements of the bill — voting rights bill included in order to do so?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would really point you to Senator Klobuchar, who is really one of the point people leading this effort.
Obviously, we have said many times that the Electoral Count Act, while we support the effort, is not a replacement for voting rights legislation for a range of reasons.
I know there’s a lot of discussions on the Hill about what that may look like or want a final package. I can’t outline that from here.
Q Okay. And China used a young Uyghur athlete to carry the Olympic Torch during the Opening Ceremony of the Games in Beijing. What did the administration make of that, given the ongoing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that our U.N. Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, spoke to this yesterday. So let me reiterate what I thought were some very powerful comments — if I’m remembering — I know someone spoke to it, but I believe it was her — that we can’t allow this to be a distraction from, exactly as you said, the human rights abuses, the genocide that we’re seeing in parts of China.
That is why we did not send a diplomatic delegation, even as we’re cheering for our U.S. athletes. Diplomacy is complicated, as we know, but we can’t allow it to be a distraction from what we know is happening to many people in China.
Q Just to reiterate, on Inauguration Day, President Biden said he would fire anyone that treated another colleague with disrespect, talked down to someone — and they would — he would fire them “on the spot” — “No, ifs, ands, or buts.” So what is the White House’s message to people that work in this building and throughout the federal government that took the President at his word and don’t understand why Dr. Lander has not been fired?
MS. PSAKI: Our message — and thank you for your question — is that the President has crystal-clear expectations with all of us about how we are to treat our colleagues, treat people who work for us, and that is what he expects for people across the building.
It is because of those comments that he made early on, in part, that we put in place a Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy that was the mechanism for which this thorough investigation went forward. And it also — it is based on that that their investigation — from that came the meeting that Dr. Lander had with senior White House officials where it was made clear what steps he was required to take and that we will be complying and watching for compliance with those steps.
And our objective is, of course, to prevent any of this behavior from happening again in the future. That’s the overarching objective.
Q But those weren’t comments; those were a promise.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. That’s why he — we put in place a policy to ensure there is a mechanism for investigating and a mechanism for preventing this type of behavior from repeating itself.
Q But he promised to fire people that did this, and he hasn’t fired the individual the White House found violated what he said. (Inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: I understand. And, again, let me just reiterate: Nothing about his behavior is acceptable to anyone here — at all. Quite the opposite. Let me be clear about that.
But there is now a process in place, that was not in place at the time, to evaluate and determine what the next step — the steps should be taken in the event that any behavior like this occurs to prevent it from happening in the future. That is exactly what happened in this case.
Q So, fellow federal employees shouldn’t expect that people will be fired if they treat colleagues with disrespect?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think I’ve outlined very clearly what the process was.
Q You’re just saying it’s legal — that it’s legal what you’re doing. Correct?
Q Two questions, Jen. Two questions for you. Excuse me. Two questions —
MS. PSAKI: It’s more than — it’s more than that. I think it’s clear that we are putting in place — we had put in place a process — an internal process — to ensure that there was a thorough investigation, that the — that it was evaluated, that steps were taken for this individual, Dr. Lander, to meet with senior officials to make clear that there were requirements that would be put in place and he was expected to comply with them to prevent this behavior from ever happening again.
Q Two questions. First, on Senator Manchin, on Build Back Better: He reiterated again his view that that structure is done. And he said he wants regular order for any pieces of that (inaudible); that means potentially weeks — hearings, all of that. Is the President on board with that idea of hearings, markups? And if not, what’s his plan for elements of Build Back Better to move forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak for Senator Manchin; I know you’re not asking me to, but what there is broad agreement on and support for is taking steps to lower costs for the American people, whether it’s Medicare or whether it’s the ability to negotiate the price of prescription drugs — something broadly supported; whether it’s lowering the cost of childcare, eldercare; making sure that the tax system is more fair.
In terms of the mechanisms and the legislative process, I just don’t have any more predictions for you in terms of how it will proceed.
Q And then, on jobs, a positive report on Friday, by and large. However, Black unemployment is still twice the rate of white unemployment. What is the White House doing? What does the White House think needs to be done to deal with that, especially for Black men?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, just as a reminder, that there is still — as much as the President oversaw the largest creation of jobs — job creation ever in one year in American history, it means there’s more work to be done, because there are still a lot of work that needs to be done to level the playing field, to ensure that small businesses have the assistance they need, including Black-owned small businesses; that we are doing everything we can to ensure there is opportunity for a range of parts of the economic world.
Q Thanks, Jen. A few on the Supreme Court. Congressman Clyburn says that the President will need bipartisan support for his Supreme Court pick, citing Senator Luján’s stroke and hospitalization. Is it the White House’s position that Republican votes would be helpful in the Senate, or do you view them as necessary?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve, I think, conveyed from here that we haven’t set a deadline for when a vote should be. We have said we want it to happen as expeditiously as possible. We have also said, and I’ll reiterate, that because the President has every intention of nominating an eminently qualified Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, that this is a person who should warrant bipartisan support. And that is certainly what we hope for.
Q Speaking of the timeline, the President has said that he intends to make that announcement by the end of the month.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Has that timeline shifted in any way? Might he make this announcement before President’s Day weekend?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything — February is February, so I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of when in February, quite, at this point, it will be.
Q Thank you. And one more question, if you don’t mind.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q As far as where and when he could meet with the potential nominees — he’s going to Camp David this weekend. Is the President going to meet with potential Supreme Court justices at Camp David this weekend?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on the process of how the President will interview nominee — potential candidates.
Q Thanks, Jen. Does the White House have a reaction to the death of the Navy SEAL candidate who died after completing what’s known as “Hell Week”? And has the President spoken to his family, or does he have plans to?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have — not — not yet, Karen. I will — we will check and see where that is at this point. Obviously, there’ll be an investigation here. I’d point you to the Department of Defense for any specifics.
As a starting point here, obviously, our heart goes out to the family members, the community, the friends, and we look — we will look for more details to come out of an investigation.
Q And would there be any thought given to reexamining that training as part of that?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question. I would really point you to the Department of Defense, and the President would certainly look to his Defense Department and leadership to make any recommendations in that regard.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions. First, on the Olympics: Does the White House agree with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that American athletes shouldn’t speak out against Beijing for their own safety?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know we saw those comments, obviously. I think they were last week, if I remember correctly. The President’s view is that, first, we support our athletes 100 percent. (Holds up Team USA water bottle). Yay. All athletes have the right to freely express themselves, and that is the case in Beijing at the Olympics; it is the case anywhere. They will make those choices as individuals.
It’s the responsibility of China to live up to its own obligations to maintain a safe environment for all athletes at these games. The world will be watching.
But we leave it up to individuals. We certainly support the right to peaceful protest.
Q And then, on the First Lady’s comments this morning about — she said — she conceded that free tuition for community college is dead; it’s out of Build Back Better.
I’m wondering, kind of, what was the thought about having her give that message. Is the White House trying to restart negotiations on Build Back Better? Was there some sort of underlying intent to have the First Lady come out and say that this morning?
MS. PSAKI: I think it was speaking from her heart about her view that free community college would benefit kids, young people, level the playing field across the country. It’s something the President agrees with.
I think you all have seen many, many iterations of the Build Back Better legislation — or options — in recent months. It hasn’t been in there in a while, so I think it was speaking — she was speaking from her heart about how beneficial she thinks that funding and that support would be.
Go ahead, April.
Q Jen, two topics. One, recently, a Black man was killed in Minnesota over a no-knock warrant. Has the White House taken note of this? And does this bring a fresh — a renewed call for this executive order — this police reform executive order, as well as the standalone pieces that are potentials on police reform on Capitol Hill?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. And it should. Let me reiterate, because I asked a little bit about this, this morning, as well.
So, one, let me first say that we mourn the tragic death of Amir Locke, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
The President is committed to ensuring fair, impartial, and effective policing in keeping our communities safe. These goals go hand-in-hand, in our — in his view, with what we can achieve by building trust between the police and communities they serve.
So, back in September, Attorney General Garland issued a new policy impoving [sic] — imposing restrictions on the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid restraints by federal agents. Obviously, that’s for federal agents, so that’s limited — not to local. But — you know, I know you follow this closely but for others.
President Biden — the reason he has been such a strong supporter — one of the reasons — of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is that it would further restrict the use of no-knock warrants across the country, incentivizing funding — by using funding as an incentive.
We have been engaging with, as you know, civil rights groups, a number of law enforcement groups. All agree on the need to reform the use of no-knock warrants. That is — there’s a lot of agreement on that to keep both citizens and law enforcement officers safe.
And the President is examining the possibility of extending those restrictions to other federal agencies through actions — executive actions that he would have the power to do.
I think you all saw Susan Rice convey last week that we’re not there yet. We want to make sure we do any action through the administration the right way and it’s thorough, but certainly, that’s part of what’s being looked at.
Q All right. And on the second topic: There is a serious shroud of secrecy around the nominees of the Supreme Court, understandably. And I’ve got two questions on this. One, what’s traditional about the process? And then, what is very unique to the process because of the historical nature? If you can tell us. And I’m sure you can give us something.
MS. PSAKI: No, no, no, it’s a good question. It’s a very thoughtful question. I was just trying to —
Q Yes, it is. Yes, it is. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: There you go.
I walked right into that one.
Q Yes, you did.
MS. PSAKI: I walked right into that one.
What I think is unique in this moment is that the President is someone who has served as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the Vice President when there were a number of nominees — historic — many historic — a number of historic nominees who were nominated and confirmed by the Senate. And he takes the process and the seriousness — the need for it to be thorough — he’s very focused on it.
You know, I don’t know that that’s unique. Obviously, every President, I would hope, takes the process seriously. But he also takes, as is — there was a question earlier about this — the component about advice part of it very seriously, in terms of consulting with Republicans and Democrats in the process.
You know, what is unique about this moment? You know, that’s a good — I want to read your article about this to hear what you have to say.
Q Oh, you — we’ve got a lot of articles already. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, your next article about it.
MS. PSAKI: You know, I think it’s safe to say that there are some criticisms that have been out there, without any names being confirmed, that are unique to — to having the possibility, the likelihood, the plan for a woman of color being nominated for this position. And the types of language that are used by some to describe who the President might pick as a nominee are unique to that.
Q And you just spoke, a moment ago, about advice on —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — his nominees. We know the internal advice, particularly from the Counsel’s Office, as well as the Vice President.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q But externally — when is the last time the President talked to Anita Hill?
MS. PSAKI: To Anita Hill?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to check on that for you, April.
Q Is she part of this process? Because we know there are — we know that he talked, and they had a very real conversation before he, you know, became President-elect.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Is she — I want to know, one: Has he consul- — when is the last time he consulted with her? And if she is part — because the names of those who are on the outside are dribbling out — and is she one of those, and he respects her opinion.
MS. PSAKI: I will check with our team who are overseeing the process. And you — you’re familiar with who that internal team is.
I know we probably have to wrap up soon here. Go ahead, Ed.
Q Yeah. Two things. On gas prices: So, if President Biden has said, with oil prices, that he released the Strategic Petroleum Reserves and that brought down prices — actually, on that day, the price of oil actually rose and went down for the Omicron variant as the fears of lockdown. Today, oil prices are $91 — more than $91 a barrel. Is there any consideration by the administration to reversing any of the policies or regulations or removing some to encourage more drilling in the U.S. for future demand?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me tell you what we are doing. Of course — we, of course, tapped the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; sometimes they take some time to be digested into the system. We’ve also worked with a number of countries around the world to do something similar. We’ve been engaged with OPEC nation countries about the need for the supply available to meet the demand.
We’ve also called out the record profits made by oil companies, which should not be lost as an issue as consumers are looking at the price that they are paying at — the prices they are paying.
And then I would also note that you should check with oil companies on whether they are tapping into all of the land leases they have available at their disposal.
Q But what about the — what about —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe they are.
Q What about encouraging the investment in drilling in other places in the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think the President’s view is that we are — it is a huge advantage to us to be a leader in the clean energy transition. And over the course of years and decades, we’ve become a clean energy superpower because, ultimately, that’s such — not just where the jobs are, it’s where the strategic advantage will lie in 10, 20, 30 years.
I would note again — and you can ask the oil companies this — there is land they’re not all drilling on. Every lease is not used. I’d encourage them — you to ask them that question.
Q Jen, the President provided to continue (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the middle.
Q Is this time for him to —
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Can we — just finish. I think we just — go ahead, in the middle right there.
Q I’m asking if it is the time for the President to —
MS. PSAKI: Simon, let me just — let me just —
Q — (inaudible)? His approval rating continues to sink.
MS. PSAKI: — let me just — let me just have him ask his question. Okay? Go ahead.
Q Is the American people (inaudible) sending a different message?
Q Thank you. Quickly back to Nord Stream 2.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q We know the American position to that; you made that crystal clear. Did the pro- — did the President know the German position before the talks in the Oval Office began?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I’m sure this will be a part of the discussion. I would bet someone will ask about this when we’re having a press conference in just a little bit here.
But what I can just reiterate is that it will not move forward.
Q Jen, one on Russia.
Q And quick question on President Macron’s visit in —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — Moscow today and the Minsk agreement. What is the White House’s position on the question of autonomy or more autonomy for the different regions in Ukraine? For instance, the Donbass with a majority Russian population, should they have an increased say in the Ukrainian national politics, including the question of which alliance Ukraine wants to be a member of?
MS. PSAKI: Again, our position on this has not changed. Obviously, the Minsk agreements is part of the discussion, as has been reported, between President Putin and President Macron. We’ll wait for those discussions to conclude. And we certainly support any means of diplomatic engagement.
All right, thanks, everyone.
Q Are you going to give us water bottles? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I have enough water in here for everybody. (Laughter.)
2:43 P.M. EST