James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:34 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hey. Good afternoon, all.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Happy Valentine’s Day or Galentine’s Day — whatever you celebrate. Hope everyone had a restful — a restful time after a big game last night. I can attest, here from the podium, there were some very disappointed Bengals fans here last night. But we definitely wish and congratulate the Rams all the best from the city of — and the city of LA, for sure.
So, this is something that just went out, so just in case you guys all — you all didn’t get it yet: So, President Biden spoke today with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom. The leaders discussed their recent diplomatic engagements with Ukraine and Russia. They also reviewed ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military buildup on Ukraine’s borders and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
They discussed efforts to reinforce the defensive posture on NATO’s eastern flank and underlined the continued, close coordination among Allies and partners, including on readiness to impose severe consequences on Russia should it choose further military escalation.
So I have a few more things for all of you at the top.
Today marks four years since the Parkland shooting. As the President said this morning in a statement that I’m sure all of you have seen, “We can never bring back those we’ve lost. But we can come together to fulfill the first responsibility of our government and our democracy: to keep each other safe. For Parkland, for all those we’ve lost, and for all those left behind, it is time to uphold that solemn obligation.”
Since his first day in office, the President has worked to uphold that obligation and to save lives by preventing gun violence. He again called on Congress this morning to act, including to expand background checks to keep criminals from getting guns and to ban the sort of high-capacity magazines that were used to kill two NYPD officers.
And the President called again on Congress to fulfill his budget request for another half billion dollars to fight gun violence.
But if Congress won’t act, the President is not going to just wait and sit back. He’s already done more than any other president in their first year in history to advance commonsense gun violence prevention measures, and he built on that just earlier this month with new measures he announced in New York City.
Last June, he laid out a comprehensive strategy to address gun violence from every angle, and the White House is working closely with agencies across the administration to deliver on that and save lives. The plan is comprehensive, addressing both the supply and demand side contributors of — to gun violence; pursuing prevention, intervention, and accountability; using every tool in the toolkit — regulation, enforcement, budget, the bully pulpit, and legislation; and pulling together the federal agencies for a whole-of-government effort to reduce gun violence.
Specifically, we’re addressing the root causes of gun violence by expanding educational and economic opportunities.
We’re going after especially dangerous firearms with new proposed regulations on ghost guns and stabilizing braces that turned pistols into rifles.
We’re stepping up federal law enforcement efforts against illegal gun trafficking, including through strike forces in major cities, and establishing a zero-tolerance policy for gun dealers who willfully sell guns illegally.
And we’re providing cities and states with unprecedented amounts of money, including through the Rescue Plan, to invest in community policing and effective community violence, interventio- — intervention programs, and
During an event at the White House today, Vice President Kamala Harris announced, alongside FCC Chairwoman Rols — Ros — Rosenworcel and Senior Advisor Mitch Landrieu, that more than 10 million households are enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, the nation’s largest-ever broadband affordability program created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Affordability Connectivity Program enables low-income households to apply for discounts towards monthly Internet service and a one-time discount on tech equipment such as laptops or computers.
This is one of the many ways that the Biden-Harris administration is ensuring every American has access to reliable, affordable high-speed Internet.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers and a historic — an historic $65 billion to ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed Internet through a — through an historic investment in broadband infrastructure development, that inten- — that Internet service is affordable by lowering costs, increasing competition, and creating price transparency.
With that, please go ahead, Darlene.
Q Thank you. A couple of questions on Ukraine and then one on another topic. What is the reaction here to the Kremlin signaling that it’s ready to continue dialogue over Ukraine? And does the White House see that as sincere on the part of the Russians? How do you interpret it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So — yeah. Thank you for the question. We are actively working to reach a diplomatic solution to de-escalate the crisis. Over the weekend, as you all know, the President spoke with President Putin, and we remain engaged with the Russian government in full coordination with our Allies and partners. The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage constructively.
However, we are clear-eyed about the prospects of that, given the steps Russia is taking on the ground, in plain sight. This is something that the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, talked about right here on Friday — right before eyes, what we’re seeing with Russia: A new Russian — we’re seeing new Russian forces have been arriving at the Ukrainian border every day.
As we have said before, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time. We will not comment on any details of our intelligence information except that — except to say that it could begin this week, despite a lot of speculation that it would happen after the Olympics — again, something that Jake Sullivan said right here on Friday.
It remains unclear which path Russia will choose to take. The U.S. is ready for any situation. You know, President Biden has made it very clear on his call with Putin this weekend that if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States, together with our Allies and partners, will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia.
President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing.
So we are continuing to coordinate closely with our Allies and partners. President Biden spoke with President Zelenskyy yesterday and Prime Minister Boris Johnson — as I just read out to you, that call — this afternoon. And we are in close contact with our Allies, again, and partners, again, across all levels of government.
Our partnership with our European and NATO Allies have never been stronger and purposeful as we work collectively to de-escalate the tensions at the Ukraine-Russia border.
If Russia should choose to invade, the severe economic consequences and irrevocable — irrevocable reputational damage caused by taking innocent lives for a bloody war will only weaken the country, not strengthen it.
Q And in that close coordination with Allies and partners, is the view that Russia’s willingness — what they say today about wanting to continue the dialogue — do you — is there a consensus that is — that that is sincere? I mean, how do all of you interpret what’s coming out of the Kremlin today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So we’ve been very clear about this. There is only one country who is currently building up their forces at the Ukraine border, and that’s Russia.
And as we have stated, as Jake Sullivan has stated, that we — in the past 10 days or so, we only continue to see a buildup, not a de-escalation.
So we are open to diplomacy. That door to diplomacy is open, as we have said. And — and so, that is what we’re — that’s what we want to be headed towards.
And, you know, if — we will — we will be ready for whichever decision that President Putin decides. But clearly, we would — we would prefer the path of diplomacy.
I also want to just say one more thing really quickly. This is something that my colleague, Kirby, said — John Kirby said at the Department of Defense just now — that Secretary Austin is going to travel to Belgium, Poland, and Lithuania. So that you all have this. The Secretary is going to meet with Allied defense ministers and NATO leadership to discuss Russia’s military buildup in and around Ukraine, reiterate the U.S. commitment to Article 5, and continue the Alliance’s progress on deterrence and defense while ensuring the Alliance is prepared to face tomorrow’s challenges.
Q And one last question. In two weeks, the President is going to go up to the Capitol to deliver his first State of the Union message. Can you give us a status report on preparations for that? Has he been able to meet with his advisors on it, given everything that’s going on, or edit speech drafts, or just you have some sort of idea where that process stands?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as you know, this is a President who was Vice President for 8 years, and he was senator for 36 years and has spent a lot of time listening to State of the Union speeches. So he understands the importance of delivering such a — a President delivering such a impactful speech and the — the purpose of talking about their successes — his success, in particular, this past year — and how he’s going to build on that success.
I don’t have anything more to share. But this is something that’s important to him. And he’s working towards delivering his speech not just to — not just to Congress, but also to the American public.
Q Hey, Karine. I want to follow up on Darlene’s question and ask it in a different way, though.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Russia’s foreign minister is advising Putin today that Russia keep pursuing diplomatic negotiations. This is a yes-or-no question: Does this administration view that as a sign of de-escalation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, what I was saying — and just to be even clearer — is that in the past 10 days or so, when you look at what is happening at the border of Ukraine, there — we are seeing more than 100,000 troops there. And it’s just been an — every day, more and more troops, as I just read out at the top.
So we are certainly open to having conversations and seeing a de-escalation. But right now, this is — that door is open for diplomacy, and this is up to President Putin. He has to make that decision. It is his decision to make on which direction he wants to take this.
Q So, in terms of the troop buildup there, there’s reporting today that a U- — citing a U.S. official that Russian units near Ukraine moved into attack positions. Is that the understanding of this administration, what you’re seeing there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’m not going to go into any intelligence information. We’re not — clearly, we’re not going to share that.
But what we have seen — and, you know, the National Security Advisor said this himself — we have seen an increase of forces at the border, not a decrease. And — and so, what we are saying to President Putin, with our European allies and partners — we’ve been working in coordination, in lockstep for these past several weeks, several months — is that that door to diplomacy is open and having that diplomatic conversation is a path that we would like to take.
Q And finally, lastly, Jake Sullivan came out here and certainly got the attention of the entire world with the urgency of the briefing that he gave on Friday. In terms of the current state right now, is the situation as imminent today, right now, as it was on Friday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, Jake Sullivan was also on the Sunday shows yesterday. And, you know, again, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time.
You know, we’re — again, I’m not going to comment on the intelligence information except to say that it could begin this week, despite a lot of speculation that it would only happen after the Olympics.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just to follow up on that, I understand you’re saying that you’ve only seen a troop buildup, but Russia has claimed today that it is winding down a number of military drills and exercises that have caused concern. Are you in a position to confirm if those claims are accurate or if they’re not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not in a position to confirm that, but I do know John Kirby spoke to that just moments ago, so I would refer you to his comments and the Department of Defense.
Q Okay. And specifically about, you know, Ukraine and the Vatican, we have some reporting coming from there saying Ukraine has welcomed Vatican mediation of its conflict with Russia, and they’ve invited the Pope to visit the country as soon as possible. Is the President aware of that? Does he support such efforts?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I have not spoken to the President about that, so I can’t — I can’t confirm if he’s aware or not.
Q Okay. Will the administration support such efforts?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — this is the first time I’m hearing about it, so I just need to talk to our team.
Q Okay. And one more on the $1 billion loan guarantee that the U.S. has agreed to make available to support the Ukrainian economy. Our reporting shows that the U.S. will need about $200 million to guarantee that loan.
Do you — does the administration need to make more appropriat- — appropriations available to, sort of, you know, make sure that loan guarantee program works?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have the specifics on that piece, but I can confirm that it is something we are considering as part of the additional macroeconomic support we are exploring to help Ukraine’s economy amidst pressure resulting from Russia’s military buildup. But I don’t have any specifics on the appropriation and what that would take — the process.
Q Would the U.S. support some statement from the Ukrainians that they’re no longer actively pursuing NATO membership or that they’d be willing to stall their pursuit of NATO membership as part of ongoing negotiations?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: As you know, NATO membership — NATO has an open-door policy. That is not something — that is something that Ukraine will have to decide on its own. That is not something that we are in consultation with or make, you know — or even decide on. That is something that NATO has to decide on and Ukraine. That’s up to them and their leadership on how they want to move forward.
Q Jake yesterday said that the two leaders, Presidents Putin and Biden, tasked their teams with continuing to talk or discuss, kind of, the state of play.
Do you have any idea, kind of, the construct of those discussions or what they’d entail, and if any have occurred since the discussion on Saturday?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I do believe Jake Sullivan had a conversation this morning with — with one of our — one of our European partners and allies —
Q But I’m saying between the Russians and the — U.S. and Russia, directly, bilaterally.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I see. I see. Oh. I don’t have anything to — I don’t have anything to read out or predict.
And do you mean on the — on the staff level? Or do you mean like —
Q Yeah. Just under the principal level.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, under the principal — I don’t have anything to read out. As you know, our staff here has been in constant contact with Russia, with Ukraine, and our NATO Allies as well.
Q And then, one last one. There’s concern in terms of — obviously, in the European economic side of things, if Russia continues to escalate, if there’s an invasion.
On the domestic side of things, is the White House economic team looking at anything that the President may need to pursue if an invasion comes to pass about what it could do? Obviously, oil markets being one, but I think just general instability in markets.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I don’t have anything specific to read out to you — for you at this moment. As we talk about energy — I’m assuming that’s one of the things that you’re — you’re asking about, Phil — is, like, we are working with countries and companies around the world to ensure the security of supply and to mitigate against price shocks affecting the American people, Europe, and the global economy.
We are continuing our discussions with major producers around — around the globe to supply — so supply meets demand. All tools are on the table.
A disruption in physical energy supplies trans- — transiting Ukraine would most acutely affect natural gas markets in Europe. And so, we are engaging our European allies to coordinate response planning, including how to deploy their existing energy stockpiles.
We have been working to identify additional volumes of non-Russian natural gas from North Africa and the Middle East to Asia and the U.S.
We — we thank — we think — we thank
reent [recent] comments by Japan about supporting Europe’s energy security through LNG shipments to the region. We are in discussion with major natural gas producers around the globe to understand their capacity and willingness to temporarily surge natural gas output and to allocate these volumes in European buyers.
We are also engaging with major buyers and suppliers of LNG to ensure flexibility in existing contracts and storage is managed and enables a diver- — diversion to Europe.
Q Great, Karine. How are you? Thank you for doing this.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q There’s a reporting quoting Ukraine officials as saying that President Zelenskyy’s statement today that an invasion is imminent on February 16 was, in fact, sarcastic or ironic and more of a commentary on this idea that there are countries or entities that know of a date certain. Is that sarcasm or irony the read of the NSC and the White House?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have a read on that. Here’s what I can tell you about — about that. I heard — I heard the statement, but I haven’t actually heard it in its full context, so the irony of all of it, I have — I couldn’t speak to.
But I’ll say this: While I’m not going to speak to intelligence matters, as I’ve said multipie- — multiple times already, our intelligence or intelligence-sharing with the Ukraines — Ukrainians — as we said before, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time.
It remains unclear which path Russia will choose to take, because we do not know; it is his decision to make. We remain engaged with the Russian government in full coordination with our Allies and partners. The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage, again, constructively.
But we are clear-eyed about the prospects on the ground and are ready to impose severe costs on Russia, in coordination with our Allies and partners, if they attack Ukraine.
Q All right. And two other unrelated matters. Supreme Court: Is it still the expectation that the President will interview nominees this week? And do those that are under consideration know for certain that they’re on the shortlist of people being considered?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, I appreciate the interest here. Look, you know, after having a series of conversations and good discussions with lawmakers from both sides of the party, legal experts, scholars last week, the President continued to review materials as he considers deeply, deeply qualified candidates, as we have said, with strong experience, character, integrity, dedication to the Constitution and the rule of law.
I don’t have anything else to share on any interviews or who he has interviewed. But, you know, we don’t have anything else to share for today or for this week.
Q What’s that?
Q Has he interviewed someone, then? The way you just phrased that —
Q You just — you said “interviewed.” Yeah, that’s —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I’m sorry. I meant to be — he has not interviewed potential nominees, to be clear. Sorry.
Q Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But to just answer your last question is — we are on track, he is on track to select a SCOTUS nominee by the end of this month.
Q Okay. And then just real quick — Robert Califf is still awaiting confirmation in the Senate to be FDA commissioner. It looks like that may happen tomorrow. Is the White House confident he’s got the votes? Have you lined up all the Democratic votes you might need for this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’ll say this: We are confident Dr. Califf will be confirmed with bipartisan support and urge the Senate to confirm him tomorrow, as you just stated, Ed. It is critically important to have confirmed leadership at the FDA in the midst of a pandemic, as we all know.
He had a strong bipartisan showing coming out of committee, including from Ranking Member Burr. It’s important to remember he was confirmed 89 to 4 in 2016. Many folks who supported him then are still in the Senate.
We are in — we are in a daily contact with HHS, who is leading the effort to get him confirmed. HHS and the White House officials are making a lot of calls to the Hill, figuring out which means need what information — which members need what information.
Secretary Becerra, our OLA team, and Steve Ricchetti are all making calls in support of Califf to a bipartisan group of Senate offices.
Dr. Califf himself has met — has met or is scheduled to meet with 47 senators, and that number continues to increase. It’s also one of the highest number of meetings of any nominees that have been done thus far.
Q In his conversation with President Putin, did President Biden give him any signal for how he could de-escalate? Would it have to be something visible, like moving forces somewhere? Could it be something in the realm of what’s verbal, like what we saw from Lavrov today? Is there anything that the President set out as a cue that could try to tamp things down?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the call between the two presidents was professional and substantive. So, it lasted a bit over an hour, as you all know, from the readout this past weekend. The two presidents agreed that our teams would stay engaged in the days ahead, but there was no fundamental change in the dynamic.
Q And just to close the loop on the Supreme Court: So, you’re not saying that the President has done —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No.
Q — any interviews —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I’m not.
Q — at this point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not. Just to be clear.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I was — I meant potential interviews.
Q Okay. The President has some travel scheduled this week. Given the volatility of world events, do you anticipate that if things were — and I know this is hypothetical, but often when there are unpredictable events, there can be changes to the schedule. Are you in a posture where you think that could be a situation where the President would remain at the White House or anything like that if things were to change?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you said, it is hard to read, Kelly O., a hypothetical or to give an answer to a hypothetical.
As you know, the President deals with multiple things at once, and that’s what this President is prepared to do.
Q Thanks, Karine. On the, sort of, ripple effects of a potential invasion, is the administration prepared to block Russian oil imports to the U.S. if Russia invades, given that the imports have reached their highest prices in 11 years (inaudible)?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I mean, I just laid out what we’re doing. We’re talking to countries and companies around the world, engaging with them on all of the different potential conse- — potential outcomes if this were to happen.
I don’t have any more specifics than that — than what I just laid out for you.
And so, one of the things that we have said over and over again, and the President has made this very clear to Vladimir Putin, is if Russia chooses to invade, there will be swift and severe economic consequences.
Q Wouldn’t it be difficult, though, for the U.S. to continue to import Russian oil after all of the rhetoric that we’ve put forward about Russia needing to not invade Ukraine and pressuring Germany to, you know, come out strongly on Nord Stream 2 and possible punishments for Russia if they were to take this step? Wouldn’t it be tough for the U.S. to continue, in that event, to import Russian gas?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, again, it’s a hypothetical. I’m just telling you what we have been very, very clear, the President has been clear, our national security advisor has been clear — we all have been clear, either from this podium or direct communication with Russia, whether it’s with the President or its leadership, that if they were to invade — and in coordination, in lockstep with our European Allies and partners, that’s how we’re moving forward here — that there would be there would be severe, decisive economic consequences. I cannot speak more to — more to that.
Q Okay. And then the sanctions package that’s being worked out on Capitol Hill — I understand that the White House is involved in those discussions now. And congressional sources have told me that the White House has insisted on a waiver for North Stream 2, even after an invasion.
Can you confirm if that is true? And if so, why would the White House want a provision like that in a sanctions package coming out of Congress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, when it comes to Nord Stream 2, we’ve been pretty clear about this. The President has said that — he said this during his press conference last week with the German Chancellor — if Russia further invades Ukraine, there will be — no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it. And at this moment, Nord Stream 2 is not even operational.
Q But is the White House directing Congress to put a waiver from Nord Stream 2 in a —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is the first I’m hearing of that. I cannot speak to that. I’m just telling you where we have been, in a very strong and definitive way, on Nord Stream 2.
Q Okay. And then, on a second topic, this news about the Durham investigation: Does the President have any concerns about a candidate for president using computer experts to infiltrate computer systems of competing candidates, or even the president-elect to — for the goal of creating a narrative? Is that something that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s something I can’t speak to from this podium, so I refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q Is what being described in that report — monitoring Internet traffic — is that spying?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I can’t speak to that report. I refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q Generally speaking though, would monitoring Internet traffic be —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jacqui, my answer is not going to change. I refer you to the Department of Justice.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I can’t speak to that from here.
Q Karine, thanks. What message does it send today to the Ukrainian government to be closing the embassy in Kyiv?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The embassy in Kyiv?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have something on here. I know the — I know the State Department made announcement on this earlier.
So, the State Department announced today that they are temporary — temporarily relocating our embassy operations in Ukraine from our embassy in Kyiv to Lviv due to the dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces. A core team of embassy staff is remaining in Ukraine to engage with the Ukrainian government, coordinating diplomatic efforts and diplomacy to de-escalate the crisis — if the crisis continues.
So, I just wanted to also say this as well, because the State Department put out a statement on this. So, the State Department has no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans around the world. And that, of course, includes our colleagues serving at posts overseas.
So, these prudent precautions in no way undermine our support for our commitment to Ukraine. Our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We also continue our sincere efforts to reach a diplomatic solution. And we remain engaged with the Russian government following President Biden’s call with Putin — with President Putin and the Secretary’s discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage in good faith. We look forward to returning our staff to the embassy as soon as conditions permit.
In the meantime, we have made this very clear; the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, has made this clear; the President himself has made this clear: that these measures, for one reason, the safety of our staff, as I mentioned. We strongly urge any remaining U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately.
That has been our message for the past several days and, honestly, the past several weeks.
Q And does the White House have any comment on this Russian figure skater who’s allowed to maybe compete, as a doping investigation continues?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I —
Q Is this the right call?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s not a comment that I’m — I’m not going to comment from here about that. I’d refer you to the committee — the Olympic Committee.
Q And really quickly: D.C.’s mayor today announced a vacc- — the vaccination requirement for some businesses will be dropped tomorrow and a mask mandate will be dropped by the end of the month. Does the White House support this? Will the President and the First Lady continue to visit businesses and restaurants as these rules change?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, let me just lay some stuff out for you here, because I know this has been a question that many have had. A number of governors have announced changes based on conditions in their particular states. That — that’s not new. That isn’t new.
And so, what I can say from here, as Dr. Fauci has said: As a country, we are making strong progress toward moving to a time when COVID is no longer a crisis. And Dr. Walensky has clearly said CDC is looking at all of their guidance, including mask guidance, in light of declining cases and hospitalizations.
I think that may be getting lost in some of the reporting that we’re seeing. The CDC made clear they’re looking at their guidance, so just want to make that very clear.
But to put a finer point on this, CDC has to move carefully and deliberately to make sure these good trends are confirmed across the nation. CDC has a responsibility to make guidance for the entire country and everyone. They must consider its impact on a variety of constituencies, including people who are disabled, immunocompromised, and most vulnerable.
We are spending significant time and energy on the path forward, working with experts and leaders within and — within and outside the government. And if this — if this progress continues, we expect updates in the weeks ahead. This is a huge, huge responsibility that we do not take
likely [lightly], one that we take very seriously, and we want to make sure that we get this right.
Q Thanks, Karine. During their conversation on Sunday, the President of Ukraine purportedly invited President Biden to visit Ukraine in the coming days. And the Ukrainian President’s office said that a visit by the U.S. President would “be a powerful signal” and could “contribute to [the] de-escalation” of this crisis. What is the White House’s response to that invitation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any travel plans to announce or preview at this time. I’ll say this: You know, as you all know, President Biden spoke with Zelenskyy — as you just mentioned — this weekend. Secretary Blinken spoke with the Foreign Minister this morning. And we are in regular contact with the Ukrainian government throughout the administration, including here at the White House, at the State Department, at the Defense Department. I just laid out travel that the Secretary from Defense is going to be making, at the Treasury Department, and elsewhere.
So, the President has also dispatched a number of senior administration officials to visit Ukraine in recent months, including Secretary Blinken who was just there recently, and — last month for meetings with Ukraine’s leader.
Our North Star has been “nothing abo-” — “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” You’ve heard us say this over and over again. And we will continue to coordinate closely with Ukraine as we try to reach a diplomatic solution to the end of this crisis.
Q Could I bring you back to the gun issue that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, sure.
Q — you talked about in the beginning? A bunch of years ago, a large number of people in the Bi- — in the Obama administration, including the current President, fought fiercely for closing the gun show loophole and described it as “the least that could be done,” and were very angry and upset when it didn’t pass, pushing — pushing also, at various times, for even more — you know, a ban on assault weapons and the like. You didn’t mention any of that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q The President’s message today that he put out earlier didn’t mention any of that. Is it fair to assume that either they no longer — this President no longer thinks those things are needed or has simply abandoned any hope of getting them passed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I wouldn’t assume that. I — one of the things I did say is we are encouraging Congress to act as well. There’s a legislation — legislative component to this, as you just laid out, so that is important as well.
But I do want to read a couple of quotes from — about the President’s exa- — executing on his historic comprehensive gun violence reduction strategy. So, there is support there for it. I know you’re talking about a specific thing, but I want to not just take our word for this.
So, Brady has called the President’s plan “historic” and said “President Biden and his administration are truly taking comprehensive action to address violence in our country.”
Giffords commented the Biden-Harris administration — commended — pardon me — the Biden administration “for announcing a comprehensive strategy to prevent gun violence and protect public safety. . . . Gun violence is a complex problem” — as you can imagine, and as she stated — “that requires an array of solutions. President Biden and Vice President Harris understand[s] [that].” This is a quote from — from Giffords.
Everytown for Gun Safety said “President Biden is taking the comprehensive approach we need to address this crisis.”
And so, is there more work to do? Absolutely. That’s why we’re encouraging and urging Congress to act as well. But the President is going to do everything that he can from his perch to get this done.
Q But he would be satisfied that if — if the things that he’s pushing that are on that list and that you have talked about and that he talked about, that would be good enough?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re not calling it “good enough.” He is doing everything that he can from his perch — from the White House, from the federal government — and using every tool at our tool — on a toolbelt that we’ve talked about. We — that’s what we tried to do to make sure that we’re — we’re addressing a real problem, which is gun violence.
So, what — the other part of that is urging Congress to act as well, which we have been doing. But he’s not going to sit back. You heard me say that. He’s not going to sit back and wait; he’s going to act. But there —
Q But he’s also not going to spend a whole lot of time or energy pushing for a ban on assault weapons or closing the gun show loophole that, just a bunch of years ago, he and others described as “vital.”
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’ll say this: We are constantly in conversation with folks in Congress — with leadership, with congressional members, with senators — that is an array of issues.
The President is going to continue to fight to make sure that we get these guns off the street and we truly deal with gun violence. He is doing his part from the White House, and he’s going to continue to work towards that effort.
Q Thanks, Karine. A few questions. First on Afghanistan: The Biden administration appears to have been downplaying some accounts from ground commanders involved in the evacuation of Afghanistan. Over the past week, we heard a State Department spokesperson say that their criticism was “cherry-picked” from a larger report. We’ve heard President Biden himself reject those accounts. Jen, last week I believe, said that there was no after-action report.
So, two questions I wanted to ask you to clarify the White House position. One, does the White House agree that the evacuation should have become or should have been started earlier, which is what some senior military officials have asserted?
And secondly, did Jen misspeak last week when she said there was no after-action report? There’s been some reporting from a colleague of mine, over the weekend, that indicated there was indeed an after-action report that was reviewed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, to your last question: No, Jen did not misspeak last week. This Abbey Gate report is not the Pentagon’s boarder [sic] action — boarder [sic] ap- — broader after-action review on Afghanistan. That report will examine the final months of America’s longest war and cover from February 2020 through the end of the evacuation. So, no, she did not misspeak.
But let me just say something that I think it’s really important. I’m just going to quote John Kirby, who was — who did a Sunday show yesterday. I believe this was Fox News Sunday show. And I’ll quote him here. He said: “I would also add…here in Washington, we have been planning for evacuation as far back as April. And there was no effort by Washington, certainly not by the National Security Council specifically, to slow down that planning, to slow down those pre-positioning of forces that we did in the summer, to slow down the actual execution of the evacuation.”
So, again — this is John Kirby, spokesperson for the Department of Defense: “So, again, these were documents that assert impressions and perspectives which are very important down at the tactical level, in real-time. We need to conduct a larger, more strategic level after-action review to get the whole sense of this. And we’re doing that.”
The Abbey report, again, is one important review of what occurred that day, but it should not be mistaken for a full follow-up on the last months of the war in Afghanistan.
Q Okay. And on a different topic —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, sure.
Q — to follow up on the earlier questions about the Supreme Court. I know you said that the President has not conducted any interviews with candidates yet, but does the White House — will the White House disclose which candidates the President does interviews with as he goes through this process?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I can promise you right now is that the pro- — the President is going to make his selection for the Supreme Court justice by the end of this month. That’s what we know. That’s what he stated. And that’s what we will do.
Q And last question. Vice President Harris is headed abroad to the Munich Security Conference this week. Can you talk a little bit about what the White House hopes she will accomplish there? And is she going to be sort of the sole representative of the administration in some of these meetings with counterparts? Are there going to be other administration officials as well? Can you sort of give us a sense of what the expectation is?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any specifics, but I can say that we are very proud to have the Vice President lead the delegation to Munich this week.
I don’t have any specific details. I’m happy to talk to the team to see exactly what her schedule is going to look like. But we’re — we are — the President is proud that she’s going to be representing the United States.
Q I have just a couple of quick ones. Following up on this Zelenskyy question, can you confirm whether President Zelenskyy asked President Biden to come to Ukraine this week, and whether the administration considered it at all? I know you don’t have travel to announce but —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — all I can tell you is what I just said. We don’t have travel to confirm right now. That is what the President’s schedule looks like. And the — it’s certainly not confirming to go to visit Ukraine. And that’s what now — our focus right now is to continue to have the conversations on the staff level to continue to make sure that we are — we keep that door to diplomacy open. There’s too much at stake. There are human lives at stake, which is what the President told President Putin. And that is our focus: How do we stop a war? That’s our focus.
Q And Pfizer withdrew, late last week, its application for the vaccine for young kids. Is that a disappointment to the White House?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I have something on that. So, FDA is committed to acting urgently to save lives amidst the pandemic, and they continue to work with Pfizer to review additional data on its vaccine for kids under five.
In recent days, new data — as you know, Tam — emerged regarding Pfizer’s submission to the FDA for its vaccine for kids under five years old. Based on FDA’s assessment of that new data, the agency concluded that additional information regarding a third dose should be considered as part of any authorization.
The initial data has been helpful to the process, but FDA believes more information, including the impact of a third dose, is important to the evaluation. So, that is the process — that is the process right now, currently, that’s working. And that should give parents everywhere confidence in the process — right? — because we want to make sure that the process is working.
FDA is in the middle of a thorough, independent regulatory process to review this vaccine. And if a vaccine is authorized, it will have met FDA’s rigorous standards. So, that is what the parents — as a parent myself, and I know you’re a parent — should be verly [sic] — very proud of that the FDA is doing this.
Q And on the D.C. mask mandate, do you expect that mask mandate coming down to affect policy here on campus at
the White House?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as always, we say this: Local communities will make their own decisions as they have throughout the pandemic, and we’ll — what we’re going to do is we’re going to abide by the CDC guidance. So that is local communities make that decision and that is what they choose to do.
Q So, the White House is not following the local guidelines here for your —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re following —
Q — here for this place that is in the city.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: To be clear, we are going to follow the CDC guidance. That’s what we’re going to do.
Go ahead, Jen.
Q Back to the VP’s trip to Germany, is there discussion in the White House about whether she should go no matter what is happening in Ukraine, or has there been discussions about what might trigger her to cancel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I don’t have any — any insight on that. That’s another hypothetical that I can’t answer. But what I can say is that we are proud that she’s going to be leading the U.S. delegation to Munich, and that is on — on schedule to happen.
Q On the embassy in Kyiv, do you know if all of the classified information has now been stripped from that building?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I do not have that information for you.
Yeah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. I wanted to ask you a quick question on the Quad and Russia. Do you think Quad countries are unanimous on the issue of Russia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Can you say — can you say that one more time, Lalit?
Q Do you think the Quad countries — U.S., Japan, India, and Australia — they had a meeting in Australia recently. Do you think these countries are unanimous on the — on the Russian —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: On the Russia — the Russian issue in particular?
So, as you know, Secretary Blinken was just in the region, where he met with the Quad. It was an opportunity to discuss Russia’s ongoing threat to Ukraine. They discussed the threat that Russia’s aggression poses not only to Ukraine but to the entire international rules-based order, which has provided a foundation for decades of shared security and prosperity for the region and around the globe.
Throughout his meetings with the Quad partners, Secretary Blinken discussed the challenges Russia poses to the rules-based — based on international order and our readiness to support our European allies.
Q I’m going to — I’m asking this question because you know that India’s foreign min- — External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar said that India only follows multilateral sanctions, not country-specific sanctions. And as you’re looking towards country-specific sanctions from the U.S., because the U.N. Security Council is unlikely to vote for those sanctions because of the vetoes Russia and China have, are you in conversations with India that they should follow the U.S. sanctions as well?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, we’re not going to get into specifics. We’ve been really clear about our discussions, so I’m not going into details on that but — beyond what we’ve read out from the Secretary’s meeting in Melbourne last week. But we’re working closely with a range of allies and partners, including India.
Q One final question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q What role President Biden expects India to play in the Quad?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we will continue to build a strategic partnership in which the United States and India work together to promote stability in South Asia; collaborate in new domains such as health, space, cyberspace — which is important; deepen our economic and technology cooperation; and contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
We recognize that India is a likeminded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, active in and connected to the Southeast Asia, a driving force of the Quad, and an engine for regional growth and development.
Q Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No problem. Oh, thank you.
Thanks, everybody. Don’t forget to get those flowers and those candy. (Laughter.)
4:20 P.M. EST