James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:58 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, so we are thrilled to have a very special guest with us today on Jobs Day — a remarkable Jobs Day it is — Dr. Cecilia Rouse, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Because we’re running a bit late, she has a very small window but has agreed to take a few questions and also to come back. And then we will have a briefing as long as we can. And for those of you in the pool, we will keep you updated as well.
So, with that, I’ll turn it over.
CHAIR ROUSE: Good afternoon. So I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about today’s job report, as this is a bright spot and a sign of our strong labor market recovery over the past year.
The February jobs report is extremely solid. The economy added 678,000 jobs in February, well above market expectations. Revisions to the prior two months added over 90,000 more jobs than originally reported, with an average monthly gain of 582,000 over the past three months.
Other data demonstrate our strong economic rebound: The unemployment rate ticked down to 3.8 percent, and the labor force participation rate ticked up, reaching a new pandemic high.
Since President Biden took office, the economy created 7.4 million jobs. This includes the greatest single year of job growth in American history and the fastest economic growth in almost 40 years.
This month’s report reflects broad-based growth. For example, the unemployment rate for workers with less than a high school degree is the lowest on record. And employment in all major industries either grew or held steady. Last year, the economy created more manufacturing and trucking jobs than any year since 1994.
While the care industry is still behind the overall labor market in terms of its recovery, we saw meaningful increases in nursing and residential care; childcare; and state and local government, which is often schools. Notably, this month also saw the largest over-the-month increase in employment in home healthcare on record. These are important components in helping those with care responsibilities get back to work.
We look at the prime-age labor force because it is less affected by long-run changes in educational attainment or by the natural slowdown as people age and retire. This month, the employment rate for workers age 25 to 54 rose, part of a relatively consistent rise.
Overall, the recovery from the pandemic recession has been faster than any of the past recessions. For instance, in 2021, job growth averaged 562,000 jobs per month, nearly three times faster than 2011 to 2019 — the years following the Great Recession.
The share of the labor force experiencing long-term unemployment or involuntary part-time work has fallen dramatically in the pandemic recovery, in part due to the investments of the American Rescue Plan. Both of these measures are often sources of “scarring” after an economic downturn, which describes conditions where workers suffer economic impacts for substantial time after the recession ends.
For instance, after the Great Recession, the long-term unemployment rate reached 4.4 percent but did not fall to 1 percent until 2017 — about seven years later than it reached its peak.
From January to February of this year, the long-term unemployment rate held steady but overall has dropped during the pandemic recovery from a high of 2.6 percent.
We also know that one way “scarring” can affect workers is through increasing the share of workers who cannot get all the hours they want because they cannot find a full-time job or because business conditions are weak. But similar to the long-term unemployment rate, this measure has seen rapid recovery. The percent of the labor force that is working part-time for economic reasons ticked up in February to 2.5 percent but remains below its level in February 2020.
Monthly employment and unemployment data can be volatile, and payroll estimates can be subject to substantial revisions. Therefore, it is important to focus on trends rather than data in a single month, which is what the administration stresses every month.
Thank you. And I’m happy to take questions.
MS. PSAKI: Trevor.
Q We’ve seen a fairly substantial slide in the stock market this year. We’ve seen rising oil prices. Those are obviously pressures on the economy. Do you think that if those trends continue that they will reverse the gains that you’ve seen?
CHAIR ROUSE: So I think it’s important to separate the stock market from the real economy. And the growth that we’ve seen in the real economy has been the fastest in almost 40 years. We’ve seen job growth that is historically fast.
You know, obviously, we have — we are monitoring the financial sector. The actions of the Federal Reserve play a key role there. And obviously, the tensions — and the invasion of Russia of Ukraine is having an impact there.
So we are monitoring. We are impacting. But quite honestly, we go into 2022 from a position of economic strength. The bones of this economy are strong and has the resilience to weather what is ahead of us in this year ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Phil.
Q Understanding that — (clears throat) — excuse me — the data is fluid and volatile right now, but given the strength that the U.S. economy has, how long can it withstand the spikes we’ve seen in commodities, just the general environment before the threat of tipping into a recession becomes real at this point?
CHAIR ROUSE: So, look, the economy is very strong. What we saw in February was that we added almost 700,000 jobs over the month as the cases of Omicron were coming down but did not get down to zero. So what we saw was the resilience in this economy that we were able to continue the recovery as we’re also learning to live alongside of this pandemic and safely get back to our normal lives.
So we are optimistic, if we continue, the President has the — that we have the tools. The President has asked for Congress to have additional tools, which we know are going to be so important as we — the pandemic is not over, but we know we have the therapeutics, we have the resources to develop vaccines quickly, we’ve got masking. We have the tools to navigate the pandemic as we go forward.
So we are optimistic that we can continue this robust recovery. This President has an economic plan to grow this economy from the bottom up and middle out. It’s premised on, you know, making the key investments in this economy that have not been made over decades. So the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was a key component of that. And there are components of his — you know, what were parts of Build Back Better, which is the, you know, Child Tax Credit, which has investments in children; paid leave, which help people balance work and home responsibilities; helping people get back to work and balance their care responsibilities; lowering costs for families, whether it’s in prescription drugs, childcare costs that have been increasing for decades and that are so important to this economy.
So this President is focused on that kind of economic investments, which are premised on increasing our economic capacity, which is the kind of sustainable economic growth that we — that we’re looking to see.
MS. PSAKI: Kelly.
Q Given the good news that you’ve just mentioned and the trend lines, which have been very positive, why do you think this President is not getting credit from voters for steering the economy in the right direction?
CHAIR ROUSE: Well, I think that’s a really complicated question. We know that the American Rescue Plan was really an insurance policy for this economy. What we know is that there are millions more families — we created — you know, the economy created 7.4 million jobs over the past year during this presidency, and so we know millions of families are able to, you know, have a job and put food on the table and pay their bills.
What we know in the consumner [sic] — in the confidence data, a lot of that is premised on inflation.
And we do have inflation. The President has acknowledged that; we understand that. He is focused on that. But what people also report is that their own finances are fairly healthy, but they see the kind of uncertainty in the economy that is there.
So we are — we’re a pandemic-scarred society. That’s not just the economy; there’s uncertainty as we navigate our way out of this pandemic and then the tensions, you know, between Russia and Ukraine are going to add to that uncertainty as well.
MS. PSAKI: Kelly.
Q As you described the strength in the economy — if there were a policy decision made to stop importing Russian oil, what impact would that have? And do you see a resilience in the American economy to withstand that?
CHAIR ROUSE: So, again, we’re in a very good position. What we know is that, you know, from the U.S. economy, we don’t import a lot of Russian oil, but we are looking at options that we can take right now if we were to cut the U.S. consumption of Russian energy. But what’s really most important is we — that we maintain a steady supply of global energy.
MS. PSAKI: Last one. Josh.
Q Sorry. Just to follow up on that: We’re reporting right now that you are considering a ban on U.S. imports of Russian crude. Should I interpret your answer just now that it might be more targeted than that?
CHAIR ROUSE: So we are considering a range of options, but what’s really essential is that we maintain a steady supply of global energy. We don’t want to disrupt — look, gl- — energy is a global market and we do not want to disrupt that market.
Q And on today’s report, the jobs number was great; the wage growth was pretty sluggish. I’m wondering: Is that normal to expect a disconnect there? Does one typically follow the other? And what do you draw from that? And how can you get wages to keep pace with the actual job numbers themselves?
CHAIR ROUSE: So, from month to month, data can be volatile, and so we don’t — that’s why we don’t focus on month-to-month changes, especially in ,like, wages. But we did see robust growth even — for lower — in lower-wage industries. And we know that, over the year, wages are up.
But the President’s economic plan is really about having increases in wages that are sustained by increases in productivity — and they’re really premised on the increase in economic capacity — and that help families by lowering costs on those — you know, in those areas — healthcare, prescription care, childcare — that we know have been really squeezing pocketbooks over several decades.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Dr. Rouse, for joining us.
CHAIR ROUSE: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: You’re welcome anytime.
Okay, I just have two items for all of you at the top. I just wanted to provide — I know we announced this yesterday or the day before — but a brief overview on two critical urgent funding needs that the administration has sent to Congress.
First, to provide assistance to Ukraine. The United States has already provided over $1.4 billion in assistance to Ukraine since 2021. And together with our European allies and partners, we are holding Russia accountable for its unjustified and unprovoked invasion.
To continue this important work, we’re requesting $10 billion to deliver additional security assistance for Ukraine, to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people, and more support for stronger sanctions enforcement, and for U.S troop deployments to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank and deter Russian aggression.
This is an urgent priority. I think everybody would agree — Democrats, Republicans, the American people. And it is urgent that we can continue to deliver on our commitment to support the Ukrainian people.
Second, the other part of our request is on COVID-19 response. While we now have tools like vaccines, treatments, tests, and high-quality masks to protect people, we didn’t get here by accident. It’s the result of wise investments over the past 14 months that led to this widespread availability. And I would note that we did that while we had the rise of two variants that weren’t even planned for, of course. Well, they were planned for, but we didn’t — we had to account for them, I should say, in our spending.
We need additional funding from Congress to secure more medical supplies to keep this country moving forward. And let me be very clear: This is an urgent request. And this is what is at stake in our fight against COVID:
By May, our current supply of monoclonal antibodies will stock out. By July, the current supply of pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs used to protect immunocompromised people will stock out. Funds are needed in March to secure additional supply in July. You have to order them ahead so that you have them when they’re needed, when you run out of stock.
By September, we anticipate our supply of oral antivirals will run out if additional pills are not purchased now.
So — and within weeks, we exce- — expect testing capacity to drop if additional investments are not made soon.
And as I — I would note, in the President’s State of the Union, he also announced the American people can order more tests. So they’re — we obviously want to meet that demand.
Given how costly COVID has been, with so many of our fellow Americans hospitalized or dying and our daily lives disrupted, we simply cannot afford to wait on investing now and keeping people protected.
Also, just wanted to give you a preview of the week ahead:
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Fort Worth, Texas, to speak with veterans, caregivers, and survivors about addressing the health effects of environmental exposures, such as burn pits. Obviously, he talked about this priority in his State of the Union Address earlier this week.
It’s part of his Unity Agenda for the nation. He supports legislation that would expand access to healthcare and benefits for veterans affected by these exposures during military service, and he was encouraged by the passage of a bipartisan bill in the House just yesterday.
Wednesday evening, the President will deliver remarks at the Senate Democratic Caucus retreat.
On Thursday — sorry, I’m going to sneeze at some point — (laughter) — on Thursday — I just wanted to not scare anyone — the President will welcome the President of Colombia to the White House to celebrate 200 years of positive diplomatic relations and consult on a range of regional and global issues of mutual interest.
During their bilat, the leaders plan to reaffirm the bilateral relationship and discuss COVID-19 response, future pandemic preparedness, economic recovery, and regional responses to migration.
That evening, he will deliver remarks to Democratic National Committee members at their Winter Meeting.
And, on Friday, he will travel to Philadelphia, where he will deliver remarks at the House Democratic Caucus retreat.
I would note that Friday is also when we will be marking the anniversary of the American Rescue Plan. I’m sure you will all be celebrating with us, voluntarily or not. So, we look forward to that.
With that, Colleen, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thanks, Jen. So, President Biden has promised that there’s going to be no American boots on the ground, and he’s also acknowledging that the war in Ukraine is going to impact pocketbooks. We see, you know, especially with what happened with the nuclear facility in Ukraine, no sign of Putin stopping. And, in fact, he’s telling Macron that he’s in this until the end.
So, I wonder what makes the administration confident that Americans are willing to, you know, pay for the price of Ukrainian liberty, especially if this is going to drag on for long?
And then I have a separate question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, to be very clear — and I think you all heard the President convey this in his speech the other night: The reason why we are seeing volatility in the global oil markets, the reason why the price of gas is going up is not because of steps the President has taken; they are because President Putin is invading Ukraine, and that is creating a great deal of instability in the global marketplace.
So, what we are trying to do and what the President is focused on doing is taking every step we can to mitigate the impact of that. Obviously, he announced the release of more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, did that in a coordinated way. We have a range of options on the table we are considering.
But where we are at in this moment is — certainly, we are taking steps to stand up for democracy, stand up for democracy versus autocracy, stand up to the actions of a brutal dictator — but it is because of his actions that we are in this circumstance.
Q One other question on the Supreme Court reinstating the death penalty for the Boston bomber — is a question I have. I wondered — I know there’s a moratorium, you know, on the death penalty the DOJ has put in place, but are there any other actions planned or any other steps taken to keep the President’s pledge to end the death penalty?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President certainly supports the Attorney General’s decision to issue a moratorium on federal executions while it conducts a comprehensive review of the practice, and that practice and process is ongoing. And the President has expressed before that he has deep concerns about whether capital punishment is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness.
Obviously, I can’t — there’s — this is a case that the Department of Justice could certainly speak to, but I could — would just say that President — the President expressed horror at the events of the Boston Marathon bambing [sic] — bombing at the time. He believes that Tsarnaev should be punished for responsibility in the murder of three innocent people at the marathon, for wounding dozens of others, and for his role in killing two police officers who were attempting to bring him and his brother to justice. And he knows the deep pain that his crime caused.
As the President said at the one-year commemoration of the bombing, quote, “I know that no memorial, no words, no act can fully provide the solace that your hearts…still yearn to acquire.”
He has made clear, as I noted, his — his grave concerns about capital punishment as implemented, but he respects the process and the ongoing review that is being — being led by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General.
Q Thank you. Overnight, we saw the Russians attack this nuclear power plant last night. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv noted on Twitter, “It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant. Putin’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further.”
So, just to be clear: Is it now the position of the U.S. government that Putin has engaged in war crimes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have an internal review that’s been ongoing, prior to last night, of — to collect evidence and data of the targeting of civilians, of the reported use of horrific weapons of war on the ground in Ukraine. That’s an ongoing process. We have not made conclusions. It’s a legal review in a process that goes through the administration.
What I will say is that the intentional targeting of civilians or civilian objects would be considered a war crime, even as we are assessing that. Regardless of the legality, this action was the height of irresponsibility. The Kremlin must cease operations around nuclear infrastructure. And we have, of course, remaining concerns.
I would note that just on the — in the developments that have happened overnight as it relates to the nuclear power plant — I mean, obviously, the Russian government’s actions were extremely reckless and dangerous; they could have posed a profound threat to the safety of civilians in the region and beyond — we do applaud the ability of Ukrainian operators to keep all six reactors in safe conditions while under attack and to report, as they were able to, to the nuclear regulator, which certainly was helpful.
As you know, last night, the President not only spoke with President Zelenskyy, he also spoke last night to the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration for an update on the situation at the plant. So that is a piece of positive news for the moment.
But we remain concerned, of course, about the fact that they have clearly taken control of the plants — or it appears so — the Russian military has. The best step for nuclear safety would be for Russia to immediately withdraw its fr- — its forces around the facility.
Q And on the Hill, we’ve now seen this really, sort of, broad range of bipartisan support behind this legislation to ban Russian oil imports. The Speaker has said she’s all for banning Russian oil. I guess, the first one: Just what is your stance on the Senate bill, and is this something that the President would sign?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as we — as we talked about a little bit yesterday, how the President has been approaching any of the steps we’ve taken as it relates to Russia and the actions of Russia and holding President Putin accountable is to take every step to the maximum impact that will impact President Putin, the Russian economy.
I mean, the stock market has been closed now for the longest time in history. Russia is in a full-blown financial crisis. According to JP Morgan analysts, there will be a coll- — a collapse in the Russian GDP.
So, clearly those actions are working. We will have had — one of his principles from the beginning has been to do that in a unified way, in a coordinated way — because we are stronger if we are together, as we work with the Europeans.
The third principle — or another principle, I’m not sure what number I’m on right now — has been to, while we’re maximizing the impact, to minimize it on the American people, on the global markets, on — and certainly we are mindful as we look at all of these options of making sure we’re not having that impact.
So, we want to maintain, as Dr. Rouse said, a steady global supply of energy with whatever actions we take.
Q So, is that a “No, he would not sign this legislation”?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we remain in contact and in discussion with members of Congress. We are looking at options we could take right now to cut U.S. consumption of Russian energy, but we are very focused on minimizing the impact of families.
If you reduce supply in the global marketplace, you are going to rise — raise gas prices; you’re going to raise the — raise the price of oil; and that is something the President is very mindful of and focused on.
Q (Inaudible) alluded to something several officials have – and you kind of just did too — that there — there’s a review of options that would allow you to cut consumption but maintain market stability and supply. Can you outline any of those options in detail that are under review right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are both international and domestic options. I’m not going to get into too much detail because our focus is on discussing what’s possible, what will have the maximum impact and not putting any of them at risk.
But part of — broadly speaking, part of what we’re trying to do internationally is have conversations, as we have been for weeks now, with global suppliers about meeting the needs — the supply needs in the marketplace.
The reduction of supply, the reduction of oil would raise prices — right? So that is one of the things that we have been focused on. We’ve talked a little bit about engagements that Brett McGurk has had, that Amos Hochstein have had. These are ongoing discussions. There’s not a day that goes by — or maybe even an hour that goes by, probably — where members of our national security team and economic team aren’t communicating with their counterparts around the world about exactly this issue.
There are also a range of domestic options that are out there. Obviously, the President announced the release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That is something where the process is just getting going right now. It takes a little bit to get that going. And then, you know, he’ll consider and continue to discuss with his team other steps that we could take domestically.
Q Does the potential for an Iran deal factor into the supply considerations at this point?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that the biggest priority with the Iran deal is having visibility into and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Obviously, as a part of that, if you go back to the implementation of the JCPOA, would be the availability of oil. But — but I would say that our first-and-foremost priority focus is on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Q And then last one. There was significant preparation — that lead-up to the Russian invasion — in terms of cyber defenses in the U.S. with the private sector. Does the U.S. intelligence community have any analysis as to why there has not been any offensive Russian action on the cyber front as it pertains to the United States?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a really good question, Phil. I don’t think anything that I could provide to you from the podium.
I would say that these — the cyber preparations — as you noted, but just for others — you know, those began in earnest back in the fall, just as all of our engagements with foreign counterparts; preparations and discussions about efforts to avoid challenges in the global — global oil markets; you know, making sure we were unified with our European partners — those engagements with the private sector began — I mean, they continued back in the fall, but as it relates to this potential threat, they escalated, they increased back in the fall.
But in terms of why not yet, I can’t speak to that. But we are certainly prepared if they — if that does happen.
Q Thanks, Jen. The President is meeting with the Finnish President shortly.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Does President Biden want Finland to join NATO?
MS. PSAKI: That would be up to leaders of Finland and the NATO Alliance to determine.
Q Senator Lindsey Graham said last night that someone ought to assassinate President Putin. Does the White House have any take on that statement? Is it helpful at this point?
MS. PSAKI: That is not the position of the United States government and certainly not a statement you’d hear from come from the mouth of anybody working in this administration.
Q It sounds like the Vice President is going to be heading abroad. Can you tell us a little bit more about where she’ll be going and what the goal of that trip will be?
MS. PSAKI: Not yet. But certainly, the Vice President has been deeply engaged. She’s obviously already made a trip to Europe. I expect there’ll be more soon, but I don’t have anything to report out to you at this particular moment.
Q And then, finally, yesterday, you said the U.S. doesn’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy, but it — now it sounds like the White House actually is considering cutting off Russian oil imports. What changed? Is it just this drumbeat coming from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill that’s getting really, really loud?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say our position has changed in any way since yesterday. Our — there isn’t a strategic interest in reducing global oil supply because that will ri- — that will increase the price of barrels of oil and increase gas prices. So, we are looking at ways to — and I said yesterday, I believe, that we are looking at ways to reduce the import of Russian oil while also making sure that we are maintaining the global supply needs out there.
I don’t have anything to predict in terms of what that will look like. And we, of course, remain engaged with — with our friends in Congress.
Q Thanks, Jen. There have been some calls to establish safe-passage corridors for humanitarian aid purposes.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q Is that something that the U.S. is at all working on? And then, how would it be enforced? Because, in 2014, the Russians killed a whole bunch of Ukrainians who were trying to flee in a similar fashion.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are in close contact with Ukrainian leadership to support their efforts. And you’re absolutely right — humanitarian corridors are absolutely critical to help evacuate civilians; provide urgently needed humanitarian aid, such as food, water, medical supplies; to ensure civilians can travel safely.
We’ve seen and continue to see devastating attacks on cities and infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and houses that are catastrophic at the hands of the Russian military.
So, what we need to see is sincerity about the implementation of humanitarian access, work to establish that quickly.
In terms of the implementation of that, I don’t think I have any more details to convey here. But I think, obviously, saying you’re going to do humanitarian corridors or conveying an openness to that, to your point, is very different from allowing food, you know, water, medical supplies, and civilians to move. And certainly, there would need to be an implementation component and they would need to take the implementation of it seriously.
Q So is that something that then the U.S. is going to discuss with NATO about potentially getting involved in doing?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more details on the implementation for you to outline from here. But certainly, you know, the establishment and the — of humanitarian corridors; the implementation of it; the Russian leadership taking that — that effort seriously would be — would be something we would welcome.
Q And then following up on Phil’s question about the cyberattacks. Obviously, it didn’t happen leading up to the invasion, but do we have, as the U.S., a capability of knowing whether or not they tried to do something like that?
MS. PSAKI: We have a range of capabilities. I’m not going to get into them from here.
Q Okay. And then what happens if — you talked about the legal review is happening for the war crime element, earlier. What happens next if the review finds that Putin did commit war crimes? Then what happens?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a range of means. I would say, first, while we have our own internal review going on and if we — and as we continue that, we will provide any information to both the International Criminal Court, the U.N., other entities that are investigating from an international standpoint.
We also helped pass a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry which would be an entity where we could provide information that could support future investigations and also determine — to your question, I think — accountability measures.
We also joined 44 other countries in establishing an expert mission through the OSCE to investigate possible violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by Russia and its forces.
So typically, obviously, we have a range of resources here, as other countries do. And our focus would be feeding that into the international process.
Q In terms of what you all — what you just laid out there — and I know yesterday you said that you didn’t see Russia being booted from the U.N. Security Council because they have a permanent seat. How do you reconcile the potential that you have, you know, a member of the Security Council that’s flagrantly undermining the Charter? Is there anything that can be done, especially if he is found to be committing war crimes?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s part of the accountability question. Right, Jacqui?
And obviously, determination about the future role of any — of any country in an organization would be up to the member countries of that organization. We are one; we are not the only one. But certainly, accountability would be a part of that process.
Q Because it would be a concern for the U.S. — or for the U.N. for their — you know, sort of — for everything they stand for to have that —
MS. PSAKI: I think the U.N. has been and the vast majority of countries in the U.N. have been incredibly aligned and outspoken about the horrific and barbaric actions that they have seen by Russia — the Russian military and by — at the direction of President Putin on the ground.
Q One last one. Zelenskyy said yesterday that he felt like the world — the whole world was too late. What’s the President’s response to that?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that, one, President Zelenskyy has been standing up courageously and bravely in a moment where his country, his own security — you know, his own concerns about his security are understandably under threat.
We have been — the United States has been working for months to build a global coalition that will hold President Putin accountable. We have been providing a historic amount of security assistance, military assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance to President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian leaders. And we will certainly continue to stand by his side.
Go ahead, Kelly.
Q Can you give us any sense of a timeline or a triggering event that would result in this policy change regarding Russian oil and any decisions that may be forthcoming? Is that imminent? Or is there something that — you know, is there an event — an outside event that you’re waiting for?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say, Kelly, it’s an outside event. I think our continuing concern continues to be — you know, everybody wants to hold President Putin and the Russian leadership accountable. Everybody supports the efforts that the Pres- — President Biden has been leading around the world to take — put in place crippling financial sanctions, and they have had an enormous impact.
But what we are also mindful of is not taking steps that have — would have the impact of raising energy prices, raising oil prices, raising gas prices for the American public. And we also are mindful of doing things in a way that is unified with our partners around the world.
Q Can you speak to how the President has steeled himself, hardened himself, if you will?
He’s made a commitment not to put American troops in a military position in Ukraine. You’ve outlined all the steps the U.S. and allies are taking. But he’s also watching what is happening, as are many Americans who are concerned about the atrocities that are taking place, the loss of life, the civilians that are being affected. Does the U.S. just watch this get worse? Is that what we should all be prepared for?
MS. PSAKI: I would just argue we’re hardly “watching.” We have been — we have provided a billion dollars in military and security assistance, including a range of defensive weapons that we have expedited delivery to the Ukrainian leadership and Ukrainian military.
We have been the largest provider of economic and humanitarian assistance. We have rallied the world to stand up against President Putin. We are not “watching”; the President is leading the world in responding to this.
However, he is not going to put U.S. military men and women serving on the front lines of battle in Ukraine to fight Russia. That has never chan- — that has never been his plan, never been his policy, and he has no intention of doing that.
Q Understanding it’s not the position of the U.S. government, what Lindsey Graham said last night, what Lindsey Graham did suggest is that there’s no peaceful resolution here while Vladimir Putin is still in power in Russia. Does the President share that view?
MS. PSAKI: The President believes there continues to be a diplomatic path forward. That is the path forward that will help resolve what we’re seeing on the ground.
President Putin has the ability to deescalate. We have left the door open for months now to be engaged through de-escalation if de-escalation occurs.
Obviously, humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire — those would all be steps that would be welcomed. But, no, we are not advocating for killing the leader of a foreign country or regime change. That is not the policy of the United States.
Q Quick question on the Iran talks. There was a British diplomat that tweeted this morning that the talks are close. One of the reported demands of the Iranians is that this administration reversed the policy of the last one and removed the IRGC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. What’s the U.S. position on that?
MS. PSAKI: Look, there — we are close. We are making progress. But we are — there’s still more work to be done, and I’m just not going to negotiate from here.
Q Jen, the NATO Secretary General gave a really pessimistic assessment of the conflict. He said, “The days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, [and] more destruction.” Is that an assessment that the White House shares at this point? And is there a concern that the tide may be turning here in the favor of Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know that the tide has ever turned against them in the sense that we’ve seen the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian leadership act incredibly courageously, bravely, stand up and hold off — I think to the surprise of the world — the Russian military longer than many would have assessed possible.
But the ambitions of President Putin have never changed. Right? The efforts of the Russian military to charge towards Kyiv have never changed. So, we are continuing our — and our assessment has not changed on what their attention — intentions are.
Q And just — Zelenskyy said — he reiterated his interest in talking to Putin. He said he “need[s] to talk to Putin. The world needs to talk to Putin. There is no other way to stop [the] war.”
What conditions does the President need in order to have a conversation with Putin? And does he see any kind of engagement with Putin directly as constructive at this point?
MS. PSAKI: For President Putin — I mean, for President Biden or for President Zelenskyy?
Q For President Biden. Biden.
MS. PSAKI: Look, the — President Biden has no intention at this moment of engaging directly with President Putin. He is in the middle of an escalatory war in a sovereign foreign country. This is not the moment for the President of the United States to engage directly with President Putin.
What I would say is that he leaves the door open to diplomacy. That has never closed shut. There are certainly steps — while I’m not going to outline from here, because we’ll engage on this through diplomatic channels, what exactly it would look like, there are obvious steps that can be taken –humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire. Those would all be welcomed steps.
But in terms of what conditions, it’s not the moment now and I can’t predict for you if and when the moment would be.
Q Can I just ask briefly: The presidents spoke, of course, about the need to confirm his Fed nominees in his State of the Union speech.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The Republicans on the committee issued a statement yesterday, digging in, essentially, on Sarah Bloom Raskin. I’m wondering whether the White House remains committed and — with Senator Brown in advancing all the nominees in one slate and if you have any responses to the Republicans, on the latter?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, we absolutely do. All five of our nominees, including Sarah Bloom Raskin, are well qualified for these positions, and we’re calling on the Senate to confirm them as soon as possible.
I think it’s important to remember what is happening here: The Republicans are not showing up to a committee vote. If one of them sho- — showed up, there would be a quorum to have a vote. And there are enough votes to move her past the committee. That’s what’s happening. They’re not doing their job here, which is just to show up. They don’t have to vote for her; they just have to be in the room, which is essentially what people have elected them to do.
So, we stand by all of our nominees. We’re continuing to engage with Senator Brown on moving them forward. And certainly, we believe, at this moment — when inflation is on the minds of Americans, when rising costs is on the minds of Americans — one thing that the Senate could do is confirm these nominees.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Russia has cut off access to Facebook inside of Russia. How does that affect U.S. efforts? Does the White House have concerns about that source of information to Russian citizens being cut off?
MS. PSAKI: You know, this is part of their effort, as you know, I mean, to cut off a range of information from their public.
They had — I talked about this a little bit yesterday, but there are concerning steps they have taken to crack down on any form of information being shared with their public. Certainly, Facebook is a part of that.
They’ve also threatened fines for journalists reporting on the ground. They’ve threatened — they’ve conveyed that there are only certain words their own Russian media can use, at the risk of being fined or even jailed.
This is a pattern — this is not necessarily a new approach that they have taken — but to crack down on information in their country to reach the Russian people.
So, certainly, we are deeply concerned about this and concerned about the threat on freedom of speech in the country.
Q One other completely unrelated question: Loved ones who have lost people to COVID — some of them are advocating for a “COVID Memorial Day” or a physical memorial.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Does the White House have any view on that? Would you support something like that?
MS. PSAKI: I think there’s no question the President feels it’s important to remember, to memorialize, to take a moment to think of all of the people who have lost — whose lives have been lost, and all the loved ones who have lost loved ones. He talked about this in the State of the Union, right?
In terms of a memorial, I would say there’s an openness, but right now, we’re still battling the virus and still battling the pandemic and working to get funding from Congress to make sure we can continue to do that and moving towards hopefully getting vaccines approved for kids under five.
So, there’s more steps we’re taking. And right now, I just don’t have any prediction of what that may look like. But certainly, memorializing lives lost is something we are open to.
Q Thanks so much, Jen. Two questions for you. First of all, just on the idea of a Russian — a ban on purchasing Russian oil. The Wall Street Journal had a pretty good story earlier this week noting that the price of Russian oil has declined as the price of other oil has increased. And I wonder how much of this idea might already be sort of baked in — how much of the pricing might already be baked in — you know, whether that is something that you’re thinking — the White House is thinking about as it’s deciding whether or not to do this ban.
MS. PSAKI: You mean how much of it is baked into the Russian economy in terms of having an impact? Or —
Q Well, how much of it’s baked into the rise in oil that — you know, given that Russian oil prices are going down and people are — and it’s not being purchased out of the concern that, you know, there’s some uncertainty about delivery and there’s some uncertainty about, you know, whether there could be larger-scale bans; that the ensuing prices are all going up anyway, so you’re not really losing that much by banning Russian oil because nobody is really buying it.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what most experts in the global oil markets would say, though, is that reducing global oil supply would have an impact on the price of barrels of oil and, ultimately, gas prices. So, that is our concern.
Now, again, we will continue to have a range of conversations, but I think part of our assessment here is that, while maximizing the impacts by taking a range of steps we’ve already taken, you know, we are mindful of minimizing the impacts on the public. And certainly, the rising price of oil would — and the impact on gas prices is one we are focused on.
Q And then just quickly: There was a Washington Post event earlier today where John Bolton said that Trump, quote, “may well have withdrawn from NATO” in a second term and that Putin was, quote, “waiting for that.” And I’m wondering if you had any comment on that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s — I saw those comments — you know, another reason why the American people are grateful — the majority of the American people — that President Biden has not taken a page out of his predecessors’ playbook as it relates to global engagement and global leadership, because, certainly, we could be in a different place.
I mean, there’s no question that the strength and unity of NATO has been a powerful force in this moment. And it may take longer time to have the — the hopeful impact. But, you know, that is — the strengthening of NATO, we think, is no — is unquestionably good for our security here in the United States and for the global sec- — for global security.
Go ahead, Trevor.
Q Jen, you said earlier in the briefing that you’d be providing information to the International Criminal Court about any war crimes being committed by Vladimir Putin. It’s long been the position of this administration that the ICC should not get involved in case — in countries where they don’t have jurisdiction. You’ve made that argument about the U.S., you’ve made that argument about Israel. Do you have a different position when it comes to Russia? And, if so, why?
MS. PSAKI: I think my point is that we would provide any information through our own process that became available to all of the international entities that are looking into and exploring this exact question.
Q So there’s no change in your overall view that they shouldn’t take action?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not a member of the ICC — right? — neither is Russia. They are exploring this. There are other entities I mentioned the — that we were a part of moving forward a commission through the U.N., which is certainly another entity that is looking into this and exploring this question.
Q Okay. And then, on Finland: Can you confirm that Finland is asking for the United States’ support in becoming a major non-member ally to NATO? And would you support that? Would you oppose it? Where are you guys on that?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a mouthful of a title, isn’t it?
Q It — it is.
MS. PSAKI: I know. You got it out there though.
Look, I think the President is meeting with his counterpart shortly this afternoon. I will let them speak to what their aspirations are. And again, it would be up to NATO — the NATO Alliance to make any determinations about next steps.
Q And just more broadly — just on, kind of, security guarantees to Finland. I mean, they’re kind of in a similar position to Ukraine, right? They’re — they’re thinking about what kind of alliances they — military alliances they want to have with the West. And as they’re having that conversation and that thought process, Russia invaded one.
So, does Finland need some kind of similar security guarantees? Do they need more security guarantees than Ukraine got? And what is the U.S. willing to provide?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without getting ahead of the meeting, I expect they will discuss, of course, the strong history of the U.S.-Finland’s defense relationship, which is complemented by Finland’s close relationship with NATO.
Finland’s current status as an Enhanced Opportunity Partner for the Alliance helps ensure strong defense and close security ties in the Baltic Sea region.
But again, you know, this is a continuing conversation. I’m sure that their defense and security and our close ties will be a part of it. But we’ll let them have the meeting, and then we will have more to say, I’m sure, after it concludes.
Go ahead, David.
Q Just following on the Finland thing briefly before I get to my question. I think the phrase is a “Major Non-NATO Ally,” and that is something the U.S. can designate by itself without having to go NATO, as you’ve suggested. Pakistan, for example, is a Major Non-NATO Ally. Is that something that we are considering in Finland’s case?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re going to let the meeting take place, and then we will have more to say after the meeting concludes.
Q Okay. On your answer before on Iran: Has the President reviewed the current draft agreement? I understand there are some issues, including some with the IAEA, that are going to get addressed tomorrow when the chief of the IAEA is in Tehran. But has he reviewed and approved the agreement as it now stands?
MS. PSAKI: He has been regularly briefed on the status of the negotiations, but I’m not going to get into more specifics beyond that.
Q And is it his belief that any of this has to go to Congress? You’ve gotten that letter from 30-odd members of Congress on the issue.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve — we are aware of the letter. I don’t have anything to convey on that either. Let’s see where this lands. Obviously, there’s more work to be done — pivotal pieces at the very end. So I don’t have anything to convey officially on that at this point.
Q And the very last is just to follow up on Phil’s question. So, on the question of why it is that we have not seen more cyber activity by the Russians at this point, do you believe it has to do more with the defenses, as you described — in other words, “passive deterrence” — that wouldn’t be able to affect us? Or do you think it has to do with something that was happening inside Russia — decisions that they made about when to go use these weapons?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not a place I can get into from here, David.
I would say, though: We continue to be prepared. We continue to be prepared for retaliatary act- — retaliatory action, whether it is cyber or other means. And it’s something we’ve been preparing for for several months.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple of questions. President Zelenskyy said yesterday that if the West is unwilling to put in place a no-fly zone, it should at least provide Ukraine with warplanes so it can defend itself. Is that something that the U.S. is considering?
MS. PSAKI: We have provided a range of security and military assistance, including defensive assistance. We’ve recently provided helicopters that I think my Defense colleagues confirmed earlier today or yesterday. But I don’t have anything in addition to predict on that front.
Q Okay. And on a different topic, Ron Klain was on a podcast yesterday, and he suggested that the President was considering further extending the student loan moratorium, which expires in May. What can you tell us about that? When would — when can we expect a decision? And is he looking at another 90-day extension? Or —
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question. That is obviously something we will continue to assess and review as we get closer to May.
Typically, there’s a period of time where you need to make a decision or you at least need to convey to the lenders what they should prepare for. But I don’t have anything to predict at this point in time.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. Since the mask rules here have changed —
(A cellphone disrupts the briefing.)
MS. PSAKI: Oh. It’s like hearing your own voice on the, you know, answering machine. (Laughter.)
Q Since the mask rules at the White House have changed this week, has there been any change to the testing protocols for the President? How regularly is he getting tested for COVID?
MS. PSAKI: There have not been changes to the testing protocol that I’m aware of. I would note that, for all of us, we are still tested. If you see the President, you’re tested that day. If you’re not going to see the President, everybody is on a different version of a testing protocol.
Q And has he been tested since Tuesday night’s State of the Union?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check, and we will get the answer back out to all of you after the briefing.
Q Ukraine asked for foreign reinforcements. What’s the White House position on volunteer international fighters who want to go to Ukraine? Would you encourage Americans go there to fight, or would you rather warn because they are not protected by Geneva Convention and it maybe also it would play in the hand of Putin’s narrative of —
MS. PSAKI: Well, our guidance continues to be that American citizens should not travel to Ukraine for any reason, so that’s where it stands.
Q Thank you so much. A very factual question first. Could you maybe give us the exact number of how many Russian people and entities have been sanctioned by the United States, and how it compares to the European Union where, altogether, 680 people and 53 entities have been subjected to you know (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you that. I don’t have it at my fingertips —
Q Yeah, that would be wonderful.
MS. PSAKI: — but let us get that to you after the briefing.
Q And another one on oil imports, again — sorry about that. Do I understand it right that the United States won’t take that decision unless the Europeans take a similar decision, because Europeans rely way more heavily on Russian gas? And is that this idea that making that decision from here would somehow, you know, not work well with Allies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have, from the beginning, taken steps in coordination with our Allies and partners in Europe, and that continues to be the first principle for the President. And obviously, as we’re making any decisions in this space, that would apply.
But also — what also applies to this space is our focus, and I think the focus of the Europeans as well, on not taking steps that would create — increase volatility in the global oil markets, increase the price of oil — a barrel of oil, or increase gas prices. So, we’re looking at all of that.
Go ahead. Oh, go ahead. Okay, guys, got to be the last one. Go ahead.
Q Okay. Quickly, then. So would the President then welcome Iranian oil coming into the United States in order to increase that supply?
MS. PSAKI: Again, there’s not a — an Iran — there’s not a deal at this point in time. While we’re close, we’re not there. So, if and when we get to that point, we can speak to that question.
Q One more. So, yesterday, you said, you know, less oil supply — you said it again today — raises prices.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And you said ask the — so I asked the American Petroleum Institute about those 9,000 leases —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — which you’ve been talking about. The president and CEO of that group says that a lot of policies that have been put in place by this administration, including a ban on new development of federal lands and federal waters, is really “hindering American energy development” during a critical time. Also, he says the royalty fees increasing on drilling discourages investments. So, are there any plans to reverse any of these policies to encourage investment? (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: I think he may have avoided your question. I mean, because the fact is that onshore alone, as of the start of this year, the industry had more than 9,000 unused approved permits to drill in the United States.
And I didn’t hear him speak to that, in particular. And of the more than 37 million acres under lease offshore and onshore to the oil and gas industry, nearly 60 percent are currently non-producing.
Now, obviously, our view on drilling over the long term is different, I would suspect, than the person you spoke to, which is that what overall we need to do here is reduce our dependence on oil. Europeans are doing that; we’re doing that. And I think what we’re all going through now in this discussion of banning oil imports and the volatility in the global markets — oil markets is a reminder of that.
So — but there’s no shortage of drilling leases that can be used domestically to enhance production in this moment. They — the oil and gas industry is literally sitting on stockpiled leases and permits.
Thanks, everyone. Okay. I’m sorry, we — I think everybody has to wrap and go to the next engagement here. But see you all on Monday or later today.
Q Thank you.
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