James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. I have two items for all of you at the top.
This week, we are marking one year — the one-year anniversary of the American Rescue Plan, which has been the key driver of our strong economic recovery, provided us with the tools needed to fight the pandemic, and made long-term investments to revitalize the local economy in communities around the country.
Each day this week, we will focus on a different element of the hundreds of ARP — or American Rescue Plan — programs that have successfully delivered resources across the country over the past year.
Today, we’re focusing on ARP’s higher-ed investments in community colleges; HBCUs; TCCUs — Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities; and MSIs — Minority-Serving Institutions.
In a press call today with key members of Congress, Education Secretary Cardona will highlight the ARP’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to serve students and ensure learning continues during the pandemic.
The ARP’s funding for Higher Education includes over $10 billion for community colleges and over $2.7 billion for HBCUs — one of the largest-ever federal investments in community colleges and HBCUs.
These funds are already having a significant impact on institutions and students. A recent survey of college presidents by the American Council on Education found that these ARP investments enabled 93 percent of colleges to provide direct financial support to students at risk of dropping out, 81 percent of colleges to keep students’ net prices similar to pre-pandemic levels, and 70 percent of colleges to continue to employ faculty, staff, and other employees.
Today, we also have a new announcement from the President’s competition agenda. The Departments of Treasury, Justice, Labor, and the Federal Trade Commission investigated the effects of the lack of labor market competition on the U.S. economy.
This new report makes clear that there is more we can do so every worker can take advantage of our historically strong labor market recovery.
Corporate concentration and anti-competitive practices, like non-compete agreements and misclassification, have stifled wages for workers and reduced their power to bargain for dignity and respect in the workplace.
The costs to workers are substantial. Lack of competition causes workers’ wages to be 20 percent lower than what they’d otherwise earn.
The report also shows that diminished labor market competition holds back our entire economy, inhibiting innovation, increasing prices, and curbing economic growth.
And finally, I know some of you will be traveling with us to Fort Worth, Texas, tomorrow, so I wanted to give you a little bit of a preview of that.
Tomorrow, President Biden and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough 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. This is obviously something the President talked about in his State of the Union Address a little less than a week ago.
They will visit the Fort Worth VA Clinic and receive a briefing from VA doctors and nurses on their primary care and specialty health services for veterans. They will also speak with veterans and patient advocates about different challenges facing the community.
Then they will deliver remarks at Tarrant County Resource Connection on expanding access to healthcare and benefits for veterans affected by exposure to harmful substances, toxins, and other environmental hazards, including those from burn pits, as part of the “Unity Agenda for the Nation.”
The President will discuss the administration’s actions to address these issues, including a new proposed rule to consider adding certain rare cancers to the list of those presumed to be service connected. And he will urge Congress to send him legislation that ensures we honor our commitment to veterans exposed to toxic substances.
President Biden believes we have a sacred obligation to care for our veterans and their families. And as a military family, the Bidens know firsthand the challenges that come from military service and deployment to combat zones.
With that, Josh, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thanks, Jen. Three questions. First: Administration officials are meeting with foreign counterparts in Venezuela. You’ve also talked to Iran and the Saudis. Is the supply of oil so important that it’s acceptable to cut deals in some cases with countries that may have engaged in unsavory actions in the past?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think it’s important to take each of those engagements separately, because there are a range of issues that are important in each of those — in each of those relationships.
One, as it relates to Saudi Arabia, we did talk a few weeks ago about how Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein went to Saudi Arabia to discuss a range of issues — including the war in Yemen, including security in the region, and certainly including energy security.
They had the discussion. It’s in everyone’s interests to — to reduce the impact on the global oil marketplace, and that was part of that discussion.
As it relates to Venezuela, the purpose of the trip that was taken by administration officials was to discuss a range of issues — including, certainly, energy security — but also to discuss the health and welfare of detained U.S. citizens. We’re never going to miss an opportunity to do exactly that.
And I will just note, in this scenario, that they are separate. They are separate paths and conversations, just as they are in the Iran negotiations.
And what was the third country you mentioned? Sorry.
Q Well, Venezuela, Iran, and Saudis.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, and Iran. The most vital reason — the most important reason why we are focused and have been focused on having these discussions with the Iranians and our P5+1 partners is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
That is why we’re in these — these negotiations. We are getting closer. There are still important components to work through. But certainly, the discussion of oil is a part of that, but the most important reason is to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
So, I would just note — and I went through all of those purposefully, obviously, because these are all geopolitical issues that have a range of topics that are a part of the discussion in our engagements.
Q Secondly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested that Russian oil imports should be banned. We’re already seeing that Russia is struggling to sell some of its oil, which suggests that supplies are destabilized.
Given that fact, would President Biden sign a ban? And what would hold him back from doing so if not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, no decision has been made at this point by the President about a ban on import — a ban on importing of oil from Russia, and those discussions are ongoing internally and also with our counterparts and partners in Europe and around the world.
I would note that what the President is most focused on is ensuring we are continuing to take steps to deliver punishing economic consequences on Putin while taking all action necessary to limit the impact to prices at the gas pump.
And as you noted, yes, it is true that there has obviously been an impact of the invasion on the level of import to the United States and to other parts of the world.
I would note as we’re having these conversations — and obviously, the President talked with his — a number of his European partners this morning about a range of issues; this was part of it. But if you look at Russian imports, they account for about a third currently of Europe’s oil imports.
So, with the data we have that’s most — that we have available at this point in time is back to 2021, not that long ago. But just to give you a point of comparison: The amount that the United States was importing back in 2021 before the invasion was about 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil and petroleum. The Europeans import about 4.5 million barrels per day of oil.
So, obviously, we are also very well aware as we’re having these conversations and as we’re consulting with our partners that there would be — we have different capacities and capabilities.
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not. Let me just note that we know the science, we know the data and what works and what is the most — what the most effective steps are in protecting people of a range of ages from hospitalization and even death.
The FDA and CDC have already weighed in in the safety — on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines for those five and older. The recommendations are vetted transparently through a process for — with a purpose so that parents can have confidence, after consulting with their pediatricians or doctors if they would like, about the safety.
But we also know through the data that unvaccinated teenagers are three times as likely to be hospitalized if they get COVID than vaccinated teenagers.
So, it’s deeply disturbing that there are politicians peddling conspiracy theories out there and casting doubt on vaccinations when it is our best tool against the virus and the best tool to prevent even teenagers from being hospitalized.
Q I want to read to you — if I could, Jen — some comments from people we’ve met at gas stations today. One woman saying, “I just never imagined to see the cost of gas be this high.” Another said, “It’s a huge stressor to my financial situation, a huge stressor. It’s kind of like something I’m stressed about, like, during the day: Will I be able to afford gas? How much money do I have?”
What is the White House, what is the President’s message to Americans who are going to the gas station today and seeing prices so high?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President’s message is that he’s going to do everything we can, everything he can to reduce the impact on the American people, including the price of gas at the tank.
What is also true is that because of the actions of President Putin, because he invaded a sovereign country, that created instability in the markets. That is something the President talked about even before Russia and President Putin moved forward with their actions.
But we have already taken steps, the President has already taken steps: historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — one that’s done in a coordinated fashion.
And, clearly, we will continue to have conversations with large oil producers and suppliers around the world about how to mitigate the impact and consider domestic options as well.
Q You said, on Friday, the administration is looking at options it could take, quote, “right now…to cut U.S. consumption of Russian energy.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q When is a decision on that going to be made?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction of that for you at this point in time, but there is an active discussion.
Q And I want to go back to one of the three countries that Josh mentioned: Venezuela. There was a U.S. team there this weekend talking to the Maduro regime. Sanctions have been in place since 2019, a lack of diplomatic engagement since then because of electoral fraud, because of all the things that that regime has done to the Venezuelan people.
And I hear you say we’re doing everything we can to bring down the cost of gas, but is it really worth doing business with a despot like Nicolás Maduro to drive down gas prices?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I think that’s leaping several stages ahead in any process. There was a discussion that was had by members of the administration over the course of the last several days. Those discussions are also ongoing. And part of our focus is also on the health and welfare of detained U.S. citizens — while a separate process, still that is part of our engagement with them.
So, at this point in time, I don’t have anything to predict. It’s ongoing. I just don’t have anything to convey at this point.
Q And on Americans who are not — or who are being detained: What’s being done about Brittney Griner, in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, have seen the reports. Because we do not have a Privacy Act waiver, which I think you’re all familiar with, I can’t speak to that more specifically. Of course, we obviously do everything we can, when there are any reports of Americans who are detained, through the State Department and through diplomatic channels.
But I would point you to the State Department for more. But given we don’t have a Privacy Act waiver, it’s unlikely we would say — to say more.
Q And you’re not aware of any other Americans like her who have been detained in recent weeks under similar incidents?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I have nothing to report from here, Ed. I would say that the Privacy Act waiver, which is required for us to be able to speak to any instances. But given you asked me about the particular report, I wanted to speak to that.
Q Thank you, Jen. It sounds like you guys are blaming Putin for the increase in gas prices recently, but weren’t gas prices going up anyway because of post-pandemic supply chain issues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s no question that, as we have seen and outside analysts have conveyed this as well, the increase, and the anticipated continued increase — which is, I think, what some of your colleagues were asking about — that that is a direct result of the invasion of Ukraine. And also, there was an anticipation of that that was — that was — it was factored in, as gas prices have gone up.
Q So you say that you’re going to do everything that you can to reduce the impact that high gas prices have on Americans. We’re asking other countries to think about maybe pumping more oil. Why not just do it here?
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be very clear, federal policies are not limiting the supplies of oil and gas. To the con- — let me finish — to the con- — let me finish —
Q President Biden signed an executive order —
MS. PSAKI: Peter.
Q — his first week —
MS. PSAKI: Peter, I’m —
Q — that halted new oil and gas leases —
MS. PSAKI: Let me — let me give you —
Q — on public lands.
MS. PSAKI: Let me give you the facts here — and I know that can be inconvenient, but I think they’re important in this moment: To the contrary, we have — we have been clear that in the short term, supply must keep up with the demand we’re — we are — here and around the world, while we make the shift to secure a clear — clean energy future.
We are one of the largest producers with a strong domestic oil and gas industry. We have actually produced more oil; it is at record numbers. And we will continue to produce more oil. There are 9,000 approved drilling permits that are not being used.
So the suggestion that we are not let allowing companies to drill is inaccurate. The suggestion that that is what is hindering or preventing gas prices to come down is inaccurate.
Q Would President Biden rescind his executive order that halts new oil and natural gas leases on public lands?
MS. PSAKI: Well, 90 percent of them happen on private lands, as I’m sure you know. And there are 9,000 unused approved drilling permits. So I would suggest you ask the oil companies why they’re not using those if there’s a desire to drill more.
Q Would President Biden ever undo his executive order that stopped the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline?
MS. PSAKI: Are you suggesting that would solve the gas prices issue?
Q Well, do you think that that would maybe affect prices faster than getting the whole country off of fossil fuels?
MS. PSAKI: I actually don’t think it would. The Keystone was not an oilfield; it’s a pipeline.
MS. PSAKI: Also, the oil is continuing to flow in, just through other means. So it actually would have nothing to do with the current supply imbalance.
Q So, gas prices are approaching an all-time high per gallon. How high would they have to get before President Biden would say “I’m going to set aside my ambitious climate goals and just increase domestic oil production, get the producers to drill more here, and we can address the fossil fuel future later”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Peter, the U.S. produced more oil this past year than in President Trump’s first year. Next year, according to the Department of Energy, we will produce more oil than every — than ever before. Those are — those are the facts, in terms of oil production.
And again, right now there are 9,000 unused approved permits to drill on shore. So, I think you’re misidentifying what the actual issue is.
But if we’re looking to the future and what — how — what we can do to prevent this from being a challenge in future crises, the best thing we can do is reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil, because that will help us have a reliable source of energy so that we’re not worried about gas prices going up because of the whims of a foreign dictator.
Q Right. And you guys think that asking Saudi Arabia or Venezuela or Iran is reducing our dependence on foreign oil?
MS. PSAKI: That’s actually — I just outlined each of those specific scenarios and the range of discussions that we’re having with each of those countries. I don’t think anybody is advocating for Iran to continue acquiring a nuclear weapon, perhaps except for the former president who pulled us out of the deal.
Q Thanks, Jen. President Zelenskyy spoke with ABC today. He says that he’s had a longstanding request in with allies to access these Soviet-era fighter jets. So I want to — I want to ask you about this backfilling — this possibility of backfilling these fighter jets.
He says President Biden can do more to make this happen. What’s your response to that, and what’s the holdup?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just for clarity — I know everybody is following this very closely, but to catch others up — we’re talking about Polish planes — right? — these fighter jets that they are requesting. We’re working with Poland on this issue and consulting with the rest of our NATO Allies on it. This is Poland’s sovereign decision to make. We have in no way opposed Poland transferring planes to Ukraine.
But to go to the source of your question here, I think, Cecilia, there are a number of challenging practical questions, including how the planes would actually be transferred from Poland to Ukraine. Right? So, are they going to fly? Where will they depart from? Where will they land? Those are all very important questions here.
And also, as it — as it relates to the backfill question, we are working through some pretty complicated logistics on that front as well, including how we would backfill, because procuring new planes and transferring serious weapon systems often takes years — take years to do from the United States.
So that is all — those are all two layers of dif- — of difficult logistical challenges here.
Q But is it predominantly logistical challenges that is the holdup? Or is there a concern on the part of the President that supplying Poland these planes could exacerbate the conflict with Russia, Poland, and other Allied countries?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think there’s an important question here, as I touched on a little, about where they take off from and where they land, right? There is a airbase that is a NATO airbase in Poland. If you have plans — planes departing from there, that’s — that could be a challenging circumstance. Are there — what are the other options and where do they land?
So those are some of the logistical challenges. Obviously, the Department of Defense can speak to this more intensively. But we’re looking at all of those factors. But we are not, certainly, preventing or blocking or discouraging Poland. That is — they are a sovereign country. They make — they make their own decisions. But it is not as easy as just moving planes around.
Q And President Zelenskyy said that, in recent days, that “all the people who will die from this day, will die also because of you.” He’s essentially saying the West will have blood on its hands if it doesn’t do more. Is the President happy with — does he believe the cr- — the administration’s response so far to this crisis has been adequate? Is he okay? Does he consider this successful at this point?
MS. PSAKI: I mean, Cecilia, I don’t think anybody watching this anywhere around the world feels happy. This is — this is —
Q But as it relates to the American side of this?
MS. PSAKI: But let me finish. This is barbaric. It’s horrific to watch. I mean, you have 1.5 million, if not more, refugees crossing the border. You have mothers and children dead on the side of the road. This is heart wrenching to watch. And — ugh, sorry, it’s — it is. It’s heart wrenching to watch, you know?
And I think for us who are working in public service, you watch in these moments and there are — there are limitations in the sense that we are not going to send U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine against Russia. The President is not going to do that. That is what you have to weigh as President of the United States.
What we are doing and what he is doing is continuing to take every step to provide them security assistance — $1 billion of security assistance. That has been expedited. I know the Department of Defense gave an update on Friday about how much of that has arrived. A huge percentage has arrived and been expedited in a very short timeframe.
We have also provided economic, humanitarian assistance. And I think any world leader would tell you that without the President’s leadership and without the United States rallying the world to hold Russia accountable, there would not be the kind of accountability, pressure on the financial system in Russia.
So we are doing everything that is in the interest of the United States, in the interest of our partners in NATO to put pressure on President Putin, to support the Ukrainians, and certainly doing that while we watch them fight bravely and courageously.
I think the last think I would say on this, Cecilia, is that it’s also important — and we’re very cognizant of this here — to be clear that this is going to be — continue to be a very, very difficult period of time. The Ukrainians are fighting bravely. We’re standing by them and supporting them. But Russia is — you know, they’re going to continue to fight. They are going to continue to pursue what President Putin’s ambition is.
Q Can I just step back a little bit —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — in terms of supply. We’re talking about specific
countries, but this has been an effort that’s been underway now —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — for several months. Amos, Brett, many others as well. Algeria, Japan.
What is the update in terms of — has supply been kicked in on the LNG side or on the oil side? Where does that stand, given the extensive effort in the leadup to now, to try and backfill and ensure stability on the supply side?
MS. PSAKI: You mean for the global markets to — for natural gas? Both.
Q For natural gas or oil, on the global markets.
MS. PSAKI: So, let me start with the natural gas side because that we anticipated would be an issue for the Europeans primarily.
We have had some success — Japan as an example, and I can see if there are others, too, to read out to all of you — where there was supply that was intended to go to Japan and other countries in Asia and redirect it to Europeans so that it could help backfill the potential shortage in natural gas. That is less an issue for us here in the United States and more an issue for the Europeans. And to your point, it is something we’ve been working on for some time.
In terms of global oil supply, I don’t have anything to read out for you at this point in time. Those conversations certainly have been ongoing, but the release — the coordinated release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the continued discussion about that has been a part of the effort to address the shortage or the potential for shortage in the marketplace.
Q But 60 million barrels is — I’m not trying to minimize it, but it’s a drop in the bucket given the scale of the, kind of, dislocation we’ve seen.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there a trigger in terms of the conversations with global allies, partners, players in the supply market that would cause them to come in, based on the conversations that have happened? Like, what it’s going to bring them in and make clear that the months of work you guys have put into this actually results in something tangible?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I certainly understand your question. What I was trying to convey is that that’s part of what we’ve done to date. But we are continuing conversations about a range of what would be needed moving forward. And there are a range of options on the table. I just can’t detail more specifics from here.
Q Okay. And then, last one. How much does it weigh on the administration, if you move towards cutting Russian imports of oil, that it would be a unilateral move in the face of what had been a very carefully calibrated coalition up to this point where energy was considered off the table, for the most part?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I would say this is one of the
reasons that I gave the example of how much — you know, our capabilities and our capacities are very different, both because we import such a smaller percentage of oil from Russia than the Europeans do, but also because we have a much larger capacity for producing our own oil.
So, it is a very different circumstance, and certainly we are going to continue to consult with, continue to convey where our plans, where our discussions are here internally with the Europeans. But I would look at it through a different prism than past coordinated efforts.
Q Can I just follow up there? Just today, Russia said that it could cut off fuel through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline — Nord Stream 2.
You know, to what extent are you concerned that European allies, who depend so incredibly on these oil and gas imports from Russia, could really be stuck? I mean, like, what — I realize you’re making efforts, but, you know, to what extent does that factor in? And what do you say to Russia in terms of this threat?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have been concerned from the beginning about steps that President Putin could take to impact neighboring countries, countries in Europe, through a range of means. And, certainly, access to energy and energy security is a part of that. That’s obviously one of the reasons we’ve been working with a range of partners on addressing what could be a natural gas shortage.
And you are right, Andrea, as you well know, that even — I mean, the Nord Stream 1, 2 threat aside, the reliance on importing — the import of Russian oil is so much more significant in Russia — excuse me, in Europe — that well over the course of time, it’s clear they recognize the need to diversify their means of getting oil. This is a bigger challenge and puts them in a more challenging position. And we recognize that from here, even as the President is considering steps that we could take from here.
So, it is one of the reasons why the President, why people like Amos Hochstein, Brett McGurk, other — others from our national security team have been engaging in a range of discussions over the course of the last several months.
Q So, I guess, a couple follow-ups just on them, and then I’ve got another question.
So, these conversations that are taking place, both in terms of securing additional sources or supplies of energy but also in terms of closing sanctions, loopholes, and — you know, it doesn’t seem like you’re getting a huge amount of traction. I mean, in terms of India, Pakistan, you know, and China has still not been, you know, helpful in this regard. How would you assess the success of that?
And then, just quickly on the — what you’re saying about the European supplies: So, are you saying that the coordinated action shouldn’t — I mean, one shouldn’t view the differentiation on energy as a failure of the coordination?
MS. PSAKI: So, on the second piece, yes, that’s what I was saying in that there — we have — we recognize, and the President and other national security officials have been very clear in our conversations, that while we have — we have a different circumstance as it relates to Russian oil because we import such a smaller amount and because we have our own production capabilities and capacities, and that is different. We recognize that.
On the first piece, tell me — sorry, what was the first part of your question?
Q Just the success of this outreach.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I mean, you’re sending people all over the globe, basically, to — you know, either virtually or in person — to continue to try to isolate Russia. And it doesn’t seem like you’re getting as much traction with some of these countries as you might have hoped.
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t look at it through the isolating; that’s part of our overarching effort here, right? But as it relates to oil supply, what we’re trying to do is engage with energy producers and those with reserves of oil supply to make sure that we are addressing the supply in the marketplace.
Obviously, the coordinated release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve just a few days ago is an example of that. And I certainly understand you’re asking which countries here and where are we having those conversations. I understand those questions. I just can’t get into more specific details from here because it wouldn’t be constructive to our efforts to make progress.
Q Can I ask you —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q — about Iran? I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Yesterday, Secretary Blinken said that sanctions on Russia over Ukraine have nothing to do with cooperation with Moscow on the Iran nuclear deal. But today, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov doubled down in saying that all participants must have “unhindered cooperation.” Are you doing anything to provide Russia any kind of written guarantees in order to bring this, you know, Iran nuclear deal over the finish line?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think on this, we’re making progress together. Russia is a member of the P5+1. I don’t think anyone believes it’s in their interest for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. And that is how we’re approaching these negotiations and discussions.
And certainly, as the Secretary of State said just yesterday, we don’t believe that the sanctions on them have anything to do with that shared goal.
Q What is that status of those talks? What would you (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We’re continuing to make a great deal of progress. Obviously, the harder things always happen at the very end of the process. And that’s where we are — stand at this point in time.
Q Can you take question from the back?
Q So, two quick ones on oil and then just one other one.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q You mentioned the meeting this morning with Britain, France, and Germany that the President had with the leaders. Did they, in that conversation this morning, express either a willingness or a hesitance to ban oil or limit oil imports to their countries from Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Their countries all have wonderful spokespeople who can speak for those countries.
Q Are you guys going to do a readout?
MS. PSAKI: We did do a readout.
Q You did already? Okay. I missed it.
MS. PSAKI: I would just note that we’ve had ongoing conversations and we have a very open line of communication, as is evidenced by the President having this call this morning, about everything from what we’re seeing on the ground in Ukraine to security assistance deliveries to discussions about weapons to discussions about additional steps to squeeze President Putin in the financial sector.
Q Okay. Quickly on — there’s conversations up on Capitol Hill about bipartisan conversations about legislation that could ban the import of Russian oil into the United States. If a bill like that came to the President’s desk, would he sign it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, no, the President has not made a decision at this point in time. So that’s where we stand.
Q But that’s taking unilateral action as —
MS. PSAKI: Is a bill on its way over here that’s passed Congress? I don’t think so. But the President has not yet made a decision.
I just gave for you — or tried to give for you a little bit of the reasoning and the thinking behind where we stand in our coordination with our allies and partners.
Q One last question; you referenced it: the gruesome, awful picture on the front page of our paper today. Do you know if the President has seen that picture; what his personal reaction was to it, if so; and more broadly, does he — has he been affected on a personal level by some of the imagery that’s come out? And is that affecting or has he talked about how to incorporate that personal reaction into some of the policymaking over the last 10 days?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know if he saw this specific — there are a lot of New York Times hard copies floating around this building, I can tell you, and other — and other newspapers and outlets you all work for, so I don’t know that he saw that specific photo.
But what I can tell you is that, you know, the President is somebody who, of course, has been working in national security and foreign policy for decades, through his career, right? He is also a father, a grandfather. I don’t know that anyone, including him, has seen those photos — whether on the front page of your paper or others, and not been moved. And I’m sure I can speak personally that, you know, talking to my neighbors, my in-laws, I’m sure this is true for all of you as well: The personal impact people have felt in this country — it’s really moved people in this country.
And the President is absolutely a citizen of the United States, of course the leader of the free world, but also somebody who has enormous empathy for the plight of other human beings. And he has, of course, been impacted by the images he has seen, as we all have been.
Q Are they war crimes?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Going back to Venezuela for a second —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — would they have to agree to release the U.S. citizens in prison there if the U.S. were to ease the current sanctions on oil exports?
MS. PSAKI: So, it’s a really important question. There are different channels. And, obviously, we’re going to continue to do everything we can to bring anyone who is detained in Venezuela or any other part of the world home, but they happen through different tracks. They’re all a part of the conversation with Venezuela writ large, but not at the same time.
Q And obviously, Vice President Harris is going to Poland and Romania this week. Can you talk a little bit more about the White House’s objectives with her going over there and particularly what message you want to send to Russia with the Vice President being in that area?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. So, as you noted, the Vice President is leaving on her trip just in a couple of days, and she’ll be over there really showing the support of the United States for the work of our allies and partners, whether that is on refugees. And a number of these countries, including the ones she’ll be visiting, have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine.
And she’ll also be talking about our ongoing range of options and assistance that we’ve been providing to the Ukrainian people.
So, she is going to be there. I think it sends a strong message that the Vice President is going to be in — meeting with many of our eastern flank partners, NATO Allies to convey our commitment to working in lockstep with them and to — and to continuing to support their efforts in the region.
Q And one more quick one. This morning, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the committees that oversee trade said that they have a deal on legislation that would in part suspend normal trade relations with both Russia and Belarus. I’m wondering if the White House supports that, either through legislation or through other avenues.
MS. PSAKI: We have — I’ve seen those reports, but we don’t have any decision on a policy from here at this point in time.
Go ahead, in the middle.
Q A couple of questions. Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to the New York Times, had this op-ed in which he argued that the U.S, Western allies should “go further on economic sanctions.” He specifically said to expel “every Russian bank from SWIFT.” I know that there were limited actions. Does the United States support expelling every bank?
MS. PSAKI: Well, typically what happens with SWIFT and removing instit- — or when we’re implementing this — and Iran is the best point of comparison here — is it’s done institution by institution. So that is the case here as well. It’s done institution by institution. We haven’t taken options off the table, and I’m not taking options off the table here. But it’s been — we’ve implemented it in the same way with our European partners that we did when we implemented it as it relates to Iran.
Q Um, sorry — so just to be clear, though, there’s not limitat- — I mean, it sounds like there were limited institutions that were targeted thus far and — from — removing them from the SWIFT banking system. But you would be open to going further?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve never taken that off the table.
Q Okay. The other thing I wanted to ask you about — going back to the Iran nuclear deal — is: My understanding is that Russia is demanding guarantees that sanctions targeting the Kremlin over Ukraine do not hinder its trade with Iran that would be potentially reopened if this Iran nuclear deal moved forward. Could that throw a wrench in negotiations? And I am curious what the White House’s take is overall on Russians trying to put that ultimatum down.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think, as our Secretary of State said yesterday, we don’t believe it has anything to do with our shared goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Q So you don’t see it as a way to potentially, I guess, limit the impact that’s current sanctions have on Russia?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t believe Russia wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon either.
Q And so — sorry, just to be clear: So, you don’t see the idea, though, that these sorts of sanction guarantees of its trade with Iran have any impact on the current sanctions that the U.S. and Western allies have imposed on Russia?
MS. PSAKI: No.
MS. PSAKI: I think — and our Secretary of State spoke to this yesterday.
Q Can I ask you one other question? In parts of southern Ukraine, it seems that Russia has shifted from a military takeover to, essentially, occupation.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q That it is now occupying parts — occupying towns. Does the White House support the Ukrainian people’s right to resist the occupation and, essentially, through any means necessary?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly support the rights of the Ukrainian people to fight back. I would note that we have seen many Ukrainians; many, many members of the Ukrainian military; and certainly President Zelenskyy in leadership fight bravely, courageously over the course of the last 12 days.
I think it’s also true that the world needs to be prepared for a very long, difficult road ahead. While they are fighting bravely and we are standing with them and supporting them, the Russians are still intending to grind out military advances in the short term just by sheer manpower and firepower.
So, yes, we support their right to push back and to fight back against that.
Q On businesses: Is there any concern in the White House with all these Western companies that are suspending operations with Russia that that just ends up deepening ties between Russia and China, that this is really forcing Russia in its connections deeper into China?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we’ve seen that for some time — right? — long before Russia invaded Ukraine — them moving a little bit closer together or closer together.
What is true on the economic front, though, is that the G7 alone — and that is not the totality of the unity as it relates to these sanctions — accounts for about 50 percent of global GDP, while Russia and Ukrai- — and China, sorry, account for only 15 percent.
So, they can’t backfill the impact of these sanctions from China. It’s just not — not possible. Now, we’ve also seen China abide by the sanctions that have been put in place. They obviously abstained also from the U.N. Security Council vote and have made some comments about the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
If they don’t abide by the sanctions, we always have — you know, we clearly have means to take steps, but that’s what we’ve seen to date.
Q So, it doesn’t sound like the White House is concerned that some of these withdrawals will backfire and create permanent ties between Russia and China that —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know they were — they were moving closer long before the invasion, which is, I think, an important component here. But as it relates to the economic ties, there’s not a way, just based on purely their place in the economic marketplace, for China to completely backfill the impact of the G7 and others — and others in the world and the financial sanctions.
Q And can I ask one more?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
Q On Saudi Arabia —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is there any discussion in the White House yet for the President to call the Crown Prince, MBS — Mohammed bin Salman — to talk about oil?
MS. PSAKI: He spoke with the King just recently. And obviously, we have had Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein travel to the region, talk about a range of issues, including security in the region and the war in Yemen, as well as energy security. But, no, I don’t — there’s no plans at this point, no.
Q Jen, you detailed some of the challenges as it relates to the jets that are in Poland right now, the NATO base there — how you get into Ukraine and do it in a way that doesn’t instigate a wider war here.
Vladimir Putin, this weekend, warned that implementing a no-fly zone would be considered a declaration of war, but he also went further. His language was, via translator: “Any move in this direction will be viewed by us as a participation in the armed conflict. That very second, we will view them as participants…and it would not matter what members they are.”
So, why does the U.S. — or perhaps the U.S. and its NATO Allies have confidence that delivering those airplanes in any form will not be viewed by Vladimir Putin as an act of war?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, there’s already a war going on in Ukraine that’s been instigated by Vladimir Putin.
Q A wider — he was referring to a “wider war” that would bring in them as an added participant.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you ask an important question here, and it is: Where do these military planes take off from? That’s an important question, right? How do they land? How do they get there? The transporting of them. Those are all important factors.
Q But he says “any move in this direction.” So even where they take off from almost doesn’t matter. By “any move” means even the provision of them would be viewed as an “act of war,” conceivably. No?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we can’t speak to President Putin’s — what’s in his mind, what’s in his brain, and the totality of what his intentions are. We’ve already seen him take a range of steps.
We’ve provided one billion dollars in security assistance. We’re not halting that, right? We’re not halting our support for the Ukrainians. So, we’re not waiting for the advice of Vladimir Putin on what we’re going to do here as it relates to backfilling planes.
But the procurement or the providing of planes is up to Poland. They’re a sovereign country; they can decide.
I just wanted to outline some of the logistical challenges which are real, and they’re on a couple of layers.
And given the conversation we’ve had earlier about Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, the President, as a candidate, said in November of 2019, of Saudi Arabia — he said, we would make them, quote, “pay the price, and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.” And there’s “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.” Does President Biden still stand by those words about the government of Saudi Arabia?
MS. PSAKI: He does. He’s never stood away from them, Peter, but it’s also true that there is a war in Yemen, that there are security issues in the Middle East, that there are a range of steps we need to engage with all sorts of countries around the world on that are in — because it’s in our U.S. national security interests and in our interests.
Q So, following up on that, Axios reported this morning that the President — there’s a deliberation here, at least, that the President might go to Saudi Arabia. Can you confirm those deliberations and perhaps provide a little bit more insight into what’s being discussed?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no current plans for the President to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Q The decision that you announced last week that the President would not be directly speaking with Vladimir Putin — has a decision amongst the Allies been made that that would be delegated to the European partners, that they would be the ones responsible for talking to Putin directly?
MS. PSAKI: No, but I would say that we very much support all of the diplomatic engagements our European partners or the Prime Minister of Israel or other leaders in the world are having, whether it’s with President Putin, as long as they are also engrazing [sic] — engaging with Ukrainian leadership, which we continue to encourage them to do. We also engage with them before and after all of these conversations.
So, what we said about the President speaking with President Putin is that now is not the moment. It doesn’t mean we close the door for — to forever. But while President Putin is invading — and in a brutal, horrific way — a foreign country, no, the President does not have an intention at this moment to speak with him. But that doesn’t mean he will never. You know, we assess that as time goes on.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thank you, everybody. We’ll do this again tomorrow.
Q Jen, just a question on Venezuela. Who were the people who — the officials who went to Venezuela? Can you tell us about that?
MS. PSAKI: There have been a range of reports. I’m sure we can get you more details.
Thank you, everybody. Thanks, everyone. Have a great day. Thank you.
3:25 P.M. EST