Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 15, 2022
1:10 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. I’m making up for my lack of toppers over the last couple of days today, but hopefully some of this information will be helpful to all of you.
First, as you may have seen and many of you reported, today we’ve outlined the severe and immediate consequences that the United States will face if Congress fails to provide us with $22.5 billion in emergency funding to fight COVID-19. Those consequences are dire: fewer monoclonal antibodies sent to states, an inability to purchase additional treatments, fewer tests available to Americans, less surveillance for future variants, and a risk of running short on vaccines.
For months, we have been engaging Congress about our needs for additional COVID response funds. Just to give you a few examples: In January, we notified Congress that responding to the unprecedented surge in cases due to Omicron would exhaust our funds. Throughout February, we held briefings about the lack of funding and what the consequences would be if we didn’t get additional funds. In the President’s State of the Union Address, the President called for additional COVID funding. And our National Preparedness Plan made clear that funding is needed.
In total, senior administration officials have held more than three dozen calls and meetings with Congress and at least 10 briefings to committees to communicate our needs so that we can do what Americans can ex- — should expect from their government: protecting them from a once-in-a-generation pandemic.
I’ll finally say on this: With cases rising abroad, scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months, there could be increasing cases of COVID-19 here in the United States as well. We talked about this a bit yesterday.
Waiting to provide funding until we’re in a worse spot with the virus will be too late. We need funding now so we’re prepared for whatever comes.
Also, some news some of you have been asking about. The President will travel to Brussels, Belgium, later this month, where he will join an extraordinary NATO summit on March 24th to discuss ongoing deterrence and defense efforts in response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine, as well as to reaffirm our ironclad commitment to our NATO Allies.
He will also join a scheduled European Council summit to discuss our shared concerns about Ukraine, including transatlantic efforts to impose economic costs on Russia, provide humanitarian support to those affected by the violence, and address other challenges related to the conflict.
I also wanted to note, because there has been so much information we’ve been putting out and so many sanctions putting into — we’ve put into place, some of the economic impacts that we’re seeing in Russia, just to give you all an update on that.
We’ve made President Putin’s war of choice a strategic failure. The unprecedented costs we’ve imposed with Allies and partners have reversed 30 years of economic progress — something President Putin himself pushed for — and that has happened in less than a month.
Our actions have hit hard at the things President Putin cares about the most, degrading his military, access to cutting-edge technology, an ability to project power and influence.
Central Bank reserves — about half of Putin’s war chest — is immobilized. You heard the finance minister confirm this just yesterday or the day before. He can’t use these rainy-day funds to support his war in Ukraine.
The ruble is less than a penny. It’s the worst-performing emerging market currency. The Russian stock market has been closed for nearly three weeks, longest in his- — in its history, as they try to prevent a market crash.
Inflation in Russia is rampant. Some forecasters are predicting 20 percent inflation for Russia by the end of the year. And the Russian — and trillions of dollars in businesses have been disrupted by sanctions, putting the Russian financial sector under severe stress.
The economic outlook — if you look at the economic outlook for the country, forecasters around the world are projecting a collapse of the Russian economy. The Institute for International Finance projects a 15 percent downturn, down from a projected growth rate of 3 percent before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
And the private sector, as many of you have reported on, is withdrawing many companies — major companies. And the financial, energy, and other sectors are leaving. J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Western Union, ExxonMobil, Shell, and more are pulling their operations out of the country.
And as we continue to ratchet up pressure on Putin’s oligarchs, I wanted to also announce for you — or reiterate for you, for those of you who already know, that tomorrow, Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen and Attorney General Garland will host the launch meeting of the Russian elites, proxies, and oligarchs multi- — multilateral task force.
The task force was first announced in a statement by leaders, including President Biden, on February 26th, as a way to go after corrupt gains from some of the individuals closest to Putin no matter what, where they’re held around the world.
And the task force, comprised of Finance Minis- — Ministry and Justice or Home Ministry counterparts in Germany, Canada, Japan, France, Italy, Australia, the European Commission, and the United Kingdom will use the respective authorities to collect and share information against Russian targets, including sanctions, asset freezing, and civil and criminal asset seizure.
Let me give you just a couple of examples of assets that have already been seized:
Alexei Mordashov’s 213-foot yacht was impounded in Italy. Gennady Timchenko’s 132-foot yacht was seized in Italy. Andrey Mel- — Melnichenko’s 469-foot, $578 million superyacht was seized in Italy. Sergei Chemezov’s $140 million yacht was seized in Spain. Igor Sechin’s 280-foot yacht was impounded in France. And Alisher Usmanov’s $18 million resort was impounded in Sardinia. That is just the beginning.
Last thing I just wanted to note — sorry, I have two quick things for you, then we’ll get to the questions — is: On Ukrainian security assistance, the President will talk about this when he speaks this afternoon, and he will talk about it more extensively tomorrow.
As you know, there is $13.6 billion for Ukraine — humanitarian, security, and economic assistance — in the omnibus bill that the President is going to sign this afternoon. He will outline in more detail, I expect tomorrow the specifics, but he will of course talk about it when he signs it this afternoon.
But just to — even up to date now, since taking office, the President has committed $1.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including $550 million in just the last two weeks.
We have approved — he has approved four emergency security assistance packages to provide Ukraine the types of weapons they are using so effectively to defend their country, such as anti-armor and air defense weapons.
We are working to get Ukraine the equipment as quickly as possible. And we are — still have the means to continue doing that.
Over the past two weeks alone, we have delivered more than $300 million of security assistance to Ukraine, in addition to the transfers of U.S.-made equipment we are facilitating from our Allies to Ukraine as well.
So, I would note that — we’re on day 19 here. In addition to their incredible courage and bravery, one of the reasons that they are able to hold back and push back against the Russian military is because of the significant amount of military assistance we have provided.
Finally, I just wanted to — I wanted to note that today is Equal Pay Day, something we can all celebrate. President Biden and Vice President Harris have long championed equal pay as a cornerstone of their commitment to ensure all people have a fair and equal opportunity to get ahead.
To mark Equal Pay Day, today the Biden-Harris administration announced a couple of new actions to promote women’s empowerment and support women’s family — women — working families across the country.
The Office of Personnel Management announced that they will anticipate issuing a proposed regulation that will address the use of prior salary history in the hiring and pay-setting process for federal employees.
The President will sign an executive order directing the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to consider limiting the use of salary information in employment decisions by federal contractors. And the Department of Labor released a report analyzing the impact of occupational segregation on women’s economic security.
And the Vice President will host an event later today, along with the Gender Policy Council.
I also just wanted to note the news that we heard from the CEO of Fox this morning that cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski — I just want to pronounce his name the right way — did I pronounce it the right way? — okay — lost his life.
He is someone who has served in many warzones over the course of time. He was a warzone photographer who covered nearly every international story for Fox News — from Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Syria — during his long tenure working there.
So, we just — our thoughts, our prayers are with his family, with the entire community as well.
So, let me stop there. And let’s kick it off, Chris.
Q Okay. So, President Zelenskyy is going to be speaking to Congress tomorrow. He’s been pushing for fighter jets, a no-fly zone. You’ll have to hear some of those same requests tomorrow, as well. Has the administration’s shift- — thinking shifted on that at all?
And also, there is rising domestic pressure for the U.S. to do more. How does the President plan to continue being, like, a voice of restraint in these situations and holding back some of those requests?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, I don’t think the President views himself as a voice of restraint. We have provided and he has approved and expedited the delivery of more assistance — military and security assistance — to Ukraine than any year in history.
And I did a bit of an outline for you at the beginning: $1.2 billion in assistance that — including $300 million that we’ve been able to get to Ukrainian fighters, helping them to hold back the Russian military over the past few weeks.
It is also true — and there will be more that the President will be able to say over the next few days, given he is about to sign a 13.6 — an omnibus bill that includes $13.6 billion in security assistance. So, I expect he will share more of those details in the next 24 hours.
It is also true that the President has to look at decisions that are made through the prism of what is in our national security interests and global security interests. And he continues to believe that a no-fly zone would be escalatory, could prompt a war with Russia.
I don’t believe there’s a lot of advocates calling for that at this point in time from Capitol Hill, but we certainly understand and recognize that is still a call from President Zelenskyy.
Q And on COVID, given your push for more —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — funding there, is this a sign the administration is worried that the U.S. could see a rise in numbers like we’ve seen in Europe? And is the administration considering advising Americans to get another booster shot?
MS. PSAKI: Well, any decision or recommendation about a booster shot would be made by the CDC. But as we’ve said from the beginning, we always want to be prepared for any scenario that may come up. Right?
And we have also said that, while we have made an enormous amount of progress in vaccinating Americans, in getting Americans boosted, in providing free masks and free tests to people across the country, that we are still continuing to fight the pandemic. And if we wait too long, we are not going to be able to continue a lot of the programs that are so effective.
And just to give you some more specifics: We are going to run out of our supply of monoclonal antibodies by June. We’ll be unable to maintain our testing capacity beyond June. We can’t purchase additional courses of Evusheld, and our existing supply will likely run out — this is for — this as a treatment for the immunocompromised — by the end of 2022.
The fund that reimburses doctors and other medical providers for caring for uninsured individuals will be scaled back this month and end in early April.
So those are just some of the examples of where the American people could be deeply impacted if we don’t get funding from Congress. There is not a secret plan. There is not another option. We need money in order to continue to supply these programs.
Q And one last thing. Sorry, just back on the Ukraine
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q You said, obviously, a no-fly zone is viewed as escalatory. But I noticed you did not say anything about the fighter jet requests. Is that something that the administration would reconsider?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed about the analysis that the Department of Defense provided last week, where they assessed that, because of the challenges in delivery and the challenges — and the impact that providing these would have — would be greater risk than there would be benefit.
And I would note that the way that the President and the Department of Defense and our experts here have been responding to this conflict is by providing the type of military and assistance — assistance and equipment that has — the Ukrainians have used to push back and to fight and effectively do that over the last 19 days. And that is what we will continue to provide with the additional funding in the omnibus.
Q One, I guess, housekeeping matter on the remarks tomorrow from Zelenskyy: Does the President plan to watch? And will he have a response to his address?
MS. PSAKI: I’m sure that, to the degree that President can with his schedule, he’ll certainly be watching as we all will be. He gave a very powerful — President Zelenskyy gave a very powerful set of remarks today when he spoke in Canada — or to the Canadians, I should say — and we certainly expect that to be the case tomorrow.
Q And on the Ukrainian security assistance, there are concerns that Putin could possibly try to target or strike a delivery of American military supplies. How concerned are you about this? And how confident are you that this assistance will ultimately reach its intended destination?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that, obviously, they’ve been in the middle of a war zone for the past few weeks. And we’ve still been able to deliver $300 million in security assistance just over the last two weeks. And we believe we will continue to have the means to do that.
Q And has the President been discussing with other NATO leaders how they would respond if Putin were to strike a delivery of American military supplies inside Poland?
And just so I’m clear about what would happen in this instance: Would a strike in Poland on supplies, or anything really, automatically be met with a military — a forceful response? There’s typically a conversation amongst Allies about how to respond.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, typically, there is a conversation before you do a coordinated response. Right? But I would say, without getting into a hypothetical, we have a range of conversations that happen through a lot of channels, including military and defense channels, including diplomatic channels as we prepare for a range of contingencies.
MS. PSAKI: American families are preparing for summer vacations right now, often require travel by car long distances. What kind of guidance does the White House have? I mean, should they expect or plan for $4 gasoline come summer? Is there like a — I know you guys are concerned about the price, but is there a sense of urgency to get something done before those summer months, which are really critical, for a number of reasons, for drivers?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Look, I think the President and our national security team and our economic team are working overtime right now to evaluate and examine a range of domestic options that continue to be on the table, and also to engage with global suppliers about what can be done to ensure that the supply in the market meets the demand, thus bringing the price down.
So, it is — there is certainly urgency. There is certainly a need to do everything we can to ensure we’re mitigating the impact.
Q Sure. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have called on the White House to lift the ban of summer sales of gasoline with higher blends of ethanol. It’s cheaper than traditional blends of gasoline. Is that something — you mentioned a menu of options, but is that something specifically that the White House is considering?
MS. PSAKI: In the menu of options.
Q Any comment on Maryland moving towards a suspension of their state’s gasoline tax? Is that something you guys —
MS. PSAKI: There are a number of other states who have taken that step. Again, there’s a range of domestic options. I would note that, from the federal standpoint, the gasoline tax is about 18 cents, right? So we’re also looking at a range of options that might have different types of impacts.
Q You brought up the 18 cents. Is that because — I mean, it wouldn’t have much of an impact at 18 cents if you — given at — at $4.50. Is that a fair rate of how you guys assess that?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not a mathematician, but, you know, given that the price of gas has gone up by 75 cents, $1, even more in some areas, we’re continuing to look at a range of options.
And obviously, ensuring that there is — or taking steps to ensure there is more supply in the market, because the oil market is a global market, is a big priority and a focus for us.
But we’re looking at a range of domestic options, including all the ones you mentioned, just no decision has been made at this point in time.
Go ahead, Kaitlan.
Q Thanks, Jen. You confirm President Biden is going to Brussels next week. He’s going to attend the NATO summit and the European Council meeting. Is he also going to go to Poland, as has been reported?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t have anything more yet about his trip to announce.
Q But should we expect anything when it comes to the refugee crisis aspect of what’s been going on?
MS. PSAKI: We’re still working through the final details of the trip and what it may look like, but I don’t have any more details at this point in time.
Q And what is his goal going into this trip? And is there any chance that he sees President Zelenskyy while he’s there?
MS. PSAKI: His goal is to meet in person, face to face with his European counterparts and talk about and assess where we are at this point in the conflict, in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
We’ve been incredibly aligned to date; that doesn’t happen by accident. The President is a big believer in face-to-face diplomacy, so it’s an opportunity to do exactly that.
In terms of a meeting with President Zelenskyy or an engagement with President Zelenskyy, we’re still finalizing the trip at this point in time.
Q But that’s an option?
MS. PSAKI: Nothing on the table at this point in time, but the real focus right now is to meet with NATO partners in Brussels. If there are additional steps, we’ll share all those details with all of you.
Q And on President Zelenskyy’s address tomorrow, of course, he is expected to ask for more assistance. As my colleague noted, a lot of the U.S. positions on that haven’t changed, as you just said, when it comes to the ni- — no-fly zone.
But on the aircraft specifically, the Pentagon said last week that Secretary Austin said they “do not support the transfer of additional fighter aircraft…at this time.” Is that still the United States’ position?
MS. PSAKI: That continues to be our position. I would note that they also said that the ai- — that adding aircraft to the Ukrainian inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities.
And the assessment was that the transfer of these planes may be mistaken as escalatory, as we’ve said, and could result in a significant Russian reaction. But that is the risk assessment that was done. That risk assessment has not changed.
I would note that certainly we expect, as he should, President Zelenskyy to ask for more money. We have — we are in touch with his team on a daily basis. We’re not waiting to — we’re not waiting to hear tomorrow what may be on his mind. We are very closely engaged with the Ukrainians.
And that — what is — what hopefully will be of interest to him is the significant amount of security assistance that is in the omnibus that we’ll be able to detail soon.
Q Just to clarify, has he told the White House what he plans to ask for tomorrow?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I’m suggesting. But the President had a nearly hour-long call with him on Friday, and we talk with his team every day.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Ash.
Q You mentioned before that President Zelenskyy gave an extremely powerful set of remarks to Canada, and you expect something similar tomorrow to Congress. I was wondering if you could talk about how the administration plans to handle that sort of very emotional appeal where we expect him to be asking for certain things, which President Biden has already made clear he’s not willing to provide.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that, one, what is encouraging in this moment of tragedy is that there is bipartisan support for the strength and the courage of Ukrainian leadership and President Zelenskyy and the fight that they have been waging for the last 19 days.
I would say that without knowing what he’s going to say tomorrow, we certainly are familiar with what the asks have been. We have provided our own assessment of what does make sense and doesn’t make sense. And what I would note is that we do have a range of — the President and the — our team has fought for additional assistance in the omnibus package the President is signing this afternoon, which hopefully we’ll have more details on in the coming days.
Q Thank you, Jen. To follow up on that: Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have made so clear that what they believe they need the most is more war planes and fighter jets. So why is the U.S. assessing something different? Why does the U.S. believe they know better what Ukraine needs than what Ukrainian officials are saying they need the most?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have one of the best militaries in the world. I would note just some factual details here: The Ukrainian Air Force has several squadrons of fully mission-capable aircraft. And although Russian air capabilities are significant, their effectiveness has been limited due to the Ukrainian strategic, operational, and tactical ground-based air defense systems, which the United States has provided the vast majority of. So, what we’re talking about here is what is most effective in combating and fighting the type of war the Russians are fighting.
We’ve talked a little bit about the attack on — near the Polish border. That would not have been stopped by airplanes; that type of attack is stopped by exactly the type of assistance we’ve provided.
Q Okay. So it’s a combination of impact as well as potential risks that the administration has decided “no” on the war planes?
MS. PSAKI: Exactly. Exactly. And the fact that the air force has several squadrons of fully mission-capable aircraft. The $1.2 billion in military assistance that we’ve provided has provided exactly the type of capabilities that have helped them fight back and push back effectively and courageously against the inbound attacks from the Russian military.
And as you also noted, Weijia, the risk associated is also something that our U.S. military would assess as part of their analysis.
MS. PSAKI: And then to follow up on Mary’s question: How does the U.S. define a Russian incursion or invasion into NATO territory?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a conversation we have with our NATO partners and Allies.
Q So, as an example, there are reports that a Russian drone made its way into Polish airspace before going back to Ukraine and being shot down. Does a drone into Poland count as an invasion into Russi- — NATO territory?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Weijia, what happens here — it’s not that NATO countries just respond on their own. If there is an attack or an — that is considered by NATO leadership and by NATO countries to be — to meet that bar, then there’s a discussion among NATO partners about how to respond.
But it’s not in anyone’s interest to get into an escalatory war with Russia.
Q Got it. And one more on the sanctions that were imposed today by Russia against yourself, President Biden, and other top U.S. officials. Do you have a response to that? And how will it impact any of you, if at all?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I would first note that President Biden is a junior, so they may — may have sanctioned his dad. May he rest in peace.
The second piece, I would say, is that — it won’t surprise any of you that none of us are planning tourist trips to Russia and none of us have bank accounts that we won’t be able to access, so we will forge ahead.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Following up on the drone question from Weijia: The Soviet-era drone that flew over three NATO member states on Friday and then crashed into Croatia, has it been determined whether that was a Russian drone or Ukrainian drone? And how do you measure — similar to what she was asking —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — how do you measure, you know, what elicits a response?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the — for the second part of your question, Jacqui — good question — it is a conversation that happens between NATO Allies and partners, not — not a — not a decision that’s made by one country.
In terms of the first part, I don’t have any details that I can outline for you from here.
Q And then what do you make of China today warning that Taiwan belongs to China and saying that it will not stop normal trade relations with Russia? What qualifies as helping Russia evade sanctions when it comes to China?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me note that one of the — one of the — during the lengthy conversation that our National Security Advisor had with his counterpart, he also conveyed — reiterated our one-China policy, based on the Taiwan Relations Act, Three Communiqués, and Six Assurances, and underscored concerns about Beijing’s coercive and provocative actions across the Taiwan Strait, which is, of course, our position publicly. But it’s also something that he took the time to reiterate during this conversation.
There are a range of sanctions we obviously have in place. And we watch, of course, if there’s a violation of those, and we also watch if there is support provided for the military invasion of another country. I don’t have any assessment of that to provide to you today.
Q And it sounds like secondary sanctions are on the table if China is found to be helping Russia, either militarily or economically, in this war. So, why not be specific about the kinds of sanctions that we’re considering, given that this administration’s position is the mere threat of sanctions should be a deterrent?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re going to have those conversations directly with China and Chinese leadership and not through the media at this point in time.
I would note that when our National Security Advisor was having his meeting yesterday, he was very direct about the comp- — the consequences. He made clear we’re going to be watching closely, made clear that it’s not just us. The decisions that China makes are going to be watched by the world.
So, that is how they focused the meeting. But in terms of any potential impacts or consequences, we’ll leave those through private diplomatic channels at this point.
Q One last one on Zelenskyy tomorrow. It sounds like, you know, we’re pretty dug in on our position when it comes to the no-fly zone, when it comes to the MiGs, despite this growing call — bipartisan call on Congress to shift a little bit. To put it bluntly, is Zelenskyy wasting his time tomorrow asking for these things?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say because of the passion and the courage and the bravery of President Zelenskyy, there has been support for expediting the delivery of a historic amount of military and security assistance and weapons that have helped him and his military fight back against the Russians.
And I would say that, yes, we recognize there are a range of bipartisan calls. But what we have the responsibility to do here is to assess what the impact is on the United States and our own national security.
A no-fly zone is escalatory and could prompt a war with Russia, a major nuclear power. Providing the planes — our military did an assessment that’s based not just on the risk, but whether it would have a huge benefit to them. They assessed it would not because they have their own squadron of planes and because the type of military assistance that is working to fight this war effectively is the type of assistance we’re already providing.
Q So what about Estonia, though, calling for a no-fly zone? They’re a NATO member. They share a border with Russia. How do we view their calls for a no-fly zone?
MS. PSAKI: We disagree with the argument that that would be an effective step. Because a no-fly zone, which often people shorthand, essentially means us shooting down Russian planes and them potentially shooting back at us.
And I would note that the way that the Ukrainians, again, have effectively pushed back over the last 19 days is by using exactly the type of military assistance we have provided.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple of questions. Are there discussions about the President meeting with refugees on his trip to Europe?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a good question, and obviously we have provided — and he’ll talk about this, this afternoon — historic amounts of humanitarian assistance, a great deal of that focused on helping refugees. There’s going to be more in this package. But there’s — we don’t have additional details beyond what I just announced at the top of the briefing.
Q Okay. And to follow up on Weijia’s question quickly — Russia sanctioning various top officials here. I understand you’re dismissing it; however, does the administration, does the President see that as an escalation of any kind?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think we are confident that if we need to have continued — and we will need to have direct and indirect conversations with Russia, we will have the ability to do that.
But it’s related to — and I don’t have anything official aside from the reports. I don’t know how their sanctioning process works; I only know how our sanctioning process works. But it relates to the impact typically on bank accounts or travel that’s not diplomatic.
Q I want to ask you, again, about the conversation about some of these MiGs. Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has been quite outspoken recently, and she said, “We need to mitigate risk, but it’s also true that not taking greater action comes with a risk as well, because Putin is a bully, and he only understands strength.” Is the President showing enough strength against Putin?
MS. PSAKI: The President has rallied the global community to put in place a greater set of financial sanctions package than has ever been done for any economy in the world. It wouldn’t have happened —
Q And yet, it hasn’t stopped Putin at all.
MS. PSAKI: — without his action.
I just outlined for you at the top, which I think it’s important to note, the crippling impact this has had on the economy.
They are where they are at this point in time — I think we all have seen reports and we have confirmed many of them that they did not expect it to take this long. They did not expect their military to not make as much progress as they have made.
The steps we are taking are making it more difficult for President Putin to build and augment his military, to get access to the technology that he needs and wants.
It has taken steps to cripple the economy — that there’s no question, regardless of what Kremlin spokespeople say, it has had a dramatic impact on the economy.
And we’re doing all of that while providing a historic amount of military assistance to the Ukrainians, helping them effectively fight back.
Q If Putin were to use chemical weapons, would it change the President’s thinking when it comes to these MiGs — taking the no-fly zone off the table — but at least on this issue?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical. We — of course, there would be severe confli- — consequences from the global community, ones that we would discuss with our partners and allies.
But I would note that the planes would not have stopped the attack we saw near the Polish border. They have a squadron of planes. And what has effectively helped them fight back is the types of military assistance that they have been utilizing.
Q And are you prepared — can you give us any more details about what that threat means of severe consequences? The President obviously made the same threat last week. Is that purely economic consequences, or would there potentially be a military component there?
MS. PSAKI: We’re just not going to outline in more detail from here.
Q I have a question about the Fed.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Given Senator Manchin’s opposition to Sarah Bloom Raskin, will the White House now support the Senate moving ahead to confirm the other Fed nominees? Why do they need to confirm all of these nominees at once?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that Sarah Bloom Raskin is one of the most qualified individuals ever to be nominated to serve in this position. We remain in close touch with both her and with Chairman Brown about the next steps here.
But we have continued to press, and we have been pressing for all five not just to be — to be able to be voted on in the banking committee where they have the votes to move forward. And that is where Republicans have not showed up to meet quorum.
So, at this point, I don’t have an update beyond reiterating our strong support for her.
Q Will the President himself address — bring up the
deaths and injuries of American journalists injured in Ukraine or killed in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: With?
Q Sorry, will the President himself address the deaths of Americans who have — American journalists who have been killed or injured in Ukraine? And does he have any plans to call their families?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline private conversations from here at this point in time. Obviously, these families are in a moment of mourning right now. And so, beyond that, I think we’re just respecting their space and time.
Q If I could really briefly —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — just going back to COVID funding.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Obviously, this is something that White House officials stressed today. This is something the President addressed in his State of the Union address. But if this is so important for the President and the White House, will he meet with Republicans individually? Will he make his case to them personally?
MS. PSAKI: I would note that there’s a number of Republicans who won’t even return our phone calls about the impact of the lack of COVID funding and how they will impact their constituents. So that’s probably the best place to start.
Q Yeah, I have a couple more questions on the path related —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — to the COVID funding.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q How the heck are you going to get it through Congress? You have Republicans in the Senate who are making it very clear — leadership — saying that there is no Republican support for moving any more money for COVID relief because they believe — and they believe the White House hasn’t made a strong enough case — that funds can’t just be moved around to fund these priorities.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, we’ve been making that case
publicly and privately back to earlier this year. So that –those are the facts.
We’ve also been, as I just noted, attempting to engage with and have these conversations with, of course, Democrats, but also Republicans. COVID doesn’t discriminate just by party at all.
I think what we’re trying to do is really be very clear and direct about what the impacts will be. I mean, some of these programs — funding for treatments for immunocompromised, providing free tests and masks, providing free boosters and vaccines — those will impact millions of Americans, potentially, in this country, regardless of their partisan affiliation.
So what we’re doing — we’re going to, of course, leave the process and the vehicle up to Congress. We are encouraging them and aggressively calling for them to move these resources immediately. And we’ve — what we’ve tried to do is break down what the impacts are going to be on different states and also when specific programs will end, so that it doesn’t feel like just a number but feels like a direct impact on programs and people’s lives.
Q In terms of whether money can be moved around, I know you’ve said before that it can’t be moved around. What we’re hearing from the Hill is that they believe there’s about $100 million that could be shifted. And certainly, there was an agreement with the four leaders to shift funds that fell apart, in part because governors balked. But is there money that could be moved? Do these dire consequences have to start next week, or could funds be shifted and then later allocated?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the opposition, as you note, prevented that from being a portion of what moved forward. Right? I don’t know that that opposition has changed at this point in time.
But also, it’s important to note that we believe that this should be provided on an emergency basis, not something where it would require offsets. It shouldn’t have to require taking money from states who are using it for different programs, whether it’s funding COPS or police officers or other programs.
That was a part of the discussion in the negotiation, but I’m not aware of any change in the appro- — support for that.
Q On domestic energy —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — has the White House spoken to Senator Joe Manchin about his push to use — to do more domestic oil and gas production? I know that Senator Manchin has been interested in the President using the DPA — the Defense Production Act — to complete that pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia, the Mountain Valley pipeline. Is the White House interested in that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve engaged with a range of members, Democrats and Republicans, including Senator Manchin, about a range of ideas they have. That’s why so many things are on the table.
I would note that the use of the Defense Production Act, broadly speaking, would mean you’re paying a company to do what they already have the capacity and the ability to do. We know there are 9,000 unused and approved oil leases right now that these oil companies could tap into and do more in.
In terms of the building of a pipeline, that does not sound like it’s an immediate solve for what we’re seeing right now is an increase of cost at the gas pump.
Q Jen, if I could walk you back for a moment through the logic train that you were trying to lay out for us of the risk of sending, in that case, the Polish jets —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — but, in general, versus the rewards for it here.
So, if I understand it right, the President is determined that giving Ukrainian pilots these MiGs would directly involve the United States in the conflict, and therefore that’s what creates the high risk. Is that right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, David, it’s not the President’s assessment, or certainly not my assessment. It was the assessment by the Department of Defense. And a big part of their assessment was related to where these planes would take off from and how would you get them into Ukraine. So that was something we were exploring and discussing with a range of partners.
But their assessment was also ba- — was based specifically on the transfer of it to Ukraine and that that may be mistaken as escalatory.
Q So the fact that they would take off from a Polish base, even a base in Germany (inaudible) makes that base a legitimate military target, and they don’t want to take that risk? Is that what you’re telling us?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I wouldn’t say we’d say “legitimate.” But that it could be perceived as escalatory, yes.
Q Okay. So, on the other side of this, we are transferring anti-aircraft equipment to them.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q It’s got to originate someplace in the West, right?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Somehow, it’s got to get in place. What’s the
MS. PSAKI: We’re able to move a lot of that equipment in a way that is not taking off from a NATO airbase without getting into specifics of how it’s transferred.
Q But it’s originating from the West in some way.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. And that’s known. Yes.
Q And there are some other possibilities of things you could be providing them with. For example, you mentioned that the missile strike near the Polish border wouldn’t have really been helped by the —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — by these. And I think that we’re all in agreement with that.
You could imagine a series of shorter-range anti-missile systems — like what we give to the — provide and they manufacture in Israel — to ward off incoming short-range missile. Is there discussion of that kind of anti-missile system to prevent exactly what you just described?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, it’s a good question, David. You probably know more about military equipment than anyone except for the Department of Defense. So here we are.
But look, I would really — those discussions happen at the Department of Defense. They consider — and we’ve talked a lot about the risk assessment as it relates to the planes — but they make assessments about what to provide to be most effective, as they provide any range of military equipment.
Again, as you know, there’s a big portion of the omnibus, which we’ll be able to detail more soon, that will be security assistance, just like there’s economic and humanitarian assistance. And I’m sure we’ll have more details on what will be included in there.
Q And one last one. Are you encouraging any of our other NATO Allies, including Turkey, to do these kinds of transfers, particularly of the anti-aircraft?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you — oh, sorry, the second piece of military equipment you mentioned: Look, there’s a range of discussions, as you know, among military counterparts and defense counterparts about what equipment is needed, who has that equipment, how to provide it, but I don’t have more to detail that on from here.
Q But — on Turkey — it would solve a particular running problem that you’ve had since you were —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — speaking from the podium at the State Department. Is there any particular discussion underway with Turkey on this (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more details on that for you. I’m happy to check if there’s more.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Is there a plan for the President to talk to President Zelenskyy before he delivers those remarks tomorrow to Congress?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check. I’m not — there’s not a call currently on the schedule. He just spoke with him last Friday. But again, our National Security Advisor, a range of officials here are in touch with senior members of their national security team every day.
Q And I know you said the President is going to, of course, be talking about the $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine when he gives remarks in a few minutes. You said earlier that the United States is working to get Ukraine equipment as quickly as possible. Can you walk us through the timeline on the $13.6? How quickly will that get out? Is it going out all at once? Are there stages? What’s the plan for that?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have more on that in the next 24 to 48 hours. I understand the question. We’re looking forward to detailing it for you.
Q Thanks, Jen. Yesterday, the President spoke again about his desire to see legislation passed aimed at lowering cost of prescription drugs and childcare. Can you provide an update on the White House’s conversations with Senate Democrats about passing narrowly tailored legislation that would include those programs and others that the President again said would ease inflationary pressures?
MS. PSAKI: I would just say that we found and we made the determination after last fall that keeping those conversations private is the best way to hopefully make progress. And so, we’re engaged on a daily basis, with conversations with Senate Democrats, committee members, staff about how to move this forward.
As I think you know and others know who talk to members, there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for getting these things done, specifically lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
What the President wants to do is have as much of the package included as there can be 50 votes for. But we’re going to leave those conversations to happen through private channels — a lot of them happening member-to-member on the Hill.
Q Any sense of timing of when that can happen with the April recess coming up soon?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m just not going to provide an update from here because we feel that these talks are best kept between members and kept between conversations we have with our staff and them.
Q Sure. And speaking of Senate Democrats, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its hearings next week —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on the President’s Supreme Court nominee. How is the White House preparing for those hearings? And specifically, how is it preparing Judge Jackson for the scrutiny that she could come under from Republicans who sit on that committee?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, Judge Jackson, I think as you’ve seen, has been meeting with — working to meet with every member on the committee before her hearing and made a great deal of progress on exactly that.
I think you could — I would note that you’ve heard members come out, senators come out of — who agree with us on very little, who’ve come out and conveyed that she’s qualified and that they had good conversations with her. So that’s part of it.
As soon as she was nominated, she started practicing and studying and preparing, which I don’t think surprises anyone who’s looked at her impeccable credentials and record to date. And I expect that will continue until she starts the hearings early next week.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the refugee crisis from Ukraine, is there any conversation about the role the U.S. could play to alleviate some of the burden felt by Poland? For example, either something similar to what we set up coming out of Afghanistan: airlifting people, expediting processing, especially for those who have family members in the U.S.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. We are having ongoing, internal discussions about how we can play the most effective role in supporting the large number of refugees who are coming out of Ukraine.
To date, that has been, as you know, an enormous amount of humanitarian assistance that we’re providing not just to Ukraine, but to neighboring countries that are providing a haven for refugees as they’re leaving Ukraine.
In terms of other discussions, I just can’t outline those at this point in time, but we are continuing to discuss what options there are.
Q But there are conversations about helping Ukrainians come to America as well?
MS. PSAKI: We’re discussing — the President would welcome Ukrainians coming here. Obviously, they currently — they could apply through the refugee process, but we’re continuing to discuss what options may exist.
Q And one more on Title 42.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q We saw, over the weekend, the CDC end Title 42 restrictions for unaccompanied minors. And a couple of the reasons they gave were the larger public health conditions, but also that appropriate mitigation measures had been put into place in the care facilities.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Yeah.
Q So, is the administration asking DHS to put those same mitigation measures in place in other detention facilities so you can end Title 42 for everyone?
MS. PSAKI: Well, any decision made by the CDC about ending Title 42 would have — would — once they make the decision, it would have to be implemented, to your point, on — by DHS and other components of the interagency that oversee these facilities and ensure that they’re meeting the bars that would be required. But the first step would really be CDC making a decision about ending it for other populations.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two topics. First, the Prime Ministers of Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia went to Kyiv today. Does the White House have any comment on that? You know, would an American administration official make a similar trip? Or conversely: Is there concern that that’s a security risk where if something were to happen to them, that that could be an escalation with NATO members?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly hope that is not the outcome. We respect the role they’re playing in diplomacy right now. And obviously, going directly into the middle of a war zone shows their strong support for President Zelenskyy, for the Ukrainian military, for Ukrainians, and we certainly support that.
And I’m certain we will engage with them following their trip as a follow-up, as we have been doing with other leaders who have engaged with the Ukrainians and the Russians.
MS. PSAKI: In terms of any step or trip by a member of the national security team or others, I don’t have anything to predict for you at this point in time. But, you know, we will continue to assess whether that would be constructive or help move things in a positive direction.
Q And then on another matter, there are a few more members of the House of Representatives who tested positive for COVID today —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — adding to some who, over the weekend, did the same, many of whom were Democrats at the retreat on Friday where they saw the President — not many masks worn. Has the President been tested for COVID since? And are there any concerns about exposures he may have had?
MS. PSAKI: He was tested on Sunday, and he tested negative. All of the members to date, prior to today — and I’m happy to double check the specific piece — were not deemed as “close contacts.” They are all vaccinated as well, so the CDC wouldn’t recommend a change in behavior as a result. But he received a negative test just a couple days ago.
Q Thank you, Jen. On oil suppliers: Canada has been looking at increasing its flow of crude oil. Can you confirm that conversation that’s been happening between the administration and the Canadian government?
MS. PSAKI: I know we’ve been closely engaged with Canada about a range of issues. In terms of the specifics of a conversation about oil and crude, I’d have to check with our team on that.
Q Thank you. And there’s been a report yesterday about the possibility that India could take up an Russian offer of discounted crude oil. What would be your message to India or any other country tempted by such an offer?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our message to any country continues to be that, obviously, abide by the sanctions, but — that we have put in place and recommended. I don’t believe this would be violating that. But also think about where you want to stand when the history books are written in this moment in time. And support for Ru- — the Russian leadership is support for an invasion that obviously is having a devastating impact.
Q Thank you, Jen. There’s reporting that Saudi Arabia is considering accepting the yen instead of the dollar for Chinese oil. Is the White House monitoring that possibility? And has the administration communicated that there would be any types of consequences if that happened?
MS. PSAKI: Let me check with the Treasury Department on it. It’s a good question. I hadn’t seen the report. I’ll check with them.
Q And then, could you speak to the urgency for getting this additional COVID funding from Congress at a moment when it seems that a lot of the attention and focus has been on moving away from the pandemic?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, even as we have focused on conveying we have — that we are in a different stage and we have a range of the tools in order to fight the pandemic, in order to continue our capacity of having those tools, we need money.
And we’ve always planned — been — what we’ve done effectively is planned ahead — right? — ensuring that if we get to a point — and we’ve seen, obviously, BA.2, which we’ve talked about a bit in here, which I think as of yesterday was about 25 percent to a third of the cases here. Very transmissible but treatable by all the means that we have.
We need to have masks, tests, boosters, treatments for immunocompromised in order to continue to treat — treat the pandemic — or treat the American people during a pandemic. So, it remains urgent. If we don’t get this funding, we won’t be able to ensure we have — can provide free access to the American people.
Q Hey, Jen. Just to confirm: The U.S. and allies — we’re publicly arming the Ukrainians, but we are deliberately avoiding shipping from NATO countries to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said. What I said was planes taking off from a NATO base, our Department of Defense assessed that that would be a step that would be escalatory as they were making a risk assessment.
Q So avoiding doing it from NATO bases? Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Of planes.
Q Via planes. But ground is another situation?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give you detail or confirm where our military moves from for obvious reasons. Because our objective is to provide that to the Ukrainians.
Q And on these journa- — these tragic, you know, deaths of journalists that you mentioned, is there any reason to conclude that the Russians are deliberately targeting them?
MS. PSAKI: We have seen from the beginning that they have targeted hospitals, they’ve targeted journalists. In terms of these individual cases, I can’t make an assessment of that from here. But certainly, we’ve seen, you know, barbaric and horrific actions by the military on the ground, and this is consistent with that.
Q So, aside from the request for weapons, President Zelenskyy has also requested that the U.S. be more involved in negotiations toward a peaceful resolution to the war. What is the U.S. doing to push those negotiations forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one of the steps we’ve taken — a significant one — is to be the largest provider of military and humanitarian and economic assistance in the world, to put them in a greater position of strength as they go into these negotiations.
We also engage and talk with the Ukrainians on a daily basis. And the President and this national security team has rallied the world in being unified in their opposition to the actions of President Putin.
So, those are the steps we’re taking. We also engage, oftentimes before and after any conversations that any of these global leaders are having with both Russians and Ukrainians, and encourage them to make sure they’re engaging with Ukrainians directly.
Q And so would Zelenskyy be empowered by the United States to reach an agreement with Russia and have U.S. sanctions released as a result?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s the leader of Ukraine, so he’s empowered to have a negotiation with Russia. And we’re here to support those efforts.
Q So that’s a “yes”?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of a negotiation. But we are here to support those efforts. We discuss and have conversations with hi- — with his team on a daily basis.
Go ahead, George.
Q Yeah. Let me ask you about Thursday’s meeting between the President and the Irish Taoiseach. Does the —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Best day of the year. (Laughter.)
Q Yeah. Does the White House view that as in any way a sign that we’re getting back to normal after two years of canceled meetings, canceled parades, and last year of having to do it virtually?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, the President is very much looking forward to welcoming the Taoiseach here on Thursday to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. We have started to have some events where there are more people, where there is some food or beverage served, and certainly this will be a continuation of that.
And while we are still taking steps and precautions here in the White House, including regular testing, this is certainly a step that we welcome being able to invite our friends in to celebrate on Thursday.
Go ahead, Ed.
Q Yeah. So, China —
MS. PSAKI: And you’ve got to gather soon. Go ahead.
Q Okay. Yeah. Quickly, going back to China. So, right now, you’re saying that China and the Chinese companies are not breaking sanctions by doing normal economic relations with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: I did not provide an update or an assessment of that from here, and nor do I have one to provide you.
Q So without talking about red lines, what would the U.S. need to see for them — for that to be a breaking of the sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: I understand your question. I’m just not going to — going to outline it from here. We watch closely, the world is watching closely, and our National Security Advisor was clear there will be consequences should they — should they violate our sanctions.
Thank you, everyone, so much.
2:02 P.M. EDT