Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 16, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:09 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. A couple of items for all of you at the top. Today marks one year since eight people — six of them women of Asian descent — were tragically killed by a gunman who attacked three Asian-run businesses.
In the aftermath of that horrific attack, the President and Vice President traveled to Atlanta to meet with leaders of the Asian American community and hear about pain — the pain and fear that too many Asian Americans have felt since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, Erika Mori- — Moritsugu, Deputy Assistant to the President and AAPI Senior Liaison, is in Atlanta representing the White House as the community mourns the victims of this awful tragedy.
Ambassador Katherine Tai, our U.S. Trade Representative and Co-Chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, also spoke at a vigil in Michigan to stand against Asian Ameri- — anti-Asian hate past and present.
On this somber day, our administration remains fully committed to reducing the gun violence that terrorizes — terrorizes our communities and to advancing safety, inclusion, and belonging for all Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
I wanted to make a note on gas prices. Right now, oil prices are $94 per barrel. When oil was at this level one month ago, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $3.49. And yet now, the average cost of gas is $4.32.
When it comes to oil and gas prices, many accept that gas prices rise quickly but fall slowly — the so-called “rockets-and-feathers” phenomenon.
But President Biden rejects that. Americans deserve relief, and fast, as oil prices fall.
Retail gasoline prices are updated at least daily, and if gas retailers’ costs are going down, they need to immediately pass those savings onto consumers.
So, I will reiterate what the President said to oil and gas companies last week: The invasion of Ukraine and the volatility of the oil market is no excuse for excessive price increases, profit padding, or any effort to exploit American consumers. No one should capitalize on Putin’s aggression by taking advantage of American families.
And this chart, which you see here, shows both the price of crude oil, and you see where it is as it relates to the price of gasoline. And as you’ve seen it gone down — go down, the price of gasoline obviously has not gone down. So that is the explanation of that particular chart.
I also just wanted to note, before we get to questions, that in some good news, we saw history made yesterday with the strong bipartisan confirmation of Shalanda Young, the first Black woman to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
For the past year, she has served as a key advisor to the President, a member of the economic team. She has led the development of the President’s budget and helped effectively implement his agenda and vision across the entire federal government.
She’s not just making history, she’s exceptionally qualified and has vast budget experience from her years leading staff on the House Appropriations Committee. So, we’re thrilled to have her as our confirmed director.
Finally — I know you all just heard the President give remarks on this, but for clarity’s sake and to make sure everybody fully understands the totality of assistance, what the President announced today was an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine to $1 billion in just the past week and more than $2 billion since the start of the Biden administration and, more specifically, since last March.
There is additional security assistance in the omnibus the President signed into law yesterday, but we’re also working with the Ukrainians and others on delivery mechanisms of that. So, what he outlined today is the additional $800 billion from that.
And this assistance, as you heard him say, it will take the form of direct transfers of equipment from the Department of Defense to the Ukrainian military to help them defend their country against Russians’ unpro- — Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion. It also includes U.S.-produced short-range air defense systems the Ukrainians have been using to great effect — systems they are trained on.
We have also identified and are helping the Ukrainians acquire additional longer-range systems, on which their forces, again, are already trained, as well as additional munitions for these systems. And we will continue to work with Allies and partners to transfer equipment to Ukraine.
At least 30 countries to date have provided security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion began. And in 2022, the Department of State authorized third-party transfers of defensive equipment from more than 14 countries, a number that continues to grow as Allies and partners increase support to Ukraine.
Chris, why don’t you kick us off?
Q All right. First off, I just wanted to note this is your 200th briefing.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, wow. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Q And we will celebrate with a lot of questions.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, 200 — let’s do it.
Q To start us off, the White House has said the Russian actions in Ukraine are under close scrutiny for potential war crimes, but today President Biden directly labeled Putin a, quote, “war criminal.” Has something changed in the administration’s assessment? What brought this new remark from the President today?
MS. PSAKI: I think the President was — the President’s remarks speak for themselves. He was speaking from his heart and speaking from what he’s seen on television, which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator, through his invasion of a foreign country.
There is a legal process that continues to — is underway, continues to be underway at the State Department. That’s a process that they would have any updates on.
Q So, another question on the military assistance. Is the White House, is the administration facilitating the transfer of S-300 anti-air missiles? How is the U.S. facilitating that? How many might be provided to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me just provide to you — as I’ve educated myself a little bit on weapon systems over the past few days, I thought this might be helpful to you. So, S-300s are anti-aircraft systems. We are providing Stingers, who are also anti-aircraft systems. There are a range of anti-aircraft systems that different countries have around the world.
So, as I noted, I know that President Zelenskyy called out specifically S-300s. And while I’m not going to get into specifics for security reasons, we are continuing to work with our Allies and key partners to surge new assistance, including Soviet- or Russian-origin anti-aircraft systems, which is exactly what that is.
But what we’re talking about here is how to provide them a range of anti-aircraft systems that will help them do exactly what they’ve been doing, which is to shoot down planes. And part of what the President announced today was additional Stingers that serve exactly that purpose.
Q Sure. But given that the S-300 has a much longer range than the Stingers, is that part of the administration’s plan to find a way to facilitate that specific transfer of weapons?
MS. PSAKI: Without getting into specific systems, there are a range of anti-aircraft systems that do have longer range. We are continuing to consult with our Allies and key partners to surge that assistance, but I’m not going to get into more specifics.
Q And the last question is: The Federal Reserve raised rates today to help fight — tame inflation. Is the administration confident that the Fed can beat inflation through rate hikes and not risk a recession?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note that Chairman Powell spoke to exactly that question today. So, I would point you to his specific comments answering that question, where he did express confidence in the ability to take the steps he announced and avoid that.
I would note that while they — we respect the independence of the Federal Reserve, as you of course — as we have said many times — the President has also said in the past that he recognizes not only their independence, but that it is appropriate and necessary for the Federal Reserve to recalibrace [sic] — recalibrate their — that — their support to maintain stable prices. And obviously, they made an announcement today.
As it relates to — we, obviously, closely watch here from the administration and closely monitor all risks. And we continue to believe that the United States economy is positioned well to deal with the challenges ahead, even as we continue to monitor.
And, obviously, there are events that impact the economy, including an invasion of a foreign country. And we’re seeing that impact as well play out in the economic data.
Q Back on this question of labeling Putin a “war criminal.” I mean, this war has now been going on for three weeks. So far, the President has declined to use this label. As you note, there is an ongoing, sort of, formal process before you can use this term. So, something must have changed for the President to feel like he can take this additional step today. What? What else is he seeing?
MS. PSAKI: The President was answering a direct question that was asked and responding to what he has seen on television.
We have all seen barbaric acts, horrific acts by a foreign dictator in a country that is threatening and taking the lives of civilians, impacting hospitals, women who are pregnant, journalists, others. And I think he was answering a direct question.
Q All right. The administration is making it very clear — and publicly — how much assistance the U.S. is providing to Ukraine. Whether we are fighting in this war or not, the U.S. is obviously heavily involved. Putin certainly knows all of this. He knows where this equipment is coming from. Is there any concern that you run the risk that he may view this as the kind of direct U.S. involvement, the direct confrontation that you are trying to avoid?
MS. PSAKI: Well, all the equipment that we’re providing, whether it’s Stingers or Javelins or counter artillery — counter mortar radar, counter UA- — UAV tracking radars, anti-armor systems, unmanned aerial systems — this is all defensive equipment and materials. It is more than we have ever provided to Ukraine in the past. It is a significant amount of assistance that we have expedited the delivery on. And we will continue to do exactly that.
But as our Department of Defense — and they can certainly speak to themselves — for themselves — they do risk assessments, they assess what the impact will be of the types of assistance they’re providing. We’re obviously watching how the types of assistance we have provided have helped the Ukrainians courageously and bravely fight back, and we’re giving them more of that assistance. We’ve also given them additional types of assistance we had not yet provided to them.
But again, these are all defensive weapons systems.
You have noted from the podium that Putin has shown no signs of changing course. You’ve also noted that there are significant consequences that Putin could still face.
Even with this additional aid that you’re providing today, it seems there are still other options on the table. So why hold back? Why not use every tool at your disposal now to spare additional lives?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think if you look at the range of tools that we’ve used to date, we have — we have implemented more economic sanctions than we have on any other economy in the world. You could compare it, potentially, to Iran or maybe North Korea, but Russia is a much more significant economy, a larger economy.
And so I wouldn’t say that we are holding back in that sense. We do have additional steps we can take, as we’ve talked about a bit in here before. Obviously, the SWIFT banking system and the implementation of those sanctions happens institution by institution. There are additional individuals that can be sanctioned. We can have new targets. We can deepen the severity of sanctions on existing targets. We can further eject Russia from international economic or- — the international economic order. We can further dire- — deny Russia the capacity to mon- — modernize and diversify its economy, like we have with the export controls and the cutting off of access to a lot of technology. And we can further expose and hold to account the kleptocracy.
These are additional actions we have, additional options we have. And we can take them. And that is a decision that we would make through a discussion internally.
Q But what are you waiting for?
MS. PSAKI: We are — we have additional escalatory steps that we can take. But I would just note that we have not held back. We have done more economic sanctions and had more — put in place more financial consequences than we have in any circumstance ever in the world. So I wouldn’t say that is holding back in any capacity.
Q Jen, does the White House have any insight or assessment of the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia? President Zelenskyy seemed to indicate there’d been some progress, but President Putin’s remarks later did not make the same impression.
MS. PSAKI: We obviously stay in very close touch with the Ukrainians. But what I would note is we haven’t seen any effort to de-escalate from President Putin and from the Russian military.
So while we will continue to be very supportive, in a range of ways, of diplomatic efforts — whether that is engaging directly with the Ukrainians, with the Europeans; you saw obviously Jake Sullivan had a call with his counterpart this morning as well — but we also are providing a range of security assistance and economic assistance to make sure we’re strengthening Ukraine as they go into these discussions.
But it’s hard to have — hard to have negotiations that are going to be effective if, you know, one party is continuing to escalate.
Q President Zelenskyy, in his remarks to Congress today, again made his request for a no-fly zone. He no doubt is aware of President Biden’s position on that. Is there any scenario in which President Biden would change his mind?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the President watched the speech — I know some of you asked this, so let me just do this now. He watched the speech from his residence, in his private library.
As you heard him say, he thought that President Zelenskyy was passionate, was powerful. And certainly he — and he watched the totality of it.
We are in very close touch with the Ukrainians. Nothing that he asked for or said today was a surprise in that sense. And if we were President Zelenskyy, we would be asking for everything possible as well and continuing to ask for it, because he is watching his country and his people be attacked and brutalized by President Putin and the Russian military.
But how President Biden makes decisions is through the prism of our own national security. And as we’ve said before, a no-fly zone would require implementation, it would require us potentially shooting down Russian planes, NATO shooting down Russian planes. And we are not interested in getting into World War Three.
Q Last — just lastly, does the White House view Russia as being ready to go back and allow the Iran nuclear deal to come forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we can’t blissfully speak for Russia — I’m sanctioned; they especially wouldn’t let me speak for them, I guess, now — I don’t know if it’s changed.
But I would say that Russia does not want Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. We don’t either. While we have a range of strong disagreements with them, we can’t speak for their intentions here. Certainly, we believe it’s in both of our interests for this to move forward.
MS. PSAKI: Jen, does the President believe that it would be important for President Zelenskyy to be at the NATO summit next week, as long as it is safe for him to do so?
MS. PSAKI: I have not discussed that exactly with the President. The President is going there to meet with NATO partners and Allies. Obviously, President Zelenskyy is — his country is in the middle of a war. So I have not talked to him about that specifically.
Q I wanted to ask you about Jake Sullivan —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — speaking with his Russian counterpart. The Russian readout said that this happened at the U.S.’s initiative, and the NSC’s readout said that if Russia is serious about diplomacy, then Moscow should stop attacking Ukraine.
You’ve obviously consistently said from the podium that the door to diplomacy is never closed. Are we seeing, though, a ramp-up in diplomatic efforts with Russia right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is the most senior conversation between the U.S. and Russian officials since Secretary Blinken last spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
I would note that we have maintained direct and indirect contact with the Russians, through our embassy and officials there, Ambass- — including through Ambassador Sullivan, and we also have a military deconfliction channel.
But we requested this call to clearly lay out our commitment to continuing to impose costs on Russia if they do not stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns, and to warn them about the consequences and implications of Russia potentially using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
So it’s important to convey those — those consequences directly, and this was an opportunity to do that.
Q And just one final question on a different topic. The administration has marked the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings and spoken about some of the actions that the federal government has tried to take. As you know, this week, an Asian woman in New York, a 67-year-old woman, was hit more than 125 times, was stomped on, was called a racial slur. Obviously, that video is very sickening to watch. Do you know whether the President has seen that video?
And just what would the President’s message be to anyone in the Asian American community who feels like, well, the actions that the government is taking are not enough to stop these attacks and they say that they feel afraid?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that our message to them — I have not talked to the President about this specific video. I’ve seen it; a number of us have seen it. And as you said, it is very difficult to watch.
I would say that his message to them would be: Our work is not done; that we want to stand by your side and continue to stand up for you, to protect you, to call out this type of discrimination and horrific actions, as — and including in the example you gave.
And that what he has done is tried to elevate this type of anti-Asian hate in this country so that people are aware of it, so that communities across the country can continue in that fight as well.
But the work clearly is not done, and we need to be steadfast in it.
Go ahead, David.
Q Jen, a couple of questions on today’s events. So, first, in the conversation that Jake Sullivan had with his Russian counterpart, he issued a very specific warning about chemical and bio. There was no mention in the readout of nuclear, which is obviously a concern for battlefield weapons. Was that a deliberate omission? Has that conversation taken place in a different channel?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to go back to them and see if there’s more we want to read out from the conversation. I think what the most important component here to take away, I hope, is that we wanted to have a direct conversation about what the consequences would be of further escalatory action.
But I don’t have more to read out at this point in time.
Q Okay. And then on your answer, just before, about your concerns about the MiG planes — we went through a little bit of this yesterday — I think you just said that you didn’t want to have NATO pilots bringing down Russian planes. But under the administration’s policy of moving out this long-range anti-aircraft, it’s okay to have NATO equipment bringing down Russian planes, as long as it’s launched by a Ukrainian? Am I understanding the policy right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think — you’ve heard us talk a fair amount about the Poland — the planes from Poland. And again, Poland is a sovereign country so they can make decisions on their own.
What we have done is done an assessment of our role and the U.S. role, and what our view would be of NATO, of this — of these planes taking off from NATO airspace. Again, I would note that the equipment that we’ve provided is defensive, as you know, not offensive. And we see that as being a difference.
We’re also looking at —
Q Because the planes can be used for an offensive purpose and the antimissile systems —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
Q — cannot?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
Also — also, I would note that what our Department of Defense officials also assessed is what’s most effective. And while the Ukrainians still have squadrons of planes to utilize, as I think any military official could confirm for you, the types of assistance that we are providing today, including Stingers and other assistance that we’re amping up support for, is exactly what we feel is effective in fighting this war.
Q Thanks, Jen. Today, in Putin’s speech, he implied that there’s going to be even greater crackdowns on civil liberties inside of Russia. Is there anything that you all believe that you can do, in terms of sanctions or supporting the opposition there, that you all are not already taking?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we look at all of the actions that President Putin does, and we assess what responses we may have.
I have nothing to predict at this point in time, but obviously, as he has taken actions, we have taken actions in response.
Q And then, specifically on the case of Aleksey Navalny, he — prosecutors there just said that they want to sentence him for a 13-year prison sentence. Does the White House have a response to that?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken a number of times in the past about the courage of Aleksey Navalny, about the role he’s played in being an outspoken advocate for freedoms in a country that has been void of them. And I would echo those — that response now.
Q Thanks, Jen. Can you talk a little bit about what President Biden specifically hopes to accomplish in his trip next week —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — beyond shoring up NATO Allies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a big part of it. That’s a very important part, Ashley — shoring up NATO Allies.
Look, I think from the beginning, and even before this conflict began, we have viewed rebuilding alliances in the world as a key component of what the Biden administration and President Biden could specifically do on the global stage following his predecessor’s — his predecessor’s actions.
So what he’ll be doing — he’s — while he’s there: He’s meeting with our NATO Allies to coordinate our deterrence and defense. So they will obviously talk about where things are on the ground, coordinated responses, assistance we’re providing.
NATO, at this point, as you all know, is more united and more determined than we’ve been in decades. So we certainly would — would be focused on continuing that unity.
He would also — he’s also going to join European leaders in a separate part of the day to discuss our work to impose economic costs on Russia. As I noted earlier, there are obviously a range of coordinated steps and costs we’ve taken. There’s more that we could do, we have the capacity and the ability to do, and we want to continue to do as much of that in a coordinated fashion.
We’re also looking to continue to provide a range of humanitarian support, especially as we’re seeing a surge of refugees continue to grow across the border, and, you know, discuss a range of ways we can address the challenges stemmed from Putin’s war in a coordinated fashion.
Q And on a slightly lighter note, does the administration have a position on the effort in Congress to make Daylight Savings Time permanent?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen those reports. I was trying to think of a joke; I couldn’t think of one. I don’t have a specific — we are obviously coordinated and work closely with Congress on all legislation they consider, but I don’t have a specific position from the administration at this point of time.
Q Is it something — is the President more of a morning person or afternoon? (Laughter.) Because people are often divided in those ways, so I’m just curious if you could talk about that.
MS. PSAKI: That is true. Now, to de-link it from this specific question, he is more of an evening person. But I don’t know what analysis you’ll provide, but I’ll look forward to reading it tomorrow.
Q Thank you, Jen. Has President Biden spoken to President Zelenskyy today?
MS. PSAKI: Not since this morning. If he does and when he does, which I’m sure he will soon, we will provide that readout to all of you.
Q Got it. Thanks.
Today, President Zelenskyy made a distinction between a humanitarian no-fly zone and a blanket no-fly zone. Does the administration view them as being different or the same thing?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been descriptions of both of those over the past couple of weeks. And sometimes a humanitar- — and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but a humanitarian no-fly zone can be specific geography or a portion of Western — or parts of Ukraine, whereas a no-fly zone — sometimes people refer to it as the totality of the country.
In our view and the view of the military, there’s not a difference in terms of the implementation and the escalatory impact.
Q Thank you.
And then, today, the Vice President spoke with the President of Slovakia, which is one of three countries that can actually provide those S-300s. But the readout does not mention the missile system. So can you tell us whether the Vice President directly asked Slovakia to provide them to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t get into more specifics, other than to convey that we are having conversations with a range of Allies about providing additional assistance — anti-aircraft assistance.
And again, there are a range of — of systems, including some of the systems that we provided and we are going to be expediting delivery of to Ukraine from the United States.
Q And one more on the warplanes that Zelenskyy asked for today. I mean, you’ve made very clear that the U.S. is opposed to doing that right now. I wonder if the U.S. is also discouraging other NATO Allies from providing fighter jets, even if the U.S. would not have to serve as a middleman.
MS. PSAKI: Other countries can make their own sovereign decisions.
Q Okay. And then one more on the Asian hate crimes, because you mentioned them at the top, too. Do you know if the DOJ has concluded that there is not enough evidence to charge the shooter in Atlanta with a federal hate crime?
MS. PSAKI: I couldn’t speak to that from here. You’d have to ask DOJ that question.
Q Okay. And then, more broadly, since the administration adopted new policies that are meant to make it easier to identify these crimes as hate crimes, do you — can you point to any progress that —
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’d point you to the Department of Justice, who are implementing.
Q Okay. Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Jen. Just one more. I know a lot of people have asked about the MiGs, but can you lay out for us why the administration sees MiGs as provocative and Javelins and Stingers as not provocative?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, Javelins and Stingers are defensive weapons. MiGs or planes are offensive weapons, which are a different type of military system.
I would say the other assessment that we’ve done — not through here, not through the White House, not through the President — from — from the Department of Defense is to assess what is effective and what works in terms of fighting this war on the ground.
And that is why we provided an additional $1 billion — $800 million announced today, but $1 billion this week — of assistance, utilizing a number of the high-level military systems — Stingers, Javelins, counter-artillery, counter-mortar radar, anti-armor systems — that we know have been effective and we know the Ukrainians are trained on.
Third, Ukraine’s Air Force already has several squadrons of mission-capable aircraft, and giving them more would not significantly change their effectiveness.
And finally — I touched on this in the beginning, offensive versus defensive — but we also do risk assessments from the Department of Defense about what would be escalatory and what — and that is obviously what we would like to avoid.
Q And then, John Kirby has said that success for the U.S. mission in Ukraine is a free, independent, sovereign Ukraine. We’ve also heard that the official mission is to prevent escalation beyond Ukraine. Which is it?
MS. PSAKI: Both are true.
Q If we’re not specific about what exactly the desired outcome is, how do we expect to be able to be successful?
MS. PSAKI: Why could — why could both not be true: a sovereign Ukraine and preventing them from expanding beyond?
And then, moving on to the nuclear deal, General McKenzie told the Armed Services Committee that, from everything that he can see, the IRGC is a terrorist organization. Is the White House willing to de-list the IRGC from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list in order to get a deal with Iran?
MS. PSAKI: We’re still in the negotiations, so I’m not going to speculate or outline from here what the final details look like.
Q And these are likely the group responsible for firing missiles at U.S. facilities in Iraq. So as long as Americans aren’t killed, are there — are there are no consequences for something like that, all in an effort to get a nuclear deal?
MS. PSAKI: Again, you’re speculating on something that is not even finalized. The deal is not finalized.
What I would note — and I would just go back to why we’re negotiating this deal. And right now, we’re negotiating this deal because nu- — Iran’s nuclear gains are threatening U.S. interests. There’s urgency to taking steps to contain that, which is why we’ve been engaged so closely.
And that is all the result of President Trump pulling out of the deal, and Iran moving closer to having the capacity and acquiring a nuclear weapon and speeding up their breakout time.
So we are here thanks to the actions of the last president and the last administration. And it is in our interest, it is in the global interest to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thanks, Jen. How quickly can Ukraine expect to receive the list of military aid that President Biden laid out today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have expedited, as you — as you would — as we’ve noted from here, about 300 million dollars’ worth of military and security assistance over the last couple of weeks. We continue to have channels to deliver military assistance. And so, we would continue to work to deliver it quickly.
There have been military deliveries even in the last few days.
Q So, it has been rolling and you’re confident it will continue to be including these new elements that he laid out today?
MS. PSAKI: We continue to have channels to do exactly that, yes.
And the President said, going back now to the long-range air defense systems, that he was working with Allies to acquire them. Can you tell us where they are and what the expectation is in terms of the timeline for getting those systems to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t outline where they are because we’re going to keep those conversations private.
I would note that a great deal of what we’re doing is augmenting the type of effective military assistance that we’re doing from the United States and working to prioritize equipment that they are trained on.
But we are discussing with a range of partners. When we say “Stinger” or “Javelins,” those are brands. There are different kinds of similar assistance or other types of assistance that different allies have around the world.
Q And I want to go back to the MiGs quickly and just be crystal clear about what you’re saying. Because when I asked the President about this earlier, he said he’s not going to comment. He didn’t say that it’s not an option. So —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve spoken to it approximately 167 times. So, maybe he —
Q But —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Well, here’s 168.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q There’s a growing — there’s a growing number of Republicans and Democrats who are supporting the U.S. striking a deal with Poland to send the MiGs. You have Elise Stefanik earlier today saying Ukraine “needs those MiGs.” You have Scalise saying, “Getting [those] MiGs in immediately is…critical.” There’s a growing chorus of voices saying that now is the time.
Has the President reconsidered his stance at all at this point?
MS. PSAKI: No, because our military makes assessments, which — they put out that assessment last week and I would just echo that one part of the assessment is based on what equipment is effective in fighting this war. Anti-armor and air-defense systems, they are effectively defending the country. That is what we have provided additional assistance on.
Second, they have several squa- — squadrons of mission-capable aircraft —
Q But they don’t think that’s enough, Jen. You heard President Zelenskyy —
MS. PSAKI: — that are not being —
Q — very clearly say —
MS. PSAKI: — Kristen, that are not — Kristen, that are not — Kristen, that are not being utilized. This is the assessment by our Defense Department.
Third, they’re also assessing that the transfer to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory.
So this is how our Defense Department is assessing. They’re assessing also that it would not significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force. And these are the types of risk ass- — risk assessments.
We certainly understand. We share the passion, the anger, the horror at what we’re seeing. And that is why we are — we significantly increased the types of military assistance, the types of equipment that we know is effective and our Defense Department has determined is effective in fighting this war.
Q President Zelenskyy ended his speech today by saying, “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.” Is President Biden satisfied that he’s meeting this leadership moment, given that we’re now three weeks into this war?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that President Zelenskyy also thanked the President for the role he’s played. And without President Biden, there would not be 30 countries around the world providing security and military assistance, NATO would not be as aligned as it is, we would not be unified in our implementation of the most crippling sanctions we’ve ever implemented against a foreign country.
We will continue to stand by President Zelenskyy’s side, the side of the Ukrainians and the brave and courageous Ukrainian people, and continue to build on the efforts that have been underway to date.
Q And one more very quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q In the wake of the Second Gentleman testing positive, has President Biden been tested today and has the Vice President been tested?
MS. PSAKI: The — I can check on the Vice President. The President has not been. He was tested on Sunday. He was not a close contact, so we have not changed our testing mechanism.
Let me check on the Vice President. I know they put out some information last night. I’ll see if there’s an update.
Q Thanks, Jen. Can you confirm that Switchblade drones were part of the package? And if so, do you consider that still defensive?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details beyond what was in our factsheet to confirm from here.
Q Okay. And is the U.S. monitoring the hostage situation in Chernobyl? And did that come up in the call with Sullivan today?
MS. PSAKI: We are definitely closely monitoring that situation. And I can check and see if that was a topic of discussion during their call.
Q Also, just lastly here, what does the administration make of the Russian proposal of Ukraine being a demilitarized Austrian-and-Swedish-type model?
MS. PSAKI: As a part of their 15-point discussion?
Q As part of — right.
MS. PSAKI: Look, our focus is on supporting the Ukrainians in their efforts. Obviously, pursuing diplomacy is something we will always support. But as President Putin and the Russian military continues to take escalatory steps on the ground and take military action against civilians and innocent people, we think that is the biggest place where we need to see change.
Q I wanted to ask if you’re — if you’re in a position today to say more about the contours of the President’s travel next week. What’s after Brussels, if anything?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you at this point in time. We’re still finalizing the additional — any additional details.
Q The fact that the Second Gentleman did test positive, does that raise concerns here about the state of — the situation of the country with BA.2 or any other variants that might be around?
MS. PSAKI: It does not. Not from our health officials.
Q Jen, back of the room.
MS. PSAKI: I’ll go to the back in a second.
Q Can I ask just very briefly? Sarah Bloom Raskin —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — withdrew her nomination yesterday.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I’m wondering if you could speak to that. And in particular, will you name a new no- — will the President name a new nominee soon for that post?
MS. PSAKI: He certainly will nominate a new person to serve — to nominate to that post. It’s been less than a day, so it may be a little bit more time.
We are certainly disappointed. Sarah Bloom Raskin remains one of the most highly qualified people to ever be nominated to this position. But it’s an important role, and he will nominate someone to fill the position.
Q Can you speak to how those final, sort of, days played out on that? Did — was there an attempt to get bipartisan support, or was Senator Manchin’s statement sort of seen as the decisive one when that came down?
MS. PSAKI: No. I would say, as I said from this podium, it — there was continued efforts to seek bipartisan support and continue to support her candidacy.
And, sorry, going back to the drones, is your position that the drones were assessed by the Defense Department to not be perceived as escalatory and to not be perceived as offensive weapons?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything more to confirm beyond what was in the factsheet and the specifics in there. But defensive weapons is what we have provided.
MS. PSAKI: I’ll go to the back in a second.
Q The administration — including you, yesterday — have raised very dire warnings about what will happen —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — if this COVID money doesn’t come through.
President Biden held a bill signing yesterday — a very celebratory bill signing for a piece of legislation that that was stripped out of — that funding was stripped out of. Why didn’t the President mention it? And is he willing to expend political capital on this?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, he is. Absolutely. I would say that we have been working around the clock over the last few days, behind the scenes and publicly, to convey very clearly to elected officials across the country and the American people what the impacts will be. So, I would expect you’ll hear from him more soon about it.
Q And on the meeting that Jake Sullivan — or the conversation that Jake Sullivan had with the Russian Security Council Secretary, can you say why that particular person was the one that the U.S. reached out to, why he was the one that Jake had a conversation with? Is there anything about his proximity to Putin or anything else that we should know?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there’s more to detail from here.
Q A couple of questions on Russia. Obviously, the President calling Vladimir Putin personally a “war criminal” today. Are you going to be detailing whether orders to strike maternity wards, residential buildings, innocent children were coming from the very top?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say there’s a legal process where all of the data and information gathered will be fed into any international investigations. That’s led by the State Department.
I think I spoke to this a few minutes earlier, where I conveyed the President was directly answering a question and speaking to his own passion in watching the barbaric actions of a brutal dictator invading a foreign country. But there is a legal process that is ongoing. The State Department has oversight over that.
Q And then the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. published a — an op-ed in the Washington Post. He said that threats against Chinese entities and businesses are unacceptable and, quote, “wielding the baton of sanctions at Chinese companies while seeking” Chinese — “China’s support and cooperation simply won’t work.” I’m wondering if you have a response to that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that our — I don’t believe that’s what we’ve — that’s an accurate depiction of what we’ve been doing. What we’ve been conveying is that rhetorical support or the clear rhetorical lack of denunciation of what Russia is doing flies in the face of what China stands for, including basic principles of the U.N. Charter, including the basic principle of respect for sovereignty of nations. And that’s just a statement of fact.
Obviously, our objective and what we’ll watch closely is — and I don’t have an update on it from here — is, you know, any decision to provide additional support to Russia while they’re invading a foreign country.
Q Thank you. Senator Chuck Grassley has put a hold on nomination of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for U.S. Ambassadorship to India. Has the President spoken with his friend, senator? Or has the White House reached out to him to lift the hold? Or is the White House considering a new name for India? Is the absence of a U.S. Ambassador to India having an impact on your bilateral relationship?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he can’t actually prevent a vote from moving forward on the floor. I mean, he can convey his opposition as is the right of any senator. But Mayor Garcetti is out of committee, and we’re hoping to see a vote on the Senate floor soon. And the President has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he’ll be an excellent representative in India.
It is critical, of course, that we have confirmed leadership at all of our embassies, including India, and we urge the Senate to confirm him as quickly as possible.
Q And in the middle of this war with Ukraine, how are the world’s largest and oldest democracies working together to bring peace in the region?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, as you know, we remain in touch through a range of channels from our national security team with leaders in India, and continue to encourage leaders to work closely with us to — to stand up against President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Q Thanks, Jen. The wheat supplies from both Russia and Ukraine have been disrupted and are forecasted to be disrupted quite a bit going forward. Does the U.S. see the danger, as some have been talking about, about a breakdown, actually, of food supplies to large parts of the world, maybe starting with Africa? Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: This is something we’re watching very closely. I have a little bit of information on this, so let me see if I can find it. Let’s see.
And we are concerned about how the wheat supply could impact different parts of the world, less the United States and more other parts of the world. There are also impacts we could see in the United States, including fertilizer and the production of fertilizer. Ukraine is a large producer of fertilizer. So, there are steps the Department of Agriculture has announced, and we are taking steps to work to address.
But this is something — to go back to your original question — we are monitoring closely and we are, of course, continuing to evaluate what types of humanitarian assistance we can provide to address.
Q Okay. And just a quick one on another part of the world. Taiwan’s foreign minister said just this week — it might have been yesterday — that the U.S. is about to announce more arms sales to Taiwan. Do you have anything on that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to predict, confirm, or read out on that. I’m happy to check with our Defense Department.
Q Thanks, Jen. So, the President has obviously sanctioned a lot of Russian oligarchs. I wonder about some of the laws — our laws that enable this sort of international kleptocracy.
Obviously, the President’s been outspoken about his belief that America’s tax code should be more fair, that it should be enforced better. And I wonder if the President has thought about or has had conversations with people on the Hill about possible legislation that would change some of these laws, make real estate transactions more transparent, require companies and trust to be registered to people by their actual name, prevent Americans from using offshore banks as tax havens. Any of that under consideration?
MS. PSAKI: A number of those he’s expressed support for in the past. I’m happy to check with our economic team and see if any of those are under discussion.
Q But no sense that those talks have picked up in the last few weeks?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have an update on it.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Just to get back to Jake Sullivan’s call: You noted when you were first talking about it that this was the most senior conversation between the U.S. and Russia since Secretary Blinken’s last conversation with Lavrov. So, why now? Why today? Has something changed that’s given the administration any reason to think this could produce some progress — a call like this?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t put that much optimism in it. I would say that there have been ongoing direct and indirect conversations with the Russians. It’s not that it stopped at any point. We’ve — they’ve — those have happened through our Ambassador, and it just felt like the appropriate time for our National Security Advisor to have a discussion and directly convey that there will be additional consequences should things proceed, including if there is a use of chemical weapons.
Q I guess, to ask you the inverse then —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — would there be any increasing concerns that prompted that call today?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that, you know, diplomatic conversations and talks — there isn’t always a magic reason why they happen in a particular moment. And this was — just felt like the appropriate time for them, for us to engage at that level.
Go ahead. I have to wrap up in a second here, but go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. You put out a list of all of the military equipment —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — included in that $400 million — $800 million —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — that’s being provided to Ukraine. Among those items — let me read them to you: 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, and 400 shotguns. Are you saying those items are not offensive weapons?
MS. PSAKI: They’re weapons that help the Ukrainian people fight against an invasion by a foreign country.
Q They can be used offensively, can they not?
MS. PSAKI: Again, they are weapons. What I’m talking about is weapons that can be used to fight —
Q The answer is “yes.” The answer is “yes.” I mean, although you don’t want to say it, that answer to that question is “yes.” And so, obviously, you’re trying to make this distinction between offensive and defensive weapons —
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’re talking about — let me finish. Let me finish.
Q Well, let me finish, because I give you my point —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my answer.
Q — you make — no, you weren’t — no, I was finishing a point, and then you can respond to my point.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
Q All right. You’re making this distinction between offensive and defensive weapons. Anybody that looks at that list of weapons that I just mentioned, they would say, clearly, they’re offensive.
If a Ukrainian military officer or someone who is enlisted has one of these weapons, they can take out a Russian military official of some sort with these weapons. They’re offensive in nature. So, why not provide more offensive weapons like this to the Ukrainian military?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, we are providing a range of rifles, et cetera. There is a difference between a plane and planes and massive military systems — I think anybody would recognize this — and what we’re talking about, which is giving rifles and pistols to many of them farmers and people living in countrysides to defend themselves. I think there’s a difference that most people recognize.
Thank you, everyone, so much. Have a nice day.
Q Jen, you promised the back of the room today.
MS. PSAKI: I will get to you tomorrow. I’m sorry, I have to wrap up. I apologize.
Q There’s going to be another kerfuffle, Jen. (Laughter.) No more kerfuffles!
3:52 P.M. EDT