Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, March 18, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:25 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. There’s a lot of pink in this room today. (Laughter.) Zeke — Zeke and Mary are going to the prom together. (Laughter.) Well, you know.
Okay, just one item for all of you at the top.
On Monday, the President will join the Business Roundtable CEO Quarterly Meeting at their headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss the United States’ response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war with Ukraine and the President’s plans to lower costs for working families, create good-paying union jobs, and tackle the climate crisis.
On Wednesday, as you all know, he will travel to Brussels, Belgium, where he will have a packed Thursday. He will — he’s traveling that day; there’s not a schedule that day. But eat your Wheaties, eat your spinach. It’s going to be a long Thursday — because on Thursday, to start the day, the President will attend an extraordinary NATO summit to discuss ongoing deterrence and defense efforts in response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine.
He will also reaffirm our ironclad commitment to our NATO Allies and to defend every inch of our NATO territo- — of NATO territory.
Then he will join a scheduled European Council summit to discuss our shared concerns about Ukraine, including transatlantic efforts to impose economic sanctions on Russia, provide humanitarian support to those affected by the violence, and address other challenges related to the conflict.
Later in the day, he will attend the G7 meeting called by Germany to further discuss with our Allies and partners the consequences we are imposing on Russia for its war of choice.
We’ll have more announcements, I’m certain, on the trip in the days ahead. I don’t have additional details. We’ve also, of course, invited our National Security Advisor, who always enjoys engaging with all of you, to join us to preview the trip early next week. So we’re just figuring out the date and the time depending on when the charter leaves.
With that, Zeke why don’t you kick us off?
Q No updates on the Friday schedule?
MS. PSAKI: Don’t have any updates at this point in time.
Q On to the President’s call this morning with President Xi — does the White House now have a sense of whether or not China has decided whether to assist Russia and backfill its supplies and fulfill its request for materiel in support of its invasion of Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to give an assessment of that from here. What I can tell you is that the majority of this call, as I think you heard — you saw in the readout, and you heard, I think, on the call we just did, but was focused on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The President spent — the vast majority of the nearly two hours was spent with the President outlining the views of the United States and our Allies and partners on this crisis, including a detailed overview of efforts to prevent and then respond to the invasion, how we got here, steps we’ve taken, where we’ve gone, and why.
And, of course, as was also noted in the readout but let me just reiterate, he also conveyed and described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia. But again, I’m not going to provide any additional assessment from here.
Q The President has cast the efforts to sort of build up the Western alliance as sort of, like, democracies versus autocracies.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q One very large — the largest democracy in the world is, in fact, buying Russian oil right now at a discount — expanding its purchases, taking advantage of the situation. Does the White House have any response to India’s purchases there? And does the President plan to reach out to the Indian government to try to get that decision reversed?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have not — while we made a decision about banning the Russian import of oil, every country has not made that decision, and we recognize that. And they have different economic reasoning as to why different countries do, including some in Europe.
We have been in touch, of course, with Indian leaders at a range of levels, not through the President. If that happens, we will, of course, provide that readout and information to all of you.
But what we would project or convey to any leader around the world is that the world — the rest of the world is watching where you’re going to stand as it relates to this conflict, whether its support for Russia in any form as they are illegally invading Ukraine.
Q And on a different topic. On COVID, (inaudible) we saw this week Pfizer request a EUA for a fourth shot or a second booster dose for seniors. And Moderna, last night, boosters for all adults — another round of boosters. Does the federal government have the money right now to purchase the doses needed to give everyone the boosters should be FDA and the CDC clear that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to reiterate some of the pieces of where the process is: So, the CDC does recommend fourth doses for the immunocompromised — although it hasn’t been, of course, as you noted, approved for others — and they’re running a vigorous data-driven process. And right now, over 100 million Americans have been boosted; millions more have not done so and are eligible to do so and need to get boosted.
But to go to your question, we’ve been clear we need additional funding from Congress. You’ve heard me talk about that a fair amount in here, including for the possibility of a fourth dose or a variant-specific vaccine. So we would indeed need additional funding to ensure that can be widely available.
Q During the readout of this call, a senior official said that the President was really sort of laying out his assessment of the situation to President Xi, that he was making clear the implications of certain actions but that President Biden wasn’t making specific requests of China. Why not, given the stakes here?
MS. PSAKI: Because China has to make a decision for themselves about where they want to stand and how they want the history books to look at them and view their actions. And that is a decision for President Xi and the Chinese to make.
Q Given the growing concerns about China possibly aligning with Russia, would you say it’s more concerning at this point that they would help Russia resupply, help Russia with military equipment, or that they would offer economic support to help Russia evade sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Any of those would be concerning to us, but I’m not going to give a rank-order assessment of which we’re more concerned about.
Q And you don’t have a sense that China may be leaning more in one direction or another?
MS. PSAKI: Not an assessment I can provide from here.
Q And can I ask sort of a logistical question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You know, the Chinese got out a readout of the call fairly quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Before it was even done. (Laughter.)
Q It was, I think, three and a half, maybe four hours before —
MS. PSAKI: Remarkable.
Q — before your readout was out. Should we read anything into the time that it took to get your side of the story out?
MS. PSAKI: So, it was a lengthy call, as you all know. A two-hour call is, of course, a lengthy call, even with translation. And what typically happens — and this time, it was a little longer than typical — but is — there’s a — you know, a meeting to discuss what happened during the meeting and assess what kind of information we can provide publicly.
Obviously, we want to do as much as that as possible to all of you, but we also want to ensure we’re protecting the diplomatic channels and conversation. So it was an effort to do exactly that.
Q Yeah, I just wanted to ask — so, you know, we’ve spoken to U.S. and European diplomats who say that there’s still not exactly an agreement on what the red line would be; that — you know, what — when China would face consequences.
Can you say a little bit more about those discussions and whether there is agreement with G7 allies and others who have joined in about what the trigger is and what sort of consequences they would face?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Andrea, I would say, you know, the movement of China to align with Russia or to — yeah, the movement of them to align with Russia or their proximity of moving closer together is certainly of great concern to us, as we’ve expressed. And we are not the only country that has expressed that concern, including many other members of the G7 have expressed exactly that concern.
So this is part of the discussion; it has been an ongoing part of the discussion. Expect it certainly would be when the President goes to Europe next week. But we’re not in a place at this point to outline the specifics. We’re still discussing.
Q And then, just to follow up on that: Initially, I think going into the call, we were expecting that there would be discussion about Iran and North Korea as well. Did the two leaders get around to those issues? And are they any closer in terms of alignment on those issues?
And then, just to your first point — or your response: One of the issues that has separated the U.S. and China over — in recent years has been disputes over trade and lots of tariffs. And would you anticipate that China would face a larger trade war if — or additional sanctions and tariffs if it does proceed to align closer — more closely?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have a range of tools that could be considered, and sanctions are certainly one tool in the toolbox, as they are for other countries as well, even if we — as we have not outlined specific consequences. And we’ll communicate those directly to China and, of course, with our European partners and counterparts.
The call was focused, as the readout conveyed — the vast majority of it was on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. But also, the issue of Taiwan was raised by the Chinese, and the President reiterated the U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed. That was really the vast majority of the focus of the call.
Obviously, there are a range of issues and topics we discussed with the Chinese. And as a part of this call, there was an agreement on ensuring there was an open line of communication and that the discussion would continue in this critical period ahead, of course at lower levels.
Q During this two-hour call, did President Xi ever refer to it as an “invasion”?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let President Xi and his team outline any more specifics about his component of the conversation.
Q Why not reveal if he called it an invasion or called it a war, given he’s not (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Because we don’t, as a policy, speak for other countries. They can speak for themselves.
Q Yesterday, Secretary Blinken said the administration was concerned that China is considering answering Russia’s requests for more military equipment. After this two-hour call, does the White House still have that concern?
MS. PSAKI: We have that concern. The President detailed, you know, what the implications and consequences would be if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians. And obviously, that is something we will be watching and the world will be watching.
Q So, that concern hasn’t gone away following the call?
MS. PSAKI: Obviously, actions are a key part of what we’ll be watching.
Q And Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says that Russia will view any weapons shipments into Ukraine as, quote, “legitimate targets.” Obviously, President Biden just authorized $800 million in more security assistance — aka weapons, potentially — going into Ukraine. So, what is the President’s response to that comment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s a threat that he has made before, I would just note — Foreign Minister Lavrov. I would note that — just in terms of how it works, without getting into too many logistics — of course, there are no U.S. troops operating inside Ukraine. Our forces are in NATO territory, and so are NATO forces in NATO territory.
So, as we’re talking about the operations of the movement of convoys and the movement of assistance, that — those are not the bodies that would be moving those assistance within Ukraine.
So, beyond that, though, I would say, of course, we — we watch closely what the actions are — the continued escalatory actions of — of the Russians. And — and we will watch closely if they follow up on that threat.
I would remind you all that all of the convoys are not just moving military assistance; many of them are moving humanitarian assistance as well — food, you know, and other aid that is getting to people who have been injured through this brutal invasion.
Q I guess the question is: How concerned are you about being able to get all $800 million of that assistance that’s obviously so critically needed into Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we continue to have the means of getting that assistance in. And we have effectively been doing that in recent days, so we will continue to work through those channels.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. Did President Biden directly ask President Xi if he intends to help Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he made clear what the implications and the consequences would be if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians. And that made clear what the consequences would be should they do that.
Q But did he ask, “Do you intend to help Russia — yes or no?”
MS. PSAKI: I think making clear what the consequences are made clear we don’t want them to do it.
Q So can you offer any explanation for why the U.S. still has concerns after this call?
MS. PSAKI: Because we’ll — we’ll continue to watch until we see what actions they take or don’t take.
Q Okay. And following up on Andrea’s question, does the administration view any distinction between financial support and military support for Russia? Or will the consequences — will there be consequences regardless of what kind of aid?
MS. PSAKI: We would watch closely, and there — we would be prepared for there to be consequences, but we would look closely on what it is and we would align with our partners around the world.
Q And is it going to be escalatory consequences, like we’ve seen with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical at this point in time. We’ll have those discussions directly with the Chinese and directly with our European partners.
Q And one more. Short of getting any guarantees from China that they are not going to help Russia, and short of China condemning Russia for its actions, what is it about the call that President Biden thinks “went well,” as he said to one of my colleagues?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it was an opportunity for the President to convey directly what our detailed efforts have been, what we have seen on the ground, how we have responded to the invasion, why we have the significant level of concern that we have, and also to convey very directly, leader to leader, what the implications and consequences would be if Russia provides material support.
And that leader-to-leader engagement and opportunity for there to be a continuing discussion, certainly the President sees as a positive — as a positive development.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple of days ago, you described Javelins and Stingers as “defensive weapons” and MiGs and planes as “offensive weapons.” So how do we classify the armed drones that we’re sending?
MS. PSAKI: Any — I would remind everybody that Russia is invading Ukraine, not the other way around. Ukraine is not invading Russia; they are not going into a foreign country and invading that country.
And what we’re sending to Ukraine is security assistance, all of it, and weapons that they are effectively using to defend their country against Russian aggression. And that is how all of this material would be categorized.
Q In that sense, then, wouldn’t MiGs also be defensive since Ukraine is defending itself from attacks from Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, this is all assessments made by our Defense Department, but I would tell you that as it relates to the transfer of fighter planes from a U.S. base in Germany into contested Ukrainian airspace where our military and intelligence community determine the benefits provided to Ukraine’s defense are low and the risks of escalation are high, that is how we assess that.
But also, those type of planes would be a different category of military assistance.
Q It seems like we’re splitting hairs over semantics in terms of how we’re classifying some of these weapon systems. And obviously, the President has gotten some criticism from both sides of the aisle for, even when he takes action, sometimes doing it after there’s been a lot of political pressure — for instance, on imposing the sanctions, on sending the Stingers and the Javelins, on banning Russian oil.
So if there’s any chance that the U.S. is going to facilitate the transfer of MiGs in some way, why not just do it now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve outlined pretty clearly why we’ve made the decision not to do that, including the fact that they have multiple squadrons of planes that they can utilize and the fact that, most importantly, the types of assistance that we’ve been providing — anti-armor, anti-tank, anti-missiles — is what is effective in fighting this war on the ground. That is why we’ve provided that assistance.
None of the weapons we’ve sent to Ukraine could be used to launch an invasion of another — of a country like Russia. That’s a fact. That’s why we call them defensive weapons. That’s why the Defense Department calls them defensive weapons.
And I would remind everybody that they are the country that are under attack.
Q I want to move on to the Iran talks. This week, the President said that “we are crippling Putin’s economy with punishing sanctions [that are] only going to grow more painful over time…” But the State Department said that the administration would not sanction Russian participation in nuclear projects that are part of the JCPOA.
So how does the administration justify calling for such strong sanctions on Russia but giving them a pass when it comes to Iran? Isn’t that hypocritical in some sense?
MS. PSAKI: There’s absolutely no pass given. They’re not getting additional assistance or sanctions relief of any sort. They have an implementation role — they’ve had an implementation role in the past as it relates to the Iran nuclear deal, and that is certainly what we would be talking about in this regard.
But for clarity purposes, there’s absolutely no — no additional sanctions assistance that Russia would be receiving that is outside of the Iran nuclear deal.
Q So — but just carving out what’s already there and giving it protection that it — that it will not be sanctioned?
MS. PSAKI: Well, to explain to you or for those of you who have covered: Back in 2015 — you may remember this — that there was — there have been roles in the past that Russia has played in terms of the movement or the protection — the nuclear protections, in some capacity, of — as we’re implementing the Iran deal.
And that’s what we’re really referring to. That’s part of the discussion and the deal.
Q This is a new deal that we’re doing.
MS. PSAKI: It’s the similar implementation components. It’s implementation and discussion around a similar deal that was discussed back in 2015.
Q And then, the Director of National Intelligence Annual Threat Assessment last month said that Iran has threatened to kill former and current U.S. officials in retaliation for the U.S. killing the IRGC’s leader, Qasem Soleimani. So, do those threats constitute terrorism?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would just remind you all that where we are — one, I’m not going to confirm or get into specifics about any threats through intelligence channels.
But what — where we are right now —
Q It’s a public report, though.
MS. PSAKI: Well, where we are right now is that not only has Iran’s nuclear program advanced, but their behavior in the region and beyond has gotten more aggressive, including by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
So, the notion that the actions of the past administration pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal has — has cut down on the actions or the escalatory behavior of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is inaccurate.
They’ve actually — the Iranian government has actually doubled their budget or something like that.
So, the notion that the approach — that the status quo is effective and making us safer just doesn’t bear out in any form of facts.
Q So, they should not, then — the IRGC — be delisted from the terrorist blacklist?
MS. PSAKI: There’s an ongoing negotiation. I’m not going to get into specifics of it. But I would just note that the status quo where we stand has done nothing to make us safer in any regard. In fact, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard has only been strengthened.
Q Jen, I want to follow up with you on the call. You have, from the podium and in the readout — it says the President described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia.
So, to be clear, did President Biden warn President Xi not to send any support to Russia?
MS. PSAKI: I think he made clear what the implications and consequences would be if he did. That is laying out what the consequences would be. President Xi has to decide what he’s going to do here.
Q And not to split hairs, but is it fair to characterize that as a “warning”?
MS. PSAKI: I would characterize it exactly as I said it.
Q And did President Biden and President Xi discuss the possibility of lifting sanctions and/or tariffs as a way to get China (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: This was not about carrots. This was about laying out what the implications and consequences would be.
Q Did the President step away from the phone call and have a sense that he can work with China as it relates to Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he came away feeling that he had conveyed clearly what the implications and consequences would be, and also that he had the opportunity to lay out specifically what steps we’ve taken, why, and what we’re seeing on the ground.
And he also said that we would continue conversations at — task the teams to continue conversations. So that indicates that we will continue to engage with them.
Q I want to follow up with you on something we’ve been discussing throughout the week: the issue of refugees. Newsweek has reported that the U.S. is actually detaining Ukrainian refugees in the ICE detention centers — those who are seeking entry into the country — which seems like a contradiction of President Biden saying that he would welcome them here. Can you tell us why this is happening and what’s being done?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t confirm any specific cases. I’d point you to the Department of Homeland Security.
But what I would say is that we are still implementing our immigration laws at the border. That means that Title 42 is in place. And for individuals who come through, you know, abnormal migration, we approach that through the same laws and implementation. When the President says he would welcome refugees, of course he would, but they have to apply through the refugee programs.
Q Understood. But do you acknowledge, Jen, that detaining them is a contradiction to President Biden saying he would welcome them with open arms?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Kristen, we implement and we — our immigration laws across the board, no matter what country you come from. And that has been our case and approach from the beginning.
Welcoming refugees means applying through the refugee process. And again, as I’ve said in here, we’re looking at a range of options, including providing a broad range of humanitarian assistance to the countries where the vast majority of refugees are going.
Q Is it a priority for President Biden to address this situation so that refugees are not being detained at ICE detention centers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we are continuing to apply our immigration laws at the border. And so, refugees who want to come to the United States — of course we would welcome Ukrainian refugees. That is why — but they have to apply through the existing programs.
There’s an ongoing discussion about what programs or what steps we could take. And we certainly — that’s an important conversation and process internally.
Where we have put all of our efforts to date — the vast majority of them to date has been on providing a historic amount of funding to countries in the region, including a huge amount — billions of dollars — that has been approved through the omnibus bill the President just signed into law to make sure that the countries that are welcoming the vast majority of these refugees have assistance and support and aid that they need.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Jen, you mentioned Taiwan. Will the U.S. deliver Javelins and Stingers on time this year to Taiwan? Can you answer that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you on military assistance to Taiwan. I would point you to the Department of Defense.
Q And a separate question, real quick. The White House — is it aware of ongoing destruction and vandalism of Catholic churches across the United States, statues as well? Is the President aware of that destruction taking place right now across the U.S.?
The most recent example is in Florida, at the Holy Family Catholic Church; in Royal Oak, Michigan, St. Mary Catholic Church; in Georgia, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. All vandalized, destroyed. (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: We can assure you that the President, the White House, and the United States would oppose any destruction or desecration of religious institutions of any kind. And certainly, Catholic churches — the President himself is a Catholic, of course.
Q And finally, does the President believe that perhaps Pope Francis could play a role in mediating an end to this Ukraine crisis — the war?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything on Pope Francis’s role. Obviously, we’re focusing our efforts at this point in time in engaging with our European allies and counterparts around the world.
Go ahead, Ashley.
Q Jen, thanks. If President Biden does not make a second stop on his trip abroad next week, as has been rumored, to Poland or to some other place, what would be the reason? Would it be security concerns? Would it not be wanting to visit refugees at the border to draw resources away from that crisis?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have more on the trip soon, so I don’t want to get too ahead of where we may or may not be.
But we factor in a range of factors whenever we make any travel plans, including pulling resources away, as you noted; including security concerns; including, you know, ensuring that we can implement it effectively.
But we pulled this trip together pretty quickly, so we’re working as quickly as we can to get any other details finalized.
Q And one more on a different topic. Following up on what my colleague asked yesterday, President Zelenskyy mentioned in his address this idea of a “U24. United for Peace.”
What — it’s a little unclear, to me at least, what exactly that would look like. I mean, what is the White House’s understanding of what he’s asking for? Is that an alternative to NATO? What role would it fill? Can you try to fill in some of those gaps?
MS. PSAKI: We just don’t have any other assessment or explanation from here. I mean, I’d certainly point you to the Ukrainians to discuss in more detail. We talk with them regularly.
Q But have they not conveyed any of that to you?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I would let them speak for their own proposals.
Q Jen, did — when the President spoke to President Xi, did he set out any particular benchmarks by which he would measure their compliance, either financially, on the arms issue? Any timeframes out there?
In other words, did he lay — did he come to some kind of understanding or declaration to President Xi about how he would be measuring success?
MS. PSAKI: Success in terms of whether or not he provides material support?
Q That’s right.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to outline on that for you. I would just say that the call was not about making asks. It wasn’t about making assessments. It was about having an ongoing discussion and dialogue about the illegal invasion — the invasion of — of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Q And was there any discussion of the agreement that President Xi reached with President Putin, just at the opening of the Olympics?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more details on the call to read out beyond what we’ve conveyed to date.
Q Yeah, what can you say about the severity of the implications and consequences for Rus- — for China if they do, indeed, in the estimation of the U.S., provide material support to Russia? I mean, are these to the level where it should really make China think twice before assisting Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s up to President Xi and the Chinese to make that decision.
But the President, again, laid out very clearly and directly in the call what the implications and consequences would be if they provided material support.
Q Why is the White House choosing not to elaborate and disclose more about what the consequences could be here?
MS. PSAKI: Because we feel that it would be most constructive to have those conversations directly with the Chinese.
Q Hi. A senior administration official just told us that the Pres- — that President Biden didn’t make any specific requests to Xi and that China will make its own decisions. But we’re hearing that —
MS. PSAKI: I think I just said that too.
MS. PSAKI: There you go.
Q But we’re nearing a pretty critical point in the war where, according to your own assessment, Russia seems poised to potentially deploy bio or chemical weapons. How much time is there for China to really weigh in here with Putin? And why not press for that while on the call?
MS. PSAKI: I think that the primary focus of this call was for the President to lay out specifically the consequences and specifically where we’ve come to date. His assessment was that was the most constructive way to spend the call and that it’s going to be up to President Xi and the Chinese to determine what role they’re going to play moving forward.
Q Implications and consequences.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I’m asking about this again because —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — in the leadup to Russia’s invasion, the White House was really extremely transparent, laying out in call after call and briefing after briefing a lot of the specifics that we then saw implemented.
Why, in this case, is it just saying “implications and consequences” and not giving those same specifics?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Because we feel it’s the most constructive way to engage and have a constructive dialogue.
Q But just to — just to clarify: The specifics were given out in detail on this call, it sounds like what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Every — every — well, again, I’m not going to give you more details about the level of detail, but it was a detailed engagement. I’m not going to outline that more from here.
But it was — he was — again, he was specific about what he described on the call.
Q Hi, Jen. I hope I’m not beating a dead horse here.
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay.
Q Yeah, okay. It’s Friday.
So, you said recently the point of this call would be to see where Xi stands.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q You’re obviously reluctant to tell us where Xi stands, based on that call. And you point to the Chinese, but their readout, if you’ve read it, is — yeah — doesn’t tell you much either.
So, can you at least say, after a two-hour call: Is the White House confident and knows where Xi stands and you just don’t want to tell us? Or are you not telling us because you don’t really understand where he stands?
MS. PSAKI: I think what I can tell you is that they tasked the teams with having continued discussions, but I’m not going to provide you any additional assessment from here.
Go ahead, in the middle.
Q How does President Biden define the current Chinese and U.S. relationship right now? Have you scheduled more communications, meetings, calls?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, they tasked the teams to follow up on today’s conversation and on — in this critical period ahead. I don’t have anything in terms of when that will take place, but that was part of it.
Q Jen, following the recent Texas primary election, the AP is reporting that roughly 13 percent of ballots were discarded following, you know, new state-wide election laws. One, is the White House concerned about these new numbers? And has the White House put in any new plan to try and get some sort of federal voting rights legislation or executive order enact — put into implementation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly we will continue to stay — we remain committed — the President and the Vice President remain committed to doing everything we can to get voting rights legislation passed and move forward. And these reports are certainly a reminder of how important that is.
In terms of the specifics of it, I’d really point you to the Democratic Party Committee on the political side of this, and I will see if our team has any other specific reaction from here.
Q I have one other question.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q We know next week the Supreme Court nominee Jus- — or Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be going forward with hearings. There are some new accusations from Capitol Hill, some Republicans still saying that she’s soft on crime.
Senator Josh Hawley, for instance, saying that she is soft, particularly, on sex offenders. What is the White House’s response to these new accusations? And are you at all concerned that it might taint public view as we go into hearings next week.
MS. PSAKI: I think, as we broadly look at it, I mean, after weeks of trying hard to find some way to attack Judge Jackson — first saying that she was an affirmative action pick, then saying she was the product of dark money, then saying she should be — she should be suspect because she was a public defender — a group of far-right Republican senators, as you noted, have launched a last-ditch, eve-of-hearing desperation attack on her record on sentencing in sexual offense cases.
What is important here, I think, are the facts. And the facts are that in the vast majority of cases involving child sex crimes broadly, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or U.S. probation recommended.
And so this attack that we’ve seen over the last couple of days relies on factual inaccuracies and taking Judge Jackson’s record wildly out of context. It dishonestly took a snippet of a transcript out of context, when in fact, Judge Jackson was repeating something a witness said in order to ask a question about their testimony. It also admits that — omits that the Sentencing Commission Report mentioned was unanimously approved by the Commission and is by law — which is, by law, bipartisan with equal representation.
So we’re going to continue from here to reiterate what the actual facts are, and we hope that those who are taking this process seriously — or state that they are taking this process seriously — will also look to the facts and not disingenuous attacks.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions about COVID. You talked earlier, to Zeke’s question, about the additional funding being needed to ensure that the fourth-dose boosters would be widely available.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Secretary Becerra said today that, hopefully, soon the government will be telling parents of kids under five that they can get their kids vaccinated. And he said that will also put strain on the system. Is there any chance that the vaccine doses for the kids under five wouldn’t be available if this COVID money doesn’t come through?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not about available; I think it’s about making them free. So — because, obviously, these companies are going to produce doses. If it’s — if and when, at some point — as a — as a mother of a child under five, God willing, soon — making them available.
But what we want to be able to do is continue to make them free. So that is where our focus and our concern is. And obviously, beyond that, for people who are uninsured, for people who don’t have the resources to cover the cost of a fourth dose or a vaccine for their kid or otherwise, this is pretty important that we move this funding forward so that we can continue to provide these type of programs across the country.
Q But if there isn’t additional funding, would this be the first age group that would not get free shots potentially? Like are you counting on that money to make sure that those doses are free?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our COVID team on it. Obviously, they look — since it hasn’t been approved yet, what we’ve been able to do is outline for you what programs would have to be ended or halted and the timeline of them. But I can check with them and see if there’s any specific planning for this.
But obviously, if we don’t have funding, it’s hard to make vaccines for anyone free.
Q Thanks, Jen. There was a report earlier today that Iran secretly set up banking and finance system to get around the U.S.-led sanctions. I’m wondering if the U.S. has a response to that, and if you think it might complicate the negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check with our team on that. I don’t have confirmation of the accuracy of that, so let me check with our team and see if we have concerns and what our response would be.
Q And then, earlier this week, you were asked whether Jake Sullivan, in his conversation with his Russian counterpart, brought up the hostages at Chernobyl. You said you’d check. I’m just wondering if you had any updated info on that?
MS. PSAKI: I did mean to get back to you on that. I apologize. So, let me venture to do that this afternoon.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions. First, on the call, there’s been, in recent days, concerns voiced by U.S. officials about China amplifying Russian disinformation about the situation there. Did come up on the call? What was said?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more details. We’ve obviously been very vocal about our concern on that front, but I don’t have more details about whether that was part of the discussion.
Q And secondly, an update on — earlier this week, the Second Gentleman tested positive for COVID. Can you give us an update on the Vice President? Has she tested again since?
MS. PSAKI: She did, and she tested negative again today.
Q Today. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Patsy.
Q Thanks, Jen. You mentioned that on the call the President focused on Ukraine, the Chinese side raised the issue of Taiwan. Obviously, you’re not giving us any specifics on sanctions, export controls, and such, but was there a discussion about broader trade relations between the U.S. and China?
And then I’ll have a follow-up question specific about American investments in Chinese tech firms after that.
MS. PSAKI: Well, the vast — the vast, vast majority of the call was about those two topics. So, beyond that, I don’t have more to read out for you, but that was really the focus of the call.
Q Okay. And so, a couple of administration officials have been advocating that the President issues an executive order that ban — that would ban American investments in Chinese tech firms. What is the status of that? What is causing the delay? Does it have anything to do with the TikTok-Oracle deal? Is there an anticipated timeline?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update or preview of what that looks like at this point in time.
Q Okay. Can I ask one more thing on the — on the global pandemic response?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q With the House of Representatives slashing the $5 billion that you’ve asked from the omnibus bill, do you have a plan B in trying to meet the goal of delivering what the rest of the 700 million, now, out of the 1.2 billion doses that you have pledged?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can certainly check on how many of those have already been purchased, which I think would be a helpful piece of information.
But there is not a secret fund that we have not told you about to continue to provide the type of free programs we have in the United States, or to provide the level of international assistance that we would like to continue to provide.
But let me check and see, of those doses we’ve committed, if there is a set number that have already been purchased.
Q But, so, basically, if there is no more money, then there will be no more doses other than the ones that’s already been purchased because there might not even be any money for the delivery of those doses that have already been purchased, right?
MS. PSAKI: We need — we need additional funding to continue to be the arsenal of vaccines in the world.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to go back to the Supreme Court nomination hearings for next week.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Can you talk — in the President’s schedule, you didn’t mention that. And obviously, he’s not testifying in the nomination hearing.
MS. PSAKI: No. Not that we’re tracking. (Laughter.) But, yes.
Q Can you talk about how this White House is preparing, how Judge Jackson is preparing for next week; how the President will be involved — given he’s got a lot going on next week as well?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that Judge Jackson, as you know, has a whole team of people internally and externally who has been helping her through the preparation process.
And she — which won’t surprise anyone — started studying and practicing and preparing as soon as she was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, and that process has obviously picked up over the last couple of days. And so our team will be closely watching and monitoring the hearings next week.
I’m sure we’ll be responding to the inevitable doses of misinformation that travel out as well.
Q I also wanted to ask about COVID testing. The administration announced that families could order a second round of rapid tests a few weeks — a few weeks ago? — I don’t know when it was, but recently.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, in the State of the Union.
Q Yes, thank you. Could you provide an update on how many tests you’ve shipped at this point and whether there’s been interest in that second round?
MS. PSAKI: I can certainly check and see if we have an updated number. I know there has been interest, but we’ll see if there is an updated number to provide.
Brian, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Jen. I wanted to ask about the rapport between Xi and President Biden. The two men have shared a meal together. They’ve known each other for more than 10 years.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q This is an important moment in U.S.-Chinese relations. How did their personal rapport play into today’s call?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say they know each other. As you’ve noted, they’ve spent time together, they’ve had a range of direct and candid conversations. This is not the first. And that certainly contributes to the President’s ability to be as direct as he is, whether it is laying out how — where we’ve come from and why we are at this point, and his great concerns and significant concerns about Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and also what the implications and consequences would be.
So, there’s no question that the President’s time on the world stage, his prior relationship with President Xi, having spent time with him, engaged with him directly, had many multi-hour calls and meetings with him contributes to his ability to have those type of conversations.
Q Did the President bring up those past meetings in this two-hour call today?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think there is a reason to bring them up. They both know that they’ve had past meetings, so, you know, I think it just starts the meeting from an understanding of where the other is coming from.
Q Yeah, in the first event with the President today, why didn’t the President chose to address the phone call personally between he and President Xi?
MS. PSAKI: Because it was about a different topic, and there’s a lot of things the American people care deeply about, so it was his effort to communicate about a range of thi- — a range of issues.
Q But when you have the leader of the largest economy in the world and the second-largest economy in the world, and they’re talking, they call could fall on either side of an invasion, you know, the American people might want to hear directly from the President.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve provided a range of updates, briefings, readouts, and hopefully you all will be effective, as I’m sure you will, in communicating that to the American people.
Q And one more thing — on the call, did the President push China about business — the Chinese companies doing business in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first that, you know, the President, as we all have made clear that there have been implications, as you see, while we have not asked companies to take specific steps, you look at Russia and what’s happened there and what the implications have been for the Russian economy of companies pulling out.
And I know that’s certainly something for every country to watch as they’re making decisions about which side of this conflict they’re going to stand on.
Q Thanks, Jen. Poland is calling for an international peacekeeping mission in the Ukraine. Is that something the U.S. would entertain or support and possibly participate in?
MS. PSAKI: I’d have to get more details on what that looks like. I’m happy to talk with our national security team about that.
Q And then I have, like, a fun Friday question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughs.)
Q The House passed the CROWN Act, which bans
discrimination based on hairstyle. Is this something the administration supports? Would they sign it into law if the Senate passed it?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen that. I have not talked to our legislative team about it. I’m happy to do that. And we’ll see if we can get you a fun Fru- — fun Friday answer back.
Q Thanks, Jen. In response to the mistreatment of African immigrants fleeing Ukraine, the White House did put out a statement a couple of weeks ago saying that they received assurances from the U.N. and Ukrainian authorities in government that they’re committed to the fair and equal treatment of those seeking departure.
But doubling down, what are those assurances? Because we’re still hearing a lot of stories of incidents that are happening with those who are trying to flee.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it is — it is something we continue to watch closely. And we have seen reports of — that — you know, that we would be — we are concerned about. So we would just raise those concerns we have directly, and we felt it was important to put out a public statement at that time to follow up on.
Q And just a couple more questions. One, how soon can we expect the President to sign the anti-lynching bill?
MS. PSAKI: I can check and see what the timing — I know we were waiting for the Vice President, I think, to get back from travel. But, yeah.
Q And then, lastly, about a quarter of Americans are not vaccinated or are partially vaccinated. Numbers aren’t really budging. Is there any move or change to the definition of what is “fully vaccinated”?
MS. PSAKI: That would be for the CDC to determine. There hasn’t been a change at this point in time. It still remains two doses, but we are continuing to encourage any American who has not received a booster to do exactly that because it would provide them additional necessary protection.
Q On Judge Jackson’s hearings next week, has some of that prep work included conversations between the nominee and the President and any advice from the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into details about their private conversations.
Q So is he — so he has not played a role in sort of the prep or the —
MS. PSAKI: He’s not participating in the mock preps, no. But he is certainly excited about her hearings next week and being confirmed to serve on the bench.
Q Thanks, Jen. I’ve got a quick clarification and two questions about presidential conflicts of interest in foreign affairs.
The first brief clarification is: The New York Times reported this week that the First Son remains under criminal investigation. Does the President still intend to stay out of that case?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. It’s the Department of Justice, and I would point you to them.
Q And my two questions about conflicts of interest in foreign affairs. First, I have a question about Russia and then one about China.
On Russia: You told me last year that you were unfamiliar with the Senate report that alleged that the First Son — or a company linked to the First Son received $3.5 million from the richest woman in Russia.
Subsequent reporting indicates that President Biden, when he was Vice President, had a dinner in Georgetown with the same woman in 2015.
This — Yelena Baturina, she has not been sanctioned yet by the U.S. government. How is President Biden navigating conflicts of interest when it comes to sanctioning people who have done business with his family? And can you explain to us what this $3.5 million was for?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of the accuracy of that report, so I have no more further details.
Q Can you say anything about the conflicts of interest, though — how he’s navigating those when deciding sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: What would be his conflicts of interest?
Q Well, his son’s company allegedly got $3.5 million from —
MS. PSAKI: He — which I have no confirmation of. And he has continued to sanction oligarchs more than we’ve ever sanctioned in the past. I’m not sure that’s a conflict of interest, though.
Q But she hasn’t been sanctioned, though.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q She hasn’t been sanctioned, though. She has —
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Go ahead.
Q I have a question about Russia now. My –
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re moving on because we got to get to more people.
Q I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We could — hold on.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q My question about the conflict of interests when it comes to China is: Last year, the First Son’s attorney said that he divested from a Chinese investment fund controlled by Chinese state-owned entities. We have received not even basic transparency about who bought out his stake, when this happened, and how much money changed hands. Did he actually divest? And if so, can you agree to basic transparency?
MS. PSAKI: He’s a private citizen. He doesn’t work for the government. I’d point you to his representatives.
Q But there’s a blaring conflict of interest for his father’s role as President, dealing with China.
MS. PSAKI: I think we’re done here. Thank you very much.
Q Thank you, Jen. Did President Biden talk to President Xi Jinping about the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula? How did the President Xi respond to this?
MS. PSAKI: Again, the vast, vast majority of the call was about Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. And again, when the Chinese — when President Xi raised Taiwan, the President reiterated the U.S. policy on Taiwan. Obviously, there are a lot of important issues that we discussed with the Chinese — some where we work together, some where we have strong concern. And there’s a lot of channels for that. But that was the primary focus of the conversation.
Q Thanks so much. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan requested for a telephone conversation with President Biden like many, many months ago — it’s like more than 14 or 15 months. We haven’t heard anything about that. Is there a specific reason for not communicating with the Pakistani leadership?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on a planned call or engagement. Obviously, we engage with Pakistan and a range of leaders at a number of levels through the State Department, through our national security team. But in terms of a call or engagement with the President, I don’t have anything to predict on that front.
Q After his recent visit to Russia, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told a public gathering that he will not be a slave of America like other politicians do. Would you like to comment on that? (Inaudible.)
MS. PSAKI: We have a long relationship with Pakistan, and that is a relationship we’ll continue through diplomatic channels. So I don’t have any more comments on that.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, we can go to both of you. Go ahead.
Go — I don’t know whoever wants to go. You can rock, paper, scissors.
Q Thanks, Jen. You might have seen that President Putin held a rally at which he said, of the Russian people, that “we have not had unity like this for a long time.” Is that your perception? Do you have any comment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not going to respond to Putin’s — President Putin’s misinformation and propaganda rally, which is how we see it.
Q And secondly, just a bigger-picture question: There’s been a lot of discussion this week about war crimes and war criminals. You’re well aware the United States does not recognize the International Criminal Court. Does —
MS. PSAKI: We’re not a member, yeah.
Q Yeah, not a member. President Biden believes that is the correct stance? And if so, doesn’t that undercut the United States’ moral authority on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note that there are a range of international bodies that have ongoing international investigations. We would not be the ones prosecuting, of course. There’d be international bodies prosecuting any case on war crimes. We’re going to feed data and information into that, and they support their process.
Q Okay. The Western Balkans, please. Russia and China spreading their influence a lot in the Western Balkans, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. And President is a friend of the Bosnians and the Kosovans. Can you assure people over there that America is still with them?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. Please — please send that directly.
Go ahead, Nazira.
Q Yeah, thank you very much, Jen. As you know, we celebrate our Nowruz New Year. Afghan people (inaudible). Do you have any message?
And also, yesterday, President Biden signed some document — PTS — for the new arrival Afghan refugees to —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, TPS.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes, yes. We did. So, the President did sign TPS for Afghans, which means that those who have been in the country — and let me get to the exact information on that. Let’s see. So — let’s see.
Okay. So, basically — okay, so the TPS will apply only to those individuals who are already residing in the United States as of March 15, 2022, and meet all of the requirements, including undergoing security and background checks. And this is a designation decided by the Department of Homeland Security through their process. And their designated Afghanistan — they designated Afghanistan for TPS on the statutory basis of ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions.
U.S. Citizens — Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates that approximately 74,500 individuals in the United States would become eligible for TPS through the designation for Afghanistan, and that includes 72,500 who have been paroled into the United States through Operation Allies Welcome and approximately 2,000 Afghan nationals who did not participate in the Operation Allies Welcome and were otherwise in the United States already.
So this is a new designation just announced this week.
Q How about the New Years — Nowruz? Any message for Afghan people, especially Afghan women?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say we would send a message of Happy New Year’s to the Afghan people and certainly a special shout-out to Afghan women. And we have huge admiration for their courage, their bravery, and we will continue to stand with them during these challenging times.
Thank you, everyone. Happy Friday.
4:12 P.M. EDT