Press Briefing by Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:10 P.M. EDT
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Hi, everyone. I know I am not the redhead you’re accustomed to seeing at this podium, but I hope you will hang with me nonetheless. So, thank you.
Before we — before I take your questions, I wanted to start with a little bit of a topper here. So, as you all know, today is Vietnam Veterans Day, and I’d like to take a moment to highlight critical investments that the President announced yesterday as part of his budget to uphold our sacred obligation to veterans and address the mental health crisis.
During his first State of the Union Address, President Biden outlined a four-part Unity Agenda focused on areas where members of both parties can come together and make additional progress for the American people.
The President’s budget advances this Unity Agenda through targeted investments to take on the mental health crisis, accelerate progress against cancer, deliver on our commitment to veterans, and combat the opioid epidemic — all while cutting the deficit and not raising taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 a year.
The budget proposes transformative mental health reforms that would expand coverage, reduce costs, and increase the number of mental health providers.
As we commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day, I wanted to highlight how the budget proposes funding to improve VA services, reduce veteran suicide, end veteran homelessness, and address military toxic exposures. And it tackles the opioid and overdose epidemic with significant investments to reduce the illicit supply of drugs in our communities and prevent substance-use disorder, expand treatment, and help people recover.
Today, I also wanted to celebrate another example of the success of the President’s industrial policy with Governor Roy Cooper announcing the electric vehicle maker VinFast is investing $4 billion to build electric vehicles and batteries in North Carolina. That’s an investment that will create more than 7,000 jobs on top of the 423,000 manufacturing jobs created on the President’s watch in his first year in office — the most in a single year since the early 1990s.
We’re building on that momentum with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — which is making historic investments in our roads, bridges, airports, and more — along with things like EV charging stations that are critical for America to own emerging industries.
And we have a chance to redouble that progress with the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which cleared through the Senate last night with a massive bipartisan majority. This is legislation that will boost manufacturing, strengthen our supply chains, lower prices, and boost our economic and national security by making more critical components, like semiconductors, right here in America.
We look forward to the House of Representatives moving quickly to start the formal conference on that bill so we can get this to the President’s desk as soon as possible.
And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Darlene, why don’t you kick us off?
Q Thanks, Kate. And welcome.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Thank you.
Q I wanted to follow up with one question on the readout from the President’s call earlier today with the European leaders. Can you say if they spent any time at all talking about his comment that Putin cannot remain in power or should not remain in power?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: They did not. I spoke with the President about this earlier. They did not. They were incredibly aligned, however, and spoke to some of the key issues that we are focused on here, including supply to — supplying weapons to Ukraine, including increasing costs on Russia, continuing to increase sanctions, supporting stable energy markets, and, of course, the state of diplomatic negotiations.
And obviously, the conversation today came on the heels of the President’s successful trip to Europe last week, in which he stood with some of our European allies and announced efforts to redouble NATO forces on the eastern flank, to announce an additional $1 billion in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and to — and to continue to show incredible unity with our European partners and Allies as we tackle this crisis in Russia.
Q A second question. Is there any comment or reaction to the FDA approving a fourth booster shot for people over 50?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, this is a good thing and it is a straightforward thing. The CDC and the FDA are now allowing and will make available booster shots — a fourth shot — for people over 50, for the — and for the immunocompromised. This is — we have plenty of supply to ensure that those populations can receive these shots.
But what I would say is that if it — at some point, it becomes recommended that the full — the full population requires a fourth shot, we’re going to need additional funding. We’re going to need the additional funding we’ve requested of Congress to be able to provide — to provide those shots for the — for the broader population.
But we do have the supply, and people will be able to go — people in those populations, 50 and up, will be able to go and get those shots.
Q Thank you.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Mike Memoli.
Q Thank you. First, I wanted to ask about the Turks [sic] that are happening — talks that are happening underway in Turkey between the Russians and the Ukrainians. What is the White House’s visibility into those discussions?
And have U.S. officials seen any evidence to back up Russia’s claims that they’re pulling some of their forces back from Kyiv? Obviously, the President said he wanted to see what the Russians actually did versus what they say.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Yeah. So, we are in close contact with the Ukrainians and are supportive of their efforts to engage in diplomacy and to try to reach a ceasefire. We are prepared to be helpful however we can and are focused on putting Ukraine in the strongest possible position both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.
We, obviously, continue to provide security assistance, to provide weapons to ensure that they are able to push back on Russian aggression. And we continue to increase pressure on Putin and on Russia by imposing severe costs in partnership with our Allies and partners.
So, we defer to the Ukrainians to discuss the specifics of the negotiations. But we are, of course, committed to a Ukraine that is — that is sovereign, independent, and secure. And we are in constant conversation with the Ukrainian government and our Allies and partners. But, as always, we keep those conversations private.
To your second question about Kyiv, obviously — and what we heard from the Russians today — you obviously heard the President address this and say that we’ll need to watch and see if their actions meet their words. But I think we should be clear-eyed about the reality of what’s happening on the ground and no one should be fooled by Russia’s announcements.
We believe any movement of forces from around Kyiv is a redeployment and not a withdrawal. And the world should be prepared for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine. Everyone should expect that we’re going to continue to see attacks across Ukraine.
Obviously, a key message that the President delivered on his trip to Eur- — in his trip to Europe last week was that we are in for a long slog; that our Allies and partners need to remain — that our resolve needs to remain strong; and that we need to continue to execute on the strategy of inflicting significant costs on the Russian economy and, again, strengthening Ukraine on the battlefields and at the negotiating table.
Q And, Kate, on the subject of the President’s remarks in Poland about President Putin: Obviously, yesterday, he tried to suggest that there was a distinction between his personal views of what he thought was a moral outrage versus an official policy position on the part of the United States.
But you know full well something that candidate Joe Biden said virtually every day on the campaign trail, which is that the words of a president matter; that they can, as he often put it, lead a country into war.
Is he not living up to the standard that he set himself during the campaign?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Absolutely not. I think the words of the President here were incredibly powerful. He spoke personally about the moral outrage that he felt, which is shared by people all across the world. It does not mean he’s articulating a change in policy. It does not mean he’s laying out a change in U.S. policy.
He met with refugees — as, again, many of you were on that trip and saw — and saw firsthand some of the pain that Vladimir Putin has inflicted on people who are fleeing their homes and who are seeing their country war-torn.
So this was an incredibly personal, powerful statement of moral outrage; it was not an articulation of a new U.S. policy.
And I think both of those things can be and are true.
Q And you’ve spent some time with the President — last question, Kate — is he frustrated or does he regret that those words at the very end of the speech overshadowed a larger message, which obviously he put a lot of thought into in the days leading —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Absolutely not. He spoke from the heart. He, as he always does — as you know very well from having covered him for a long time, as many of you do, and as the American people know — he speaks from the heart. He says what he feels. And, no, he absolutely does not regret that in any way.
Q Hey, Kate. Following on Darlene’s question. Will the President and Vice President be receiving fourth booster shots? And do you have a sense of timeline on that?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, I can speak to the President, who will make this decision in consultation with his doctor. Obviously, if his doctor recommends that he receive a fourth booster, then he would. But he’ll make that decision in consultation with his doctor.
I will check on the Vice President. I don’t know.
Q And then, earlier, you were talking about the call and supporting stable energy markets. During the President’s trip last week, there seemed to be momentum behind the idea of a coordinated Strategic Petroleum Reserve release. And so I’m wondering if you can provide any update on whether that topic came up in the conversation today or a timeframe or outlook for that.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I can only say that they spoke to the stability of energy markets writ large and the need to keep them stable. I don’t have any specifics to preview in terms of any coming announcements.
What I would say more broadly, of course, is that obviously President Biden is very focused on ensuring that we minimize fluctuations as much as possible at the gas — at the gas pump and prices in general for American families.
He is doing everything he can to combat Putin’s price hike here at home. That’s why they — we did the initial coordinated release of 60 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And he will continue to focus on this, but I don’t have any specific preview that I can give you at this time.
Q And then, one last one. Our friends over at the Journal yesterday reported that members of the Ukrainian peace negotiation team have exhibited signs of a potential poisoning. I’m wondering if that was something the U.S. has been aware of, tracking, and if you, sort of, ascribe responsibility to the Russians.
Q So, we are certainly aware. We are obviously alarmed by these reports, especially given the fact that this is something that historically has been in Russia’s playbook. But I do not have any confirmation at this time, except to say that we are aware.
Q Thanks, Kate. You just said — and the Pentagon is also saying the same thing — that any movement of forces in Ukraine of Russian forces is not a withdrawal but a repositioning. Is that based on intelligence? Or what is — what is that based on?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: That is based on the fact that we need to see what the Russians actually do before we trust solely what they’ve said.
We saw from the outset that they made an aggressive push toward Kyiv at the beginning of this conflict. And we have no reason to believe that they have adjusted — that they’ve adjusted that strategy.
Obviously, we continue to do everything we can to impose costs for this decision. We will continue to execute on our strategy. But as you heard the President say, we are not going to take their word for it. We’re going to wait to see what their actions look like.
Q And the British Prime Minister said today that they won’t accept anything less than a full withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory. Does President Biden share that view that reduced military activity is not enough?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, we are going to allow the Ukrainians to — to execute on these negotiations. It’s not our role to begin the negotiation. Again, our role is to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield, to try to strengthen Ukraine at the negotiating table by
implying [employing] these sanctions and costs to Russia. But I’m not going to — to pre-judge or pre-determine an outcome for that conversation.
Q And last question for you. Jared Kushner is set to testify before the January 6th Committee on Thursday virtually. Has the White House had any communication with him about whether or not you’re going to waive any executive privilege claims that he could make?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, obviously, the President has spoken to the fact that January 6th was one of the darkest days in our country’s history and that we must have a full accounting of what happened to ensure that it never occurs again.
And he’s been quite clear that they posed a unique threat to our democracy and that the constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield from Congress or the public information about an attack on the Constitution itself.
And so, as a result, the White House has decided not to assert executive privilege over the testimony of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Q And have you communicated that to Jared Kushner’s team? Or is this a communication error?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I won’t — I won’t spe- — I won’t speak to private communication between our attorneys and his.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you, Kate. Just, sort of, with Russia redeploying to focus on eastern Ukraine, what is your view on whether Russia should be allowed to retain control of the Donbas region?
As you’re aware, they have, you know, just today said that, you know, that is what — that is what their demand is. And I’m wondering if the U.S. has a formalized position on that.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, again, I am not going to pre-judge where these negotiations ultimately net out. We are doing everything we can to provide weapons to the Ukrainian people so that they can turn back Russian aggression. And we’re doing everything we can to impose severe costs on Russia and on the Russian economy.
I am not going to pre-judge the ultimate outcome, certainly not from standing here at this podium.
Q And just a quick question on the Deputy Treasury Secretary. He spoke a little while earlier and said there were more sanctions coming; this time, they’ll be focused on Russian supply chains. Are there any more details that you can potentially share with us on what that looks like and when that will happen?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, I don’t have additional specifics that I can provide in terms of announcements coming at this time, except to say, more broadly, you know, that certainly we have hit, in consu- — in concert with our Allies and partners, we have hit very hard at the things that Putin cares about the most: degrading his military, access to cutting-edge technology, chipping away at his chokehold on energy, and ability to project power and influence.
And, of course, we will continue to intensify and we’re not going to run out of options anytime soon. There are plenty of things that we can do, including broadening sanctions to new targets, deepening the severity of sanctions that are existing.
So, I don’t have any specifics to announce at this time, except to say that there are certainly other options should we decide to move forward with them.
Q Can I ask about — just follow up on the January 6th Committee. Liberals have suggested that they’re disappointed with the way that the Justice Department, under Attorney General Garland, has approached the former President. How does the President feel about this question?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: The President has the utmost respect for the independence of the Department of Justice and does not have any comment on that.
Q And so, the sense here is that the President has confidence in the way the Justice Department has been handling all of these cases?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Again, I’m not going to speak to specific handling of cases. Obviously, the President has full faith in Attorney General Garland to run his department the way he sees fit.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Cleve.
Q Hey, on the President and the coronavirus, you’ve said there’ll be consultations about a fourth shot. I wonder, with the President’s recent travel overseas, with several members of the White House staff coming down with coronavirus, are there any additional measures or medication — anything else that’s being done to sort of protect the President’s health and welfare?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, you know, let me talk a little bit about some of the procedures and give you an overview of our policy here.
So, the White House takes incredibly strong precautions in alignment and sometimes, as you all know, beyond CDC guidance to ensure that we’re keeping a safe workplace, especially for the President of United States.
So, all EOP — Executive Office of the President — employees who surround the President are tested on a regular cadence here on campus to screen for COVID. That is a step beyond CDC guidance to help lower the risk of COVID on campus. We do regular — regular screening, testing.
The President’s doctor determines if additional testing is needed in any given week, in light of various considerations.
So, more specifically to your question, because of his travel this week, he will test in addition to his regular testing cadence.
Everyone going into a meeting with one of the four principals is required to test ahead of time. And that’s how we know about some of these positive cases in the first place.
So, for those employees who test positive, they’re required to isolate in alignment with CDC guidance and must test negative before turning to — returning to work, which is also a step beyond CDC guidance.
So, we take every — every measure here to ensure that we are protecting the four principals and also protecting our staff and our workforce. But because of his travel, he will do some additional testing, in addition to his regular cadence.
Q Sorry, just to follow up — I want to make sure I’m clear — what about any medications? Is he taking any additional medications or any other treatments or anything like that?
I understand about the testing and about — we all get tested when we get near the President. But is there anything else?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: That’s not something that I — I’m not going to get into private medical information from here, except to say that the President will receive additional testing as part of his cadence to ensure that — that COVID — that he doesn’t have COVID.
Q Thank you.
Q Hi there. Thank you. Just to follow up on that, when was he last tested? And, I guess, we presume he was negative because he’s with the Prime Minister.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Yes. You know, I will get you the date. I want to say — I actually want to say it was yesterday. But — because I think we announced it publicly yesterday.
So I believe his last test was yesterday. And, yes, it was negative.
Q He said yesterday that he would be willing to meet with President Putin again or talk to him. I’m wondering what specific circumstances need to be met for such a meeting to take place.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think he articulated pretty clearly that it would depend on what President Putin wanted to talk about.
Now, I’m not going to set — I’m not going to set preconditions for a conversation between President Biden and President Putin, except to say that we have been very clear and President Biden has been very clear that there needs to be tangible de-escalation from Russia and a clear, genuine commitment to diplomacy before the President would have that kind of conversation.
Q Yeah, and on the COVID funding: Do you have any update? I know you say you need the money, but do you have any update on the negotiations? It seems like there are serious conversations happening up on the Hill. Do you have any sense of when or how this might be resolved? Are you more optimistic than you were last week, for instance?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, we’re continuing to push. I mean, this — this funding is important. It’s going to be important to ensure that we are well funded in the event that another variant comes along or in the event that we see another wave that we need to be prepared for. So, you know, we view this funding as really critical.
We’ve been working with Congress, as you know well, for the last several months. They know that we need the funding to stay ahead of the virus. They’re also aware of some of the specific details — like, for example, that already the uninsured fund has stopped accepti- — accepting claims and we’ve been forced to cut monoclonal supply to states by a third this week. So, there are real, tangible impacts to not having this funding.
I think there is widespread agreement that funding for vaccines, tests, and treatments is urgent and critical. And we need to see this urgency from Congress, and we’re going to continue to push.
Q Thanks. Ukraine is now asking for security guarantees as part of these negotiations. What kinds of guarantees is the U.S. willing to provide to ensure Ukraine’s sovereignty?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, these are not specifics that I’m prepared to be able to announce from this podium. Obviously, we are working very closely with Ukraine on a wide array of options, things to help ensure we are — ensure their sovereignty and ensure their security.
Now, some of that is providing the weapons that we’re providing; some of that is continuing to push on sanctions and costs on Russia. But I don’t have any specifics to preview for you on any — on any discussions about security guarantees.
Q And on the concern over chemical weapons — you know, with Russia now seeming to make some concessions and at least promising to reduce military activity, are you still as concerned that Russia could use chemical weapons? Or is that threat seen as diminishing?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: We continue to prepare for every contingency. We obviously take seriously a wide array of potential options. There has been reporting in the public — in the public sphere over the last weeks about all the work that our teams are doing to prepare for eventualities.
So I’m not going to rate the likelihood of one or another outcome except to say that our teams are preparing for — for all eventualities. And, you know, the President has been very clear that, you know, we will respond with severe consequences, as we have responded with severe consequences to every action Russia has taken up until this point.
Q And just a similar question with regards to China: Do you see Russia’s promise to somehow pull back some of its forces as a sign that China is not willing to or will not be assisting them?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So I don’t have any updated guidance beyond what you all heard from Jake, for example, last week about us not having seen any evidence of China providing any sort of military assistance to Russia.
Q Thank you, Kate. There are reports that the administration is going to require COVID vaccines for undocumented migrants at the southwest border just as Title 42 is expected to end and right after the fourth shot got FDA approval.
You just highlighted the impacts of not having enough COVID funding when it comes to paying for shots for the uninsured and sending shipments of treatments to states. So why would the administration give out free vaccines to undocumented migrants but not to, for instance, uninsured Americans?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, to be clear, we have the supply that we need in this moment to vaccinate Americans here in this country. I don’t want to conflate those two things because I think that’s not a — that’s not an accurate representation of what I said.
We have — we have the supply that we need to vaccinate Americans. What we are asking for is funding to prepare for future eventualities and to ensure that we have what we need as we move forward.
Now, on your question about the border, this is nothing new. The effort to vaccinate migrants in our care and custody has been ongoing for months. ICE has been providing vaccines to migrants since the summer of 2021. And we’re always assessing the situation and addressing protocols based on changing CDC guidance.
You know, but in order to ensure the safety of border communities and the workforce and the migrants themselves, DHS is now requiring age-appropriate vaccinations for non-citizens who are taken into Border Patrol custody.
But again, this is consistent with overall CDC guidance for those entering the country, be it by air or land. And we know that vaccinating people is the best way to protect from the virus and to protect against the spread of the virus.
Q Can you clarify, though: The New York Times story framed it as something that was about to get underway in certain sectors of the southwest border. Is this some- — this requirement for a vaccine. Is — is that accurate? Is that something that is going to take place? Because — and the reason I ask is you’re talking about future supply and this is a future effort. How are those two things not sort of in conflict?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, as I said, it’s — it is actually nothing new. I mean, we have been vaccinating migrants in our care and custody for many, many months. So ICE, as I said, has been providing vaccines to migrants since the summer of 2021. So this is not anything new. As we know, that this is — again, the best way to protect people from the virus and to prevent the spread of the virus is to ensure that they’re vaccinated.
Q Can you confirm Title 42 is about to end then?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I have no announcement that I can make on Title — Title 42.
Q And then, on Ukraine: Yesterday, did the President accidentally reveal a previously unknown effort for the U.S. to be training Ukrainian forces in Poland during his answer in the press conference?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: No. The troops that he met with in Poland routinely interact with Ukrainians. That is something that’s known. Many of you were, again, on the trip with us. That is something that’s known. That is in no way revealing compromised information.
That being said, there’s nothing further that I have to say on that beyond what the President said yesterday.
Q Just to follow up, I know you said just now you don’t have any news on Title 42, which expires on Friday — or at least the current use of it. When you were — when we were in Europe, the President announced that he’s admitting 100,000 Ukrainian asylum seekers. They are exempt from Title 42. Why?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, obviously, we are looking at an extreme crisis in Ukraine. I think it’s — it is — it is easy to look at the incredible volume of displacement and the duress that people are under in Ukraine and understand that we need to make — we need to make efforts to ensure that we are moving to get them to places that are safe.
What I can say more broadly about our efforts to — to bring 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the country is that, you know, we anticipate that most of these refugees will want to stay closer to home, will want to stay in Europe. But we are making every — we are putting forward this effort to ensure that we’re able to — to accommodate 100,000.
Obviously, on the specifics of that, I would have to refer you to the State Department on the specific workings. But it is important — as you heard the President say when we were overseas, it’s important for the United States to do its part and for those countries bordering Ukraine to not be the only ones to shoulder the burden. You heard him talk about that while we were on the ground in Warsaw.
Q Understood. So the policy decision has been made that the war in Ukraine and the displacement of those people is more urgent to the United States than the displacement of millions of people due to earthquakes, hurricanes, and political strife in this hemisphere?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I think that’s a little bit putting words in my mouth. My point was only that we’re —
Q That’s how it would be interpreted though —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: — that that’s —
Q — by immigration advocates and others on this side of the world.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: That’s a little bit putting words in my mouth. All I’m saying is that we have put forward a process to allow a hundred thou- — to bring 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the country, given the incredible duress and the crisis that they’re facing in their homeland.
Q Two other quick follow-ups. You said to Cleve, on the question of any medications the President may be taking because of COVID, that that’s private medical information. Is that to say that if he is taking something currently, it will be revealed in his next medical report that we get at some point —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: That’s to —
Q — the way that Eliquis and Crestor and Dymista had been revealed in the last one?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: That’s simply to say that I don’t have anything in this moment to provide at this — at the podium. That’s medical information. If there is a moment in which it needs to be disclosed, it would obviously be disclosed. As you know, we put out an incredibly fulsome physical report on the President’s health every year.
So that’s simply to say I don’t have anything to disclose from this podium at this time.
Q Gotcha. And then, on the Trump logs that appear to have hours of information missing, has the January 6th Committee asked this White House to try to find that information or implore the Archives to dig deeper for them? Has the White House Counsel’s Office attempted to help reconstruct that record at all?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I would refer you to — to the Archives on that. I don’t have any additional information from the Counsel’s Office at this time.
Q Thank you, Kate. Two ones on Ukraine again, if I may. So the sanctions are obviously the stick. Is there — is there some thinking already about what that carrot could be? You know, essentially, is there going to be some sort of schedule laid out like, you know, “You do this, this comes off”? You know, a roadmap, I suppose, is what it’s called.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, I don’t know that Russian activity at this time necessarily merits a carrot. We have been very focused on the stick.
Again, I am not going to prejudge or lay down any contours of any ultimate negotiation. That is not our role. Again, our role is to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield, strengthen Ukraine at the negotiating table. I’m not going to prejudge any of the — what ultimately those diplomatic solutions may or may not look like.
Q Okay. And just following up on your previous answer about the — the troops in Poland. Jen did say clearly, last week, there are no U.S. training programs for Ukrainians outside of Ukraine — obviously not in Ukraine, but nowhere else either. I actually asked the question; that’s what she said — “no.”
So the President, yesterday — and I’ve got his quote; he was very clear. He said when he was — when he had this chat with the U.S. troops, he said it was all about them “helping [to] train” Ukrainian troops that are in Poland. So are they training them in Poland or are they not training them in Poland?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, as I said, there is regular interaction between Ukrainian soldiers in Poland and the U.S. troops that the President saw on the trip. There’s nothing — no further detail that I can add on that, except to say that there is regular interaction.
As you saw, we were there near the border. And there’s regular interaction between those troops that he saw and Ukrainians.
Q Thanks, Kate.
Q No, go ahead.
Q Just to follow up on Russian oligarch Abramovich, who was photographed today during the peace talks. Does the U.S. have a clear idea of what his role is during these talks?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I don’t have more to say from this podium about his role. You know, that is something that I am simply not equipped to speak to in this moment, except to say, again, of course, that we are — we are looking at the allegations into potential harm to him and tracking very closely.
Q And just to follow up on the refugees — the 100,000 announcement from last week. We were told that there would be a range of legal pathways for them and that would be announced. Is that something that you guys are still working on? Or are we — can we expect, you know, details about that program soon?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: It is. And, you know, to meet the commitment that the President laid out to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, we’re considering the full range of legal pathways to the United States. So, that includes the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, that includes parole, that includes immigrant and non-immigrant visas. So we are continuing to work through those options.
And again, ultimately, I would refer you to the State Department for additional detail on how that will — how that will work.
Q Can I ask you — can I ask you a follow-up question on refugees?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Sure.
Q So, many people have been advocating that what you are doing for Ukrainians right now is what you should also do for Ethiopia. As you know, tens of thousands of Ethiopians have been killed, millions have been displaced. Why not do the same thing that you do to Europeans to Africans — to Ethiopians and then to Cameroonians?
And then one second question. I want to talk about Will Smith and Chris Rock. You know, it’s the biggest story right now. You saw the level of violence that was on — was unleashed on Chris Rock. Is that something that the White House condones, the type — that type of violence? Do you condemn it? And do you do anything to support comedians who have been attacked and other artists? Thank you.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So I don’t have any official comment from the White House on the altercation. I know the President was not able to watch the Oscars — didn’t see it. So I don’t have anything — I don’t have any official comment from him or from the White House on this.
Q Thank you —
Q Kate, are you going to answer the Ethiopian question?
Q And the question on Ethiopia —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Yeah. Yeah.
Q — the Ethiopia question, you didn’t —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I don’t have — I’m sorry, I don’t have any — you’re right. I don’t have any additional detail on any plans there.
Obviously, you know, as we are focused on working to bring — to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees here, that does not — you know, that does not eliminate work that’s being done in other areas.
I don’t have any specifics to announce from this podium at this time on any plans there.
Q But do you condemn the violence at the Oscars? Is it — is that something that you condemn, or you can’t —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I don’t — I don’t have a White House comment on that.
Q Thank you. The Washington Post reports that Anita Dunn was here at the White House on a special one-week assignment last month. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about, you know, what was so important for her to be brought in on a one-week assignment like that?
And then do any other staffers or former staffers in Biden world enjoy that sort of drop-in opportunity?
And finally, is it true that Dunn avoided any ethics rules that would restrict former White House officials from lobbying one year after leaving their post?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So what I would say to that is Anita is an incredibly trusted advisor who has known the President for a long time. And she did recently come back to the White House temporarily to bring her expertise and add capacity at a key time for the White House. She came to fill in for a staffer who needed to be out for personal reasons.
She did this as an SGE, as you know — a Special Government Employee — which is a temporary, short-term assignment and classification for employees who come to work for the White House in a temporary — in a temporary manner. It’s a designation that past administrations have used for the same purpose. And Anita is not the only person to have served in this administration as an SGE.
Anita and other SGEs receive rigorous counseling on their ethics obligations as an SGE, including avoiding any potential conflicts of interest. And Anita, of course, has always held herself to the highest standards, consistent with this administration’s commitment to ethics, abiding by all federal ethics laws and policies applicable to SGEs.
Q And then one more. Forty-five minutes after the President’s remarks wrapped in Warsaw on Saturday, that was when a statement landed in everyone’s inboxes from an unnamed White House official saying that, no, the administration did not, in fact, change its policy with regards to Russia.
I’m wondering if you can tell us anything about what happened in the interim — in that 45 minutes. Did the President himself conclude that perhaps there needed to be some further clarification? Or did White House advisors come to him and say, “Perhaps you should revisit your recent remarks”? Why was that statement issued?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, I can tell you from working for President Biden for seven years that only President Biden decides what President Biden is going to say.
So, the statement was simply a confirmation of what the President — of what you then heard from the President himself yesterday — that that statement did not represent a policy change — official policy change on behalf the United States.
Q But who prompted it? Who prompted it, Kate? I mean, did that come from the President? That particular statement that he’s referencing, did that come from him to you all? Or did you all go to him and say, “We have to put this out”?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I’m not going to get into any further back-and-forth, except to say that I have worked for him for a long time and only he determines what he’s going to say.
Q And a — and a quick follow-up? A real —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Sure.
Q — quick follow-up. Have you all considered — when I spoke with authorities in Ukraine, they were saying the no — the no-fly zone or the cap — the fly cap that they’d like over their country would be — they could sustain that with lend-lease of aircraft and volunteer pilots. Has that been approached? Has the administration considered that? Would they consider — or would they consider that?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think the President has been explicitly clear that he does not intend to engage U.S. troops in any way in direct conflict with the Russian military.
Q Right. But this wouldn’t be troops.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: And so — I’m sorry?
Q This wouldn’t be troops. They’re talking about lend-lease for the aircraft, and they would supply the pilots.
MS. BEDINGFIELD: They’re — so, I guess, a couple of things: One is the assessment of our military is that the — the anti-air, anti-tank, the munitions that we’re providing to the Ukrainians are the most effective things that they can have on the battlefield. That’s the assessment of our military commanders and, of course, something that the President factors significantly into his decision making.
The second thing I would say is that, again, he has been very clear that he is not interested in engaging the U.S. military in direct conflict with Russia. And there are logist- — there’s — you know, for example, on the question of the MiGs, there are significant logistical challenges that may raise those issues.
So, as to whether there’s a specific discussion about lend-lease, I don’t have any further detail that I can provide on that, except to just lay out those, kind of, two key points that have really been driving the President’s thinking and decision making on this.
Q And as far as the assessment of the sanctions, when they first went in, the President said, “Hey, give us a month” and then we’ll look at them. It’s been a month. Are you happy? Or what would you like to change? Or are you satisfied with where they’re going?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: With regard to the sanctions that have been —
MS. BEDINGFIELD: — applied to Russia?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I think you’ve seen us continue to escalate over the course of the last — since the invasion began on the 24th of February. You’ve seen unprecedented costs inflicted on the Russian economy. I think, again, even just last week, while he was in Europe, the President announced another round of sanctions in consultation with our Allies and partners. So we continue to increase the pressure and to ensure that we are inflicting maximum cost on Russia for its aggression.
Q So you’re happy with them?
Q Kate, I wanted to know: What will President Biden’s response if Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear reactors?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I — I am not going to get into that kind of — that kind of hypothetical, but thank you — (laughter) — thank you for the question.
Q Hi. So, there are reports that the administration is considering providing Ukraine with an additional $500 million in aid and is pushing European countries to make the same sort of effort. Can you confirm or provide — and provide more details on that?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, what I can say to that is we are in constant consultation with our Allies and partners about continued aid to Ukraine. But discussion of a specific dollar amount — there’s no discussion currently of a specific dollar amount.
Q Kate, a few questions on Singapore. The first question is: The Prime Minister welcomed the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. When will see — when will we see the exact plan? And will the framework need to be ratified by the Congress?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: So, I don’t have an update on timeline for you on that. I would — we’ll be happy to come back to you with further information, but I don’t have an update on when you can expect to see a timeline for that.
I can certainly say that today’s meeting between the two leaders demonstrated the strong security, economic, and people-to-people ties shared by the United States and Singapore. And President Biden looks forward to continuing to deepen those ties.
Q And also in the joint statement, the U.S. and Singapore reaffirmed the right of freedom of navigation accorded by international laws, including UNCLOS. Will the U.S. ratify UNCLOS under Biden administration?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: I don’t have an answer for you at this moment, but I’m happy to get more information and come back to you on it.
Q Thanks, Kate.
Q Thank you. I have a couple quick ones. I have a couple of quick ones for you before we go. Following up on what Tarini asked you with regards to the refugee programs, it can take years for refugees to be able to be vetted to come into the United States. So does the White House have a sense of how quickly the Ukrainian refugees will be able to come to the U.S.?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: We’re working to move as quickly as possible. I don’t have a firm timeline that I can give you, but obviously, we’ll move as quickly as possible to bring in as many — up to that 100,000 as we possibly can.
Q And after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, yesterday, signed the state’s Parental Rights in Education legislation, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the administration will be monitoring its implementation “to evaluate whether it violates federal civil rights law.”
Aside from monitoring the Florida law, is there any other actions that the White House plans to take?
MS. BEDINGFIELD: Well, both the President and Secretary Cardona spoke out very forcefully against the law. The President also put out a statement yesterday about the tragic impact of this kind of law on an incredibly vulnerable population. And he said that, you know, by signing this bill, the governor has chosen to target some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families, all while under the guise of parents’ rights.
So, the Department of Education, as you noted, will continue — will monitor this law upon implementation to evaluate whether it violates federal civil rights law. And obviously, we will come back to you as we have more information on that.
Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
3:51 P.M. EDT