James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:58 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. It’s a busy day here, I would say.
Okay. Today, as you all know, we announced new actions to cut healthcare costs through the Affordable Care Act.
Thanks to President Obama and President Biden, America is more covered than before and well on its way to finally treating healthcare as a right and not a privilege. This — thanks to the steadfast leadership, America is better off — of both of them — than it was 12 years ago.
Through today’s proposed rule to fix the “family glitch,” we’ll expand access to 200,000 uninsured Americans and reduce costs for nearly 1 million Americans.
This is no small feat. This will make for the most significant administrative action to improve implementation of the Affordable Care Act since its enactment.
Outside experts have said this action is the boldest thing we can do to expand coverage without congressional action.
Already, nearly 6 million Americans have gotten access to affordable healthcare through President Biden’s work to expand access to healthcare.
And with congressional action, we can build on the monumental progress we’ve made to date to expand coverage and cut costs for Americans by making the — the healthcare component in the American Rescue Plan permanent. And, of course, the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid could certainly choose to do that as well.
With that, Zeke — oh, let me just note too: All of you know Angela. But for those of you who don’t know Angela, she is one of our press assistants. She went to Georgetown. I did not get into Georgetown. So, she’s very smart, obviously. (Laughter.) She’s also the funniest person on the team. And she’s amazing and incredible, and I just wanted to call her out today too.
You all know Vedant. I’ve already done this — I’ve done this around Vedant. (Laughter.)
So, cheers for Angela for everything she does. (Applause.)
Okay, Zeke. Sorry to — sorry to get you off track there. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Administration officials said that, tomorrow, the President is going to extend the student — pause on student loan repayment for another three months through August. That would put it — restarting a couple of months before the midterm elections. Is that a — is the President willing to sort of end that pause and have borrowers need to make payments that close to a midterm election?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — to not get too ahead to where you are, at this point in time, it expires in May. Obviously, we’ll have a formal announcement to make before that timeline. I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time.
Obviously, we look at and assess what the needs are for the people who are impacted by the payment of student loans as we make these assessments.
I would note that no one has been required to pay a single dime of federal student loans since the President took office. And, of course, the Department of Education will continue to communicate directly with borrowers about federal student loan repayment and servicers as we make this final decision.
Q On a different topic — we’ve heard a lot from the administration about the lack of international COVID relief funding for vaccinations. Does the President believe that without this money, he can meet his pledge to the world (inaudible) global vaccine sharing? And does he have to recalibrate now that Congress seems unwilling to provide the necessary funding to get there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, no, we can’t meet our commitments and cannot continue to be the arsenal of vaccines to the global community. Without global funding, USAID won’t have resources to get more shots in arms, we’ll be forced to scale back our work providing oxygen and antiviral pills, and we will lack the funding to provide rapid testing to countries in need.
It’s not just about vaccine doses, of course — I know that’s kind of the question you asked — ot’s also about providing the know-how and the individuals at times, the training to be able to get shots in arms. And those are programs that we fund through our global efforts as well. And we need that funding in order to continue these programs.
Q And just lastly from me: General Milley had some pretty sobering testimony on the Hill today regarding the state of the world, sort of a grim outlook, saying that “the potential for significant international conflict…is increasing, not decreasing.” Is that an assessment the President shares? And is that sort of the assessment of the U.S. government on, sort of, the state of the world right now is darker than it was when the President took office?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly the — General Milley speaks for the assessment of the U.S. military, and I think that’s what he was testifying on, and, you know, he speaks on behalf of the administration.
Q General Milley also said that he thinks the war in Ukraine will be measured in years; that this will be a long, protracted conflict. Can you clarify? Do you mean that the ground war will be lasting years? And is the U.S. committed to aiding Ukraine for as long as this drags on?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re certainly committed to continuing our historic support of Ukraine, whether that is military assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance.
Without further parsing General Milley’s words — and, certainly, I would point you to the Department of Defense and to him directly — I think we also understand that the recovery from this war, the rebuilding in Ukraine — people who have lost their homes, communities that have been destroyed — is going to take some time, and the United States will certainly continue to be a part of that.
Q And President Zelenskyy, today, effectively asked, you know, what’s the point of the U.N. Security Council if they can’t find a way to hold Russia accountable, given Russia’s veto power? He suggested the Council was powerless and outdated. Does he have a point? And does the White House think the Security Council needs to be reformed? And is that even possible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think he’s certainly referring to — obviously, he can speak for himself — but his frustration, which we share, that Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. We don’t see that changing.
And so what our objective is at this point in time is on a couple of fronts. One is to continue to provide a range of security assistance to Ukraine — directly to Ukraine, to the military that is serving boldly and bravely on their behalf.
I can provide you a little bit of an update on that. That, in addition to the deliveries of the $200 million package announced on March 12th — which are almost complete — deliveries of the $800 million package the President announced on March 16th are actively occurring. And, obviously, the Department of Defense has also announced a range of equipment that is being provided.
I’d also note that there are a range of mechanisms as it relates to accountability. And, you know, that relates to the President’s strong statements about his view and belief that Russia and President Putin are guilty of war crimes and, obviously, the atrocities that have taken place. And they are not necessarily through the U.N. mechanisms. And there are obviously challenges to that, given Russia is a permanent member.
But there are ample examples in the past of other international bodies, and we will continue to support those efforts as well.
Q And just one more. The sanctions that are coming tomorrow — being announced by the U.S. and European partners — are expected to in part target Russian government officials and their family members. Is this also expected to include Putin’s daughters?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more specifics to detail or preview for you at this point in time. It is expected — or you can expect, I should say, as many of you have reported, that they will target Russian government officials, their family members, Russian-owned financial institutions, also state-owned enterprises.
It’s a part of the continuation of our efforts to put consequences in place, hold — hold Russian officials accountable.
And, again, those announcements will be made tomorrow.
Q Thanks, Jen. Secretary of State Blinken earlier today said that the killings in Bucha are not a random act by a rogue unit but that it is a deliberate campaign by Russia to commit these atrocities. But he did not offer any evidence the U.S. has to back up this claim. I’m wondering if the White House can share any evidence to that effect?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what the Secretary was referring to is the fact that we have predicted and laid out very clearly the intention of President Putin and the Russian military to commit atrocities. That’s what they have done. We have seen with our own eyes what they have done. That is consistent with but a little different from a question about a process, which is a process that would take place on the — through an international mechanism, on — to have a review or have a investigation into war crimes. That is a process that we would certainly be supporting — supporting in a range of ways.
But what he was speaking to is the fact that we had predicted it; what we predicted has unfortunately happened. And we’ve only seen, potentially, the tip of the iceberg because of where we have had access to. We have not acc- — had access to an expanse of the country where they have likely also committed atrocities.
Q Thank you. And one quickly on sanctions. We’ve sort of increasingly seen evidence that Russia is turning to China to circumvent Western sanctions. We just had a report that Reuters said today about Russia turning to China for microchips. They’re also — they have a payment card that they have now issued in conjunction with China’s UnionPay, which is an alternative payment system, as you’re aware.
And I’m wondering if what is going to be announced tomorrow will, you know, have anything to do with making China comply with Western sanctions. I mean, if you can — if you can speak to that.
MS. PSAKI: That continues to be not just our expectation, but what we’ve conveyed directly. But these sanctions are related to Russia.
Q First, on sanctions: Last night, the Treasury Department shifted their general licenses a little bit in terms of payments —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — from foreign reserves in U.S. institutions. Is it fair to say that the goal right now is to have a sovereign default with Russia in terms of how you want to impose costs?
MS. PSAKI: The goal is to force them to make a choice. So, Russia does not have unlimited resources — especially now, given the crippling sanctions we’ve put in place — and they are going to be forced to choose between draining remaining valuable dollar reserves or new revenue coming in or default.
Part of our objective here — the biggest part of our objective here is to deplete the resources that Putin has to continue his war against Ukraine. And, obviously, causing more certainty — uncertainty and challenges to their financial system is a part of that. But it is forcing them to choose those options and to also deplete the resources, making it more difficult for him to continue to fight the war.
Q Longer term — Jake yesterday said something along the lines of, “This is not the time for complacency.” I understand the alliance that’s been put together over the last six months doesn’t have a lot of precedent. But how real is the concern that if this is protracted — if this is months, not weeks — that fractures could end up coming to pass in the alliance you guys have put together?
MS. PSAKI: We have been very clear-eyed about that possibility from the beginning, which is why there has been so much effort on the diplomatic front to work at it, including, obviously, the President’s trip to Europe. Secretary Blinken is on his way, or maybe he’s there now, in Europe. There are calls that happen every single day, through nearly every national security official, to continue to work towards that coordinated unity that has been so effective to date.
It is also true, though, that “unity” does not mean “identical.” And as we’re looking at the consequences people are putting in place, the actions they’re taking, our expectation is not that it is identical. It is just our effort to do everything we can to make sure it’s coordinated and it’s unified as it possibly can be.
Q And then, last one real quick. I think you addressed it yesterday, so I apologize. But when you talk about the bridge, from the SPR perspective —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is it a bridge to — do you believe the domestic industry will be able to fill that gap within the next six months? Or is it a bridge to domestic plus Canada plus the Middle East? How are you guys see what that is a bridge to in terms of production?
MS. PSAKI: A combination, I would say, Phil. As you know, the oil market is a global market. And we certainly understand and have seen that, obviously, the actions of President Putin has led to an increase in gas prices, not just here in the United States but in other countries in the world.
We also know that as other countries make decisions about energy sanctions, that could have an impact on the amount of supply in the marketplace.
So we are taking steps that — obviously, a historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months — to hopefully give a bridge to domestic — increase domestic production, to your point, which we know could take a little bit of time.
But also, during that time, we’re also working with other countries around the world. You saw the announcement many of them made last week about their increased releases, but also to see what they can do to increase their supply into the marketplace as we’re filling that gap.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Jen. Today, Secretary Blinken also said that the U.S. was continuing to gather evidence and will continue to support Ukraine and the U.N. Human Rights Council as it relates to a possible war crime trial.
I know yesterday Jake said the U.S. was looking at a variety of mechanisms. But since the U.S. is not party to the ICC, other than a supportive role, what can it do to facilitate a trial?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you an update on where we are. And I would also — let me first point to the fact that, historically, we have provided evidence to the ICC even though we are not a party member.
So if you look back in 2004, the State Department collected evidence indicating that the Sudanese military and militias were committing specific acts of violence against members of non-Arab groups in Darfur. And the Secretary of State at the time, Colin Powell, determined that what was happening was a genocide, and we worked with ICC and the U.N. Security Council to hold accountable. So I would just note there is historic reference.
Now, also, as you’re thinking about the timeline of this, the historic reference for that is also important because that liter- — that was 2004, and it is just starting now. So, it takes time.
Now, it doesn’t always take that amount of time. But just — you know, as you’re looking at the history here.
But right now, there are a number of efforts already underway to hold any Russians accountable for atrocities and war crimes.
Over the past few weeks, we established investigations through the U.N. Human Rights Council and the OSCE of possible violations by Russia. We’re also supporting the work of the war crimes unit under the Office of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and a team of international prosecutors who are working with them, and also supporting Ukraine’s authorities and civil society organizations who are working on the ground to document atrocity crimes for prosecution.
And we also welcome the investigation opened by the ICC Prosecutor, in particular his focus on preserving evidence of possible atrocity crimes.
And as you noted, Jake outlined the specific ways that we can help in those efforts, including through intelligence sources, and gathering and sharing that with our partners, including helping Ukrainians and what they’re doing on the ground to develop their case. Third is working through international organizations. And the fourth, as he noted yesterday, is all of you and the range of important reporting and sharing of images and information gathering that’s happening out there.
But those are the different — different options and different mechanisms we’re working through now. But it has not yet been determined what the international mechanism is.
Q And you mentioned that’s going to take a lot of time. It seems that you’ve also indicated that every sanctions package is not meant to be an on and off switch to stop Putin — that that will also take time. Is there anything that can be done to stop Putin now, in the immediate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say first, on sanctions, we have a couple of objectives. One of them is to put consequences in place, put a marker down and make very clear it’s absolutely unacceptable, horrific, and there should be consequences.
The second is to make it more difficult to fund the ongoing war. And that is a very important component. And the question Phil asked earlier — about the bond payments and the bond payment that is due — is an example of that and the mechanisms we have through our economic resources to do exactly that.
And the third is to make clear and make it evident to President Putin and Russian leadership in the world that he is a pariah, and now is — and will be held accountable and treated in that way on the global stage.
But what we’re — what we feel is the most effective thing we can do now, in addition to that, is to continue to provide military assistance, security assistance, equipment on the ground.
I would note, again, the Department of Defense announced a series of additional military pieces of equipment that they had not priv- — previously delivered that they were delivering to the ground. And we are focusing that effort on ensuring it is equipment that the Ukrainians are trained on and that they have already been using effectively in this war to fight the Russians.
Q And just to follow up on Weijia’s question, you guys are adding more sanctions, saying that the sanctions are going to take time to have an impact. How much time do you guys think that these innocent Ukrainians have?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what’s important to note here is sanctions are just one component of the tools that we have at our disposal. What we are doing and we’re already seeing effectively happen is the financial system in Russia is near the brink of collapse. I mean, they’re projecting 15 percent inflation — a contraction of 15 percent — in their economy. Private sector businesses are pulling out of the country.
It is more and more difficult for President Putin to fund this war every single day. That has an impact.
But what we’re also doing is providing a historic amount of military and security assistance, which is what they’ve been using effectively over the last few weeks to fight this war and push back the Russians.
Q But do you guys assess that anything you’ve done so far has prevented a war crime from happening?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I would say that everything we’re doing to date is to support the Ukrainians in this war and in this effort. And that is something the President is proud of, we are proud of, including rallying and leading the global community and standing up against Russia.
Q Okay. On another topic: A lot of stories about Hunter Biden surfacing this week. So, to ensure the independence of the investigation, would the President support the appointment of a special counsel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, the President has never had a conversation with the Department of Justice about any investigations into any member of his family. He said that during the campaign, and he will continue to abide by that. So, I would point you to the Department of Justice for any additional steps they would take. They would make those decisions independently.
Q Is there any concern that they’re not going to be necessarily seen as being able to make the decisions independently if the White House Chief of Staff is out saying that the President is confident his son did not break the law?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s something the President has said and certainly we would echo. But in the same answer to that question, Peter — during an interview this week on ABC, Ron Klain also said the Justice Department is independent and they will make their own decisions.
Q And the President has said that he never spoke to his son about his overseas business dealings. Is that still the case?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q So, tomorrow, you’re going to announce — the White House is going to announce new sanctions. The administration will have new sanctions on Russia in some form. Should we view those sanctions as a response to Bucha? Or how should we view those when they’re announced?
MS. PSAKI: Well, unfortunately, the photos — the horrific photos we’ve seen from Bucha are not the first violation of war crimes or atrocities that we’ve seen take place on the ground. So, in part, yes. But they have been in the works and part of our process of putting in place consequences.
Q Which is to say there may be more? Should we anticipate more in terms of reaction to Bucha? This wouldn’t be in isolation?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. We are continuing to assess and make decisions additional consequences and steps we can put in place.
Q So, given these awful videos and pictures we’re seeing of the atrocities that took place in Bucha right now. Is the U.S. policy still one of no regime change in Russia? And if so, why should someone like Vladimir Putin be viewed by the U.S. as someone who should be allowed to stay in power?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our policy is: No, we are not calling for regime change. And that has not been our policy and continues not to be our policy.
But again, Peter, our view is that he is a war criminal, and he is somebody who should be looked at by the international system who evaluates war crimes.
Q I guess the question — people say, “Then why not? If he’s a war criminal, why should he be allowed to stay in power?”
MS. PSAKI: Well, our policy is not to call for regime change. We’re not calling for regime change. But again, he is somebody who’s committed atrocities against the people in his country; he’s a pariah in the world. And every step we’ve taken has made that clear to the global community.
Q Very quickly, can you pull back the curtain on what happened upstairs when we weren’t watching between the former President and the current President over lunch? Did they talk about Putin, Ukraine? Did they do a tour of the Residence? What can you tell us about their time together?
MS. PSAKI: You know, I haven’t had a chance to download yet with the President. I did see the former President briefly, but his schedule is a little lighter than the current President’s these days.
I do know that they had a great, expansive conversation. I haven’t downloaded on the specifics of it yet. I’m not sure I’ll be able to share those with all of you. They did go take a look at the Oval Office and take a walk around. And I know they enjoyed spending time together.
Q Just to put a finer point on some of the questions you, so far, have been asked: Why shouldn’t the images of the atrocities from Bucha compel a worldwide, unified coalition kinetic response?
MS. PSAKI: You mean a military war? Tell me more about what you mean.
Q Sure. A military response led by the United States and the international partners.
MS. PSAKI: As in bringing military troops on the ground from the United States and NATO?
Q Well, the President has described “outrageous” things. You’ve called them atrocities. You’ve said, perhaps “we should brace ourselves” for worse. Why not?
MS. PSAKI: I think what the President’s objective is and his responsibility is to make decisions that are in the interest of the United States and the national security of the United States and the American people, and that is not to go to war with Russia. It is to do everything in our power to hold them accountable; to support efforts through international systems to do exactly that; and to provide military assistance, security assistance, and support to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government. That’s exactly what we’re doing.
But it is not in our interest or in the interest of the American people for us to be in a war with Russia.
Q To follow up on Phil’s question on the Russian sovereign debt: Does the White House have any sense of timing on when Russia might default?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an assessment of that. I will be looking forward to reading Bloomberg’s assessment of that. But I don’t have an assessment of that from here.
Q And then also —
MS. PSAKI: It depends, in part, on what decisions they make.
Q On what decisions Russia make. Okay.
And then, on the Federal Reserve search —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — is the White House still searching for a nominee to replace Sarah Bloom Raskin? And when are you expecting to make an announcement on that nomination?
MS. PSAKI: My understanding of the processes is it’s ongoing. I don’t have an update on the timeline of when that would be concluded.
Q A question on sanctions —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — the new ones that you’re going to announce this week.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you — is there anything you can tell us about them? And just to follow up: If China and Brazil and India and the Middle East are not participating, how effective can they be?
MS. PSAKI: Well, tomorrow, what we’re going to announce — this is what I can tell you. And it may not be fully satisfying, but let me do my best.
In coordination with the G7 and the EU, an additional sweeping package of sanctions measures that will impose costs on Russia to send it further down the road of economic, financial, and technological isolation. This will include a ban on all new investment in Russia, increased sanctions on financial institutions and state-owned enterprises in Russia, and sanctions on Russian government officials and their family members.
These measures will degrade key instruments of Russian state power, impose acute and immediate economic harm on Russia, and hold accountable the Russian kleptocracy that funds and supports Putin’s war.
So this is going to be done in coordination with others. And those — the steps will be targeting, as I just noted, obviously, family members, Russian government officials, and other state-owned enterprises and financial institutions.
Q There’s some pretty big economies that are not participating.
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think what we’re doing is we’re working to rally the world in taking steps to hold Russia accountable. It does not mean they’re identical. It doesn’t mean they all happen on the exact same timeline. But that is what we’re continuing to work to do from here.
Q No, I’m asking about the countries that are absolutely not participating in your sanctions, like China and Brazil and India. Is that —
MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re asking. I understand what you’re asking. What I’m conveying is that we are also coordinating with the G7 and the EU, which is about 50 percent of the global economy, which is still a significant unified entity, in holding Russia accountable.
And in our conversations, obviously, we had our Deputy National Security Advisor travel to India recently to convey the implementation of our own sanctions. And our expectation is not only that other countries will abide by, but that they will also
be a constructive part of holding Russia accountable.
Q Thank you so much. Just a question to see if you have any reaction to Viktor Orbán’s victory and whether — what kind of message that might send to allies in Europe.
MS. PSAKI: Let me check with our national security team. I’m sure we can get you a direct reaction to it.
Q And then, I just wanted to ask, on COVID, if the President is seeing any sort of — having any new restrictions or if there are new procedures that are in place, just given — there have been a number of staff at the White House who have COVID, there have been a number of reporters who have COVID; many of them were mixing this weekend at a dinner. Is that —
MS. PSAKI: Which he did not attend. But —
Q Which he did not attend. Which he did not attend. But is there any sort of additional heightened concern, just given this moment and the fact that a lot of people in this town seem to be getting it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we know that BA.2, which is the dominant variant, is a very transmissible variant. And so, we’ve obviously been watching that and — watching that closely. And certainly, we knew that — as it has been the case in the broader population, including among the media, but also among staff — that means that there will be people who get COVID who are fully vaccinated and have been boosted, especially in the White House and I think with most members of the media as well. So, fortunately, what we’re seeing is largely mild symptoms.
But what we do — the policies we do here — which we have not changed, but they are more stringent than the CDC. So just to reiterate for all of you, the — our policy is that all Executive Office of the President employees surrounding the President are on a regular testing schedule to screen for COVID on campus. That is a step beyond CDC guidance. If you’re going to see the President, you will be tested that day, even if you’re not traveling with him — just if you’re going to see him for a meeting.
The President’s doctor will continue to determine if additional testing is needed on any given week, in light of various considerations. For example, because of the travel from a couple of weeks ago, he was tested, in addition to his regular cadence, after he came back.
And importantly, as I noted, everyone going to a meeting with one of any of the four principals is obviously tested.
In addition, for those employees who test positive — and I can confirm this two times over — they’re required to isolate in alignment with CDC guidance, must test negative before returning to work. That’s a step beyond what CDC recommends. And if they test negative under 10 — under 10 days, they’re required to wear a mask for that period of time as well.
And meetings with the President are often socially distanced in many circumstances as an additional precaution, even as people are tested.
So, there are a range of steps, my point is. I’m sorry, that was a lot of — a lot of list. But is that we take a range of steps. We have been taking a range of steps that are meant to put an extra layer on in protecting the four principals and given it is the White House.
Q Is there any thought to having the President take any medication prophylactically in case that he is in contact with somebody with COVID?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t even know what that would be. But not that — not that I’m aware of. He —
Q There are (inaudible) medications —
MS. PSAKI: He take — he — obviously, he relies on the advice of his doctor, but not that I’m aware of.
Q Yeah, thanks, Jen. Senators Romney and Murkowski yesterday announced their support to — or plans to vote to confirm Judge Jackson later this week or perhaps next week.
MS. PSAKI: Hopefully this week —
Q Yeah, this week —
MS. PSAKI: — because they’re going on recess.
Q Yeah, yeah. Good point.
MS. PSAKI: Don’t tell senators you said that.
Q No. That was a — that was a mix-up right there. But what is your reaction to what you heard from Senators Romney and Murkowski there?
And it looks likely that she will get three Republican votes in support. Does the White House believe that that’s a strong showing of bipartisan support for that — for her? Or, you know, the fact that 47 Republicans appear likely to vote against her — you know, are you displeased with the lack of support of Republicans?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would note first that even for a number of senators who decided not to support her — and there’s quite a good little video “The Daily Show” may or may not have done on this — all of them talked about her impeccable credentials, her qualifications, what an incredibly inspiring story she has, and how qualified she is for the job.
I would say: We believe — we’ve believed from the beginning that her record, her impeccable credentials warranted bipartisan support. And that is exactly what she is going to get in her confirmation, thanks to those individuals and one more that had previously announced their support.
So, we’re certainly encouraged by that. We’re looking forward to seeing her confirmed and, of course, celebrating her confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Q Thanks, Jen. The CDC Director announced that she’s going to be doing a review of the agency —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — and a revamp after they see what has worked and what hasn’t worked. Is there something specific that the CDC has been doing wrong or some area where it’s been falling short that’s prompted this need to have such an intense review right now?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, let me first say this is a CDC-driven decision, and they’d have more specifics. But what I would say is that if you look back to the last year plus, never in its 75-year history has the CDC had to make decisions so quickly based on limited real-time and evolving science.
And yesterday, what the CDC Director did is rightfully announce plans to initiate a review of the agency to — with the objective of strengthening, transforming, and modernizing CDC systems and processes around developing and deploying its science.
I mean, look at what they’ve done over the last year. Does it mean everything has been perfect? They would say no. You have to look at how it’s done, assess that, and take a look at how you’re going to improve things — anything you need to — moving forward.
It’s not uncommon for a CDC Director to ca- — a take a careful look at the agency and assess if it’s positioned to meet current public health needs and recommend improvements to systems, processes, and structures.
And while this is something that is being done independent of the White House, we certainly support all government working to improve systems and make things better.
Q It’s independent, and you said it was a CDC-driven decision.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q So this call for the review did not come from the White House?
MS. PSAKI: No. It was a — it was CDC driven, and one — and certainly one we support. But the process will be led by the CDC.
Q Jen, Senate Republicans are calling for an amendment on Title 42 to be attached to the COVID relief funding bill. I just wanted to get the White House reaction to that. But then also, what kind of effects are you guys worried about if this funding measure gets delayed or doesn’t pass?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think my colleague — I don’t know, he’s seems senior to me — Jeff Zients said this. What he said in response that — to this question is that decisions on Title 42 should “remain independent of the urgently needed funding” for COVID aid. I mean, this is a decision made by the CDC. It’s a public health decision. It’s not one that should be wrapped up, of course, in politics. And the decision made by the CDC is where it should belo- — belong as it relates to Title 42.
I would note on your earlier question, you know, the impact of not getting this aid would be — would be significant. Right now, these additional resources are urgently needed for our domestic response, including — just to give you a sense of some examples of how it would be used: booster shots for the general population, monoclonal antibodies and Evusheld for the immunocompromised, maintaining our testing capacity. These are all components that are vital to our continued fight against — against the pandemic.
And, you know, these are efforts that shouldn’t be political. They shouldn’t be controversial. We’re all — certainly COVID-19 doesn’t look at your party affiliation before they decide to — before it decides to inflict you with the virus.
And so, they’re vital. We need this funding. And we’ll have to stop, as I’ve noted in here before, a number of these important programs if we don’t get the funding.
Q Thanks, Jen. I’m trying to understand how you see this — this horrible — it’s horrible news coming out of Ukraine with these massacres. I’d like to understand: Do you see it as something fundamentally, you know, like a game changer? Or is it just another incremental, you know, awfulness and a thing that’s been going on for now well over a month?
And if it is something fundamentally different — these people with their hands tied and thrown into pits and cellars and whatever — does that mean that we can expect to be hearing a fundamentally different response? Because that’s also been — also incremental.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that there’s nothing normal, there’s nothing acceptable, there’s nothing that shouldn’t shake people to their core about the photos they’re seeing of what is happening on the ground — or what has happened, I should say, on the ground.
And what the President has said and been unquestionable about is that these are war crimes — the violation of the law of war.
And his view — and I talked to him about this as recently as this morning — is that we need to put down a marker for history. That’s why he has been so outspoken about this and made clear that accountability is critically important when you see the horror that we’re seeing on the ground — the targeting of hospitals; of civilians; of, as you noted, the binding and killing of innocent people in Bucha, where we’re seeing the photos.
We have all, though — also already seen evidence of war crimes before these photos.
And a lot of the measures that we’re putting in place — whether it is supporting international efforts to work towards gathering data and information through a range of mechanisms, or it is continuing to provide additional security assistance or humanitarian assistance — are in response to the atrocities and the horrors we’re seeing on the ground.
Q Yeah, I wanted to ask you about El Salvador, about the “state of exception” that has been imposed in El Salvador. This state suspends constitutional guarantees, such as the right to assemble, and also basic procedural rights for the Salvadoran people. Is the U.S. concerned about the impact of this measure?
MS. PSAKI: So, I would say — sorry, can you ask your question one more time? I wanted to make sure I had the right information.
Q Of course, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yes, go ahead.
Q Yeah, it’s about the state of exception that was imposed in El Salvador which suspends constitutional guarantees, such as the right to assemble, and also basic procedural rights for the Salvadoran people. I wanted to see if the U.S. is concerned about this.
MS. PSAKI: Let me check with our national security team and get more details for you. And we will get you a more comprehensive comment after the briefing.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a few for you. I’ll start with the Supreme Court —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — vote that took place yesterday. Is the President disappointed, in particular, that Senator Lindsey Graham, who had voted for Judge Jackson before, opted to vote against her yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: The President is looking forward to Judge Jackson getting confirmed. And I would say, as I — I’d echo what I said yesterday, which is this is a question best posed to Senator Lindsey Graham.
What exactly has changed since he voted to support her just recently — relatively recently? She has the exact same credentials, exact same qualifications.
So, no, I wouldn’t say the President is spending a lot of time thinking about it, but I would say it’s a good question to pose to Senator Graham.
Q On a related topic, I won’t get into all of the President’s polling, but I did want to ask you if you see the expected confirmation of Judge Jackson as a turning point in his presidency.
MS. PSAKI: I would say, without getting into the politics of it, the President committed to nominate a African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court if there was an opening. We are on the verge of that woman getting confirmed to the Supreme Court.
This is a moment — even with everything going on in the world — to celebrate history, to celebrate this incredible woman who has impeccable credentials, who is about to serve on the Supreme Court. And so, certainly, we’re going to take a moment to appreciate that and value that. And I think a lot of people in this country will too.
I can’t make a prediction on what that will mean for polls, and it’s really not about that for us.
Q And lastly, Jen, President Obama — former President Obama did seem to get into the politics of it today when he was talking about his own reelection battle and seemed to be delivering somewhat of a pep talk for Democrats facing potentially tough reelection battles in the midterms this year. Is that a message that the White House wanted him to come here and deliver today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, having worked for the former President for some time and the new — the newer President for some time as well, here’s what I heard him talking about: the fact that, in Washington, when you’re pushing for getting the right thing done — and he was talking about the Affordable Care Act — it means sometimes overcoming skepticism, Republican obstruction, even division within your own party, political challenges, countless headlines saying your agenda is dead, and still fighting to get it done.
Sounds pretty similar to what we’re working on today. That’s not about the midterms; that’s about why you’re in government and making government work for people, and why it’s important to continue to do, even when everybody says it’s not possible. And that was the message I think he was delivering today.
Q Thank you, Jen. I have two questions on Ukraine. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that he does not want President Putin to attend the G20 meetings and he has reached out to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who is the host of this year’s meetings.
So, does President Biden have plans to also do the same, to reach out personally to the Indonesian President? And can you just share anything on the diplomatic front in terms of trying to get Russia out of the G20 meetings or get Ukraine in as an observer?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I don’t have any update on that. I’m happy to see if we have any update from our front.
Q Okay. And then just a follow-up on a different note on Ukraine. China today urged the U.N. Security Council to verify and not to resort to unfounded conclusions on Bucha. And meanwhile, Chinese media is also repeating Russia’s narrative that what’s happened in Bucha is fake news. Can we get a White House reaction on that?
MS. PSAKI: I would just say if you’re repeating the propaganda of the Russian government and President Putin, you’re on the wrong side of history.
Q Thank you, Jen. Last week, a senior Treasury official briefed that the sanctions on Russia were originally intended to deter, but now the point of the sanctions is intended to debilitate and impair the war effort. Can you elaborate on any change in messaging around the sanctions and their intended purpose and how that’s changed?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, look, I think the way we always saw it from the beginning is that the threat of sanctions — you know, your hope is that there’s a deterrence effect. That has been played out in history that there has been a deterrence effect at times. That is not a sure thing or a 100 percent. But if it reduces or if it makes a leader potentially think about what actions — what horrific actions they’re going to take, then they’re worth that threat of sanctions.
Never has it been the case that the — putting sanctions in place is it an effective deterrent; the threat of them has been an effective deterrent. Obviously, the war has commenced. Right? And sanctions have always had the purpose of putting in place consequences.
So, right now, those consequences also include making it very difficult for President Putin to fund the war — which, as you know, includes steps like the step taken by the Department of Treasury yesterday where they’re going to be forced, because they don’t have unlimited resources, to make choices about how they’re going to spend the resources they have.
Q So how would you describe these latest rounds of sanctions? Because the administration was very clear in the beginning that if the invasion happened that it would bring forth everything but the kitchen sink. So that sanctions that we’re seeing rolled out now, how would you describe them? Are they simply incremental at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Russian — they’ve all been building on each other. The Russian economy is on the brink of collapse. The inflation is skyrocketing at 15 percent. The detraction — or the constriction of the economy there is also projecting to decrease by 15 percent. Bus- — private-sector businesses are not investing in Russia.
And the President is — President Putin is a pariah.
This has all been the result of a coordinated global effort to put in place economic and financial consequences that are having an incredible effect.
In addition, we have made it much more difficult, because of export controls and other limitations on the type of materials that President Putin and the Russians can purchase, to build the technological systems and capacities to fight wars, in addition to funding wars.
And those are all components that had been the result of the efforts to date.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask about your Long COVID announcement earlier today. The criticism that’s come from lawmakers has been that it’s going to take a long time to collect data and studies on Long COVID. Can you talk about how this memo helps people that are living with that now?
MS. PSAKI: I think this is an effort to acknowledge that this is something that many people in this country are suffering from and dealing with. And unfortunately, science moves at that at the pace of science. And it is an acknowledgement of that and a commitment by the U.S. government to take steps to look at it more closely and see what more we can do to help address and help people who have been suffering.
Q I also wanted to ask about refugees. I had asked yesterday about the 100,000 number. You were talking about how the administration’s response has been geared toward refugees staying in nearby countries. Can you talk about, though, how you got to that 100,000 number? Does that have anything to do with the capacity of the U.S. government to take in people that are —
MS. PSAKI: That’s not exactly what I said yesterday, but I — what I said was, there is an ongoing policy process that hopefully will be concluded soon, and we’ll have more to share with all of you soon about the prioritization and how the process will work for these refu- — Ukrainian refugees who will be eligible.
In terms of the number, this is an effort by the President and the United States to welcome through — through an expedited process — and a different process that we’ll have more details on soon — Ukrainian refugees into the United States, even as we know, factually, that the vast majority of them will want to and have expressed an interest in staying in countries nearby.
So, it is just an effort to make clear our willingness and openness to doing that.
Q Thanks, Jen. Can you give us a sense of how President Biden will mark Judge Jackson’s confirmation later this week?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we’ll have more details in the coming 24 to 48 hours on that, but I don’t have anything to preview at this point in time.
Q Jen, there’s momentum in the European Union to ban all natural gas coming from Europe. They’re not taking that step, but there’s momentum. The European Commission is changing regulations to accelerate approvals for their natural gas infrastructure. In the announcement in Brussels, the U.S. said they’re going to keep the regulatory framework.
So how is the U.S. going to continually support enough natural gas should Europe cut off the Russian flow in order to, long term, handle — to help our European neighbors?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are steps we’ve already taken in preparation that we will build on. And we will continue to explore ways to ensure that European countries are not as reliant as they have been on Russia for natural gas and for a range of energy resources.
One of the steps we’ve taken successfully, which we will continue to build on, is to tap into countries in Asia who have LNG — excess LNG capacity to provide that to Europe. That is something we’ve already done to date. And we will continue to explore — but we’ve been working on this for months in anticipation of a potential shortage or potential needs in Europe.
Q How about infrastructure projects in the U.S. though to help expand them — facilitate that going forward?
MS. PSAKI: I — tell me more about what you mean exactly.
Q Well, I mean Senator Capito —
MS. PSAKI: To increase capacity — LNG capacity?
Q To increase capacity — yes.
MS. PSAKI: I can check with our team and see if there’s anything to preview on that — any more.
Go ahead, George.
Q Yeah, there was a recent poll that showed more people think jobs were lost in the last year than think jobs were gained. Why is that? And is there anything that you can do to change that perception?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I saw that poll — or saw that data. What I can tell you: What we can do from here is share the facts.
And I know all of you are working to share facts as well, even as you ask us tough questions and hold us accountable and to account as well.
We know the fact is that the President created more jobs last year than any year in American history. That is a very simple fact that I probably cannot say enough from here and our allies and partners cannot say enough out there in the country. And we will just continue — have to continue to work at it.
Q But why is the — why is the belief out there, though?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t make a clear assessment of that, George. You know, I know that, obviously, people across the country — we know and we see this in data and polling — are still feeling the impact of COVID. Their lives are not entirely back to normal. They’re seeing some, you know, restrictions to their daily living, which is frustrating.
Obviously, the impact of the cost of items, whether it’s the price of gas that has a range of factors that have led to it — specifically the invasion of Ukraine, most recently — those impact how people feel. We see that in consumer confidence.
So, I can’t assess what is in the brain of every American. But I can tell you what the facts are and tell you that we also recognize that there are areas, including bringing down costs, we’ll continue to work at.
Ebony, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Two quick questions. One, the President is talking about Congress passing more money for COVID relief. But what’s the President’s reaction to more cities taking COVID relief money and putting it towards policing in excessive amounts — specifically even like in DeKalb County, where a half million was spent on aerial drones? I mean, is the President thinking that’s a bit of an abuse of funds? Is he okay with that kind of spending?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that report. I’d have to look into that specifically more. I mean, there’s state and local funding that has gone out through the American Rescue Plan where there is flexibility in there, including to support state and local governments. I don’t know if that is what it is being used for, but I’m happy to check into the more specific reports.
Q Secondly —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q My last question. I wanted to ask this a couple of weeks ago, but I want to go back to Haiti very quickly to get the President’s response. Patrol agents that were seen whipping Haitian migrants were not charged and held accountable for actions. Even the President early on talked about how it was outrageous. How does he — what’s his reaction to that response? And to those who saw this horr- — horrific video go viral, and then, at the end of the day, nothing happens; there’s no accountability.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there was an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, so I’d have you — point you to them for any further comment on it.
Q Thank you. Two weeks ago, the President warned the American people and owners and operators of critical infrastructure that Russian cyberattacks were, quote, “coming.” And he urged those owners and operators to harden their cyber defenses. Is there any update — intelligence update that you can give to the American people and critical infrastructure operators about this pretty urgent warning that — that came recently?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any additional intelligence to update you on from here. But the reason we did that at the time is because there are steps we can take from the federal government, but there is also steps that private-sector companies can and need to take in order to protect themselves. Those don’t typically happen overnight, so we wanted to ensure they understood that these threats are real, that it was urgent that they take these steps.
But I don’t have anything in addition to predict about next steps or intelligence.
Q Any work that officials have done with these owners and operators that you can talk about — work on the ground?
MS. PSAKI: There is ongoing work that our cyber team has been doing from the beginning of the administration, working closely with the private sector. That’s been a huge priority for the President — the recognition that it needs to be a partnership.
And one of the reasons we go out publicly as we do is because even as we’re — and that was actually on the heels of — when Anne Neuberger came here, it was on the heels of a briefing she had done with larger institutions to talk about this.
We also recognize, though, that cyberattacks can impact smaller institutions, medium-sized institutions, and institutions that, you know, need to know that there are easy steps they can take — two- — two-factor authentication, passwords, not clicking on mysterious links — that can also help protect themselves. So that’s why we went out publicly to spread the message broadly.
Thank you so much, everyone.
4:46 P.M. EDT