James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:15 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay. Okay, a couple of items for you at the top.
On his first day in office, President Biden directed the Department of Education to pause federal student loan repayments through September of that year. He has since extended it twice, today being the third extension. Millions of Americans were struggling, of course, at that time to stay afloat. Because of the pause in repayments, 41 million Americans were able to breathe a little easier during some of the toughest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, as America — America is stronger than we were a year ago and we will be stronger a year from now than we are today. However, as our administration recognized in recently extending the COVID-19 national emergency, we are still recovering from the pandemic and the unprecedented economic disruption it caused — which, of course, is the root reason for this extension.
In order to enable Americans to continue to get back on their feet after two of the hardest years this nation has ever faced, we have announced, earlier today, of course, the plan to — the extension of the pause on federal student loan repayments through August 31st of this year. That additional time will assist borrowers in achieving greater financial security and support the Department of Education’s efforts to continue improving student loan programs.
Also would note — one note on the COVID funding bill. We have made clear for months about our funding needs. And at every step of the way, we’ve provided the details that Republicans have asked for, even when they’ve asked for — has changed in real time.
I have a little prop here. I’m just going to call him “Vanna” over here. Thank you. This is Kevin Munoz.
This is 385 pages of information we have given to Capitol Hill and briefed them on how COVID funding has been spent, what we need, what the needs are. These are the kind of details we have provided and constantly briefed members on the Hill to make clear to them what the impact will be if we do not get this funding. You can have access to this for a prop if you would like it as well. We’ll make copies for you.
Thank you. Thank you.
Okay. But unfortunately, as we’ve gone through before, going back to January — while we’ve worked, going back to January, with members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — on the funding needs, we’ve hosted dozens of briefings, we’ve held more than three dozen conference calls, we’ve shared more than a dozen funding tables — all available 385 pages.
And we’ve also given Congress a full accounting of every dollar that’s been spent on the COVID medical response and a full accounting of the entire American Rescue Plan, which, as you all know, goes well beyond the direct medical needs.
We’ve also provided all the specifics of planned additional funding: how it will be deployed against the additional purchase of monoclonals and pills and vaccine — vaccines.
And unfortunately, even after Senate leadership agreed upon a — on a pared down bipartisan bill, Senate Republicans decided to move the goalposts yet again and force amendment votes on something completely independent of our COVID response needs.
And at this point, we — the question we have is whether Republicans are acting in good faith to provide the resources we need to save American lives or if they are just playing politics.
The virus is not waiting for Republicans in Congress to get their act together. We know BA.2 is here. We know that it is more transmissible. We know that it is leading to increased cases, and we know we’re already seeing an impact on our resources.
The program that reimbursed doct- — doctors, pharmacists, and other providers for vaccinating the uninsured had to end yesterday due to a lack of funds.
America’s supply of monoclonal antibodies that are effective at keeping people out of the hospital will run out as soon as late May.
And our test-manufacturing capacity will begin ramping down at the end of June.
So we’re going to continue to work closely with Congress to drive to a solution, because the President knows that we can’t afford inaction in this moment. It’s going to require politicians stopping — to stop skirting their responsibility to the American people. COVID is not over, and we have an obligation to protect our country, the American people, and make sure we’re taking steps to prepare.
Finally, last thing: Last night, as you may have all seen, we announced the authorization of an additional $100 million in security assistance — the Department of Defense announced — to Ukraine through presiden- — through presidential drawdown authority. This package will meet Ukraine’s urgent need for additional Javelin anti-armor systems, which we’ve been providing to Ukraine and they have been using effectively to defend their country.
The Javelins have been one of the most effective weapons the Ukrainians have been — have deployed in combating Russian tanks and Russian armored vehicles. They were critical in the defense of Kyiv and other areas, and we want to ensure we continue to get them in the Ukrainians’ hands.
We also continue to work with our allies and partners to provide Ukraine with additional capabilities and expect to have more to announce in the coming days.
Kevin has been out here before, so I have already embarrassed him in the past, and I will keep it short. But Kevin, as many of you know, is our COVID spokesperson. Kevin only recently turned 26, which means he can barely rent a car. (Laughter.) But he is — he can now.
MR. MUNOZ: I can now. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: But he — he has become an expert. He is stalwart. He works 20 hours a day. And he is indispensable. And so, I’m very grateful to Kevin and happy he’s out here to provide the prop but also to provide all of you with many, many answers on a daily basis.
Okay, with that, Zeke.
Q Thanks, Jen. You just mentioned that COVID isn’t over. We just saw the President give remarks to a very large crowd indoors. I was hoping you’d speak a little bit to how the President views, sort of, what — when it is safer to be going to such large gatherings. Is that the sort of thing he’s trying to model for the rest of the American public? That the risks for most people from COVID now are lesser than they were a year or two ago before vaccines and treatments? Is that sort of behavior now — it’s not something that should be stigmatized or — and should be embraced?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I think what the President is doing is he is following CDC protocols and models, and that’s exactly what we would recommend the rest of the country do.
That includes getting vaccinated; getting boosted; getting an extra booster if you are eligible, as the President did just last week; and obviously taking any steps or precautions that the CDC recommends to keep yourself safe.
And obviously, in Washington, D.C., we remain in a yellow zone, and the President follows those protocols as needed.
Q And just an update: He said — did he say when the last — the last time the President tested for COVID?
MS. PSAKI: I suspected you would ask this. I’ve asked this question, and I will get you an answer to that as quickly as possible.
As you know, he is tested on — he has a regular testing cadence — is usually tested a couple times a week. We will venture to get to that as soon as possible after the briefing.
Q Thank you. And on a different topic, the U.S. today sanctioned a number of Russians, including Vladimir Putin’s daughters, as well as some other senior officials.
I was hoping you’d might be able to speak a little bit about sort of the — the administration’s thinking about when are family members of Russian oligarchs and Russian government officials, sort of, fair game for sanctions and how you’ve weighed and (inaudible) distinction between minors and adults, in this case, with, sort of, you know, collective punishment or trying to prevent them from harboring assets with, you know, people who are not necessarily involved in the decision-making in Ukraine but have, sort of, maybe benefited from that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen a pattern over time of President Putin and Russian oligarchs stash assets and resources in the bank accounts and — of their family members. And so, this was an effort to get at those assets, and that’s why these individuals were sanctioned.
Q And so there’s no — but why the distinction, then, between minors and adults?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, we look at where assets may be stored and stashed and make a decision and an assessment on what’s appropriate.
Q The New York Times has a verified video that appears to show a group of Ukrainian soldiers killing captured Russian troops outside a village just west of Kyiv. Has the White House seen these videos? Do you have a response? Is this something you’re investigating?
MS. PSAKI: I have seen the video; I don’t have any confirmation or validation of the video or the report.
Q And so far, the administration — or the U.S. has spent about $2 billion since the beginning of this invasion. Obviously, you know, you’ve said the U.S. is committed to doing everything it can to help Ukraine in this fight. But if General Milley is correct in what he said yesterday — that this really could go on for several years — are these numbers sustainable over the long term? Can you keep up at this pace?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first — just to reiterate what General Milley said and the President has also been clear — that there are tough days ahead for the Ukrainian people. There’s a likely scenario where there — this could go on for some time. And even as they have moved their forces and they’ve retreated from Kyiv — they retreated from the north and the west, and they’re consolidating forces in the east and in the Donbas.
And we’ve warned that we’re entering a new phase of the conflict that could last for some time. It doesn’t mean it will look exactly the same or the needs or the resources will be exactly the same. And that is something we will continue to assess in our conversations with the Ukrainians, as well as with our allies and partners around the world.
And right now, just to note, obviously, our focus is on amping up and providing a range of military assistance of — the $100 million for Javelins is a good example of that — as they are in an active fight every single day against the Russian military. Also, humanitarian and economic assistance. And there will be different needs that will come about over the course of time.
And that’s something we are, of course, committed to continuing to support: their recovery from this, their continued fight from this. But I can’t make an assessment about sustaining because, obviously, this war and the needs will change over the course of time.
Q And if this is a really protracted, prolonged conflict, given what the Treasury Secretary said today — sort of warning of the enormous economic repercussions of this war for the whole world — what does this mean for the economy in the U.S. for the next year or two? Can you just give us sort of a big picture of what Americans should be bracing for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we’ve made decisions about putting sanctions in place, we’ve continued to do that through the prism of maximizing the impact on Russia, on the Russian economy while minimizing the impact on the West and the United States.
Obviously, there are areas where there has been an impact, including on the price of gas. And you saw the Federal Reserve convey today the impact of the Russian invasion on inflation. And we know that to be the case.
But what we’re trying to do is mitigate those impacts. And obviously, not just the announcement of the Strate- — release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but the announcement by the IE — IEA today is the largest release that they have ever done in history.
And all of these are part of our collective effort to impact — to mitigate the impacts on the American people over the course of time. Even the length of time of the release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — meant to be a stopgap measure or kind of a bridge measure, to get to the point where oil companies could produce more — is intended to have a mitigation impact over the course of time.
So, I — what we’re doing is anticipating and trying to step — take steps to reduce the impact on the American people over time.
Q Following up on that IEA question: Do you have a detail or figure of how much oil has been released of the 180 million barrels to date?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to get that for you. I’m sure that our team may have that, but I don’t have that in front of me.
Q And can I ask — President Biden today told union members, “Amazon, here we come.” Was he endorsing the efforts of union — of workers to unionize Amazon facilities?
MS. PSAKI: What he was not doing is sending a message that he or the U.S. government would be directly involved in any of these efforts or take any direct action.
What he was conveying is that — is his longtime support for collective bargaining, for the rights of workers to organize, and their decision to do exactly that in this case — something that he has long supported broadly over the course of his career.
Q Just back to the issue of the sanctions that are being imposed on Putin’s children and, obviously, sanctions against him as well. Does the U.S. have a rough estimate, at this moment in time, of how much of his assets are tied up versus what he still might have access to?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an assessment to offer from here on that.
MS. PSAKI: But we know that — we’ve seen attempts and efforts to stash assets in the accounts and resources of his children.
Q A senior administration official, earlier today, was raising the question of Putin’s endgame — that, at some point, he would presumably recognize that this war has been a failure for him.
Given some of the scenes that we’re seeing in places like Bucha and Mariupol, does the U.S. believe that he is any closer to realizing that reality today versus a week ago, a month ago?
MS. PSAKI: Well, remember, the scenes we’re seeing in Bucha are from events and atrocities that didn’t happen yesterday. They happened some time ago. Right? And there will be more of those — which our Secretary of State and our National Security Advisor have also predicted, unfortunately — because there are a lot of areas of the country where Russia has invaded and committed atrocities — no doubt — which we have not yet had visual access to.
I would say that I can’t make an assessment for you from here on what is in President Putin’s mind.
What we do know is that because of the impact of the economic sanctions, including the ones we have taken today, and steps we’ve taken over the course of time, we have seen an unquestionable, significant impact on Russia’s economy.
And that has led to this question now, as a result of the decision around whether or not they would be able to make a bond payment earlier this week, that they will have to decide whether they are going to spend down dollars and resources they have to avoid default or whether they’re going to spend that money — continue to spend that money in funding the war. And that is a part of our objective — is to force them into a place where they are making that decision.
But we’ve seen Russia’s economy collapse by 15 percent, wiping out the gains made in the last 15 years. Inflation is spiking up to 15 percent. Russia is set to lose its status as a major economy. And our objective is to implement those consequences to make it much more difficult for President Putin to fund the war — and we’re seeing the direct impacts of that already — and to make it clear that this was a strategic blunder. And we’re already seeing those impacts on the economy.
How that impacts him and — you know, that — that is not something I can predict in terms of getting into his mind.
Q What is the administration’s current assessment of what Putin’s endgame is? And does the administration believe that that may have shifted since the beginning of the invasion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we — I would say that, one, while they have moved their troops around and repositioned, we have not made — and they haven’t made many airstrikes in the last 24 hours, according to Department of Defense and their briefing, which you may have seen, or their backgrounder — we also know that, you know, their goal remains weakening Ukraine as much as possible. And we should be under no illusion that that objective hasn’t changed, even as their tactics have changed.
Q Thanks, Jen. The President today, as he was talking about his vow to stand by Ukrainians, added a line: “And, by the way, if I’ve got to go to war, I’m going with you guys.” Can you clarify what that meant? Is —
MS. PSAKI: He has no intention of sending boot — troops to the ground or fighting a war between — with the U.S. forces against Russia.
That was a reflection of his long love for labor unions, and members of labor unions, and the building and trades workers who were there, and people that he would always love to be in the foxhole with — not an indication of a change in U.S. policy.
Q Got it.
He also referred to that heated exchange we saw that involved Secretary Austin. And he said, with regard to Ukrainian troops, “We’ve trained them and we’ve given them the weapons.” Can you clarify what he meant by “We have trained them”? What training was he talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there was some, some time ago — training. And we have provided them, obviously, a range of weapons over time.
What point he was making is one Secretary Austin made yesterday: Without the extensive military assistance that we have been providing the Ukrainians — the security assistance — over the course of the last several weeks and even months before that — $1.6 billion worth, maybe a little higher now after the $100 million last night — they would not have been able to effectively fight back as they have.
And how it has basically worked is: They have requested a range of assistance. We go through and see what we are able to provide. We often work with partners and allies to provide assistance we don’t have access to here. And then we expedite the delivery of that over the course of time, whether that is Javelin, Stingers, or a range of materials that are — the U.S. military has determined they’re not only trained on but has been effective in fighting this war.
Q Aside from the physical resources, what training was he talking about? What was the latest training the U.S. troops have done?
MS. PSAKI: There’s not new training to report out to you. What he was really emphasizing and the important part here is what Secretary Austin was also talking about, is the military equipment that has been provided that has allowed them to fight this war.
Q All right. And one more —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — on sanctions. You said a couple times now that, you know, the U.S. sanctioned Putin’s daughters because there’s reason to believe Putin has stashed his wealth with them. Does that mean that the U.S. has some information about where the billionaire daughters are stashing their wealth?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more to provide to you from here. We make assessments about where to implement financial sanctions to get close to not only the assets of President Putin, but those around him. And we have seen a long pattern of using relatives and family members to stash wealth.
Q Thank you, Jen. First, on immigration: Our team in Texas is that saying that you guys are starting to give smartphones to border crossers, hoping that they’ll use the phones to check in or to be tracked. I — which part of that is supposed to deter people from crossing illegally into the states?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you of all people — since you’ve asked me a range of questions on this topic over time — would recognize that we need to take steps to ensure that we know where individuals are and we can track — and we can check in with them.
The alternatives to detention programs — is what we utilize — has three unique forms of technology to monitor participants enrolled in the program:
Telephonic, which is one of them, which is uses a participant’s voice to create a biometric voice print during the enrollment process. And when the participant has a check-in call, their voice is compared to the voice print.
SmartLink, which is another option, enables participant monitoring via smartphone or tablet using facial-matching technology to establish identity.
And Global Positioning System monitoring is of a participant’s location and movement history, using satellite technology through an ankle bracelet. This is all part of our effort, as individuals come into the United States and individuals who are entering who will proceed to immigration proceedings, to monitor and track where they are.
Q With the telephonic, though, any concern by folks around here that these migrants will take the phones and just
toss them? And then —
MS. PSAKI: Do you have a record of people throwing phones away?
Q I’m just asking if that’s a concern.
MS. PSAKI: Our concern is ensuring that individuals who irregularly migrate to the United States proceed through our process of, you know, of course, being monitored, but also participating in — in hearings to determine whether or not they will be able to stay.
I would note that nearly 80 percent of non-citizens released at the border from DHS custody under prosecut- — prosecutorial discretion have either received a notice to appear or are still within their window to report.
So, actually, the vast, vast majority of people are appearing. In part, we have these monitors and monitoring systems in order to do that effectively.
Q Okay. On another topic, was it common for President Biden to do favors for Hunter Biden’s international business partners like writing college recommendations for their kids?
MS. PSAKI: I have — I’ve seen the report. I have no confirmation or comments on a report about whether or not the President, when he was a private citizen, wrote a college recommendation letter for an individual.
Q A college recommendation letter, though, from, at the time, a former Vice President would be a big deal. So, do we know what the President might have gotten in return for doing a favor like that?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I have no confirmation of any recommendation letter the President wrote when he was a private citizen — by the way, not serving in public office. That’s even in the report.
Q But he’s the President now, and you’re his spokesperson.
MS. PSAKI: Correct. And he was not the President at the time of this report.
Q So, there’s evidence that the President, at one point, was officemates with Hunter and his brother Jim here in D.C.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not accurate.
Q That is not accurate? So, when Hunter Biden is emailing a landlord, “Please have keys made available for new officemates — Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Jim Biden,” that — you’re disputing it?
MS. PSAKI: They were not officemates, no.
Q They were not officemates. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: Great.
Q Thanks, Jen. On student loans, briefly — and you were sort of asked about this yesterday, but I just wanted to come back to it. So, as people plan for the future, should borrowers expect that after August 31st, they’ll have to repay their loans? Or is there another — is there a chance that it could be further extended after August 31st?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll continue to assess. And what we look at — while, of course, the economy is in a better state than it is — than it was a year ago, and it’s — we have a strong recovery, we also understand that there are a range of impacts that are still longer lasting because of the pandemic, including the impacts on costs and inflation.
And this is part of the President’s effort to help alleviate that, as was fix — as was the “family glitch” announcement of yesterday.
So, we’ll make an evaluation. The Department of Education will look at that and a range of factors as we get closer to that timeline.
Q And has the President, at this point, ruled out a possible executive-level cancellation on a widescale of student debt?
MS. PSAKI: He has not ruled out, but I don’t have any update on that. And I would note that, again, he would encourage Congress to send him a bill cancelling $10,000 in student debt, something that he talked about looking forward to signing on the campaign trail.
Q And just really briefly, on the G20 —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — Secretary Yellen said today that they may not — that the U.S. might not attend meetings if Russians are there. Is that — is she implying that these would just be individual meetings, or would it be a kind of broader-scale boycott of the G20 in Bali?
MS. PSAKI: She — I think they have later clarified she was referencing at the ministerial level and, more specific, meetings. I would point you to them of the more specifics.
The President has also said — he said on the trip that he did not think Russia should be a part of the G20, you know, meeting. And I would note it’s seven months away, which is a lifetime in our — in our lives. But it wasn’t an indication of plans for us to boycott or not attend. It was just, “It shouldn’t be business as usual,” which is something the President has also said.
Q Jen, is it a priority of the President to try to identify the Russian units that carried out the atrocities in Bucha? Is that something that the U.S. may be able to do? And is it something the President wants to have happen?
MS. PSAKI: We will continue to assist in every way possible with these efforts to track down data, additional information, and contribute to the international effort to do exactly that.
Q May I ask, if I can, a couple of other questions that made news today? A judge has just issued the first outright acquittal of a defendant charged in the January 6th Capitol riot. This was a New Mexico man, Matthew Martin. He was acquitted on some misdemeanor charges by the judge. This man had claimed that he thought police allowed him into an entrance near the Capitol Rotunda. Does the White House have any view now that that case has been adjudicated?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific comment on that case. We continue to support the efforts of the January 6th commission and all of the members in trying to get to the bottom of what happened that day to prevent it from happening in the future.
Q Let me go back to one last question as it relates to what’s happening in Russia. The U.S. still doesn’t have an ambassador to India, but it appears increasingly clear that Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti doesn’t have the votes right now to be confirmed. How does the lack of an ambassador to India impact our ability — America’s ability to pressure India not to work with Russia in providing any aid or assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, while our preference is always to have a confirmed ambassador on the ground — it’s an incredibly important diplomatic position — we also engage with countries through a range of channels.
And obviously, our Deputy National Security Advisor was just in India recently in the last few weeks conveying clearly what the consequences of violating sanctions would be and what the mechanisms are; and also making clear that we do not think India should accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and other commodities, even as obviously those decisions are made by individual countries; and also making clear that we stand ready to support India as — in any efforts to diversify its imports and serve as a reliable supplier, even as they’re only importing about 1 to 2 percent of their oil from India.
So, we have a range of ways to communicate and engage. And obviously, sending our Deputy National Security Advisor is an example of that. But clearly our preference would be to have a confirmed ambassador.
Q Does the President still support that nomination?
MS. PSAKI: He does.
Q The Russian ruble has been on the rise. Viktor Orbán in Hungary said today that he’d be happy to pay for Russian gas in rubles and that he’s happy to buy more Russian gas. Is there anything the U.S. can do about this? Are you engaging Hungary on this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would — I would first say, in terms of the ruble, the reason — it’s important to note that the Russian Central Bank is making extreme policy decisions to artificially prop up the ruble. So it’s not actually on the rise. It is being artificially propped up by limitations that they are putting in place, including barring banks from selling dollars to customers; Russian brokerages are not allowing foreign clients to sell securities; exporters are being forced to sell 80 percent of their dollar revenues and buy rubles. So, they are essentially manipulating it on their end.
As it relates to Hungary — I mean, slightly a different question, but our — you know, obviously, there was the recent election, as you noted, of Viktor Orbán. I would note that our — Hungary is a NATO Ally, continues to be. We continue to cooperate on a range of bilateral and shared global interests, including on NATO defense and on humanitarian assistance. They’re currently hosting forces from an Army Stryker infantry troop as part of a NATO battle group. We regularly conduct joint training exercises with them, and we will continue to work to strengthen our partnership with Hungary.
Obviously, reliance on the ruble is a decision individual countries will make, and we’ve obviously made our views clear on that front.
Q So you have engaged Hungary on this question?
MS. PSAKI: That is not what I conveyed. I just conveyed they’re a NATO Ally.
Q Can we go back to the sanctions? As they were announced this morning, the Sberbank and the Alfa Bank sanctions, I believe, exclude energy. They’re full blocking sanctions excluding energy. Similarly, the SOE sanctions coming tomorrow also will not affect the energy sector.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Can you speak to that balancing act? Is that because you’re worried about the domestic impact here in the U.S. on the price of natural gas, price of gasoline? Or is that because the Europeans asked you to sort of carve that out? Why — or why is that still sort of a bridge too far for the U.S. on these sanctions? They’re not really full blocking sanctions if they’re excluding energy.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I would say they’re quite extensive, given Sberbank is the largest bank in Russia and Alfa Bank is the largest private bank in Russia. So, in total, we’ve now fully blocked more than two thirds of Russia’s banking sector.
These conversations and discussions, obviously, are done in coordination with our European allies and partners. And we continue to assess how we can maximize the impact while minimizing the impact on other economies, including, of course, the gloi- — the global oil marketplace.
And we’ve taken steps, of course, banning oil imports. A number of countries, including Poland, in Europe have announced their intention to take steps, but that’s up to individual countries to make. But it’s part coordination, assessment with other countries and our allies about the impacts. But I would still say it’s quite a significant step, given they’re the largest bank in Russia.
Q So is it accurate then to say that this was done because of the Europeans saying, “Hey, you know, this would be too (inaudible)?”
MS. PSAKI: No, this is — but we do update them and brief them on the steps we take and why. And we look at the impacts on — on how things will impact the United States, how they will impact a range of our allies as we make decisions about sanctions.
Q And very quickly on the central bank actions propping up the ruble — do you have any sense of how long they’re able to keep that up?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an assessment from here at this point in time on that.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. On immigration: With the lifting of Section 42, there are a lot of Democrats, particularly Democratic senators, up for reelection who worry that you don’t have a plan to either stop the spring surge of undocumented immigrants or handle it. What do you say to those Democrats?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that Title 42 is not an immigration measure, it’s a public health measure and one that Congress has given the CDC authority to make a decision about. And we respect that and think that’s — that’s absolutely right. That’s why the President proposed an immigration bill in his first day in office. And we would certainly welcome efforts of anybody to work with us on that.
But as we’re implementing this over the course of the next five weeks, if I’m doing my math correctly, we’ve also surged resources from the Department of Homeland Security. And we will continue to take additional steps to implement and make clear that this is not the time to come, that there are — there will still be significant measures put in place for anyone who tries to irregularly migrate to the United States.
Q Do you feel that you — I mean, what’s your goal, and what do you expect — what impact do you expect to have on the spring surge with those kinds of measures?
MS. PSAKI: I would really point you to the Department of Homeland Security to make any projections of that, because we have not made any projections of what it will mean in terms of the ending of Title 42 either.
Q Thanks. I know that you’ve talked about the stringent measures you’ve taken to keep the President safe from COVID that go beyond the CDC guidelines, but that’s such a visual contrast between that and the President showing up maskless in front of people at some of these events. So how do you make sure that you keep that protection bubble around him? I’m sure you feel like you’re asked to explain this ad nauseum. But —
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s okay.
Q — the bubble is looking pretty porous lately. So how do you keep that, sort of, enforced?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say, first, that we continue to
take measures that go beyond what the CDC protocols are. That includes ensuring that everybody who’s going to see the President in a meeting is tested in advance — or if you’re traveling with the President, you’re tested in advance.
When possible, we take steps to socially distance in circumstances, which certainly the Oval Office and other meeting spaces in the White House allow for.
If an individual in the White House is a close contact, they are asked to or required to, I guess you could say, wear a mask for 10 days after that exposure. And they are also tested regularly following.
So, I would say we take additional measures that go beyond what the CDC protocols and requirements are to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to keep principals safe — the President, the Vice President, and others, of course, in the building.
Q Was everyone tested before the East Room event tomorrow — everyone who was there?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not at public events. I’m talking about at meetings. But again, I can check on the protocols for public events. Sure.
Q Have you changed any protocol surrounding him in recent days as more people are — in the administration contract this virus?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve continued to implement stringent and strict protocols.
I would note that even as we’re looking at, with BA.2 — a very transmissible variant, as we all know, and our public health officials have told us. We’ve seen an increase in cases — right? — in the country, in the region, among the press corps, and certainly in the White House. And — but it is not, at this point, what we saw during Omicron.
And what — the steps we have taken here, including policy put in place to ensure that “return to work” was part of our policies in the federal government, are meant to ensure that can continue to be the case. And even while we have individuals who are out with COVID, everyone here is required to be tested, highly recommended to be boosted. People who are out because of that — the vast, vast majority have mild cases and are continuing to work from home.
And obviously, we are continuing to implement the “return to work” policy and feel we have the measures necessary to do that.
Q So what’s the clearest version of the message that you’re trying to send to Americans about living with this virus, even as infection rates rise — I mean, that it’s not the end of the world if you get it if you’re boosted? I mean, is that the message you send through the President, who’s maskless in front of hundreds of people — that this isn’t the end, that we have to live this way? Is that the clear version of the message?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our recommend- — well, the message we’re sending is to follow the CDC protocols and guidance for where you live. The President does that. He did an event in Washington, D.C., today where it does not require mask wearing. There are other parts of the country, as you know, where he’s traveled and he has worn a mask where that has been the recommendation.
Our protocols also here — and we would certainly project this to the American people — are that getting vaccinated and getting boosted — and if you are immunocompromised or you’re over certain age, getting your next booster — is certainly a way to help protect yourself. That’s something the President has done and every member of the senior staff and White House staff has done and will continue to do, although some of us are teasing the people who are over 50 that were not old enough yet. But that’s a si- — that’s a sidebar. When we are, we will be doing that as well.
So, it is — it is to follow the protocols and to recognize that the statistics show you are significantly more likely to be hospitalized and even to die if you are not vaccinated, if you are not boosted.
And, yes, we are living with COVID-19. We are continuing to fight it. And our biggest message right now is that we need the resources from Congress to continue to have the — to ensure we have programs for the uninsured, that we can provide treatments for immunocompromised, that we can make sure that we have testing mechanisms and booster mechanisms. And we’re going to — we’re at serious risk of those programs not being able to continue. Some haven’t, obviously.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Jen, just to follow up on something you said to Mara on the Title 42 question. You said that the administration will be taking additional steps to make clear this is not the time to come. That was, of course, a pretty explicit message from the President and others last year: “Do not come.” Is that still the message on May 24th?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Okay. And then, a follow-up to that: As the U.S. moves to end Title 42 in May, are there discussions now or is there any update you can give us on ending the testing requirement for reentry into the U.S. for people traveling here?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that at this point in time. That’s something we will continue to evaluate.
Q Thank you so much. I have a follow-up on sanctions and energy.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q The European Union said yesterday that they are paying Russia, every day, a little more than $1 billion for gas and oil. How long can this go on, in the President’s view, without undermining the collective effort to punish Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that we continue to believe that it’s up to individual countries to make assessments about what additional measures they will be put in place. While we are focused on continuing unity with our NATO Allies and partners and our European partners, it does not mean that it is always identical, and different countries have to make their own assessments.
What we’ve also tried to do is take steps to ensure there are other options to reduce dependence, even if it’s a small percentage. And if there’s a vari- — varying, as you all know, degree of reliance for these countries you’re referencing on Russian oil. And some of them have taken steps to convey they want to reduce or end their dependence or import of Russian oil, and that’s something certainly we’d support and play any constructive role in helping — to helping expedite.
Q Jen, a follow-up —
MS. PSAKI: I’ll come around to you in a second. Go ahead.
Q To follow up on the question about Hungary, are there any plans to engage with them about this particular topic of paying in rubles at any level in the coming days or weeks?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with the State Department to see if there’s any plans for engagement about it.
Q Okay, Jen. Again, an American Catho- —
Q Thank you. You talked about the increasing picture of Russia’s economy. Over the years, public reporting has shown that white supremacists and other domestic extremists have developed an affinity for Russia. Is there any concern that as the Russian economy continues to degrade, that Russia might try and inspire domestic extremists, domestic terrorists to commit acts of violence on American soil in retaliation?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an interesting and scary question. I don’t have any prediction or assessment of that, nor have I heard a prediction or assessment of that from our national security experts or the Department of Homeland Security. I’m happy to check with them and see if there’s anything on that front.
Q Jen, again —
Q Yeah. Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Okay. All right, Jen. So, an American Catholic nun has been abducted — it happened Monday night — by gunmen in Burkina Faso, in Western Africa. Her name is Sister Suellen Tennyson. She was doing missionary work there. Is the White House aware of that, by any chance — her abduction?
MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to check with our national security team and the State Department. Obviously, they would have purview over any steps to bring Sister — tell me her name again.
Q Sister Suellen Tennyson. And she was working in Burkina Faso, in Western Africa.
MS. PSAKI: Sister Tennyson back, who clearly was doing incredible work — humanitarian work, it sounds like — on behalf of the people in Burkina Faso.
I will check with the State Department and see if there’s any updates on this specific case.
Q Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, okay. All right. Okay, go ahead, Patsy. Go ahead.
Q Okay. Thank you, Jen. I want to follow up on what you said yesterday about the lack of global COVID funding. And you explained it essentially means that the U.S. cannot turn the doses that you already have into shots in arms. And I believe that the U.S. has already purchased 1.2 billion doses that it’s pledged. And out of that, there is about 680 million that haven’t been delivered.
So, my question, then, is: What will happen to those doses? I know, like, possibly you already have funding for delivery — the cold chain storage, training people, and so on. But what happens to the rest of it when you are unable to turn those vaccines into vaccinations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re not quite there yet. And our hope is that we will be able to turn them — vaccines into vaccinations.
But as you know, it’s not just an issue of vaccine doses. It’s the know-how, it’s the capacity, it’s the tools and mechanisms to be able to store, deliver, implement getting shots into arms in a number of these countries, which is why a number of countries haven’t even been able to accept the doses that we’ve been able to offer — because of that know-how. And that is part of the program that is so essential to fund through USAID and other of our international bodies to do exactly that.
But we’re not quite at that point. We’re going to continue to press for international funding, just like we are going to continue to press for domestic funding, because we feel it’s important and imperative that we continue to be the arsenal of vaccines around the world.
Q Can you give us a sense on how you want to do that? Is the goal to push for a separate package on global COVID funding?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. Obviously, it was disappointing, to say the least, that the package did not move forward despite an agreement on that yesterday afternoon.
But what I’m here to convey is that this funding, domestically and internationally, is imperative, it’s urgent, and we’re going to continue to press for all of it.
Q And I have one more question on Daleep Singh’s visit to India —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — which was also partly to go on a listening tour for the Build Back Better World that was actually scheduled to be formally launched early this year.
So if you can give us an update on that. Why has it not launched yet? And at this point, do you feel that it is — with the projects — with the listening tours, with the pilot projects that are being planned, is it robust enough to be introduced to the world as a viable alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, the President has used his own time to talk about Build Back Better World and how important it is to our efforts to rebuild infrastructure without the strings attached around the world. And that speaks to our commitment to it. And obviously, our Nat- — Deputy National Security Advisor taking a trip himself, having a discussion about it is a reflection of our commitment to that and our efforts.
Q Can I ask you a follow-up question on COVID-19?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q The WHO Director-General is in D.C. —
Q Earlier this morning at the Monitor Breakfast, NEC Director Brian Deese mentioned a classified briefing that took place earlier today between lawmakers, Jake Sullivan, and others about, quote, “escalating vulnerabilities” around semiconductors. Can you tell us more about this meeting? And was it an effort to get Congress to hurry up on the reconciliation of the two related bills?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can’t speak to the specifics of a classified briefing. What I can tell you is that we can — remain committed to supporting efforts to get you USICA passed, which includes significant funding for chips manufacturing and production, which, as we know, is a big hindrance to our ability to manufacture a range of — a range of items in the United States, including cars and others, that rely on chips. And this bill has a great deal of funding for it.
So, I think it was a reminder — and more details that I can’t get into from here on — on how important addressing that shortage and being able to produce them at home are, moving forward.
Q Jen, as the administration sort of collects this evidence for potential war crimes trials against Russian officials, does the U.S., does the administration have a preferred venue for where that type of trial might take place? That — there are obviously a few avenues available to the international community.
MS. PSAKI: There are. And there — there’s a lot of precedent and — that has used different venues. So at this point, that determination has not been made.
What we are doing — and I think I would point you first to our Attorney General’s comments earlier today about the role of the Department of Justice in this effort moving forward. But we have supported a range of efforts, including the efforts by the Ukrainian Special Prosecutor to gather information and the work of the war crimes unit under the Ukrainian Prosecutor General — sorry, Prosecutor General, not Special Prosecutor — and a team of international prosecutors who are working with them.
We also — in the last few weeks, we helped establish investigations for the U.N. Human Rights Council and the OSCE of possible violations by Russia. And we welcome the investigation opened by the ICC Prosecutor.
So there has been different ways that war crimes –unfortunately, there are past instances and examples — have been investigated and tried in the past. And we’re going to support all of these efforts, but there hasn’t been a determination yet about what mechanism it will take.
Q Has this effort changed at all the thinking of the administration as it relates to the relationship between the U.S. and the ICC?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we are not a member of the ICC, as you know. That hasn’t changed. We have supported and contributed data and information to ICC investigations in the past. There was — we supported the U.N. Security Council’s referral of Libya to the ICC back in 2011. And if you look back to 2004, we also provided data and information to the ICC investigation of Darfur.
So, there is past precedent, even as we have not been members of the ICC.
Q Thank you, Jen. A couple of follow ups. When the President said that the U.S. was training Ukrainians, was he talking about training that had occurred during his administration?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any other additional details. What he was really making a point about is what Secretary Austin said yesterday, which is that without the extensive and robust military assistance we have provided, the Ukrainians would not have been able to as effectively fight and push back on the Russian invasion.
Q And then he said, “Amazon, here we come.” You said that he was generally expressing his support for the right to unionize. Moments later, though, news broke that the SEC was beginning an investigation of Amazon. Was that a coincidence?
MS. PSAKI: No relation. SEC is an independent agency.
Q Gotcha. Was he aware that there was an investigation?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.
Q And then, one final one. This administration has sent everything from medical supplies to laser-guided rockets to the Ukrainians right now. While this administration is making them more lethal, is the thought that we are bolstering their defensive capabilities? Or is the administration confident that we are bolstering their offensive capability to, in fact, you know, expel Russia from their borders?
MS. PSAKI: Well, their country is being invaded, so it’s all defensive. They’re defending their sovereign country and the territorial integrity of Ukraine using these weapons systems that the Department of Defense has long categorized as defensive systems.
You wouldn’t go invade another country with a lot of these systems — the vast majority of these systems. That’s not how you would go about it. And obviously, that is not what they’re doing. They’re trying to protect their own people, their own cities, their own innocent civilians who are being invaded by a foreign power.
Q Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let me do one more in the back because I never get to the Huffington Post, and I — today is the day. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Jen. There was a recent report that the President had expressed some frustration that the former President had not been charged. Without getting into the details of that, there are lots of people being charged with obstructing an official proceeding, meaning the January 6th certification.
Well, the former President was doing that openly and his administration was doing it. Why wouldn’t you charge him? And why hasn’t the President come out and said that if that’s the case?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — first, I’ve never heard the President say those words — or say that phrase that was reported. And I know Ron Klain said something similarly, so I don’t know — we each spend a lot of time with him.
But I would say that the President, from the beginning, has felt strongly that the Justice Department and the Attorney General must operate independently, and any decisions about prosecution need to be made independently. And that is the strength of our system, even as the former guy ignored that and former-President Nixon ignored it as well.
The President does not want to be in that category of how you approach the separation of the White House and the Department of Justice. And — and he thinks that will even strengthen our systems as they’ve been weakened over the last few years.
Okay, thanks so much. All right.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
All right, everybody. See you tomorrow.
4:02 P.M. EDT