James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:38 P.M. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone.
Q Happy Friday.
MS. PSAKI: Happy Friday. Is there more to say on this historic day? (Laughter.)
Okay. So, I want to first start by outlining our security assistance to Ukraine, and there’s been a lot of good questions about this, and we thought this would be a helpful rundown for all of you. It’s — the Department of Defense also put out a factsheet that has this detailed as well.
The security assistance the Biden administration is providing to Ukraine is enabling critical success on the battlefield against the Russian-invading force. The number one reason that they’re able to fight back is their bravery and courage. The number two reason is the security assistance that we are providing and we are providing in coordination with our allies and partners.
We’re working around the clock to fulfill Ukraine’s priority security assistance requests, delivering weapons from U.S. stocks when they are available, and facilitating the delivery of weapons by allies and partners when their systems better suit Ukraine’s needs.
All of the anti-armor and anti-air systems from the two packages of security assistance the President approved in March have been delivered. We are continuing work with allies and partners to identify additional weapons systems to help the Ukrainian military defend its country. Obviously, there was the announcement about the S-300s earlier today, and our efforts to work to backfill that.
At President Zelenskyy’s request, this includes helping Ukraine acquire long-range anti-aircraft systems and munitions that they are trained to use. More than 30 nations have sent Ukraine security assistance, thanks in part to the leadership of President Biden and diplomacy that he has been implementing for months now.
On April 5th, we announced an additional $100 million in security assistance to Ukraine through a presidential drawdown authority. We also announced $300 million in security assistance on April 1st under authorities provided by the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. These announcements bring the U.S. commitment to more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since Russia’s February 24th invasion, and $2.4 billion since the beginning of the administration.
I will not read through all of this for you. You can all, of course, read it yourself. And we will provide all of the list to all of you should — if you did not receive the Department of Defense factsheet.
I also wanted to note that, today, according to a new independent study, the Biden administration’s historic vaccination program saved 2.3 million lives in the United States, prevented 17 million hospitalizations and 66 million cases, and avoided $900 billion in healthcare costs.
Over the past 15 months, the President has mounted a successful nationwide vaccination effort while executing a comprehensive strategy on treatments, testing, and more. As a result, schools are open, our economy is booming. And importantly, today’s report shows we’ve spared millions of families the immeasurable loss that too many others have suffered.
And because of the President’s comprehensive response, we’ve entered a new moment in our fight against the virus. While COVID isn’t over, Americans now have more tools than ever before to protect themselves and this country is moving forward safely, back to many of our more normal routines.
Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are holding up critical funding we need to make even more progress to save even more lives and to stay prepared against any potential surges or variants. Inaction will leave our nation less prepared for future surges and variants. It will mean fewer vaccines, treatments, and tests for the American people. This is deeply disappointing, and it should be unacceptable to every American.
I also wanted to give you a sense of the week ahead. Just one trip next week that we announced earlier today — at this point. There could be more.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, to discuss his administration’s efforts to make more in America, rebuild our supply chains here at home, and bring down costs for the American people as part of building a better America.
Following that trip, he will travel to Camp David, where he will remain over the Easter weekend.
And then, finally, as I’ve been doing a little bit this week, I just want to shout out some amazing colleagues I have: Lewis, who we have stolen from FEMA — not really stolen; he’s a detailee. Well, he’s a fellow, actually. We’ve had him since November. Soon, they will steal him back.
And Lewis has been remarkable. Lewis has been reading Russian media, which comes in use — in great use. He has been tracking down a range of coverage about the war in Ukraine. He has been relentless in giving us updates and providing us information. And we’re incredibly grateful to Lewis, and we’ll be sad to see you go back to FEMA to do very important work.
Many of you know Amanda Finney. I call her “the mayor” because she knows every person, seemingly, who works in the building and on the complex, which is about 2,000 people. I would not survive this job without Amanda Finney. You probably would all not have received all the help you have received about a range of things without Amanda Finney. She is smart, sassy, levelheaded, stable. She’s remarkable. And we may all work for her one day in some capacity. I certainly may. But I’m very grateful to her. So, I just wanted to shout that out. And her yellow suit is very joyful for a joyful day.
Okay, with that — it’s a Friday!
Q It’s Friday. Thanks so much. I’ve got a couple things.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q First on this — the missile attack at this train station. Does the administration think that Russia might have intentionally targeted the train station, knowing that there will be a lot of civilians there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’ve seen over the course of the last six weeks — or more than that — has been what the President himself has characterized as war crimes, which is the intentional targeting of civilians.
This is yet another horrific atrocity committed by Russia, striking civilians who were trying to evacuate and reach safety.
Where we are now is we’re going to support efforts to investigate this attack as we document Russia’s actions, hold them accountable. And we will continue to surge security assistance and weapons deliveries to help Ukraine defend their country.
Obviously, the targeting of civilians would certainly be a war crime. And we’ve already called a range of the actions we’ve seen to date a war crime, but we’re going to be supporting efforts to investigate exactly what happened here.
Q Okay. Changing topics. Senior administration officials have said publicly on TV, suggesting it’s possible the President could get COVID. I’m wondering: Is the administration attempting to prepare the public for the possibility of the President getting the — testing positive?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what we’re trying to do is be as transparent and direct with the American people as possible about the fact that while the President is — takes a range of protocols, we have a range of protocols in place here that are aligned and even beyond the CDC requirements. Those include, as we’ve outlined here many times in the past, testing before you see the President, testing before you travel with him, social distancing when possible.
We believe we have the tools and protocol to address this point we are in the virus. But like anyone else, the President may at some point test positive for COVID. And while we have seen an increase in recent — I would just note: While we have seen an increase in cases around people, I should just say, that some of us may know, I would also note that cases remain down 95 percent since the height of Omicron. That is fact, that is data, even as we’ve seen cases of people we know.
But what is important for the American people to know is that he has taken a range of precautions, as we all have. But he’s also taken steps — like getting the second booster, as he did last week in public. And his doctors are comfortable that he could continue to carry out his duties because of all these steps and precautions and protections he’s taken. And we — certainly, that’s one of the reasons we encourage the rest of the American public to do the same.
Q Do you — this is the first time that we’ve heard a White House official sort of describe it as a certain possibility that the President could get COVID. Are you saying that you think it’s more possible now, given sort of the little outbreak that we’re seeing in D.C. right now?
MS. PSAKI: No. We’re just saying that it is a possibility. Again, we are — cases are down 95 percent across the country since the height of Omicron. While cases are up in Washington, D.C., they’re also far below the height of the cases and where they were in Omicron.
But it is also the case that despite all the precautions we take. And even with the President being double boosted, he could still test positive for COVID, just as people in the — many people in the White House have, many people in the press corps have. That is a possibility. And we want to be transparent with the American public about that.
Q By our rough count here, you have at least 18 politicians and people close to the President who have now tested positive this week, though. And you’ve reiterated all the extra precautions that you are taking to try and keep him safe — some of the extra masking and testing protocol. But just to be safe, have you considered maybe cutting down some of the big indoor events or scaling back any — or changing, sort of, your tactic with some of these events?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly, we did the event — the historic event today outside. That was, in part, to ensure that we could have a huge number of people on the South Lawn celebrating the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. But also, we know that having events outside is better for safety protocols. There’s no question about that.
But what’s important for the American people to know and understand is that because of all the steps we’ve taken, because the President is double boosted, because of — you know, obviously he has access to the best healthcare in the world, but his doctors have assessed that these are risks that can be taken. We risk-assess just like everybody out in the country.
And it’s important for him to be able to continue his presidential duties now and even if he tests positive in the future, just like Americans out there in the country are taking their kids to school, they go to the grocery store, maybe they’re making a decision to go to dinner. This is a time where we are certainly living with the virus, but we have a range of tools at our disposal to do that.
Q Thanks, Jen. A couple of quick questions on oil, and then one on the French election. We have some reporting showing that the administration is considering easing sanctions to allow some oil imports from Venezuela as a way to replace banned energy shipments from Russia. Can you talk a little bit about any such considerations?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of that being under consideration.
Q Okay. Okay. At the moment, is it — is it going to perhaps be considered for — going forward? Or —
MS. PSAKI: It has not been, so I’m not aware of it being under consideration.
Q Okay. And one other one on when Daleep was in India. He delivered this warning to India to not raise purchases of Russian oil. And we were wondering if perhaps sanctions along similar lines are being considered for other nations, asking them to keep purchases of Russian oil only limited to previous levels and, perhaps, not raise (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: First, I wouldn’t characterize it as a warning, nor did we at the time. He went and had a constructive conversation and made clear that while it’s the decision of each individual country, including India, to determine whether they’re going to import Russian oil, it is only 1 to 2 percent of their imports. About 10 percent of their imports is from the United States.
And so he conveyed, of course, they should abide by sanctions, which are not related to that decision, but also, we would be here to help them diversify and move towards even reducing further beyond the 1 to 2 percent.
Q Is that decision, perhaps, being relayed also to other countries, asking them to perhaps follow the same guidelines?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we convey to every country to abide by sanctions. And we’ve conveyed to a range of European countries, as you know and as we’ve talked about, that as they work to diversify their energy sources, that we are here to assist in those efforts.
And there are a range of steps we’ve taken, including efforts on LNG — I mean, that’s natural gas, of course — but efforts on LNG and moving some resources from Asia and other places, and ensuring that there are options to — for any country that wants to, to diversify their energy sources.
Q Okay. And one on the French elections. Are you watching the French elections coming up this Sunday, perhaps, with any concerns — especially with the rise of Le Pen, who is a far-right candidate, running against Macron?
MS. PSAKI: We are certainly watching the elections, but I don’t have any prediction of what the outcome will be. And once there is an outcome, I’m sure we will speak to it.
Q Understanding it’s a fluid situation, but I think the atrocities in Bucha serve as an accelerant towards the latest sanctions package, the coordination between the G7 —
MS. PSAKI: That we announced two days ago?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Is there any sense that the strike that we saw this morning will also accelerate talks on additional sanctions between the coordinated allies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say just go — to go back to a couple of days ago, that obviously the sanctions package we announced on Wednesday, with some — the biggest bank in Russia, Sberbank, certainly that was augmented as a result of the atrocities that we were seeing in Bucha.
And what we have done to date and we will continue to do is look at, unfortunately, the continued atrocities that we’re seeing in the country and assess how that’s going to impact sanctions, consequences, and, obviously, additional security assistance.
So that’s how we’ve been evaluating and working with our allies to date. And I’m certain, given the video footage we’ve seen on airwaves across the world and photos, that this will be a part of the discussion that our national security officials are having with their counterparts moving forward.
Q Okay. On the S-300 —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q — it’s been fairly apparent for the last several weeks that that was a process that you guys were engaged in.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q I know you are deliberately ambiguous as to some of the other processes that may be taking place, but is it fair to say that there are multiple other tracks that are similarly far down the line for other weapons systems? Or how can you characterize how far along you are, compared to where you are now with the S-300, on other systems?
MS. PSAKI: So — well, one, I mean, part of our objective here — and the S-300s are an example of that — is to see that we can get defensive equipment that Ukrainians are trained on and that we know can be effective moved to Ukraine.
So we are, of course, grateful to Slovakia and we work closely with Slovakia to also meet their defense needs. And part of our considerations here as we’re looking at the list of requests that the Ukrainians have is: What do we have access to here in the United States? What military equipment do we have access to?
There are systems we may not have access — access to or we may not even have those systems. So how can we work with countries around the world, like Slovakia, to meet those needs?
So there are a range of those conversations happening with our partners and allies at the same time. I will tell you that often it is the preference of these partners and allies not to be public about these conversations. And at times, it is the preference of the Ukrainians. And we certainly respect that.
Q And just one final one. It’s been a pretty historic 24 hours —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — for the history of the Supreme Court, for the country. We’ve seen the President speak publicly. Can you talk about — do you have any color in terms of what he’s been like behind the scenes, delivering on a campaign pledge —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — putting the first African American woman on the Court — how he’s been with staff, with the justice, all that?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I’m going to try not to ugly cry about this day, because — which we were all — we were all doing on the South Lawn.
Look, I was with the President before he went out. I was there on time; I didn’t run out, as you would have seen. I was with him before, when he was reviewing his — doing his final review of his remarks.
And what he was reflecting on is — and you saw some of this in his speech — were the number of people, whether it is people who work at the White House; people who are part of his every day; you know, stewards or others who have commented to him how significant this moment is and how — you know, in a place where you are just trying to — trying to make it through every day — and every day is history, in many ways.
History can be heartbreaking. And many days, it has been. History can be exhausting. And many days, it has been. And history can be joyful. And today was a joyful day in history.
And that is certainly how the President was. You saw his granddaughter, Naomi, who he talked about in the speech, come out. She was there also for a brief greet with — with Justice Jackson beforehand. And he made a — made an effort to also introduce the new associate justice to some members of his close staff who just were inspired by the significance of today as well.
So I would say there was a deep recognition of this moment of history, a joy in reaching it. And I think we’ve all been saying to each other in the hallways, “No one can speal [sic] our — steal our sunshine today,” because that’s how everybody is feeling.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Jen. To follow up on that, did the President spend any time with the Jackson family before the formal event or afterward (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as we confirmed, she signed her commission — or he signed her commission, and her family was with her for that. So, it was briefly before he came out to do the remarks.
Q Okay, got it.
And to follow up on a question from Katie earlier this week about other precautions that the President may or may not be taking, do you know or he is taking any monoclonal antibodies to help prevent catching COVID?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Evusheld is for immunocompromised. That would be the preemptive step. And he’s not immunocompromised, so he’s not taking Evusheld.
Q Is taking any other medication that might help?
MS. PSAKI: Like what?
Q Well, I don’t actually know. (Laughs.) That’s a great question. Other than the booster — you know, we’ve heard other people taking other kinds of prophylactics to prevent it. Is he taking anything, that you know of?
MS. PSAKI: There are not other — this is why I asked. There are not other — Evusheld is obviously one that, if you’re immunocompromised, is something that has been approved and recommended. Since he is not categorized that way, he isn’t taking it.
But other than that, the precautions we’re taking are — he obviously got the booster when he was eligible last week, and, you know, we take additional steps, including testing, socially distanced meetings when possible as well, in order to protect him as much as possible.
Q Thank you. And then just one more on something that Samantha Power shared.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q She said that Russian forces have killed at least seven journalists in Ukraine in six weeks and that Putin soldiers are killing journalists at an unprecedented rate. Is there any intelligence, any information that Putin is targeting journalists? And do you have any warning that you’re sharing with American journalists covering the war?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, we — we value the role that American journalists and journalists from around the world — (cell phone disruption) — that felt like a direction to somewhere — have played in — in bringing light — bringing to light for a lot of people in this country this war: what’s happening, the devastation, the horrors. It has been a — had a direct impact on people’s emotional response in the United States. There’s no question about that.
We recognize the work of journalists in war zones, of course, and value it. And as you all know, we also work very closely with leaders of news organizations to ensure that they have up-to-date information to keep members of their media organization safe.
It is still a war zone — an active war zone, and we’re still conveying that Americans should not be there — right? — including journalists.
In terms of specific targeting, we knew from the beginning — and we’ve talked publicly about this, of course — that President Putin and the Russian military was going to target — was intending to target or could target civilians and others, including journalists could be part of that. But I don’t have anything — any new intelligence or anything beyond that.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Is there a carve-out in CDC regulations for COVID for the Vice President?
MS. PSAKI: Tell me more, Peter. I’m sure this is going somewhere. Let’s see.
Q Well, you know, the —
MS. PSAKI: What do you got for me on a Friday?
Q The CDC says, for people exposed to COVID, up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations: Do not go to places where you are unable to wear a well-fitting mask. So why is she here at the White House today giving the new Supreme Court justice a big hug with no mask?
MS. PSAKI: You mean when she gave her a ma- — a hug outside?
MS. PSAKI: She was outside.
Q Does the CDC say that people who are close contact can give people hugs outside?
MS. PSAKI: We know, Peter, that outside it is — it is — you are — you can benefit significantly being outside. That’s why we have — we had the event outside today.
I will tell you that the Vice President has been wearing a mask inside. When there was a private greet, they were all wearing masks, before they went out —
Q We saw she was wearing a mask yesterday at the Senate.
MS. PSAKI: She was playing an important role in confirming or overseeing the confirmation of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. The vast majority, as was on camera, Peter —
Q Is there a public health carve-out for that?
MS. PSAKI: As was on camera. Let me finish my answer here. Because Fox and other — I don’t know actually that Fox carried it, but others did — saw that she was socially distanced from people for the vast, vast majority of her time overseeing that confirmation yesterday.
Q So this is not a case of rules for thee but not for VP?
MS. PSAKI: In fact, the Vice President wore a mask inside today when she was both with the President, with her staff, other people. She was outside at the event. She was socially distanced for 99.9 percent of the event today. And she had an emotional moment, which is understandable.
Q Okay. And one other topic. Following up on the smartphones that are being given to border crossers with technology so they can be tracked or so they can check in: Is there any plan to give free smartphones to U.S. citizens that want them?
MS. PSAKI: Should we not be tracking migrants who irregularly cross the border?
Q I’m asking if the same —
MS. PSAKI: Or do you have an alternative suggestion for how they should be tracked?
Q I, unfortunately, have not been asked to make U.S. immigration policy. That’s not my —
MS. PSAKI: Today’s your moment. (Laughter.)
Q Well, it’d be great if anybody that wanted a free phone and a free monthly plan could get one. So, is that going to be an offer for everybody or just people that walk into the country illegally?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, as — when we talked about this the other day, what I noted to you is that we have a range of means of tracking individuals who irregularly migrate to the country, as — in order to ensure that they are meeting their Notice to Appear obligations and that they are appearing in court when they should appear in court. Phones is one of them. There are also ankle devices and a range of tracking devices.
Eighty percent of individuals have — of non-citizens released at the border from DHS custody under prosecutorial discretion have either received a Notice to Appear or are still within the window to report.
So, yes, there is telephonic reporting. There is SmartLink, which enables participant monitoring via smartphone. There’s the Global Positioning System. These are the range of means with modern technology that we monitor.
Q Last one on this: Does the President have any plans to figure out what these small towns who are bracing for a major influx in migrants next month need by making his first-ever trip to the border?
MS. PSAKI: I have nothing to predict for you in terms of additional trips. The President will be traveling the country, but I don’t have any more specifics for you at this point. Thanks for the question.
Q Just for clarity: Earlier — earlier, you guys told us, via pool, that the President was tested — tested negative. That was today, for clarity?
MS. PSAKI: Yup. Mm-hmm.
Q Okay. So, the cadence has clearly changed. Right? We know there was one on Wednesday; he was negative. Today is Friday; he tested negative. Just for keeping track of his — is it now three times a week, two times a week? Is there a way to describe it?
MS. PSAKI: His doctor makes an assessment on how many times he should be tested, and we do our best to provide that information to you as he’s tested.
Q And aside from the time he spent with Ketanji Brown Jackson and her family, there was no — because there’s precedent to this — there was no indoor reception, indoor ceremony that existed of some kind that the cameras didn’t see before?
MS. PSAKI: No.
Q Okay. Let me — if I can, during his remarks today, the President said something that was a bit striking. He was condemning some of the conservative Republicans and their criticisms of Judge Jackson when she was testifying recently. He said: “There was verbal abuse. The anger. The constant interruptions. The most vile, baseless, [vile] assertions and accusations.” Whoo. Is that a preview of messaging that we’re going to hear from the President heading into the midterms? Was that — was that — is that a message that the White House wants to deliver and will be repeating?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that the conduct of senators at a hearing is going to be central to the President’s remarks when he’s out in — out traveling the country.
But I think what he was speaking to, on a historic day, is that while Judge Jackson was the picture — now Justice Jackson — was the picture of dignity in her hearings, some others in the room decided to be the opposite.
And he is somebody who has more experience overseeing Supreme Court hearings than anyone living. He has overseen them during Republican and Democratic Presidents and expects a certain level of conduct, professionalism, and decorum. And that is not what we saw.
Q So that was more of a one-off for today, as opposed to, like, a central theme that we’ll see in terms of contrast?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that I think the American people can expect that he’ll continue to talk when he’s out in the country — for whatever reason — about how to bring down their costs, how to make sure that he is fighting for them, and bringing them relief, and how’s going to get the COVID pandemic under control — less about the conduct of senators at a hearing.
Q Let me ask a very quick question, then, on costs, if I can. Right now, the cost of gas in this country, on average, is $4.14. Does the White House want a gas tax holiday?
MS. PSAKI: Is it certainly on the table and certainly something we continue to consider. We have seen a number of states do that. And while, you know, it can have an impact — about 18 cents, I believe, if I remember correctly — one of the reasons why we’re considering it — our primary focus, to date, as you all know, has been taking steps to increase supply and get it — get more supply into the global marketplace. But it remains an option under consideration.
Q The U.N. today put out a report saying that global food prices in March reached a record high.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q What is the U.S. doing, if anything, to mitigate possible additional increases here?
MS. PSAKI: Here in the United States?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it is something that we are certainly watching very closely. While we continue to believe that the impact will largely be in the Middle East and in Africa, I believe, and a lot of, you know, other parts of the world — less in the United States — we are continuing to work — our Department of Agriculture is continuing to work with farmers and suppliers about any needs we have here. And the President is continuing to work to bring down costs in a range of areas for the American people, as we prepare for the impacts of this war.
Q It was pretty widely reported yesterday, prior to her COVID diagnosis, that Speaker Pelosi was planning a trip to Taiwan. Beijing reacted very negatively to that. Is the U.S. — is the Biden administration comfortable if she were to do that — such a high-ranking U.S. official?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I think we’ve understood her trip. I don’t have any further comment on it.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two questions for you. The first: Today, my colleagues in the UK reported that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak had a U.S. green card, which he surrendered this past October. He’s been an MP since 2015. And USCIS manual says that serving in a foreign government while standing for election in a foreign government is not compatible with lawful permanent resident status. Why was this not flagged earlier?
MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security. I don’t have any more comment from here.
Q Is it — I mean, is it a problem? Does the President see it as a problem that — possible for someone to serve at high level in a foreign government and maintain lawful permanent resident status in the U.S? I mean, what if this were someone who was serving in the Russian Duma?
MS. PSAKI: It wasn’t. But I would also, again, point you to the portions of the government that oversee green cards and oversee, you know —
Q They haven’t responded.
MS. PSAKI: — the status of documents. I’m happy to bump it for them as well and see if there’s more we can provide.
Q That’s fine. The second question: There’s a death row inmate in Texas, Melissa Lucio. She’s set to be executed soon. Many experts believe her confession was coerced and is false. She has bipartisan support for clemency and support from the EU and many other foreign allies. Would the President consider asking Governor Abbott to intervene?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know the President’s position and view on the death penalty. And there’s an ongoing review at the Department of Justice at a federal level. This is obviously at a state level.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to predict for you on that.
Q And then a follow-up: Given his commitment to police reform, would he consider asking the DOJ to prohibit police departments that receive federal funds from using the Reid technique for interrogations? It’s considered to create a lot of false confessions.
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I know the Department of Justice has taken a number of steps, including on chokeholds and other actions that needed to be reformed in police departments across the country. I don’t have anything to preview or predict in terms of additional steps.
The President supports their efforts to do more. Many of them have talked about their desire to do more. And obviously, we are continuing to consider an executive order on police reform here, given there has been an inability of Congress to move forward.
Q Thanks, Jen. There’s some pretty desperate images coming out of Shanghai right now, which is under lockdown for COVID — people begging for food and medicine. Is the White House monitoring that? Is there anything the U.S. can do to help the humanitarian situation there?
And also, on the supply chain front, is the administration aware of any further supply chain snags coming as a result of this? And how are you prepared to address them?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, first, the — on the first part of your question, the State Department is closely monitoring the situation. They’re providing consistent updates of the situation on the ground. And we’ll certainly assess, with USAID and others, if there’s additional assistance that could be provided.
On the supply chain component: What we know is that the port is continuing to operate normally. And where we’re seeing the impacts — which still could have an impact over the course of time, of course — is factories, warehouses, and trucking, where we are seeing shutdowns within the region, which we know could cause delays, especially for air cargo, as well.
Because this is just happening, we don’t have a prediction at this point on how that could impact bigger global supply chain issues. It depends on a lot of factors — how long, et cetera — but it is something we are closely monitoring, and it is something we will continue to work to — to address if it extends farther.
Q And then just one more — housekeeping item. Do you have a timing update on when the President might sign the trade preference bill on Russia that passed?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. And I know you and others have been looking for this. And let me see if I can get an answer before we all wrap up today.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Jen, could you speak to the efficacy of sanctions? I know there was a new sanctions package rolled out this week.
And initially, we heard a lot from administration officials about this being a deterrent. I know that has changed. And so, can you speak to sort of the end goal and what is the efficacy of sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that it has — we have a couple of objectives at this point as it relates to the war in Ukraine. One is to impose severe consequences, send a marker for the world and for history about the horrific nature of these atrocities — these consequences.
And the second part of our objective is to ensure that these consequences are having a significant impact on the economy in Russia. We’re seeing an inflationary rate of about 15 percent — a projection of a contraction of 15 percent in the Russian economy. Six hundred private-sector companies have left Russia. We know it is having the impact that the world intended. This is the most significant coordinated set of sanctions ever done in history on this large of an economy.
The third objective here is to make it much more difficult for President Putin to fund his war. And if you look back — say, earlier this week, at the example of the bond payments and how Russia has basically been put in a decision of — in a place where they either have to use their limited resources they have that are also being used to fund the war to prevent a default or default — that is the position they’re in at this point in time.
But also, because we have cut them off, through export controls and a number of other means, from having access to materials and technology but also access to funds, it makes it more difficult for them to fund the war. That is part of it.
And the last objective is to continue to make it clear that this is a strategic blunder — their decision to invade Ukraine — and one that will make President Putin a pariah in the world.
So those are why and what we are hoping to achieve.
Q Can I ask one follow-up?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there anything being done in terms of either monitoring or actually just — I guess, monitoring to take a look at the effects of sanctions on ordinary Russians or anything the administration is thinking to just deal with that population of people who are being affected?
MS. PSAKI: The Russian people, you mean?
Q Yes, correct.
MS. PSAKI: Cert- — I mean, certainly, we are looking at how this is impacting the Russian economy writ large. And it is — certainly, as inflation is going up and as the economy is contracting, that means prices will go up. And we do know there will be a broad impact. That is the fault of President Putin, and the fault of President Putin invading a sovereign country.
So, it is important also for the Russian people to know and understand that. And we have been working through a range of means to communicate about the realities of the war and the facts of the war through Telegram, through YouTube, through a range of channels as well.
Q Thanks, Jen. General Milley, earlier this week, talked about the possibility of building permanent U.S. bases on NATO’s eastern flank. I wonder what seriousness the White House has given that — or, as you look long term at the war in Ukraine, whether shoring up the eastern flank with permanent bases is something that’s been considered.
MS. PSAKI: They’ll continue to be a range of discussions, but I have nothing beyond what General Milley said.
Q Can I ask you one more question? I want to dig a little deeper on the French elections.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Does the White House worry that the election of Le Pen could, you know, destabilize the NATO Alliance or make it difficult, being that she’s, you know, come up with pro-Russian statements?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m just not going to get ahead of an election in a foreign country. And obviously, we will watch it closely, and I’m sure we’ll have more to speak to once the results are concluded.
Q Thanks, Jen. What can you tell us about the multiple Secret Service agents who have been suspended or removed from the President, Vice President, and First Lady’s detail pending this investigation of two men impersonating officers of law enforcement?
MS. PSAKI: Not much from here. I can point you to the Secret Service. And obviously, the FBI is overseeing the investigation.
Q Is there a broader concern in the administration that these principals — is there concern that they’re not being protected effectively? Is — can you speak at all to that? Or —
MS. PSAKI: As I said, yesterday, we — the President remains confident in the leader of the Secret Service. And beyond that, I would point you to the Secret Service and to the FBI.
Q And then, I guess, just on the invitations you issued to Republicans who voted to confirm Justice Jackson. I know one of them has COVID, but did you hear from the other two — Senator Murkowski and Romney? I know the President went a little further to talk about Senator Romney’s father today in his speech. Did the White House hear from the Republicans who were invited today? Why didn’t they come?
eminently qualified nominee. And they — they did that, and it was something he wanted to call out today and express his gratitude.
Q Yeah, thank you, Jen. I’m wondering what the White House’s reaction is to yesterday’s U.N. vote to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council — the fact that there were 58 nations that abstained from taking a vote and then on top of the other 24 nations that voted against it.
Although there was, you know, more — obviously, the majority of countries did vote to suspend Russia, do you think that this — you know, that many abstains — abstentions, that many people sitting on the sidelines of this shows that the entire world really isn’t unified around condemning these actions by Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a win required two thirds present and voting, and that is exactly what happened, and far beyond that. And we know that there were abstentions. And only 24 countries, including North Korea, voted with Russia.
But the outcome, which is what is most important to us, is what we wanted, which is Russia has been suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Suspension — just so everybody knows; somebody asked me this question the other day — but it is the only method provided for in the U.N. resolution that established the Human Rights Council back in 2005 — is the most serious action available.
It’s only been applied once in history. This is only the second time in history that a country has been kicked out of the U.N. Human Rights Council. The last example was Libya. So that obviously speaks to the significance. And it also speaks to the fact that two thirds — more than two thirds of countries who are members are — believe that they should not have a leadership role on global human rights as they work to subvert and violate global human rights.
This also means that, once suspended, Russia will not be able to vote against future actions during subsequent Human Rights Council sessions.
And so, to us, it is significant — only the secs [sic] time — second time in second time in history. And it speaks to the global outrage in response to these atrocities.
Q But are there any concerns that nearly 60 nations decided not to weigh in on this matter?
MS. PSAKI: Again, our focus is on the fact that it was a win. For only the second time in history was a country kicked out of — suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Q And then one other question: Does President Biden still intend to attend the White House Correspondents Association dinner here later this month, in a couple of weeks?
MS. PSAKI: We haven’t announced his plans to attend or anything about his schedule, so I don’t have any update on that today.
Q All right.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just some follow-ups to things that came up.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q To follow up on Peter’s question about the testing cadence — you guys have told us about negative tests on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Should we expect that the President would get tested on Sunday, two days later?
MS. PSAKI: I would say I don’t have a prediction of that. His doctor makes an assessment of when he should be tested and how often and what the cadence should be. It’s not always exactly the same. And — but we will provide information to you when he tests negative —
MS. PSAKI: — or either way, of course. Yes.
Q And to follow up on Katie’s question: Did the President talk to any of the senators — Romney, Murkowski, and Collins — after their vote yesterday on Ketanji Brown Jackson?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on that from here.
Q Okay. And when he said he hoped he didn’t get them in trouble today when he referenced them, what did he mean by that?
MS. PSAKI: He meant he recognizes that the vast majority of the other members of their party voted a different way.
Q Thank you. On India: Next week, Secretary of State Blinken and Defense Secretary are hosting their Indian counterparts — External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh — for the first India-U.S. 2+2 dialogue under this administration. What is President’s message to the meeting? What is his expectations? Is he sending any concrete ideas to this meeting as well?
Q President Biden believes our partnership with India is one of the most important relationships we have in the world. As you know, he met with Presi- — Prime Minister Modi and other Quad leaders in March. He expects that at this 2+2, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin will continue driving forward our work with India and our shared goals in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.
We also believe both sides will continue our close consultations on the consequences of President Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine and mitigating the impact by addressing energy and food prices. Obviously, it could cover a range of topics, but we expect that to be a central one.
Q And secondly, given the U.S.’s frustrating experience having the U.N. Security Council (inaudible) coming out and doing all they should do with Ukraine, what is President’s thoughts on the reforms to the U.N. Security Council itself?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know a question has been asked about whether Russia could be kicked out of being a permanent member; we don’t anticipate that happening. But obviously, the step taken yesterday to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council is an indication of the global response and horror at the atrocities we’ve seen happen on the ground in Ukraine. But beyond that, I don’t have any other predictions of reforms.
Q Should there be individual veto or group veto inside the Security Council?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I understand your questions, but I don’t have any predictions or calls for that at this point.
Go ahead, Francesca.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, we’ll just do a few more.
Q Thanks, Jen. Since his State of the Union Address, the President has only made a handful of domestic trips. We’ve talked in here before about how he’d like to get back into the community and have a chance to interact with the American people. Is the current COVID wave getting in the way of his travel plans?
MS. PSAKI: No. I expect he’s going to travel a bunch in the next few weeks.
Q Okay. And you had mentioned that you will be going to North Carolina and you didn’t have too much more to add on that. But might the President, while he’s in Greensboro, be visiting one of the area’s two Historically Black Colleges and Universities?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have more details at this point in time. As they get finalized, I’m sure we’ll share them with all of you.
Q Thanks, Jen. I have a two-part question on student loans.
MS. PSAKI: Yep.
Q Last year, President Biden directed the Department of Education to create a report on whether he has presidential authority to unilaterally do a broad cancellation of debt. I don’t believe that’s ever been made public. And as you’re looking at loan extensions — or loan pause extensions, will we — can we anticipate seeing a release of that report?
And secondly, as — you’ve talked about how the President wants to lower costs for Americans. Borrowers have expressed stress, anxiety about these short-term extensions. What’s your message to them?
MS. PSAKI: I think our message to them is that not a single person has paid a dime on their student loans since the President took office. And he’s continued to evaluate and assess with the Department of Education and other policymakers in the administration what the needs are to lower costs for people, including people who have student loans and are — do feel stressed, even as the economy is continuing to recover but as we see costs too high in some areas.
On the first question, I don’t have any update on that. I would tell you that if Congress were to send him a bill to cancel $10,000 in student loans — in student debt, he’d be happy to sign it.
Last one. Last one. Last one.
Q Thank you. Well, Rachel Wallace, who was the general counsel of the science office who the White House found had been bullied by Dr. Lander, has been told that she will not be getting her job back as general counsel. Why?
MS. PSAKI: I am not aware of this personnel update. I’d have to check on it. I’m happy to do that. And we will get you back a comment.
Q Okay. Then a follow-up: Yesterday, you said — when asked about Vice President Harris and the mask at the Senate — you said that she would follow CDC protocols at the event today. CDC protocols clearly say you should be wearing a mask. It doesn’t distinguish between outside and inside. So why didn’t she wear a mask?
MS. PSAKI: And she was socially distanced for the vast majority of the event today.
Q She was sitting — standing next to the President.
MS. PSAKI: About six feet away.
Thanks, everyone. Thank you, everyone.
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