Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Greensboro, North Carolina
12:43 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good morning. As you all know, in Greensboro to- — we’re headed to Greensboro today. The President will visit the Harold L. Martin Sr. Engineering Research & Innovation Complex at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University to talk about the Bipartisan Innovation Act and his economic plan. N.C. A&T is the largest HBCU in the country, with the highest number of African American graduates in engineering of any university nationwide.
The Biden-Harris administration provided over $5 billion in funding to HBCUs through the American Rescue Plan and other sources last year. And we are working to increase Pell Grants to support students attending two-year and four-year colleges.
After the Martin Complex, the President will deliver remarks highlighting provisions of the Bipartisan Innovation Act, key to retaining and strengthening our innovation and manufacturing capacity, as well as investing in STEM education and equity.
Greensboro is an example of a regional manufacturer — manufacturing ecosystem that the President’s agenda seeks to build across America. The Bipartisan Innovation Act would offer the sustained funding places like Greensboro need to create a globally competitive manufacturing industry that expands the middle class.
In Greensboro, the President will be joined by the EPA Administrator Michael Regan; members of his Board of Advisors on HBCUs; and several elected officials, including Governor Roy Cooper, Congresswoman Kathy Manning, Mayor of Greensboro Nancy Vaughan, and Chair of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Als- — Al- — Alston.
With that, Darlene.
Q Thank you. Welcome back.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you. (Inaudible.)
Q Now that the President has said that what is happening in Ukraine is a genocide, shouldn’t the U.S. now step up and try to end what’s happening there more forcefully?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well —
Q Is there an obligation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, let me just say that — that right now, we are actively working to assist national and international efforts to (inaudible) document and investigate credible reports of atrocities, analyze the evidence, and identify any Russians responsible for the atrocities and war crimes that have been committed in Ukraine so they can be held accountable.
As part of that work, the U.S. is supporting the efforts of the war crimes unit under the Office of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and a team of international prosecutors and war crimes experts who are in the region working with them. We are also supporting Ukraine’s authorities and civil society organizations who are working on the ground to document atrocity crimes for prosecution. And we helped establish investigations through the U.N. Human Rights Council
on [and] the OSCE with — with release a — which released a report chronicling serious human rights violations today.
So that’s the process that we’re working through as we talk about — as we talk about genocide and war crimes.
Q And is there any reaction at this point from the White House to Florida Governor DeSantis signing the 15-week abortion ban earlier today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any comments on that. Per what we normally say about what we’re seeing nowadays when it comes to abortion, you know, we believe in codifying — the President believes in codifying Roe v. Wa- — Wade. We do know that women’s constitutional rights are under attack all across the country.
That’s why the Biden-Harris administration is doing everything we can in response to these attacks on women’s rights. And he’ll continue to stand with women and support their right to make their own healthcare decisions — a constitutional right that Roe v. Wade reaffirmed nearly five — five decades ago.
And the President, again, calls on Congress to act and send a bill to his desk to shut down these radical steps being taken.
Q Another quick question on the trucking situation at the border in Texas. Does the White House understand the national security concerns that Governor Abbott is claiming is the reason that he’s ordered these inspections in the first place? And is — what is the White House doing or trying to do to reverse what’s happening down there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things. People are asking, “Isn’t this like the tougher enforcement — border enforcement?” No, these truck inspections hurt Texas and U.S. trade and commerce, and will have no effect on asylum seekers.
Texas DPS — DPS work is essential for truck safety, but our border is safer when state and federal government work together.
President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is already making historic investments to improve security at our borders.
CBP is used to — is used to — to working collaboratively with Texas DPS and does so routinely. CBP officers are very good at their jobs. Texas DPS does not need to replace CBP at the southern border, and attempting to do so jeopardizes public safety and America’s economic security.
CBP has conducted a record number of drug seizu- — seizes and more than 900,000 pounds of narcotics seized since FY 2021, and their Office of Field Operations seizing over 730,000 pounds of drugs at ports of entry.
In fiscal year 2020 [sic] through — 2022 through the end of February, CBP has already seized over 250,000 pounds of drugs due theirs — due to their stringent inspection processes.
What we’re doing: We have called on Governor Abbott to stop these unnecessary and duplicat- — duplicative inspections that are choking a key trade artery into our country. Staff at Laredo Field Office remained in contact with the trade communities and expanded operations to surrounding ports of entry to assist with the diverted movement of trade based on businesses’ resumption contingency plans.
Surrounding ports of Progreso, Rio Grande, and Roma extended their hours of operations to assist the port — the port and notify trade stakeholders.
The Port of Laredo extended their hours of operations at World Trade Bridge to clear and process diverted traffic from Columbia Solidarity Bridge.
Staff at the El Paso Field Office notified stakeholders of extended hours at the Santa Teresa port of entry to assist with congestion at Ystella [sic] — Ysleta and remains in contact with trade community to address concerns.
In all instances, port personnel have stayed and worked after hours to clear and process all commercial truck shipments at international bridges because of the increased DPS safety inspections.
Q Karine —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Jake Sullivan, this morning, talked about an announcement in the coming days on entities that are trying to evade Russia sanctions. Is there more you can share — what sectors we are looking at?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I know he said that, but I don’t have anything more to share or preview at this time.
Q Is there anything you can say on whether or not this was a coordinated action with allies or just a U.S. announcement?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, we have — we have shown our strength by coordinating with our allies and showed unity in that way as we’ve talked about many sanctions that we have pushed forward in the past couple of weeks.
Q And specifically on the — on the coming —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: On this, I just don’t have anything to preview.
Q Okay. And then —
Q Do you have — go ahead.
Q On the — to follow up what the President just said about making a decision on sending officials: Who would it — who — on the discussions of who you may be sending, is it going to be a Cabinet-level official? Or what are we looking at?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Again, as he also — I’m just going to repeat what he said —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — is that we’re still — we’re still in discussion, deciding this.
As you know, obviously, we’re in contact with the Ukrainian government, with Kyiv every — every day, pretty regularly.
And so, I just don’t have anything to preview any further.
Q And then one more, sorry. If you have a reaction to Elon Musk’s hostile attempt to take over Twitter.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, and I saw — I know that happened this morning. Look, this is an offer by a private investor, and we don’t have any comment here. The SEC is independent and would handle any review processes if this moves forward.
Q Karine, do you have any more details about the Russian ship that was apparently sunk by Ukrainian forces?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to share from here. I know the Department of Defense usually gives updates pretty regularly. I would send you to them.
Q And following up on the sanctions question, Jen was asked about secondary sanctions yesterday. Can you give a sense of what secondary sanctions are being considered — financial sanctions? What else is in the docket?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to preview. Let me just reiterate: Our sanctions are unprecedented. In no other circumstance have we moved so swiftly in such a coordinated fashion to impose devastating costs on any other country as we have done to Russia and — done to Russia.
The economy is forecast to contract as much as 15 percent of GDP in 2022. The economic — economic collapse will wipe out the past 15 years of economic gains in Russia. According to the Institute of International Finance, inflation in Russia is projected to spike about — above 20 percent and the Russian government rating has been downgraded to “junk” status by major credit rating agencies. Close to 400 multinational companies have left Russia in a mass exodus by the private sector, reversing 30 years of economic progress in a span of a few weeks.
And we continue to ratchet up the pressure on Putin’s oligarchs. We are working with our — with allies and partners to go — to go after corrupt gains from some of the individuals closest to Putin. No matter where they are held around the world, Putin’s elites have already lost out on their most prized possessions.
As long as the — as President Putin continues this war, the United States and our allies and partners are committed to ensuring the Russian government feels and — compounding efforts of our current and future economic actions.
Q Karine, the President was an hour late leaving today. I wonder if you could tell us anything about his activities before he left.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the President had a series of morning meetings that went long today. I don’t have any more specifics to share.
Q Okay. And you mentioned the work you’re doing to support war crimes investigations in Ukraine. Is there anything you can tell us about the — are you sending on specific information now? Can you tell us anything about what that is — intercepts, satellite photos, testimony? And any sorts of examples that you could share?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — we are actively working to assist national inter- — national, international efforts to identify and hold any Russians accountable for the atrocities and war crimes they have committed in Ukraine. And we are actively consulting with our allies and partners how we can support a broad range of mechanisms moving forward.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve helped establish investigations through the U.N. Human Rights Council and OSCE of possible violations by Russia.
As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. is supporting the work of the war crimes unit under the Office of Ukrainian Prosecutor General, as I mentioned, as well.
As the Attorney General said last week, Justice Department prosecutors were in Europe this week to meet with European prosecutors to discuss information-collection and -sharing efforts to hold Russia accountable.
We also welcomed the investigation opened by the ICC Prosecutor, in particular his focus on preserving evidence of possible — possible atrocity crimes. As evidence is gathered, prosecutors will determine whether criminal prosecutions should be pursued.
We will do our part to support accountability using every tool available, including passing along the information we are able to gather to help build very strong dossiers of evidence for war crimes prosecutions where appropriate.
It’s also important to remember that these mechanism will take time. We’re also working around the clock with allies and partners to flow weapons into Ukraine to help Ukrainians defend themselves.
Q Karine, maybe one last question. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said this morning that the administration doesn’t intend to give the frozen Russian assets back but wants to put them to better use. Does that mean that the administration intends to sell or liquidate those assets to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine, for example?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have more to say than what Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, said this morning. I don’t have anything else to add.
Q Can I ask one more on the trip today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Obviously, the President will focus, in his speech, on the Bipartisan Innovation Act. And we’re getting pretty close to the midterms here. And while this is a bipartisan process and, you know, the committee — the conference committee is going to, you know, do what it can, are you concerned at all that this is, like, butting up too closely to the midterms and Republicans will sort of, like, not cooperate when we get to the summer?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here’s what I’ll say: The President wants to get this legislation, as you know, on his desk for his signature as soon as possible. We’re glad to see a bipartisan conference process starting, and we’re going to continue working closely with Congress to help iron out differences between the House and the Senate versions.
But the bottom line is this: The disruptions we’ve seen from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have shown us clearly that we can’t afford to wait to make the kind of investments — like the Bipartisan Innovation Act contains — to make our economy more resilient to global shocks, to strengthen our supply chains, and to lower prices for working families.
And so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to continue working with Congress to make this work.
AIDE: Great. Thank you so much.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, guys.
Q Thanks, Karine.
12:56 P.M. EDT