Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, May 18, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:11 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry we’re starting a little late. We had to finish for the President to complete his remarks, and that was a request that we got from WHCA, so we wanted to make sure we adhered to it.
As you all know, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is here. He’s going to take your questions, preview Asia. And he has a hard out at 2:30, so we’re going to try and get him out of here.
Okay, all yours.
MR. SULLIVAN: And I have 20 minutes of remarks, so — (laughter) — I hope you guys will bear with me.
I actually do have a number of things to get through because we have quite a stretch ahead here with respect to the President’s foreign policy and national security priorities.
Very good to be back with you guys today.
Today, Finland and Sweden submitted their applications for NATO membership. President Biden has welcomed those applications, and he looks forward to working with NATO Allies and with Congress on a swift accession process.
(Audio playback of press briefing interrupts.)
Q It’s all happening again. (Laughter.)
Q I’m sorry.
MR. SULLIVAN: Not a problem.
Q We got the audio.
MR. SULLIVAN: Small interruption of the accession process right there. But everything will be on track just fine. (Laughter.)
Tomorrow morning, the President will welcome the President of Finland and the Prime Minister of Sweden to the White House to coordinate on the path forward. And the three leaders will also have the chance to compare notes on our united efforts to support Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s brutal invasion.
They will also have the opportunity to speak to the press and the public to affirm our shared vision for a peaceful and secure Euro-Atlantic region.
This is a historic event, a watershed moment in European security. Two nations with a long tradition of neutrality will be joining the world’s most powerful defensive alliance. And they will bring with them strong capabilities and a proven track record as security partners. And President Biden will have the opportunity to mark just what a historic and watershed moment this is when he meets with them tomorrow.
After that meeting concludes, President Biden will board Air Force One for a trip to the Republic of Korea and Japan. This will be his first trip as President to the Indo-Pacific. And it comes at a pivotal moment.
President Biden has rallied the free world in defense of Ukraine and in opposition to Russian aggression. He remains focused on ensuring that our efforts in those missions are successful. But he also intends to seize this moment — this pivotal moment — to assert bold and confident American leadership in another vital region of the world: the Indo-Pacific.
That began last week with his hosting of the U.S.-ASEAN Summit here at the White House, where he welcomed nine leaders from Southeast Asia for a substantive set of meetings that covered a diverse agenda from economics and security to technology and energy.
President Biden made a series of significant announcements to show that when it comes to engagement with ASEAN, we’re not just talking the talk, we’re walking the walk as well.
This week, the President turns his attention to Northeast Asia. And on this trip, he’ll have the opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce two vital security alliances, to deepen two vibrant economic partnerships, to work with two fellow democracies to shape the rules of the road for the 21st century, and to thank his allies in Korea and Japan for their remarkable and in some ways unexpected contributions to the effort to support Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable.
In Korea, President Biden will meet with the newly inaug- — excuse me — the newly inaugurated Korean President, President Yoon, who campaigned on the platform of strengthening the U.S.-ROK alliance and on improving relations between the ROK and Japan.
President Biden will engage with technology and manufacturing leaders in Korea who are mobilizing billions of dollars in investment here in the United States to create thousands of good-paying American jobs.
He will see American and Korean troops standing shoulder to shoulder in defense of our collective security and consult on the challenge posed by the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs.
And he will highlight the truly global nature of the U.S.-ROK alliance, from climate and energy and technology to economic growth and investment.
In Japan, President Biden will meet with Prime Minister Kishida and his team. And we believe that the U.S.-Japan alliance, at this moment, under these two leaders, is at an all-time high. This visit can take us even higher.
The two leaders will consult on the broad and deep economic relationship between our two countries, as well as on a range of regional and global security issues. We’ll also cover the DPRK as well as a number of other security issues both in the Indo-Pacific and more broadly around the world.
The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and Japan’s contributions as a security partner are rightly growing as the regional security picture becomes more challenging and dynamic.
President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida will also be able to compare notes on the G7 agenda as the G7 Summit approaches next month in Germany.
In Japan, President Biden won’t just have a bilateral program, he’ll also have the opportunity to participate in the second in-person Quad Summit, following on the summit he hosted here in Washington last September.
He will do this alongside the Prime Minister of Japan, the Prime Minister of India, and the Prime Minister of Australia. And we believe that this summit will demonstrate, both in substance and in vision, that democracies can deliver and that these four nations working together will defend and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
While he’s in Tokyo, President Biden will also launch a new, ambitious economic initiative for the region: the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. “IPEF,” as we affectionately call it, is a 21st century economic arrangement, a new model designed to tackle new economic challenges — from setting the rules of the digital economy, to ensuring secure and resilient supply chains, to managing the energy transition, to investing in clean, modern, high-standards infrastructure.
President Biden will be joined in person by the Prime Minister of Japan for the launch of IPEF and virtually by leaders from a number of Indo-Pacific partners, from Down Under to Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia.
On security and economics, on technology and energy, on investment in infrastructure, we think this trip is going to put on full display President Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy and that it will show, in living color, that the United States can at once lead the free world in responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine and at the same time chart a course for effective, principled American leadership and engagement in a region that will define much of the future of the 21st century.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
Q Thanks so much. Can you talk to us about Turkey and what the administration is doing and what conversations you might be having with Turkey about their plans to block Finland and Sweden’s applications? Is there a deal to be struck with Turkey?
MR. SULLIVAN: We’re confident that, at the end of the day, Finland and Sweden will have an effective and efficient accession process, that Turkey’s concerns can be addressed.
Finland and Sweden are working directly with Turkey to do this, but we’re also talking to the Turks to try to help facilitate. I spoke with my counterpart today; Secretary Blinken is meeting with his counterpart perhaps as we speak, in New York. And we feel very good about where this will track to.
And President Biden will express that confidence as we believe the President of Finland and Prime Minister of Sweden will express that confidence tomorrow.
Q The Korean media is reporting that President Biden will meet with former President Moon Jae-in during his visit to Seoul. Is that accurate?
MR. SULLIVAN: We don’t have a meeting scheduled with President Moon at this time.
Q Have there been any discussions between U.S. officials and Korean officials about Moon Jae-in potentially taking on a “Special Envoy to North Korea”-like role?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not familiar with any discussions along those lines.
Q In the statement today welcoming Finland and Sweden’s application to NATO, at the very — or almost at the very end, it said that “While their applications for NATO membership are being considered, the [U.S.] will work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and…deter and confront aggression…”
Does that mean that the U.S. is extending, like, the NATO security umbrella to them while their applications are in process?
MR. SULLIVAN: Article 5 only kicks in once all 30 Allies have ratified the accession protocols and they become full-fledged members of the Alliance.
But the United States is prepared to send a very clear message, as are all of our European allies, that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process. And there are practical measures that we can take along those lines that Secretary Austin will coordinate with his counterparts in both Finland and Sweden.
Q Jake, two questions. One on the accession and one on your trip.
So, when the initial NATO expansion happened, of course, there was a huge debate in Washington about whether it was a good idea or not. I remember Kennan himself wrote in the New York Times that he wasn’t in favor of it. Was there any similar debate that went underway here about whether or not bringing Finland and Sweden in was a good idea, or whether it would further corner Putin?
And on the trip, tell us a little bit about what you know on the evidence that North Korea may attempt either a nuclear test — hard to imagine what they would accomplish by a seventh test, but — the seventh test — or a missile launch, and what your preparations are if that happens during the trip?
MR. SULLIVAN: On the first question, President Biden posed the question to his national security team, to his Cabinet principals who cover national security, as to whether they supported the accession of Finland and Sweden, and for them to consider the risks as well as the benefits of bringing Finland and Sweden into the Alliance.
Unanimously, President Biden’s national security team emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden into the NATO Alliance on the grounds that they have already proven themselves as highly capable security partners. In the parlance, we say “net security contributors,” meaning they give a heck of a lot more than they take when it comes to a security partnership or an alliance. And that we believe that Russian aggression has only reinforced the argument for the kind of defensive alliance that — that NATO presents and poses.
And finally, we have the principle of the open door. And the open door says that if countries meet the criteria of NATO membership and display that they can be net contributors to the Alliance and to overall European security, they should be admitted. That is a principle that President Biden has believed since long before he occupied the Oval Office. And Finland and Sweden are two cases that are pretty clear-cut when it comes to meeting those terms.
With respect to the issue of North Korea, we’ve said from this podium, we’ve said at the State Department, and we’ve indicated in quite clear terms that our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile tests — including a long-range missile test or a nuclear test or, frankly, both — in the days leading into, on, or after the President’s trip to the region.
We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan. We are coordinating closely with our allies in both Korea and Japan on this. We have spoken with counterparts in China. I met — I spoke with my Chinese counterpart this morning and covered this issue of the DPRK.
And we are prepared, obviously, to make both short- and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as necessary to ensure that we are providing both defense and deterrence to our allies in the region and that we’re responding to any North Korean provocation.
Q Jake, thank you. Two questions on different topics. One, could you update us on the situation with the Russian blockade on grains?
And also, on Haiti: What happens with the Title 42 with the Haitian migrants and maybe migrants of South America as well in the Caribbean when it comes to the end of Title 42 on May 23rd, if that happens?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, it is Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and nothing else that is stopping tens of millions of tons of food from getting out of the breadbasket of Europe — Ukraine — and onto the world market to feed people in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and everywhere else.
And that is true in two critical respects: First, Russia is bombarding Odessa, which is the port from which that food departs on large cargo ships bound through the Black Sea and then on to the world market. Second, Russian ships are engaged in an effective blockade of commercial ship traffic that would — could leave Odessa Port, were not under this bombardment, and head out to the world.
So we have publicly called upon Russia to end its attacks on Odessa and to end the blockade and to permit the traffic — the commercial and humanitarian traffic of ships into and out of Odessa Port.
We are working closely with both Ukraine and the United Nations on this issue, as well as other allies and partners. And we are supporting efforts to facilitate the delivery of that grain to the world market so that it can alleviate food prices everywhere.
And we would like to see an outcome in which the facts — not just the rhetoric — the facts bear out the actual permission by Russia of large numbers of ships moving through the Black Sea and onto the world market.
Q Is Russia responding to that request? And also the question I asked you about Title 42.
MR. SULLIVAN: There are ongoing intensive diplomatic conversations. The United Nations Secretary-General is involved in this, the Ukrainians are involved in this, some of our other partners are involved in this. I’m not going to get ahead of those discussions. I’m only going to say that the United States stands ready in any way to help facilitate and deliver on that diplomacy to try to produce an outcome in which food is getting to the world stage.
With respect to Haiti, we will have to see. Obviously, there are a number of issues bound up in the courts right now. But with the end of Title 42, the United States has put in place a process by which those individuals who claim asylum and have legitimate asylum claims can stay and those who come and don’t will go through the process — the legal process that exists and has existed for some time.
Even when Title 42 was in effect, large numbers of individuals were not subject to Title 42; they were subject to the standard legal process by which we deal with claims at our border for people who want to come and stay here.
Q Jake, on Ukraine again: U.S. intelligence chiefs recently offered assessments that Putin continues to bank on the fracturing of Western resilience to continue this war. Is Turkey’s concern about Finland and Sweden joining up perhaps an example of that?
And what about the, I guess, also congressional pushback, or the growing congressional pushback, to Ukrainian aid? What are you guys doing, sort of, in both regards to make sure that that doesn’t continue to happen? I know you’ve described some of it, but it does seem now that there are examples of these growing concern or criticism resistance.
And then I got one other on another part of the world.
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, growing congressional pushback, to me, is a strange premise for a circumstance in which the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly not just in favor of approving what the President sent up, which was $33 billion, but actually adding $7 billion to it to make a $40 billion package. And we expect a similar overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate once the final procedural hurdle — hurdles are cleared over the next 24 to 48 hours.
So there are some voices against this, but the chorus of voices on both sides of the aisle, from all sides of the political spectrum, in favor of standing up in defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and freedom and independence — it’s quite powerful and, frankly, in a way, quite moving. And it sends a clear message to the world that the United States can pull together behind the brave people of Ukraine in their hour of need.
What was your other question?
Q Well, just Turkey’s continued concern here and whether there might be others who are going to raise concern about NATO expansion.
MR. SULLIVAN: Look, the great thing about the free world — about the Western alliance, about NATO — is that you’ve got a raucous collection of states that all have opinions, that all have perspectives, that all have interests. But they also know how to and when to pull together and how to settle any differences. And I expect these differences will be settled.
I expect that NATO will speak with one voice in support of Finland and Sweden at the end of the day.
And I think the remarkable unity you’ve seen with respect to sanctions coming out of the EU, the United States, and our Indo-Pacific partners; the support that we have provided Ukraine in terms of military and humanitarian assistance — it’s only grown stronger over the course of the last 12 weeks, and we expect that that momentum will continue, and it’s having a major impact on the battlefield.
Ukraine won the Battle of Kyiv. Ukraine has now beaten Russia back from Kharkiv. And Ukrainian defenders are putting the military assistance we provided to good use in defending territory in the Donbas as well.
Q Just a little bit about the challenges of trying to focus on the Indo-Pacific — a priority for you all to get-go — given just — I mean, look, a bulk of the questions even here today have focused on other parts of the world.
Tomorrow, Finland and Sweden are going. Just the juxtaposition of what is going on in the world right now as you all are trying to focus (inaudible).
MR. SULLIVAN: And, you know, it’s interesting, we actually don’t regard this as a tension between investing time, energy, and attention in Europe and time, energy, and attention in the Indo-Pacific. We regard this as mutually reinforcing.
First, look at the Indo-Pacific partners that have stepped up to help make these sanctions and export controls as effective as they are: Korea, Japan, Australia, even Singapore.
Second, look at the extent to which European countries are increasingly invested in the Indo-Pacific, in helping ensure that our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific is actually realized. We see that with the AUKUS partnership, where you’ve got the United Kingdom alongside Australia and the United States. We see it with the way the European Union has, for the first time ever, put out an Indo-Pacific strategy.
And so, actually, we think that there is something quite evocative about going from meeting with the President of Finland and the Prime Minister of Sweden to reinforce the momentum behind the NATO Alliance and the free world’s response in Ukraine, and getting on a plane and flying out to the Indo-Pacific not just to deal with security issues, but to unveil a new far-reaching economic initiative, to host a Quad summit that will cover climate and cyber and emerging technologies, and to deal with Korea and Japan on issues that actually affect working people here in the United States, including major investments that will create jobs in states across the country.
So, for us, there is a certain level of integration and a symbiosis in the strategy we are pursuing in Europe and the strategy we’re pursuing in the Indo-Pacific. And President Biden’s unique capacity to actually stitch those two together is, I think, going to be a hallmark of his foreign policy presidency.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes.
Q Jake, can you provide an update on when the President will visit Israel?
And secondly, can you elaborate further on the specific security guarantees that the United States has made Finland and Sweden in the interim period?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, on Israel, we are actively working with the Israelis to fix a date for the visit at some point in the not-too-distant future. The President is very much looking to go. But unfortunately, I don’t have an announcement of a trip or a timetable for it standing here today, other than to say the President is excited to get the opportunity to go to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
With respect to the specifics on security commitments or assurances or actions that we will take with Finland and Sweden, those are ongoing conversations that are happening at an operational and technical level between our Department of Defense and their ministries of defense, and also with other NATO Allies and partners.
And so I’ll leave it in those channels for now — only to say that the U.S. stands ready to ensure that deterrence and defense for Finland and Sweden will be there should they need it, even though they don’t get the full benefits of the Article 5 Alliance until the accession process is properly complete, as is required, frankly, under our Constitution, where we need to get advice and consent from the Senate for that treaty.
MS. JEAN-PIERE: Last question.
Q Regarding the trip, to what extent is the message on this trip going to be like a cautionary tale delivered to China to say, “Look what happened in Ukraine. Look how we’ve responded. Don’t do anything similar”? Is that going to be part of the messaging during the President’s trip?
MR. SULLIVAN: The message we’re trying to send on this trip is a message of an affirmative vision of what the world can look like if the democracies and open societies of the world stand together to shape the rules of the road, to define the security architecture of the region, to reinforce strong, powerful, historic alliances.
And we think putting that on display over four days — bilaterally with the ROK and Japan, through the Quad, through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework — it will send a powerful message. We think that message will be heard everywhere. We think it will be heard in Beijing.
But it is not a negative message, and it’s not targeted at any one country. It’s targeted at an audience the world over about what American leadership, working flanked by allies and like-minded partners, can deliver for people everywhere.
And we think we go into this trip very much with the wind at our back, with a strong case to make that we have what it takes to be able to deliver against the security and economic challenges of our time.
And President Biden will head into the Indo-Pacific with a spring in his step, and we’re very much looking forward to this visit.
Q Will the President visit the DMZ, Jake? Will the President visit the DMZ?
MR. SULLIVAN: You can ask Karine. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He will not visit the DMZ.
Q He will not.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He will not. He will not.
Q Why not? Why not visit the DMZ?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Just not on this trip. He will not. He will go to South Korea, as you know. They will have an agenda to talk about a lot of things, including North Korea. But he’s not going to the DMZ.
And just to — just to reiterate here is that, as Vice President, he has been there before. But on this trip —
Q But now he’s President, and his predecessor went —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: He’s just not —
Q — former President Obama went.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But he’s just not going to go on this trip. He’s going to go to South Korea. He’s going to show his support for the region. And — but he’s not going to go to South Korea on this trip — I’m sorry, the DMZ on this trip.
Okay. We all love Jake. Thank you so much for your patience. And I have one topper, and then we’ll get to it.
Okay. The Senate took an important step today with the bipartisan agreement announced by Chair Tester and Ranking Member Moran to advance their vision of the Hon- — of the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022.
President Biden has championed legislation to deliver the benefits and healthcare services that veterans impacted by toxic exposures have earned. This historic comprehensive bill will do just that.
The PACT will not only help deliver more timely access to benefits and services for veterans and their survivors, it will also ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs can act more nimbly to add future presumptive conditions when the evidence warrants. And the legislation will help the VA provide our veterans the level of service they deserve.
President Biden believes that we have a sacred obligation to support veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. That’s why as part of this first state of the — of his first State of the Union address, he identified supporting veterans as a key pillar of his Unity Agenda and an issue that can unite the country, Republicans and Democrats.
Passing the PACT Act would be a welcome and long-awaited achievement for the veterans who have served us well.
Darlene, you have the floor.
Q Thanks. Thank you. I wanted to ask Jake this question, but I’ll ask you. It’s about the Quad summit. And there is a possibility that Saturday’s election in Australia will not produce a winner in time for someone to go to Tokyo to participate in the Quad summit. So what contingencies are there? Will the one meeting go ahead if Australia cannot participate?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I believe that the Quad meeting will go ahead. I don’t have any more specifics than that about the — you know, how that’s going to affect any further, deeper.
But from what I understand, and even Jake said this, that there’s going to be a Quad summit. It’s going to happen. We can — we can talk more about the specifics of what will — you know, what it will look like with Australia.
Q And then, the First Lady’s Office informed us that Ashley Biden, the President’s daughter, is positive for COVID. Can you tell us when was the last time the President tested negative? Is he testing today in preparation for travel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep. So, the President tests regularly throughout the week as part of a cadence determined by his doctor. As we’ve — as we’ve communicated, the President is not a close contact with Ashley. It’s been several days that they last — he and the First Lady last saw Ashley; I think about a week is what I’ve been told.
If his testing were to change because of a close contact, we’d let all of you know. But his cadence has not changed. I don’t have when he last tested.
Q And then one final question on the church attack in California over the weekend. We haven’t seen the President comment on that at all. Is he concerned that what happened there could somehow destabilize relations between Taiwan and China? Does he have any plans to call or reach out to Taiwan or China, or anything like that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So I don’t have any calls to preview of — calls with Chinese and Taiwan as it relates to this particular case.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by gun violence, including the incidents — the other incidents that at — that happened this weekend in Houston, in Milwaukee, in Chicago, and, as we know, in Buffalo.
Federal law enforcement is supporting as needed. And the White House has been in touch with local leaders. These shootings and, of course, the one in Buffalo, as the President and the First Lady went to offer — went to grieve with the community yesterday, as all of you know, are a sad reminder of how important it is to redouble our eff- — our fight against gun violence and violent crime.
And as part of the President’s comprehensive strategy to fight gun crime, we’re putting more cops on the beat, as you’ve heard us say this past year and a half; as we’re — talked about a gun comprehensive approach here, cracking down on firearms trafficking, investing through the art and community programs to prevent crime.
But I don’t have any more to share on any calls that may have had occurred.
Okay, I’m going to go to people who haven’t asked a question. Go ahead, Ashley.
Q Thank you. Two questions. Following up on Darlene, on Ashley Biden having COVID: She’s in good company in this White House in that the Vice President had it, the Second Gentleman had it, you had it, Jen Psaki had it twice, a number of top Cabinet officials had it, a number of other aides in the West Wing. And no one so far that I can remember has been deemed a close contact of the President. Why are none of these people close contacts of the President — and his sister, actually — including family members?
And also, are there steps that the President is taking beyond the CDC guidelines that you could lay out? Are meetings in the Oval being kept —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — under 15 minutes? Is everyone masked?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’m glad to be — said I was in good company. Appreciate that.
But — so it is — we take extra precautions, to your last question — I’ll answer that first — here at the White House. And we’ve said this before: When we’re in a meeting — I was in a meeting with the President earlier today. I got tested first. I put my mask on, and we socially distanced.
Those are the extra protocols that we do take with the President and all the principals, not just him, just to make sure that we just take that extra added step there.
Look, you know, the close contact is as it’s deemed by CDC. And he hasn’t seen Ashley in several days. And it’s also — there’s a time component to how long that person was in the room. We all wear masks.
So, yeah, I mean, the way we — if he — if he is — if there was a close contact or he’s a close contact of someone, we would let you know.
Q And on guns: Yesterday, when he was leaving Buffalo, the President said, “I’ve got to convince the Congress that we should go back to what I passed years ago.” I just want to confirm that he was referring to the 1994 assault weapons ban.
And my question is: You know, when he was the point person for President Obama after Sandy Hook, Manchin-Toomey — which went far less far than an assault weapons ban — failed. What makes him think that he could get that through when, so far, no meaningful legislation has gone through in the past decade?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, this is what the President said yesterday. Right? He understands it’s not going to be easy, but he knows that there’s more to do.
You know, our country is facing an epidemic that is very real, as we have seen this past weekend, as gun violence is costing lives every single day.
And so, you know, when he was in Buffalo, we saw examples of that. He talked to the family — talked to them in a very personal way. And this is a top priority for the President, as it’s been throughout his career.
As you just mentioned, he mentioned his own legislation that he passed. Look, the President continues to urge Congress to act to pass universal background checks, to keep guns out of the wrong hands, and to renew a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to keep weapons off our streets. It’s not going to be easy. He understands that. But he’s going to continue to work very hard to make that happen.
But I do want to add, Ashley, is that this administration has done more on gun violence reform via executive action than any other President in its first year in their administration. So that is the — his commitment and what he’s — what he’s done just this year and a half.
Q Thanks, Karine. Jake mentioned his conversation with his Chinese counterpart. This morning, the readout you guys gave was pretty sparse, and so I was wondering if you can give any more details of that conversation, and particularly, sort of, an update on how the White House has seen China’s actions towards Russia in light of Ukraine. I know that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I don’t have any more to read out outside of what you — what was put out by us earlier today. I’m just going to keep it to that readout. And — and, you know, Jake has spoken to this before, about China and their relationship with Russia.
We haven’t seen any evidence of any, like, material that has been provided to Russia. That continues to be the case. I don’t have any more to add on that.
Q I wanted to ask about a pair of bills on Capitol Hill right now —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q — both being forwarded by House Democrats. One is a Consumer Fuel Price gauging — Gouging Prevention Act, and the other is this domestic terrorism legislation.
I haven’t seen statements of administration policy on either, and I’m wondering how supportive the President is, particularly on the domestic terrorism legislation. He kind of — on the tarmac yesterday, he seemed to say that he didn’t think it was necessary.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, on the — the price — the gas price gouging legislation that you just mentioned: Look, the President welcomes all ideas to protect consumers and to make sure that oil companies aren’t taking advantage of Putin’s war and are competing fairly. He’s been very clear on that.
President Biden has been also very clear that no company should be engaging in unfair practices to hike prices on American consumers.
As the President has said, President Putin’s actions are what is driving the price increase at the pump. The President is focused on doing everything in his power to address the Putin price hike, including the largest-ever release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as we’ve talked about here at this podium, and working around the clock diplo- — to diplomatically build a coalition of countries for the largest release in foreign reserves ever.
We know that there are a number of ideas being suggested by our allies and in Congress, and look forward to engaging on this issue so we can get Americans some relief, especially as we’re in this particular time right now with high prices.
Q And then one last on the Dow. It’s down 1,100 points so far today. Chairman Powell did an interview with the Wall Street Journal in which he said he’d push forward on additional rate hikes, even if it resulted in unemployment coming up. Also, presumably baked into that is that the stock market — we’ve seen the stock market do poorly as the Fed hikes rates.
So, you know, do you still, I guess, stand behind Chairman Powell’s vision on rate hikes?
And broadly, you guys have said that you’re not following day-to-day market tribulations, but we’re now getting to a point where some of the gains that defined the President’s tenure are being erased. And so, is there a new level of alarm within the White House about the stock market?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know — and we say this all the time, Josh — you know, it’s — Justin — the Fed chair –you know, the Federal Reserve is independent. We leave them to make their own policy decisions. We do not get involved in that. And nothing has changed on how we see the stock market. We do not — that’s not something that we keep an eye on every day. And so, I don’t — I’m not going to comment about that from here.
I do want to touch base on the domestic terrorism and what the President said yesterday about the — about domestic terrorism. Look, it’s a — it’s a growing and evolving threat and one that the Biden administration has taken very seriously.
Since our first day in office, we have said we have been studying the details of different proposals. And there are a range of ideas that have been proposed in Congress that could improve our ability to detect and respond to these threats.
What the President was specifically referring to yesterday when he was on the tarmac was the set of existing laws on the — on the books that provide law enforcement with authorities to investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism and hold those who commit hate-filled attacks accountable.
As part of our National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, we increased our support for federal, state, and local law enforcement as they address domestic terrorism nationwide, including increasing resources and providing traines [sic] — trainings to thousands of law enforcement entities.
DOJ has made domestic terrorism-related investigation and prosecution a top priority at the national and local level. And plus, DOG [sic] — DOJ, earlier this year, announced the creation of a new domestic terrorism unit with the counterterrorism section — sec- — section of the National Security Division that will enforce the expertise and experience on these issues available to federal prosecutors nationwide.
So, there is a commitment there. And that’s what he was talking about.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q We’re about three weeks away from the Summit of the Americas. You got Chris Dodd down in Mexico today —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — trying to convince President López Obrador to come. What’s the President’s level of optimism that Mexico will attend this Summit of the Americas? And, well, is the guest list finalized? Has the President decided who to invite?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The guest list is not finalized. Hopefully that will happen soon. And I promise, once we have it, we will share it.
You know, the President is optimistic. You know, we don’t have anything to share at this moment. Again, once we have it, we’ll be happy to share it with all of you.
Q Thanks, Karine. DHS said today that they’ll be pausing the Disinformation Governance Board. Did the White House play a role at all in perhaps expressing frustration on how it was rolled out or expressed any — involvement in how it — whether or not it should be paused?
And then also, some experts have said that it was sort of set up to fail the way it was rolled out. Do you have a response to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, the board has never convened. It — so that’s — it never convened, and the board is — yes, the board is pausing in the sense that it will not convene while former Secretary Chertoff and former Deputy AG Gorelick do their assessment.
But the Department’s work across several administrations to address disinformation that threatens the security of our country is critical, and that will indeed continue.
And again, neither Nina Jankowicz nor the board have anything to do with the censorship or with removing content from anywhere. Their role is to ensure that national security officials are updated on how misinformation is affecting the trea- — the threat — the threat environment.
She has strong credentials and a history of calling out misinformation from both the left and the right. And that’s — and that’s our focus.
Q So did the White House — did the White House play a role at all in whether it should be paused or what should happen with — with the board?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. First of all, like I said, this — this is what’s happening: There is a pause. We did not have an involvement in this at all.
Q And just another quick question. Congressman Schrader, who received a rare endorsement from the President in a Democratic primary, is on track to lose. What does that say about the power of the President’s endorsement?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I — as it comes to — you know, I have to be careful about what I can say here. (Laughs.) But we — you know, the race in Oregon was focused on just how much each candidate support the President — supported the President. That’s what we saw in this particular race.
His — his counterpart in the race, McLeod-Skinner, ran on a — an agenda of President Biden’s priorities, including lowering the price of prescription drugs and tackling climate change and the fossil fuel pledge.
Her support for President Biden extends back to 2020 election, when she said, “He’s the guy. He knows how to choose a great team.” On the campaign trail, McLeod-Skinner has sought to tie herself to President Biden and paused — and praised his presidency.
Even on day one President Biden endorsed Representative Schrader, McLeod-Skinner wrote, “I respect Biden’s work to tackle COVID-19 and rebuild our economy.” In February, McLeod-Skinner praised President Biden’s effort at diplomacy around the situation in Ukraine. McLeod praised President Biden’s plan to lower health and — care costs, eldercare costs, childcare costs, and prescription drug costs as a transform- — formative — “transformative investment in the future of Oregon’s families.”
So, that’s how we see it. We think it’s both — both sides were very much supportive of the President.
Q Thank you. Karine, just to follow up though, I mean, the question is — this — both of them had similar platforms, to your point.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep.
Q And yet President Biden endorsed one of them, and that candidate is on track to lose. So are there concerns within the President — and I know you can’t speak to politics of this — is the President concerned —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Not at all.
Q — that he doesn’t have enough juice heading into these critical midterms?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all. Because, again, both candidates were running on a platform that supported, embraced the President’s pla- — the President’s agenda.
Q Has the President reached out to any of the Democratic winners overnight, particularly John Fetterman, who is still in the hospital? Cheri Beasley?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any calls to read out, but I do believe the one thing that I can say here is that he spoke — last night, the President did speak to Gisele Fetterman, and wished the governor — wished the lieutenant governor a speedy recovery.
Q Okay. And the President said of Fetterman’s win and of the Republicans who were still locked in a pretty tight battle in Pennsylvania: “[W]hoever emerges will be too dangerous, too craven, and too extreme to represent Pennsylvania” and the United States. Do the Democrats run the risk of underestimating the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look —
Q — and gubernatorial nominee?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You know, the President remains really focused on delivering for the American people. And what you see from congressional Republicans and what you see from the GOP is — the plan for American people is to raise taxes to — in the middle class, to sunset Social Security and Medicare, and to take away a woman’s right to reproductive healthcare. He’s going to speak against that. He is going to continue to speak for the American public. And so, he’s not going to stay quiet.
And that — and this is something that is incredibly important to make sure that the American people and — and what he’s doing to — for the American people is — is — you know, is made sure that it’s — it happens, right? What the — what the other side is trying to do is trying to stop us from trying to lower costs for — for folks, as we — as I just laid out.
Q And, just very quickly, Senator Raphael Warnock is saying that he’s coming to the White House to meet with the President today. Can you talk a little bit about that, about student loans? And is the President open to increasing the forgiveness rate? It seems like he’s in the $10,000 range. Senator Warnock wants it to be closer to $50,000. Would the President come up?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we meet with members of Congress on a variety of issues.
Q Is he going to meet with Senator Warnock today?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) These are senators who have been leaders on college affordability and sent- — and student debt. The President values their perspective and looks forward to the discussion this afternoon. So, yes. But I don’t have more to read on that.
There’s — we — you know, I’ve said this a couple of times: We don’t — a decision hasn’t been made yet.
Q Is there timeline yet for —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have a timeline. A decision hasn’t been made yet.
Q Thank you, Karine. A follow-up to the disinformation board. Last week, you guys said that you needed this Disinformation Governance Board at DHS to make sure that freedom of speech is protected across the country and that these platforms are not used for forms of disinformation. So what changed?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the Department of — of Homeland Security, they began their statement report- — repeating that the board had been intentionally mischaracterized, which is a little bit of what you were asking me, and they were explicit about what it does and doesn’t — it does not do.
It was never about censorship, poli- — policing speech, or removing content from anywhere. Its function was to keep Homeland Security officials aware of how bad actors — including human smugglers, transnational criminal organization, and foreign adversaries — could use disinformation to advance their goals.
As Secretary Mayorkas said, he has asked former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and former DO- — DAG Jamie Gorelick to lead a thorough review — this is the pause that I was talking about — and assessment as members of the bipartisan Homeland Security Council — Advisory Council.
The board will not convene during that period. But the department’s work across several administrations to address disinformation that threatens the security for our country is critical and will continue. So that work is going to continue.
Q So if it’s pausing because you think the board was mischaracterized, then the disinformation board is being shut down because of disinformation? Is that what’s happening here?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I mean, the — the board was put forth for a purpose — right? — to make sure that we really did — really did address what was happening across the country when it came to disinformation.
Q And it’s okay to wait now at 75 days to address —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, no, it’s — it’s just — it’s going to pause. There’s been a mischaracterations [sic] from outside — outside forces. And so, now what we’re going to do is going to — we’re going to pause it and we’re going to do an assessment. But the work does — the work doesn’t stop. We’re still going to continue the work. The DHS is still going to continue the work.
Q Okay. There’s a bulletin now that DHS is worried if Roe v. Wade is overturned, there could be violence against the Supreme Court building or Supreme Court justices. Are these threats from pro-abortion activists or anti-abortion activists?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, the President is clear on this question. He believes the right to peace- — to peacefully protest in this country is fundamental, but he also believes that violence, threats, and intimidation have no place in political discourse anywhere. That is true whether it is in front of a courthouse or in front of a healthcare clinic.
And that’s the thing. I feel — it seems like, to us, it is very one-sided on what we call out as — as intimidation or as violence. So we want to make sure we’re calling out on — on ei- — on both sides of what is happening and what we’re seeing.
While protests — but while protests have been peaceful to date, the Department of Justice has U.S. Marshals providing support to support [the Supreme] Court Marshal, and the Pres- — and the President believes Congress should pass the legislation to fund increased security for Court and judges as soon as possible.
Yesterday, in reference to this, the Department of Homeland Security said they are “committed to protecting Americans’ freedom of speech and other civil rights and civil liberties, including the right to peacefully protest. DHS is also committed to working with our partners across every level of government and the private sector to share timely information and intelligence, prevent all forms of violence, and to support law enforcement — enforcement efforts to keep our communities safe.”
Q And then, final question, on gas prices: Americans are now spending $5,000 a year on gasoline. That’s almost double what they did a year ago. Where are people supposed to go to get all that extra cash?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: To get the extra cash to pay for gas?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I mean, one of the things that we’ve been very clear about is to do everything in our power to make sure that we lower costs. You know, it is important — we see it. The President understands what the American people is — are — is going through.
And that’s why we’re doing everything that we can. We’ve made multiple announcements in the past several — several months of what we’re doing — whether it’s just the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, whether it’s the ethanol 15, to make sure that that — that the American people are not feeling Putin’s price hike.
This is where this is coming from. Sixty to seventy percent of the current price hike that we have seen has come from Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.
Q So, the President announces on March 31st that he’s got all these steps to lower gas prices, and it’s still Putin’s fault, seven weeks later?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, because — what I’m saying is, since the war — since Putin’s war — aggression against Ukraine started back in February — we did see a spike. But before then, it had — the price — the — the price per gallon had fallen down about 10 cents or more.
And then Putin started his aggression on Ukraine — his violent aggression on Ukraine — against their democracy, against their — against their sovereignty. And we saw about — I mean, the facts show it went up about 60 to 70 percent. So it is Putin’s tax hike. This is what we’re talking about.
Q On that same subject —
Q Would you come to the back —
Q — on inflation —
Q — at some point?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Sure.
Q Thank you.
Q The inflation concerns are now rubbing off on quarterly earnings, reports for a lot of big companies — Target, for example, today says it missed its estimates because of increased costs of transportation, in gas. That’s part of what’s driving this at least 1,100-point drop in the Dow so far. What would you say, what does the White House say to investors and everyday Americans who are concerned that there’s no end in sight to these price hikes?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, you know, I’m not — again, I’m not going to speak to the stock market. But, you know, this is something that is very important to the President, when it comes to inflati- — inflation and making sure that we lower costs for the American people.
Last week, we announced new steps with private sector to lower the price of high-speed Internet for ten — tens of millions of Americans.
The President traveled to Illinois to announce new actions to give farmers the tools and resources so — they need to boost production, lower prices, and — and feed the world.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the deficit fell by $1.5 trillion this year, putting us on track for the fastest deficit reduction in any year on record.
These actions build on other actions the President has taken to lower costs in recent weeks. Again, you know, this is to — this is to address Putin’s price hike at the pump.
The President, as I was saying, and allies and partners around the world — they came together. And he was talking about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the 1 million barrels of oil per day for the next six months, in addition to a — to the 60 million barrels of oil from other countries’ reserve. I talked about the E15 gasoline that we have allowed to happen so that it could be sold this summer.
The President also announced administrative actions to save hundreds of thousands of families hundreds of dollars per month by fixing the Affordable Care Act’s family glitch. These are the things that we have been working on — this President has been working on for the past several months, understanding that it is important to lower the cost of — the costs for American families. And we’re going to continue to do that.
I’m going to try and go to the back. Go ahead. You, sir.
Q Thank you. Oh, sorry.
Q Thank you very much. Thanks a lot, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, yeah. Go ahead. (Laughs.) Go ahead.
Q Can you talk a little bit about President Biden’s long-term thinking on Ukraine? There’s a possibility this war could go on for months or years. And what is the President’s commitment to supplying weapons to Ukraine in the long term?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as you know, there is a — there is a supplemental — there is a funding — a Ukraine funding that’s in the Senate right now for about $40 billion that we are encouraging the Senate to pass. And so, that is going to be part of helping — continuing to help Ukraine with material, with defense material and humanitarian aid.
Look, this is something that’s incredibly important to the President, but also to our partners and allies, that we make sure that Ukraine is able to defend their democracy. It is important for us as a country, as a leader in this — in this world to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can so that happens.
What hap- — what is happening in Ukraine — defending their democracy, defending their territorial integrity, defending their sovereignty — affects us all. So, this is something that we are going to continue to be partners with — with our allies, our partners.
The — Jake was talking about the NATO Alliance and how strong they are, how unified, how they’re speaking in one voice in a — in a way that we have not seen in years. And so, this is something that we need to be — continue to be a leader on, and that’s what he believes.
And it’s important to make sure that we protect our country’s democracy.
Q What preparations is the President making if Putin escalates after the — after Finland and Sweden join NATO?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I’m not going to go into hypotheticals. We’re going to focus on what’s happening here and now.
You know, again, I think one of the things that we have to remember: This is a war that Putin started. This is a war — his aggression, his violent — very violent war that we have seen.
The Ukraine — Ukrainians and their government have fought very bravely. And we’ve seen that with Kharkiv. We’ve seen that — what they’ve done in Kyiv. It is remarkable what they have been able to do in fighting back this aggression against their — against their country.
And so that is going to be our focus, to make sure that they have everything that they need to be — to have a — to strengthen their — kind of their table when it comes to hopefully having some diplomacy and getting to an end of this war.
But in the meantime, we have to support them.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yep. Okay. Go ahead, Jonathan.
Q Thank you, Karine. In the wake of the Buffalo shooting, there been several civil rights groups who have expressed some unhappiness at the lack of outreach from the Biden White House and frustration about a lack of progress on hate crimes, gun violence, and so on.
I’ll just read you one: The Reverend Al Sharpton, who has visited the White House several times, says, quote, “This administration has met less with civil rights and civil liberty groups than previous administrations in a formal substantive way.” He goes on to say that they even asked for meeting here in the wake of this shooting, and, quote, “We’ve got no response from the White House.”
Can you give an update on this? And will there be a meeting with civil rights groups? And can you address his frustrations?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have any meetings to read out for you or any meetings scheduled at this time. You know, we respect the Reverend. He has been here many times before, as you know.
Are you talking about the letter that the — that the — from gun — gun rights groups have written? There were about 40-plus that —
Q He says —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think it was in your —
Q Yeah, that — that — there’s that, but —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q — he says civil rights groups have also asked the White House for a meeting (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, we’ve met with civil rights groups over the last year and a half. I don’t have any meetings to read out to you at this time.
Look, the one thing I do want to say is that, you know, the President agrees with these groups on the urgency of acting, and he applauds the work that they’re doing to rally support around the country for a commonsense agenda to fight the epidemic of gun crime. He understands that. That’s one of the reasons he went to Buffalo — to have that conversation, to grieve with the family. And he spoke to them in a very personal way.
There’s a couple of things from that letter that I do want to just — just talk about a little bit, since it was in your publication. He agrees that innovative, neighborhood-based crime prevention programs like community violence intervention need to be at the core of our toolkit to make our
common sense [communities] safer. That’s why the President has unlocked existing money within the government to invest in community violence intervention. That’s why he secured more than — more money for that in his 2022 budget. And that’s why he’s calling for a significance increase in funding in his 2023 budget. He is calling for a $5 billion investment over 10 years.
The President also is going to continue to call on Congress — he talked about this yesterday when he was in Buffalo — to pass commonsense gun violence legislation that would keep weapons off our streets and keep guns out of the hands of criminals. We’re working closely with Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi on this and other issues, and will defer to their judgment on legislative mechanics, give them space to work on that and to do that.
And finally, on the question of a gun violence coordinator — I was asked that yesterday; I think I was asked specifically about an office. You know, Ambas- — we have Ambassador Susan Rice here, who is the Chair of the Domestic Policy Council, as you all know. And she is coordinating the President’s whole-of-government approach to reducing gun violence, leading a 12-person team that connects violence reduction to broader resources, like mental health supports, workforce development opportunities, and more.
She has decades of experience coordinating interagency process in the federal government. There’s no one who is better at bringing stakeholders to the table to drive progress, and we know that’s so — that’s important because tackling an issue as complex, and gun vi- — and gun violence requis [sic] — requires a multidisciplinary approach. And we’re talking about housing, mental health, community support, all of the things — apprenticeship — all of the things that are so important in order to deal with this issue.
I’m trying to —
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
Oh, my gosh. I’m trying to call on people I haven’t gotten yet.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, we have to go? All right, guys, I’m so sorry. We have to go. But we will — we will — hopefully I’ll see some of you in Asia. All right.
Q Have a good trip.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Bye.
Q We’re all the way back here in Siberia. You can visit anytime. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I know. I — next time. Next time, I promise. I did call somebody back there.
Q Thank you.
3:08 P.M. EDT