James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:06 P.M. EDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon, good afternoon.
Okay, I just have one thing at the top, and then I’ll turn it over to our guest.
So I want to acknowledge that today marks 100 days since Evan Gershkovich was wrongfully detained by Russian authorities. The world knows that the charges against Evan are baseless. He was arrested in Russia during the course of simply doing his job as a journalist. And he is being held by Russia for leverage because he is an American.
The President has been very clear that we have no higher priority than securing the release of Evan, Paul Whelan, and all Americans wrongfully detained abroad.
The team continues to work on these cases every day from all angles.
Our message to Evan and to Paul is this: Keep the faith. We won’t stop until you are home.
Now, with that — now, with that, we have, as you know, the National Security Advisor to the President, Jake Sullivan, who is going to give a preview of his trip to the NATO Summit, as you all know, starting on Sunday, and take any other questions that you may have.
Jake, the podium is yours.
MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Karine. Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for bearing with me today.
I’m going to start by laying out the plan for the trip that’s upcoming this weekend. And then, because there have been numerous reports on the provision of cluster munitions to Ukraine, I’ll say a few words on that at the top and then be happy to take your questions.
President Biden said on day one of his administration that the United States would revitalize our alliances and re-engage with the world to meet the great challenges of our time. And on Sunday, the President will depart for his next major trip overseas, at a time when we have indeed regained our global standing as a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.
This trip will reflect that progress, and it will showcase the President’s leadership on the world stage.
First, the President will travel to the United Kingdom. While in London, he will meet with King Charles at Windsor Castle and engage with a forum that will focu- — focus on mobilizing climate finance, especially bringing private finance off the sidelines, for clean energy deployment and adaptation in developing countries. He will also meet with Prime Minister Sunak to consult on a range of bilateral and global issues.
Next, the President will travel to Vilnius, Lithuania, to attend the NATO Summit. This will take place against the backdrop of Russial’s [sic] — Russia’s continuing brutal war against Ukraine. He will hold a bilateral meeting with Lithuanian President Nausėda. He will then meet with all of the NATO leaders at the summit, as well as a number of NATO partners from Europe and from the Indo-Pacific. They will discuss a range of subjects, from strengthening NATO’s eastern flank to modernizing NATO’s deterrence and defense capabilities.
Thanks in large part to President Biden’s leadership, NATO is stronger, more energized, and more united than ever. NATO is also larger than ever, with Finland having joined the Alliance and Sweden soon to follow. This is important for the security and safety of the American people because a strong NATO makes the United States and the entire world more safe and more secure.
At the summit, the President and our Allies will demonstrate our unity and resolve in support of Ukraine.
When President Putin launched this war, he expected that Western unity would fracture, that NATO would break, that our support to Ukraine would wither over time.
He was wrong. The United States has built a coalition of dozens of countries — from Europe, to the Middle East, to the Indo-Pacific — to help Ukraine defend against Russian aggression. And we have mobilized the security assistance Ukraine needs, including by facilitating contributions from partners and allies around the world so that Ukraine is in the best possible position to succeed on the battlefield.
We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty, their freedom, and their democracy.
After the summit, President Biden will give a significant address in Vilnius that evening — Wednesday evening — about his vision of a strong, confident America flanked by strong, confident allies and partners taking on the significant challenges of our time, from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine to the climate crisis.
Finally, the President will travel to Helsinki, Finland, where he will meet with the President of Finland, Niinistö, and participate in a U.S.-Nordic Leaders’ Summit. In these meetings, the President will advance our close cooperation with the Nordic countries on shared regional security objectives, along with shared efforts on technology, health, climate, and clean energy.
So we’re looking forward to a busy week in Europe. And we’re looking forward to the President being able to further solidify, strengthen, and give momentum to the strong, united alliance that has been standing up so effectively against Russian aggression.
As I mentioned, because we’ve seen all of these reports on the provision of cluster munitions to Ukraine, I will leave it to the Pentagon to make a formal announcement later this afternoon for the next drawdown package and to go into the details of that drawdown package and the specifics on the types of munitions being provided. But I will use this opportunity here today to make a few points.
First, we base our security assistance decision on Ukraine’s needs on the ground, and Ukraine needs artillery to sustain its offensive and defensive operations.
Artillery is at the core of this conflict. Ukraine is firing thousands of rounds a day to defend against Russian efforts to advance and also to support its own efforts to retake its sovereign territory.
We have provided Ukraine with a historic amount of unitary artillery rounds, and we are ramping up domestic production of these rounds. We’ve already seen substantial increases in production, but this process will continue to take time, and it will be critical to provide Ukraine with a bridge of supplies while our domestic production is ramped up. We will not leave Ukraine defenseless at any point in this conflict, period.
Second, Russia has been using cluster munitions since the start of this war to attack Ukraine. Russia has been using cluster munitions with high dud or failure rates of between 30 and 40 percent. In this environment, Ukraine has been requesting cluster munitions in order to defend its own sovereign territory. The cluster munitions that we would provide have dud rates far below what Russia is doing — is providing — not higher than 2.5 percent.
And third, we are closely coordinating with Ukraine, as it has requested these munitions. Ukraine is committed to post-conflict de-mining efforts to mitigate any potential harm to civilians. And this will be necessary regardless of whether the United States provides these munitions or not because of Russia’s widespread use of cluster munitions. We will have to continue to assist Ukraine with de-mining efforts no matter what, given the significant use of cluster munitions already perpetrated by Russia.
So the bottom line is this: We recognize that cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance. This is why we’ve deferred — deferred the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians because Ukraine does not have enough artillery. That is intolerable to us.
Ukraine would not be using these munitions in some foreign land. This is their country they’re defending. These are their citizens they’re protecting. And they are motivated to use any weapons system they have in a way that minimizes risks to those citizens.
So with that, I would be happy to take your questions.
Q Jake, thank you so much. Annie Linskey with the Wall Street Journal. I was hoping you could comment on the news earlier this week that the Russians may be open to a prisoner swap for Evan Gershkovich.
And I also had a question for you about how the uprising by the Wagner Group may, in your view, impact Russia’s leaders’ willingness or lack of willingness to make a deal that would release Evan.
MR. SULLIVAN: So first is, as Karine mentioned before, today is the 100th day of Evan’s unjust and unlawful detention. And for those 100 days, President Biden, the entire national security team, our embassy in Moscow, our Secretary of State, myself personably — personally have been invested in trying to bring him home safely.
Second, I had the opportunity this morning to meet with Evan’s employers at the Wall Street Journal and the personal representatives of his family to talk about the latest status in his case and our efforts to bring Evan home.
Third, we did see the comments from the Kremlin that there have been contacts between the U.S. and Russia regarding Evan and other unjustly detained Americans. It is true, and we have said, that we remain in contact with Russian authorities at high levels on these cases to try to figure out a way to bring unjustly detained Americans home, including Evan. We have also made clear for months now — even before Evan was detained, as we were dealing with Paul Whelan — that we are prepared to do hard things in order to get our citizens home, including getting Evan home.
I do not want to give false hope. What the Kremlin said earlier this week is correct: There have been discussions. But those discussions have not produced a clear pathway to a resolution, and so I cannot stand here today and tell you that we have a clear answer to how we are going to get Evan home.
All I can do is tell you that we have a clear commitment and conviction that we will do everything possible to bring him home.
With respect to the question of whether the recent actions by Prigozhin and the fallout from that creates new openings or opportunities: I can’t say that I have perceived that directly, but, of course, this is a story that continues to be written day by day. So we will have to see how things continue to play out in Moscow.
In the meantime, we’re going to stay laser-focused on doing everything we can, both directly with the Russians and then with other allies and partners around the world who are invested in his safe return, to try to get them out as soon as possible.
Q Thank you.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q President Zelenskyy said the invitation for Ukraine to join NATO would be the ideal outcome from the summit. Why does the administration believe that’s not the right approach for the summit?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, as you know, the United States strongly supports the open-door policy, which says that Ukraine and NATO can make a decision together about its pathway towards membership. And Vilnius will be an important moment on that pathway towards membership because the United States, our NATO Allies, and Ukraine will have the opportunity to discuss the reforms that are still necessary for NATO to — for Ukraine to come up to NATO standards.
So this will, in fact, be a milestone, but Ukraine still has further steps it needs to take before membership in NATO.
Q So no invitation coming at the — at the summit?
MR. SULLIVAN: Ukraine will not be joining mem- — NATO coming out of this summit. We will discuss what steps are necessary as it continues along its pathway.
Q And one — this thing on cluster munitions. What convinced President Biden this was the right time to do cluster munitions, given the concern? Did Allies express concerns to him? And are you suggesting that the reason you’re providing cluster munitions is because Ukraine is running out of unitary artillery rounds? Is that — is that to backfill that?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, we have been looking at this for quite some time. And what we have been weighing is this basic question of civilian harm.
The challenge of cluster munitions, as you know, is that even at low dud rates there is some unexploded ordnance that is left, and that could potentially pose a risk to civilians down the road.
So we did not immediately come out of the gate and provide this. But we had to balance that against the risk to civilian harm if Ukraine did not have sufficient artillery ammunition.
We are reaching a point in this conflict, because of the dramatically high expenditure rates of artiller- — of artillery by Ukraine and by Russia, where we need to build a bridge from where we are today to when we have enough monthly production of unitary rounds that unitary rounds alone will suffice to give Ukraine what it needs.
So, as a result, this is the moment to begin the construction of that bridge so that there isn’t any period over this summer or heading into this fall when Ukraine is short on artillery and, being short on artillery, it is vulnerable to Russian counterattacks that could subjugate more Ukrainian civilians.
That is the thinking behind our decision. We consulted closely with allies in deciding to do this. And some allies who are not signatories to the Oslo Convention embraced it with open arms, said this is absolutely the right thing to do. Even allies who were signatories to the Oslo Convention, while they cannot formally support something that they’ve signed up to a convention against, have indicated both privately and, many of them, publicly over the course of today that they understand our decision and, fundamentally, that they recognize the difference between Russia using its cluster munitions to attack Ukraine and Ukraine using cluster munitions to defend itself, its citizens, and its sovereign territory.
So we feel that this will in no way disrupt the very strong, firm unity that we have heading into the NATO Summit in Vilnius next week.
Q Hey, thanks, Jake. To follow up on the cluster munitions, last year in March, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations — she described those munitions as, quote, “exceptionally lethal weaponry, which has no place on the battlefield.” So how do you square those comments with this decision?
And secondly, has Ukraine provided you with any assurances or guarantees, in terms of their use in civilian areas, that they won’t use them within a certain radius of civilian areas, for example?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, Ukraine has provided written assurances that it is going to use these in a very careful way that is aimed at minimizing any risk to civilians.
And, by the way, Ukraine — the democratically elected government of Ukraine has every incentive to minimize risk to civilians because it’s their citizens. It’s Ukrainians who they are trying to protect and defend. This is not Ukraine taking these and going and using them in the Middle East or in Southeast Asia or in some faraway land. They’re using them on their territory to defend their territory.
So we believe that they’re highly motivated to do this. And beyond being highly motivated, they have — to directly answer your question — provided these assurances to us.
In terms of the ambassador’s comments and other comments that have been bandied about, let me just say that the use of cluster munitions by Russia in this conflict is completely unacceptable on multiple counts.
First, they are using them to attack a sovereign country in flagrant violation of international law.
Second, they’re using them specifically to strike after civilian targets, not only military targets — also in flagrant violation of international law. And with this weapon system, as well as other weapon systems, we have identified war crimes committed by the Russians.
Third, and critically, there is a big difference between the type of cluster munition being used by Russia and the type that we would provide to Ukraine. As I mentioned before, ours have a maximum 2.5 percent dud rate; the dud rate of the Russian munitions is between 30 and 40 percent.
And, just so I don’t get this wrong, I will read it to you: The Department of Defense assesses that during the first year of the conflict alone, Russian-fired cluster munitions, deployed from a range of weapon systems, have likely expended tens of millions of submunitions, or bomblets, in Ukraine.
And then the final point. I think this is an important point. When I talk about what Russia is doing with cluster munitions, I’m not making an argument which says, “They do it, so we’ll do it.” The argument I’m making is that Russia has already spread tens of millions of these bomblets across Ukrainian territory. So we have to ask ourselves: Is Ukraine’s use of cluster munitions on that same land actually that much of an addition of civilian harm, given that that area is going to have to be de-mined regardless?
So that is why when we look at the situation today as opposed to a year ago, and when we look at what Ukraine would be doing with these weapons as opposed to what Russia is doing with these weapons, we see a substantial difference.
It doesn’t make it an easy decision, and I’m not going to stand up here and say it is easy. It’s a difficult decision. It’s a decision we deferred. It’s a decision that required a real, hard look at the potential harm to civilians.
Q And Jake —
MR. SULLIVAN: And when we put all of that together, there was a unanimous recommendation from the national security team, and President Biden ultimately decided, in consultation with allies and partners and in consultation with members of Congress, to move forward on this step.
Q And, Jake, are you satisfied with the pace and progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive thus far?
MR. SULLIVAN: We get this question a lot. I’m not grading or judging the Ukrainian counteroffensive. I’m standing here in Washington, D.C. I’m not on the battlefield; my life is not on the line.
So, for me to sit here and say, “I’m satisfied, I’m not satisfied” — what I would say is that it is hard going, the Russians are dug in, they have thrown a lot of defense and manpower and munitions at this, and the Ukrainians have bravely, systematically been punching and pushing forward and will continue to do so.
The Ukrainians also have a substantial amount of capacity they have not yet committed to this fight. So, the story of this counteroffensive is far from written, and we will continue to support Ukraine along the way.
Q Jake —
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes.
Q — you said that Ukraine provided written assurances for how they would use these munitions. When was that provided? And also, can you just provide more details on what are those assurances? Does it have to do with location or use?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, they provided them in the context of their written request to us for these munitions. So, they reached out and requested them. I couldn’t give you the exact date, but some weeks ago.
And in doing so, the assurance that they provided was that they intend to use these munitions in a way to minimize the exposure of civilians, so outside of civilian areas and outside of areas that civilians traffic — that is to say, on the battlefield, where they are presently both trying to defend their territory and to move forward.
Q Are there specific locations though? Red lines on those assurances? Or did the administration advise them, you know, “Only use these munitions in these specific locations.”
MR. SULLIVAN: This is going to be an ongoing conversation, because, obviously, the — the battlefield is shifting at all times. So — so it’s impossible to set down a map and — and define this with the level of specificity that maybe your question implies.
But it does mean that this conversation needs to be ongoing, just as it — as it is with every other weapon system that we’re providing Ukraine. And so far, we have found that when Ukraine provides assurances to the United States about the use of its munitions, it is followed through on that in terms of the limitations and constraints it’s placed on those. And we expect the same in this case.
And I just want to underscore again — I know I sound like a broken record — but the idea that Ukrainian men and women fighting for the armed forces of Ukraine want to willy-nilly use these things in a way that are going to harm Ukrainian citizens, which is somewhat implied in the questions, I find, you know, at odds with their fundamental desire to protect their countrymen and their willingness to put their lives on the line to protect their countrymen. So that’s —
Q And do you have any update on Prigozhin’s location?
MR. SULLIVAN: I do not.
Q Vilnius follow-up?
Q A follow-up on Ukraine and then I have a second question related to that. Is it the U.S. view that President Zelenskyy should attend the NATO Summit? And how might his presence affect the outcome of the discussions?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, we would welcome President Zelenskyy at the NATO Summit. President Biden would welcome the opportunity to meet with President Zelenskyy at the NATO Summit.
The NATO Summit will dive into the question of NATO’s relationship with Ukraine: both the question of its pathway towards future membership and the question of an ongoing partnership that has existed for several years.
And there will be important, practical announcements in that regard at the summit. So, President Zelenskyy’s attendance at it would be very much welcome.
Q With respect to Belarus —
Q Vilnius follow-up?
Q I’m sorry. Eastern European nations want NATO Allies to beef up their security on the eastern flank, especially with Mr. Prigozhin’s expected exile and the Wagner Group’s expected exile into Belarus, which shares a border with Lithuania. Is the U.S. planning to announce any new security guarantees at the summit?
MR. SULLIVAN: We have the ultimate security guarantee for Poland and the Baltic states, and it’s Article 5 of NATO. And we are — we intend to defend every single inch of NATO territory. We’ve also put our money where our mouth is, in terms of enhanced U.S. deployments in both Poland and the Baltic states as well as Romania and other eastern flank Allies.
I had the opportunity this morning to meet with my counterpart from Poland, the Polish national security advisor. The first and main topic of conversation was the evolving threat from Belarus: both this question of whether Wagner will ultimately end up there — which, by the way, is still very much an open question — and the assertions about potential deployments of nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus and the role of Belarus in it and complicity of Belarus in Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
These are all things that we have been taking account of going back to the start of this conflict. And we constantly look at everything from the positioning of NATO forces to the pre-positioning of various stocks and ammunition in the eastern flank. That will be a continued discussion at Vilnius.
But this is an evolving picture. And so I don’t think Vilnius is going to be the place where we put the final storyline down. It will continue to evolve as we go forward.
Q Vilnius follow-up?
Q Thanks, Jake. Does the U.S. support eliminating the need for Ukraine to fulfill a Membership Action Plan that essentially establishes benchmarks of — they have to meet to qualify for NATO membership?
MR. SULLIVAN: So we’re looking at that question. That is an active discussion among Allies right now, whether Ukraine has in fact moved beyond the need for MAP. I won’t get ahead of where leaders will end up at the summit, but that’s under active consideration.
Q And just quickly, just one on — on a bilat with Erdoğan. Is — is this going to be a pull-aside that the President is planning to have or will this be like a full-blown bilateral meeting to discuss Sweden’s NATO membership?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t have anything to announce today. But I think you can expect that President Biden and President Erdoğan will talk in Vilnius. In exact- — exactly what format that takes remains to be seen.
Q Two questions. First on the munitions: Germany has opposed them. Does that suggest any cracks in the Alliances to you? What do you make of that opposition?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, what I saw Germany saw today was three things. Number one, they’re confident that the United States took this decision carefully and after weighing all considerations. Number two, Russia has used these in an — in an intolerable way to attack Ukraine. And three, every weapon system Ukraine is using it’s using to defend its people and to retake its own sovereign territory.
I think if you read what the German chancellery and the German spokesperson put out today, you will see that they are a signatory to Oslo. They don’t transfer — they don’t have or transfer cluster munitions. But nothing in what they have said today suggests there are any cracks in NATO unity. Quite the contrary, there is deep understanding, we believe, across the Alliance about the fundamental challenge Ukraine faces and about our collective desire to ensure that we’re providing Ukraine with what it needs.
Q Follow-up to Vilnius?
Q When it comes to — sorry — when it comes to Sweden —
Q Can you tell us specifically when the President signed the authorization? And also, we have seen over the course of this war how there were some no-go topics: F-16s, cluster munitions. Both of those are moving forward.
Is there a line where the U.S. won’t cross? Obviously, the President has said no U.S. personnel inside Ukraine. Is there some other limit, or does this suggest to President Zelenskyy that whatever he needs, ultimately, he will get?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President has been very clear from the very beginning of this conflict about two things that have been unwavering. First, the United States is not going to war with Russia in Ukraine. And second, the United States is not providing weapons to Ukraine to attack Russia. We do not encourage or enable attacks on Russian territory from Ukraine.
The question of weapon systems has evolved as the conflict has evolved. But those two fundamental precepts have been true from the start, they remain true today, and they will be true tomorrow as well.
Q When did he sign it? Sorry.
MR. SULLIVAN: I can’t give you the exact specifics on that. But — because, you know, I’ll let the internal processes, kind of, have their — have their sanctity. But he approved it, as I said, after a unanimous recommendation from his national security team.
Q You said that NATO is stronger than ever at this point. What does it say that there are two NATO members who have been holding up Sweden’s ability to join the Alliance for more than a year now?
MR. SULLIVAN: So the last NATO Ally to come into the Alliance before Finland — I believe it was Montenegro. And I think it took something like 19 months for them to come in.
I think a lot of people’s perceptions about the accession process have been shaped by just how fast we moved to get Sweden and Finland ratified here in the United States on a bipartisan basis, how fast Finland came in, and then how it has only been a year since Sweden sought membership. And we are confident that Sweden will come in in the not-too-distant future and that there will be unanimous support for that.
And then I would go beyond that to say, in terms of what it says about NATO’s strength: Here you have two historically non-aligned countries who, for decades, did not join NATO seeking to join NATO. I think there is no clearer indication of the strength, attraction, and cohesion of NATO than that.
Q Thank you, Jake. So I understand your point about reforms that Ukraine still needs to do in order to fast track its membership, also you point out the (inaudible). But just going kind of broader from that, my understanding is that the President believes that a fast-track membership for Ukraine is an invitation rather than a deterrence to war with Russia. He has several times expressed his concern for nuclear escalation.
Can you first confirm whether my understanding is correct? And if so, can you explain the calculus behind the President’s decision on that? What led him to that conclusion?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President has repeatedly said that there is an open door, that there is a pathway for Ukraine, and that Ukraine needs to take additional reforms to complete its work towards NATO membership. That has been his position from the beginning. That remains true today. That will remain true at Vilnius.
The President also has been clear that we are going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes and provide them an exceptional quantity of arms and capabilities, both from ourselves and facilitating those from allies and partners, but that we are not seeking to start World War Three.
That is the course that we’ve been on since the start of this conflict. That is the course we remain on today. And we believe that we have been able to mount a vigorous, concerted, effective, dynamic response to Russia’s aggression in support of the brave people of Ukraine.
Q And one more —
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q Thank you —
Q Can you confirm reporting that former U.S. officials have held secret talks with Ukraine with prominent Russians to lay the groundwork for a negotiation towards a peace deal?
MR. SULLIVAN: I — I actually appreciate this question, because I think that the reporting suggested something that, in fact, has not happened.
My understanding is there was a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations with the Foreign Minister of Russia. That meeting did not include participation from the United States government. The United States government did not pass messages through that meeting. The United States government did not seek to pursue diplomacy — direct, indirect, or otherwise — through that meeting, period.
There are also contacts between private American citizens and Russians. That has been happening not just in the last year but for the last 75 years, since time immemorial. The United States government is not using any of those contacts to pass messages, to promote demo- — diplomacy direct, indirect, or otherwise. And any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.
Q Thank you, Jake. I have two questions. South Korea President Yoon and the Japanese Prime Minister Kishida will discuss the issue of discharge of contaminated water at the NATO Summit this time. Do you know the — already know that?
Yesterday, IAEA Secretary General Grossi visited South Korea, and he said that he will not take responsibility for the discharge of contaminated waters. What is the United States’ position on the IAEA’s report on the — the discharge of contaminated water in Fukushima?
And I follow up second question.
MR. SULLIVAN: From our perspective, the IAEA Secretary General’s report was based on the professional analysis of the competent international institution, and I’ll leave it at that.
I would also say that the ROK government made its own statements and reactions to that, which we thought were quite constructive.
Q And second question —
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
Q U.S. and South Korea NCG meeting — I mean Nuclear Consultative Group meeting — will be held in Seoul very soon — I mean, this month. Do you have any contents of this meeting? Who is going to be attending this meeting?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t have anything to announce today. I will say, though, that I spoke with my South Korean counterpart last evening to discuss preparations for that meeting.
It will be an important meeting. There will be high-level participation by the United States because this is an important issue on which we place priority. And launching the Nuclear Consultative Group is a specific outcome of the Washington Summit between President Yoon and President Biden, an outcome of the historic Washington Declaration. And you will see in this meeting that we are quite serious about taking this effort forward.
Q Thank you, Jake. Five days after cocaine was found here in the White House, congressional Republicans seem like they’re very close to launching some sort of formal investigation. I’m curious, from a national security perspective: A, what was your reaction when the drugs were found? And, B, was there any risk to security either to the President, to your staff, anybody that would work out of the Sit Room for this stuff to be so close to where you work?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, I would refer to the Secret Service when it comes to questions of the security of the President. I won’t speak to that.
Second, I would make a point about the Situation Room because I think there’s been a lot of questionable reporting on this. The Situation Room is not in use and has not been in use for months because it is currently under construction. We are using an alternate Situation Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. So the only people coming in and going out of the Sit Room in this period have been workers who are getting it ready to go.
By the way, it’s on time and on schedule to be — (laughter) — to be back on station here in the not-too-distant future.
Q But —
MR. SULLIVAN: But no, there was no issue with the Situation Room relative to this.
And then, finally, look, we have rigorous drug testing policies at the White House. We have rigorous drug use policies here at the White House. We take those extremely seriously. So we’ll let the investigation unfold. If it involves someone from the White House, the appropriate consequences will ensue. If it involves some visitor who came in and left it, then that’s a different matter that raises a different set of questions that are less relevant to my line of work. So I will leave it at that.
But I do not believe at present, as things stand here at the podium today, that we are facing some national security threat — ongoing national security threat.
Q About the drugs.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah, exactly. We are facing other national security threats.
Q One last one?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah, last one.
Q Thank you, Jake. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said after his meeting yesterday that there is good progress towards Sweden joining NATO, but there are still gaps. So how would you assess the likelihood at this point of an agreement on Sweden’s NATO membership next week?
MR. SULLIVAN: I will make no predictions. I will just say that President Biden had the opportunity to meet with the Swedish Prime Minister here in Washington to express his solidarity for — with Sweden for its application for membership.
We believe that Sweden should be in NATO as soon as possible. And we would love to see it happen in Vilnius. It is possible that it does. It is possible that it doesn’t happen until some period after, but we believe it will happen in the not-too-distant future and that those gaps can be closed, everything can be resolved, that there is fundamentally goodwill from all of the parties to get this done.
It’s a question of time, and I can’t predict whether that will happen next week or at some point in the ensuing weeks.
And with that, I said it was my last question. So, thank you guys.
Q (Inaudible) five rows of this room, just FYI.
Q Thank you for coming.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, Jake. Thanks for coming.
Okay. Just have a couple of things at the top. And I know that there is an event with the President shortly.
Okay, so President Biden has made combating the opioid crisis a key part of his agenda and has taken decisive actions to reduce both the supply of illicit fentanyl and negative health outcomes associated with illicit drugs.
Today, this administration is continuing to take action in bringing together countries from around the world to act. Following through the commitment President Biden made in Ottawa this year, today, the Department of State brought together more than 70 countries and international organizations to launch the global coalition to address synthetic drug threats. This effort will continue to bring global attention and action to address the public health and security threats posed by synthetic drugs like illicit fentanyl.
And another thing that I wanted to add — as I just mentioned, we’re going to go see the President shortly for his event, so as it relates to what he’s going to announce: You heard the President talk about Bidenomics and how he’s growing the economy from the middle out and bottom up, not top down — not the trickle-down — the trickle-down economics, as we’ve seen.
So this afternoon, the President will talk about new actions to further cut costs for American families.
First, we’re cracking down on junk insurance. New proposed rules would — would close loopholes — the previous administration took advantage of that; allow companies to offer misleading insurance plans and trick consumers into junk plans.
Next, we’re going to — we’re going to — after surprise medical bills. We’re going to go after this — after these surprise medical bills. Under this administration, we’ve taken action to prevent 1 million surprise medical bills every month. Today’s new guidance prevents abuse of those — those protections.
Finally, we’re taking action to stop unfair medical debt. For the first time in history, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, HHS, and Treasury are looking into medical credit cards and loans to see if companies are adhering to consumer protections.
And then, later today, as well, you’ll hear from President Biden on these new steps — like not later today, but in just like 30 minutes or so — to deliver on his promise to cut costs for families. That is really a big part of what Bidenomics is: to make sure that we’re lowering costs for American families and also that we have an economy that works for everyone.
This morning, as you all learned, 209,000 jobs were created last month, for a total of 13.2 million jobs created since President Biden took office. We’ve regained all the jobs lost during the pandemic and created nearly 4 million more jobs. That includes over 1.5 million jobs in manufacturing, construction, and research and development — the focus of the President’s Investment in America agenda.
You heard from the President yesterday talk about investing in American what he continues to do for red states and blue states and for Americans across the country.
As you all know, the unemployment rate is 3.6 percent. It has been under 4 percent for 16 months in a row, the longest stretch in over 50 years.
And more Americans are joining the labor force — the labor force — the share of working-age Americans who have jobs — at the highest level in over 20 years.
So, as the President said this morning, and I quote — this is from his statement about the jobs — the jobs — the jobs report. I quote, “That’s Biden- — Bidenomics, growing the economy by creating jobs, lowering costs for hardworking families, and making smart investments in America.”
And finally, this is something that we wanted to address, because we’ve all been dealing with this — this extreme weather, if you will, the extreme he- — heat. And so, conditions — these conditions are certainly impacting millions of Americans across country in different regions. Clearly, these extreme weather patterns are alarming.
But for years — for years now, Republican lawmakers have continued to deny the very existence of climate change that we can now all witness with our very own eyes. So, they’ve repeatedly tried to repeal the biggest climate protection bill in history.
As you all know, this is something that the President signed almost a year ago: the Inflation Reduction Act. And this is a act that is the most significant investment that — that any administration has put behind climate change.
And so, by them trying to repeal this is — it is stunning, it is absurd, and it is dangerous — just by what we have seen these past couple of days.
So, as a senator, as — as now president, the President was one of the first members of Congress to take real action against climate change, and he will continue to charge forward on the most ambitious climate agenda to date. He is investing in our nation’s electric grid and accelerating clean energy de- — deployment so we can reduce pollutants and bring clean energy jobs and manufacturing back to America.
In the meantime, federal officials are proactively inspecting over 70 high-risk industries in areas under a heat warning or advisory to protect workers. And next week, we’ll be announcing additional actions to protect communities from extreme heat.
I do not have a week ahead, because you just heard from the National Security Advisor — give a very extensive and detailed week ahead of the President’s trip in — in Europe at NATO Summit. So, I don’t have anything else to share beyond what he shared with you all today.
Go ahead, Chris.
Q I wanted to get the White House’s thoughts on the jobs report. Is the White House concerned that it came in lower than expectations? Or do they view this as a — as good thing, given that, you know, a cooling job market may mean less inflation, less pressure to raise rates? How are you, kind of —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look —
Q — gauging that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. No, it’s — it’s a good question. I’m certainly not going to talk about interest rates. As you know, that is something for — something for the Fed to deal with. And, certainly, we — we allow them to have their — their independence as it relates to any monetary decisions that they have to make.
But over the past three months, we’ve averaged about 244,000 jobs, a solid pace, a strong labor market, and a solid gain of — at this point in the economic expansion, as we’re looking at — especially the last two years.
And just to quote what the President wrote — his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal just last May, “If average monthly job creation shifts in the next year from current levels of 500,000 to something closer to 150 [thousand], it will be a sign that we are successfully moving into the next phase of recovery, as this kind of job growth is consistent with… unemployment rate and a healthy economy.”
Q Thanks, Karine. A quick question on the jobs report as well. Total Black employment is down three straight months now with 635,000 jobs lost in that spell, which is the most ever in a three-month stretch outside of the pandemic. Is that a setback for the administration, and do you have a comment?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’ll just remind you that under this administration, back in April, you saw the unemployment rate hit a record low at 4.7 percent. And that was just a couple months ago, again, under this administration.
Look, this data, certainly, particular- — particularly, is volatile. And that is something that we understand. So, it’s most useful to — to measure in a quarterly basis, over three months, instead of one to — to smooth out noise — right? — because there is — this one is a little bit more noisy.
So, you know, the Black jobless rate last quarter was tied with the previous quarter for the lowest r- — lowest on the record. So, that is also important to note.
So, this is why we continue to say how important Bidenomics is, how — how it has actually worked for all Americans and not leaving anyone behind — when you think about more Black Americans are employed in the labor force, when you think about more Black Americans have healthcare — with average of almost 50 percent in Healthcare.gov coverage.
We achieved the fastest rate of new Black-owned businesses in over 25 years. We’re investing in infrastructure in communities of color that are normally left behind, that are normally not taken in consideration. And so, we’re reconnecting. That’s reconnecting those communities that are separated. And we’re closing the digital divide for Black Americans because of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, when you think about broadband.
So, all of these things are part of some of the — comes out of part of the President’s key signature pieces of legislation that clearly are into — in law — into law now and that we’re implementing.
So, there are — there is an effort to make sure that we continue to do the bottom up, middle out and not do this trickle — trickle-down economy.
Q Are these numbers a cause for concern, or are you looking at it as a blip —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean —
Q — because it is — these are quarterly numbers.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I have said was this data is particularly volatile. So, we have to make sure that we — we look at it more holisti- — more holistically, because it’s a volatile data.
But there are also data points that I just pointed to — right? — that show that, under this administration, we have seen record-low unemployment — when you think about the Black community of 4.7 percent — ever — ever since we started tracking unemployment rate in different communities. So, that matters.
And so, that’s why the President continues to talk about Bidenomics and continues to implement some of — again, some of these key historic piece of legislation. That is going to help communities, like in the — in the Black community.
Q Thanks, Karine. The President this week tapped Gene Sperling to lead talks between autoworkers and the “Big Three” auto manufacturers. Who is the White House’s point person to avert a strike with UPS workers?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, as it relates to the UPS — UPS, look, we are — and I say this all the time — the President — the President respects collective bargai- — bargaining and he respects that process. He believes an agreement negotiated between the parties involved is the best possible solution.
So, we’re going to remain optimistic. We’re going to certainly remain to — to make — to be consistent in how we see this.
I don’t have any information on increased administration involvement, but certainly we remain in contact with both parties.
Q Okay. So, no specific point person from the White House on this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I just don’t have anything. I don’t have a specific point person. But we, of course, are in touch with both parties.
Q And — and then, what are you guys developing in terms of potential contingency plans? Because this UPS strike, if it happens, would have massive implications across the country. It’s understood that FedEx and USPS would not be able to handle all of the packages that UPS handles if the strike goes forward. So, is there anything the White House is doing to prepare for that possibility at the end of the month?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we understand these types of contract negotiations can be — you know, could be tough. They could be contentious. We get that.
And so, we’re going to continue to remain optimistic as these conversations continue to occur. We’re — as I mentioned, we’re in touch with both parties. Just don’t have anything else to — to lay out as far as a plan.
Q And then, on a lighter note, does the White House have any plans to join Threads? (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m sorry. I was like, “Oh, where is this going?”
Q Does the White House have any —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q Does the White House have any plans to join Threads?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, Threads. I don’t have anything to preview on that for you. I need to — I’m — I’m curious about it as well.
Q It’s notably missing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I just don’t have anything to preview on — on that. But I know that it is getting some attention out there.
Q Thanks, Karine. Two questions on London. First of all —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: On who?
Q On London.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, London.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q The London portion of the trip.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay.
Q Why didn’t the President attend the King’s coronation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You mean that happened a couple months ago?
Q Yes. Why — why didn’t he attend —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think we —
Q — the coronation?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I think we addressed this. I think they — I — we mentioned that he had a call with the King and congratulated him. And they said that they would — they would get together later on, and they are. That’s what you’re going to see early this week.
I don’t think there’s — there’s — I don’t — there’s no “there” there. They’re going to see each other in a couple of days. And I think that’s a good thing.
Q So, initially, you also described it as a “state visit,” but this isn’t a state visit. So what happened there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I’m not going to get into specifics of what this is going to be called. I think what’s important is that the President is going to go to London. He’s going to go to the UK.
We — you know, we have a long history with the United Kingdom, with the people of the United Kingdom, and I think it’s important that the President is going to go out there, and he’s going to have a meeting with not just the King, but also the Prime Minister. And I think that’s what you’re going to see: continuing a partnership with the United Kingdom. And I think that’s important.
Go ahead, Karen.
Q Thanks, Karine. Has the President been kept updated on the cargo ship fire in New Jersey? And has he talked to Governor Murphy about this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, which is clearly devastating. The President certainly has been kept — kept updated on what — on what’s been going on with the cargo ship at Port Newark. And so, we’ve been in touch with the Coast Guard and local authorities to coordinate on the response.
Obviously, our hearts go out to the families of the firefighters who lost lives in the line of duty while bravely battling this fire. And our thoughts are with those who suffered injuries, and we wish them a — certainly a speedy recovery.
And we’re going to continue to monitor the situation closely — this incident — and stand ready to provide as much assistance as needed to help contain the fire and get port operations back to normal.
But certainly, our heart goes out to the firefighters and their — their families.
Q There was a report that according to the head of firefighters union, the President called the families of fallen firefighters to offer his personal condolences. Can you confirm that he —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I don’t have any —
Q — made the calls?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — call to confirm. As you know, the President — that is not unusual for the President to call families, especially in these types of awful, awful trag- — tragedies. I just don’t have anything to confirm at this time.
Q Thanks, Karine. Secretary Yellen said in China that she wants China to play by a fair set of rules. So, how can the White House make a country that engages in IP theft, forced labor, hacking to play by a fair set of rules?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look — and I think — I may have talked about this earlier this week. If not, you know, this visit comes at an important time in the bilateral relationship — right? — that is what’s important here — with new economic leadership team in place in Beijing. It comes at a key junction for the global economy. And so, we think it’s important to continue to have these conversations with — with China, with other countries as well.
Look, they’re going to continue — and I’ve said this before, China is going to continue to be around and be a major player on the world stage. So it is important to have intense competition, requires intense diplomacy. That’s what you see Secretary Yellen do. That’s what you saw Secretary Blinken do. These are the kind — type of conversation that the President has had with President Xi in meetings that he’s had with him as well. And it is — it is important to — to — to manage this in a responsible way.
And so, we’re — we think it’s also important to continue the open line of communications, as we have said over and over again. And as it relates to the economy — global economy, having the Secretary of Treasury there in China as we talk about — again, global economy, I think, is incredibly important. And the President believes it’s incredibly important.
Q And I also wanted to get — to ask about the United Auto Workers who are asking the EPA to soften the electric vehicle rules. Is that something that the administration would consider?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So as it relates to the UAW — look, again, collective bargaining — that’s something that the President is — believes is really important. I think some — I think you were mentioning to me — Jeremy was mentioning Gene’s — Gene Sperling, who is certainly playing a role here; he is one of the White House point person on key issues related to the UAW.
Q Well, the — this is about the administration’s rule to get people into electric vehicles —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No —
Q — though.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I hear you. I — I’m not going to get —
Q Which —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I hear. I’m not going to get into specifics. I’m just letting you know that as you — Gene Sperling certainly has been a contact here, and we’ll ensure that the administration-wide coordination across interested parties and among White House policymakers, that conversation continues, that we work hand in glove with the Acting Secretary as well — of Labor. And I just don’t have anything else to share beyond that.
But certainly we have someone who is coordinating — helping to coordinate some of these conversations. I’m just not going to get ahead of that.
Q Karine, thank you. Some Democrats have said that giving cluster munitions to Ukraine undermines America’s reputation as a human rights defender around the world. What’s the White House response to that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, we don’t believe that — that — that it undermines our — our — our reputation of being human rights defenders. This is something that we say all the time — right? — when it comes to human rights, when it comes to having those conversations with either our partners or other heads of state. We certainly — the President never shies away from having those conversations.
Look, I mean, Jake said this when he was here: We have to remember what’s happening in Ukraine, right? Ukraine is defending itself. It’s defending its freedom. It’s defending its sovereign territory. And that is what we’re doing here: We’re making sure that they are able to do that.
Russia — this is a war that Russia started. This is an aggression by Russia. And so, we have seen bi- — you know, bipartisan support in what we’re trying to do in helping Ukraine, fighting for their freedom. And I think we’re continuing to do — to see that.
But as it comes to human rights, the President will always be very clear and have very honest conversations with our partners and other — other heads of states across — across the world.
Q Thank you. Jake Sullivan mentioned that the — President Biden took this decision about cluster munitions after consulting with allies. So I wanted to see if you could provide some details about if Germany was consulted or Poland. What countries were (inaudible) —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m — I’m not going to go into each country that was consulted, but clearly those are some of our allies. Correct? And so, I’m just not going to get into details. But certainly the President did consult our allies and partners here.
Look, when you look at the last — I don’t know — 16 months of this war that we’re — saw that this Russia aggression in Ukraine, we have seen a NATO Alliance that has been strengthened because of the leadership of this president. We’ve seen bipartisanship here. We’ve seen Europe come together, the West come together to make sure that we do everything that we can to help Ukraine fight for its freedom. And so, that is really important.
We got to remember what’s at stake here. What’s at stake is democracy. And so, the President is going to do everything that we can to help the people of Ukraine fight for those freedoms.
Q We’ve talked a lot about assistance in terms of the security side today. But should we also expect any commitments on the humanitarian side with next week, either to those in exile in Lithuania or refugees in Poland?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That’s a very good question, Zolan. I don’t have anything to preview for you at this time. But certainly, humanitarian aid is something that we have provided in the past or — and have certainly put that as an important — an important assistant to provide. I just don’t have anything that’s going to come out of the NATO Summit this week. I’m sure that we will be providing information as we go through the days. I just don’t have anything for you at this time.
Q Hi. I’m wondering if you have any comments about recent crime in D.C. It’s raising rates. We’ve lost an SIV applicant from Afghanistan in the most recent killings. Really tragic. Wondering what the White House has to say about that.
And then, secondly, sorry to bring up cocaine again. (Laughter.) But there was a question yesterday during press gaggle with Andrew Bates that was — I guess — he said that it had — he didn’t — he was avoiding it because of the Hatch Act.
I’m just asking again: Can you just say once and for all whether or not the cocaine belonged to the Biden family? (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, a couple of things there. He mentioned the Hatch Act because the question was posed to him in the Donald —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — using Donald Trump. And so, he was trying to be very mindful.
Q Yeah. I didn’t do that, so —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, I hear you. But you’re asking me a question, so I’m answering it for you. And so, that’s why he said the Hatch Act. So I would — I would, you know, have you read the transcript and read the transcript fully so you can see exactly what he was trying to say. So, that’s number one.
So we’re not avoiding the question; that is not true. We’ve answered this question, litigated this question for the last two days exhaustively.
You know, there has been some irresponsible reporting about the family, and — and so I got to call that out here. And I have been very clear. I was clear two days ago when talking about this over and over again, as I was being asked a question.
As you know — and the media outlets reported this — the Biden family was not here. They were not here. They were at Camp David. They were not here Friday. They were not here Saturday. They were not here Sunday. They were not even here Monday.
They came back on Tuesday. So to ask that question is actually incredibly irresponsible. And — and I’ll just leave it there.
Okay. Okay. I’ll take one more. Go ahead, straight — straight right there. Yep.
Q Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week on affirmative action, I’m interested if the President has a stance on whether Congress should take action to ban legacy preferences in higher education admissions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything further to — to add on the President’s position on what you just laid out.
What I can say is — and the President said this. He gave a full-throated kind of — remarks on what he saw the Supreme Court do, which was unprecedented, which is: As you all know, this was — this was — when you think about affirmative action, it had been a constitutional kind — kind of constitutional right for decades and had been held up by Republicans and Democrats.
And so it was another kind of — another act by the Supreme Court that was unprecedented, when you think about the dub- — Dobbs decision and now this.
And so let’s not forget the President was — when he was senator, he was the chair of — of the judic- — the Judiciary Committee, and he understand — he has the expertise. He understand how this all works. And it is incredibly unfortunate what we saw last week.
I will say this: One of the things that the President has taken very seriously is to make sure that we have federal judges that are diverse, that represent the country. We have — we have been able to not just nominate but get through about 136 judges, again, who are diverse. And he had made — he has made that one of his top priorities as we — as we look at what’s going on with this — the Supreme Court currently.
All right, everybody. Thank you so much. I’ll see some of you in — at NATO. Thank you.
3:03 P.M. EDT